Tyree Guyton

"Singing for that Country"
comes to fruition down under


Sara Lyon


Tyree Trilogy: This is the third part of our Tyree-trilogy, in which we caught up with Tyree Guyton's current project, took a look at his new work, and saw his efforts come to live on the other side of the world in Australia. For Arts Editor Nick Sousanis' story on Guyton, click here. For contributing writer Marion Jackson's examination of Guyton's new work click here.

The sight of elated dogs, running from dot to dot, following their noses from shoe to shoe, were but one sure sign that Tyree Guyton's diversity-inspired work had brought people - and animals - together on the flip-side, here in Australia. Guyton came to Sydney from Detroit with a group of artists, mentors, and other interested people in order to transform communal parks through his artwork (reported here) and to produce a series of interactive events culminating in a two day performance in Sydney Park.

The community has been compared to Detroit in terms of social issues (race relations and cultural revitalization), yet it hardly looks like Detroit. The parks are impeccably kept, and the streets and buildings are holding their own against flora seeking reclamation. Perhaps it was the beauty of the sunny Saturday afternoon, but prior to visiting with the residents, the deceptive perfection of the Alexandria, Sydney area had me wondering why such a comparison was made. No amount of funding for public grounds can mend the racked social relations resulting from the sordid Australian-Aboriginal history that continues to have an effect on the community.

In order to do the real work of healing, it takes a group of motivated people seeking to change the world; it takes a listening ear, an open heart, and giving hands. In Guyton's words (quoted on the "Singing for that Country" website) "If we are capable of landing on the moon, building weapons of mass destruction, and fighting wars, I say that we are also capable of bringing hope, health, and happiness to people all over the world." Guyton, creative director Aku Kadogo, and sound artist Patrick Abbood, along with a dedicated group of planners devoted months (and actually, in terms of planning, years) of their time and energy in order to provide a forum for local and international cultural interaction.

It was a magnanimous scene. Large colorful dots were placed all over the grassy hillside forming an amphitheatre of sorts. The basin housed a stage whereon a band played, two MC's rapped, and young hip hop dancers performed. Each dot displayed a painted shoe, which contained priceless gems including either a letter or a picture from the Detroit youth who once wore the shoe. The shoes make up a central them for the entire project, asking "If my shoes could talk, what would it say?" Answers to that question were provided by listening at an audio center and to a mid-performance broadcast, as well as through reading the letters within the shoes themselves.

Jason Lee, a Detroit native on his first visit to Australia, was one of the people traveling with Tyree to help work with the kids and the art. Lee described the shoes as encouraging all of us to "choose the right path." At a previous interactive activity under the "Singing for that Country" umbrella at Hyde Park earlier this month, people were invited to paint shoes provided by the project and to write letters describing what their shoe would say if it could talk. Lee saw the shoes used up quickly as more and more people engaged in painting. People's enthusiasm got the best of their sneakers when they began taking off their own shoes in desperation to participate. Lee exclaimed, "They were actually taking off their shoes, painting them, letting them dry, and then putting them back on to wear them around the city!"

The Detroit group worked with Alexandria Park Community School to produce the art and the performance. Trude Aspeling Bruce acted as liaison between the school faculty and the Detroiters. Bruce witnessed the children exploring new issues through the artwork, such as "where am I now?" and "where am I going?" A group of six Alexandria Park Community School Youth began practicing their dance performance thrice weekly nearly three months ago. Helena Mahoney, mother of ten year old dancer Rebecca Mahoney, sees the project as great for the kids' development; helping the children mature through community involvement and encouraging them to act as representatives for their culture. According to Mahoney, the school's fantastic outreach and organization helped make "Singing for that Country" entirely successful.

Looking at the crowd of every age, race, and cultural background, it was obvious that Guyton and crew had brought that same spirit that has made The Heidelberg Project what it is across the globe to Sydney. After speaking with people involved in "Singing for that Country", hearing about the challenges and the triumphs, and participating in the final production, I felt honored to be part of the human race. If these are our representatives, these pioneers of cultural exchange and urban renewal; if communities are capable of joining together and exhibiting unconditional acceptance as I witnessed on this glorious day in the Southern Hemisphere, then we've got a good deal to look forward to.

University of Michigan grad Sara Lyon is thedetroiter.com's Australian correspondent. She is currently studying and immersing herself in all aspects of Australian culture. Thanks Sara.

For more info about this project click here or about Guyton and Heidelberg go here.

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