Meet Australia’s 2050 president and Pauline Hanson’s worst nightmare
It’s election night, 2050. The Republic of Australasia is poised to elect a new president: Poona Li Hung, a lesbian multiracial immigrant who’s also a cyborg.
This is Pauline Hanson’s nightmare dystopian scenario. But for others it’s possibly the best news you’ve heard all year.
And it is the premise of a show in May’s Next Wave Festival, the creation of a team led by Melbourne-based artist Roshelle Fong.
Elsa Tuet-Rosenberg as Poona Li Hung, 2050 presidential candidate for the Republic of Australasia.Credit:Joe Armao
Theatregoers will enter an immersive experience at Poona’s campaign HQ, be given name tags as campaign staffers at the election night party, be greeted by Poona, her robot partner and her mum.
They will snack on pizza-flavoured crickets (environmentally aware foodstuff of the future!) as the election results come in.
Fong, 32, says bringing Poona to life has been in the back of her mind since the late 1990s when Hanson made her notorious “swamped by Asians” maiden speech in Parliament – and published a book titled The Truth which predicted Poona’s presidency (she was “felt by the World Government to be a most suitable president”, the book said, despite the fact “her neuro-circuits were produced by a joint Korean-Indian-Chinese research team”).
We are using robo-phobia in our show as a cypher for xenophobia, and a fun way to talk about what’s going on using this character that One Nation created.
“It is quite an interesting time to do this, with the anti-Chinese sentiment going around at the moment,” Fong says.
She has created the production along with playwright Keziah Warner and co-director Alice Qin.
“We are using robo-phobia in our show as a cypher for xenophobia, and a fun way to talk about what’s going on using this character that One Nation created.”
There are no specific references to Hanson or One Nation in the show, rather it is about “grabbing the character and running off with her”, says Fong, who likes to create works that have “fluffy marshmallowy” entertainment on top, with a serious social message underneath.
Next Wave’s new director and ceo, Roslyn Helper, says Poona could be read in the book “like a kind of future we want to live in”.
“It’s really interesting that someone’s worst-case scenario can be someone else’s best-case scenario.”
Helper has stitched together the festival – for early career artists to present 100 per cent new work – with the idea that artists could form an alternative government.
“We are in a moment of intense cultural, social, environmental and economic change,” Helper says. “Artists are responding… art and politics are inseparable, artists are really stepping in to consider how we could live in a better world and are using art to demonstrate those possibilities.”
The festival is “showing by doing”, she says.
“Artists don’t have all the answers, and the role of art is to probe and to invite conversation. What will be interesting is to see what comes out of the festival at the other end… what conversations it has enabled.”
Other festival highlights include Influence Operation, an artist collective that will deploy journalists and hackers to try to seize control of the 24-hour news cycle from the mainstream media (ie: us).
And Beast Burden of Proof will invite the audience to play jury members in the trial for ecological crimes of the controversial Myna bird – with the promise of a swift and very real sentence at the end.
Next Wave Festival runs May 15-31 (coronavirus permitting).
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