Fischer, Hawley perform in Zimbabwe for arts festival
calendar icon24 May 2017
Lincoln, Neb.--Research Associate Professor of Violin Rebecca Fischer and her husband, Anthony Hawley, a Lecturer in the School of Art, Art History & Design, performed and participated in the Hirare International Arts Festival (HIFA) in Zimbabwe, Africa, in May.
Fischer and Hawley received a grant from the Hixson-Lied Endowment to fund their travel to HIFA.
“It made it possible for us to do it,” Fischer said.
Their collaboration of violin, video and environments is titled “The Afield.” They have also recently performed at the Ferus Festival at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, N.Y., and last fall in the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theater. They were delegates at Classical Next in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
“We’ve been collaborating since 2011,” Hawley said. “And she’s been in projects of mine.”
Fischer said their most recent collaboration, The Afield, happened organically.
“It started with a birthday present that Anthony gave me last year,” Fischer said. “He commissioned eight composers to write me solo violin works and also figured out a premiere for all of these works.”
The director of a music festival in Maine where Fischer was premiering the pieces was interested in both what Hawley was doing and what they were doing together and encouraged them to think about collaborating.
“And I said, ‘Why don’t we work together doing video and that sort of thing,” Fischer said.
They had an artist residency last summer in Maine at Vinylhaven through an organization titled Design Inquiry.
“That’s when we really fleshed it out, in terms of this particular project,” Hawley said.
The program is called “Time Pieces” and features a series of video projections and works for solo violin by composers Lisa Bielawa, Gabriela Lena Frank, Pierre Jalbert, Rodney Lister, Nico Muhly, Paola Prestini, Augusta Read Thomas and Bryon Au Yang.
The Hirare International Arts Festival was founded in 1999 by Manuel Bagorro. It’s a six-day annual festival and workshop that showcases the best of local, regional and international arts and culture in a festival program of theatre, dance, music, circus, street performance, fashion, spoken word and visual arts.
“It’s kind of a miraculous thing that he does,” Fischer said.
“It’s also enormous,” Hawley added. “We heard from a friend who has been there, who said, ‘Look, you have to understand, this is not a small, little music festival here.’ I think it’s one of the three largest festivals on the African continent."
Fischer said there are an average of 25 performances per day.
“It’s incredibly extensive,” she said. “It’s this wonderful and slightly explosive artistic experience which happens for six days a year, but it’s really juxtaposed next to the economic hardship in the country.”
Hirare has a population of 1.2 million people, but also has an official unemployment rate of 91 percent.
“The people are incredible,” Hawley said. “And there were tons of students working at the festival. Each performer has an artist liaison or guide. So there were 80 students alone who did that.”
They also had professional lighting and stage designers.
“It was the most involved production, staging-wise, that we’ve been able to do,” Fischer said. “Which was very exciting because we had lighting, we had a huge LED screen. It was the biggest place we’ve performed.”
There was plenty for them to be inspired by at the festival.
“The opening show, which we were a part of—we had the smaller show, was pretty powerful,” Fischer said. “On the main stage was a South African band called Mahube. In addition to being really exciting music, it was a band that got started 20 years ago and was an iconic band, and they had some guests onstage. It was just a really celebratory event. But also the scale of it was amazing. They had like 50 dancers and a 50-piece choir and fireworks. It was quite impressive.”
They also enjoyed meeting other artists during the craft fair and during a tour of a sculpture park.
“It was very moving for me to meet the artists,” Fischer said. “Obviously we’re artists, too, and we have family who are artists and we’re involved in this world, but to see the way the arts are produced in a different country, it was really inspiring to me, and they had absolutely beautiful work. I wish I could have brought home a lot more.”
They also participated in a workshop titled “Artistic Collaborations.”
“We’ve been wanting to do some kind of educational, exciting work together to share what we do, but also, we are both really passionate teachers,” Fischer said. “So that was really fun, and we got them to do some really very imaginative collaborative work together in groups in a very short period of time.”
The students participating in the workshop were not all artists, so Hawley said they gave them some unusual entry points into artistic collaboration.
“They had to pick a crayon out of a hat and come up with a collaboration based on the color,” he said. “And the results were pretty awesome for something that constrained.”
Fischer added, “There was such sophistication in the way they were talking about the art, even if they weren’t artists,” she said.
Fischer and Hawley both enjoy traveling. In the last year, Hawley has traveled internationally six times. But performing at HIFA was even more special.
“It feeds my work so much,” he said. “Going to a new place always informs what I do, but I’ve never been anywhere like this. I would go back next week. I’m always thinking about how it can fit with projects I’m working on or how things can grow into each other. But just meeting some of the younger people was so exciting. These young people are just hungry, bright, passionate people.”
Fischer said she and Hawley would like to collaborate more educationally and are beginning to brainstorm a new venture.
“We’re going to be starting a mobile, pop-up school called the Afield School,” she said.
“It’s kind of half art project, half school,” Hawley added.
“It’s something we feel pretty excited about,” Fischer said. “So that’s something that has come out of this experience and seems like a natural step for us, given our interests educationally and artistically.”
They like having the freedom to think about what’s possible.
“I think having the freedom to think about what we would like to offer instead of how do we fit into the content of an institution, which is one way of looking at things,” Fischer said. “How can we offer content that inspires us that might be of use to a certain kind of person?”
Hawley said he has always been more interested in experimental arts education.
“I’m interested in untraditional approaches to thinking about the arts that can unleash a whole slew of creativity and creative thinking and empower people,” he said. “My difficulty with academia is that it doesn’t shape-shift enough so the idea of creating a school that can be a little more malleable is very exciting.”