A national treasure who grew up as an Irish Catholic with a love for the ocean and fairy tales and the lives of Saints, Moira Finucane’s imaginative landscapes as a child were filled with museums and taxonomy and the natural environment. Today, she stands tall as one of Australia’s most thought-provoking and pre-eminent performance artists, a passionate advocate against injustice and the penultimate purveyor of all things wild.
“If you fall in love with Melbourne, you fall really hard,” Moira says. “She is a city that is a little bit secret, she’s a little bit private and she’s a little bit cool. She doesn’t have big flashy coastlines. You need to be patient to fall in love with Melbourne, but when you do, you never fall out of love.
“I moved here from Perth to take a job with the Wilderness Society as their national campaign coordinator. I worked really hard, but I didn’t perform for years. My first gig was at The Club on Smith Street in 1993. I remember it was for an ACT UP benefit. I painted myself with florescent paint and did this weird dance to Tea For Two by Red Hot and Blue and people really loved it.”
Taking us further back to Melbourne in the early 90s, Finucane recalls “There was this incredible performance movement in clubs… it was politicised. It was about HIV/AIDS and acting up, and claiming identity and pushing boundaries. I remember that when I started to perform in queer and underground clubs, how it was just so magical. After that, I found myself embedded in this stunning community of artists and thinkers, lovers and fighters. That’s how I started, surrounded by big ideas and gaffa tape.”
As a non-performer who had never trained in the artform, it was these early days that would prove foundational to the meteoric rise to fame that Moira’s future had in store for her.
“If you can cut through at 3am with one line to an audience that is totally altered, with thumping music and no concentration span, if you can cut through that, you can cut through anywhere – and boy did I cut through.”
“I created the Burlesque Hour back in 2004, after those years in wild clubs and touring the UK and the world and really not seeing work like mine anywhere else. I thought ‘this is not underground work; this is extraordinary work for everyone.’ But everyone said it was too risqué and it wouldn’t work. We premiered, not on the smell of an oily rag, but the hope of the smell of an oily rag, but it became the most awarded provocative variety in the world.”
Indeed, the Burlesque Hour has toured 15 countries and earned Finucane a slew of awards. Reflecting on the success, Finucane adds, “People everywhere love wild, visceral, generous, thought-provoking, non-prescriptive art. These days there is a lot more gaffa tape, but I’m fundamentally the same artist. My job hasn’t changed either, but how I do it has.”
Finucane has continued to provoke, inspire and transport audiences the world over, having performed in 18 countries and to hundreds of thousands of people and rave reviews. And until March 18, 2020 – a date that many are unlikely to forget for some time to come – there seemed no stopping Finucane and her company, Finucane & Smith.
“I looked around and my entire industry had closed down, and mostly willingly because we wanted to take care of people. All of this argument around throwing older or more vulnerable people under the bus… COVID-19 does not discriminate, but because we do in our culture COVID-19 has allowed a pathway to those most vulnerable.
“There’s a saying ‘never waist a crisis’ that’s resonated with me these last six months, as well as ‘now is the time to be daring.’ Behind this cataclysm of COVID-19 is another cataclysm of climate change, and another behind that of equality and injustice, and another behind that of how Australia embraces and respects First Nations People and culture. When restrictions ease, these things aren’t going to go away. There’s been a lot of loss and grief, we are going to lose some venues that we love… and some of the artists we love to see, the world won’t see anymore.”
“I went to Antarctica on a small Russian expedition ship. I have dreamed of it my whole life. It was so much more than I could ever imagine, but also exactly what I imagined. I’m very struck by the fact that, for many Australians, Antarctica is this imagined South, but it has never been inhabited by humans. It is an unbelievably epic majestic place, and whilst very few humans in the world have been there, our interaction with Antarctica is vital for our future.
“Since I came back, my country has burned, extinction’s accelerated, and our communities are irrevocably altered by COVID-19. 46,000 years of human history in Juukan Gorge caves was blown up during Reconciliation week. And the ice is still melting. Missing things we’ll never know, grieving for things we’ll never see. Most extinction is not witnessed. Losing what we have never beheld, we do not know the nature and size of the loss. Environment, culture, human life, things that never return.”
It was the Antarctica adventure that spurred Finucane into action – creating I Miss You Antarctica which was developed as part of Melbourne Fringe Take Over at Arts Centre Melbourne. This new work marks the next evolution in Finucane’s globally acclaimed Art vs Extinction Suite. Described as an austere and bloody mutant who stitches live museum exhibition to immersive theatre and a mass-mortality event, the work explores grief, loss, isolation, stark beauty, deep time, ice melting and hope – all on an epic scale.
“It’s a commemoration of a mass mortality event where 10,000 emperor penguins died in one season… when the sea ice melted too quickly and they drowned. It’s about how [the impacts of] what we do is felt in Antarctica. I want to take people to this place… to imagine how we as humans can create something extraordinary and dream of a future together. This is where mortality and hope collide.”
For those interested in purchasing tickets to I Miss You Antarctica, Finucane asks of her audience three things: to make a penguin, mix a mojito and bring a bowl of ice.
For those curious to know more head to: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au