Culture and heritage

Bug food, bogans and bunkers: 30 years of experimental art with APHIDS

26 June 2024

Taboo subjects are always on the table for Melbourne Award winning arts organisation APHIDS. Over the past 30 years they’ve served up confronting art that somehow brings us closer together.

Since its debut show in a Melbourne share house in 1994, APHIDS performances have surprised audiences by shining a light in unexpected places, according to Artistic Director Lara Thoms.

“One of APHIDS first shows was in a bunker beneath Fed Square, and we’ve performed in the Botanic Gardens by night, at the drive-in. We always research the space and use it in an unusual way.”

Two people in the trees at night in white capes
Crawl My Blood at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo: Bryony Jackson

“Right now we’re looking deeply at class with a self-proclaimed bogan, our co-director Mish Grigor, in a bombastic take-down of My Fair Lady at the Opera House in August,” Lara said.

“Through the years we’ve looked at technology and intimacy, censorship in art, the future of food and death: transcending the isolation that people feel.”

It’s urgent art for urgent times, and you can join artists in an underground ballroom for a night of performance on Friday 5 July to celebrate 30 years of this Melbourne Award winning organisation.

Artistic directors Mish Grigor and Lara Thoms

Audience eats spaghetti on stage and crickets in the library

Once they’ve got the audience where they want us – eating spaghetti on stage with 80s singer Joe Dolce, for example, or snacking on crickets at the State Library – APHIDS leads us to a moment of illumination.

“Every project is about an issue that we are facing together,” Lara said.

Audience on stage with Joe Dolce for A Singular Phenomenon

Take the future of food, for example.

Did you know that the world’s first computer bug was a moth trapped in a computer, or that insects are the waste-combatting, protein-packed future of food?

That’s what audiences discovered during GUTFUL, two recent productions at the State Library in collaboration with Long Prawn.

GUTFUL audience awaits protein-rich bug snacks

“We looked at the intersection of food and politics,” Lara said.

“Everyone had a dinner tray on their lap with lots of different insect snacks and reading material that showcased some amazing objects from the State Library collection.”

Part lecture, part-snack pack, GUTFUL examined bugs, food, technology and breakdowns in popular culture. The show was presented at Now or Never, a major event curated by City of Melbourne.

Art drawn from real life

Many ideas for new shows come from conversations with strangers who go on to be part of the performance.

“We think that people who have lived these lives are often the best to share their experiences.”

“I met a funeral director in Tassie who was in the business through his family for over 20 years.

“He had this interesting personality, and he was critical of the way the death industry was becoming more corporate and less personal, so we built a show together,” Lara said.

The Director premiered at Arts House and toured the Sydney Opera House and arts festivals in Finland, the United Kingdom, India and the United States.

“One conversation with a stranger can lead to a big project,” Lara said.

Another APHIDS show about death: OH DEER! Photo: Michael Pham

Gig economy on stage

APHIDS turned its razor-sharp gaze to the gig economy in Easy Riders, interrogating what it means to work in the age of Uber.

“We wanted to work with delivery workers and Uber drivers and AirTaskers to really consider what it means to be ‘held to the app’.

“How isolating it can be to have a platform as a boss,” Lara said.

Many of the worker-performers also held jobs as security guards or cleaners. Others were students paying their way with gig work. One required a Cantonese translator.

Easy Riders is a medley of dance, synchronised bike riding and performance. It is still touring regional galleries in digital form.

APHIDS at Trades Hall. Photo: Bryony Jackson

The future of art and artists

One of the most pressing topics for APHIDS is perhaps the future of the arts itself.

“One of the big issues is the lack of support for independent artists. The decline of people being able to stay in the arts industry.”

“We feel very proud to have spent over 70 per cent of our budget on artists and creative fees. That’s something we’ll continue to do.”

“We believe really strongly in artist-centred and artist-run organisations.”

Come to the party

To celebrate 30 years of APHIDS, An Evening of Performance II looks to its lineage and the future with Pony Cam, Deborah Kayser, Catherine Ryan, Thea Baumann, Tra Mi Dinh, Lz Dunn, Sammaneh Pourshafighi and Sullivan.

Hosted by Mish Grigor and Lara Thoms, with conceptual food offerings from Long Prawn. Expect immersive installations, video hits and a bespoke drink on arrival.

  • What: APHIDS 30th birthday party – An Evening of Performance II
  • When: Friday 5 July
  • Where: An underground ballroom, Arrow on Swanston
  • How: Tickets are limited and will sell out. Book now.

Melbourne Awards

APHIDS is the winner of the Melbourne Award for Arts and Events for 2023. Look out for a fresh batch of Melbourne Awards superstars for 2024, announced in November. Can’t wait? Subscribe for updates.

APHIDS artistic directors Mish Grigor and Lara Thoms. Photo: Bryony Jackson

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