London-based Viennese artist Noëmi Lakmaier will present her free durational performance piece Cherophobia – the abnormal fear of happiness – at the inaugural Antidote Festival
Credit: Grace Gelder/Courtesy of Antidote

In the original performance of Cherophobia, the disabled artist Noëmi Lakmaier lay bound and immobilised in St Leonard’s Church in London for 48 hours as, with the help of her assistants, her body rose slowly off the ground aided by the buoyancy of 20,000 helium-filled balloons. 

A pared down version of this incredible durational performance piece, which takes its name from the term for the abnormal fear of happiness, is the centrepiece of Antidote, a new festival from the Sydney Opera House that replaces the controversial Festival Dangerous of Ideas over two days in early September. The London-based Viennese artist will re-stage Cherophobia over nine hours in the Opera House’s Concert Hall, inviting audiences to question notions of identity, performance, control, desire and restraint – themes largely indicative of the festival’s impressive lineup, which places a strong emphasis on progressive politics and the changing face of activism in what are doubtlessly volatile times.

Curated by Danielle Harvey, who also curates the feminist ideas program for the Opera House’s All About Women, the inaugural festival program includes solo talks from transgender rights activist and best-selling author, Janet Mock; National Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington, the largest single-day protest in US history, Tamika D. Mallory; author of the recently released Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge; the editors and creators of the original ‘fake news’ organisation, the satirical powerhouse The Onion; 24-year-old Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, who founded the blog MuslimGirl to give young Muslim women a platform; writer and activist Eve Ensler, who will be reflecting on 20 years of her canonical feminist text The Vagina Monologues; and Yeonmi Park, who fled North Korea with her mother when she was a teenager and who actively resists the country’s totalitarian regime through telling her story.

UK theatre group Kaleider will bring their participatory performance The Money to the inaugural Antidote festival
Credit: Steve Tanner/Courtesy of Antidote

Other international guests include Soviet-born Arkady Ostrovsky reflecting on the birth of Russia as we know it; Dutch journalist Rutger Bregman interrogating the idea of a modern utopia; Nigerian-born playwright and poet Inua Ellams performing his piece An Evening With An Immigrant; and co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Micah White, exploring the future of social action.

Australian contributors include FBi Radio Managing Director Clare Holland, who will be addressing the latest wave of attacks on nightlife in the never-endingculture wars; Julie McCrossin, who walked in the 1978 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, reflecting on the event’s activist roots and what still needs to change; Indigenous commentator Celeste Liddle, who will appear in conversation with Eddo-Lodge on the perils of online activism; and Indigenous Australian leaders Uncle Jack Charles and Archie Roach, who will be staging a night of storytelling, music and healing.

In addition to Cherophobia, the program also includes other large-scale participatory art events, including a re-staging of Anne Halperin’s silent performance Blank Placard Dance. Originally performed in 1967 in San Francisco in response to the Vietnam War, the piece encourages audiences to, essentially, fill in the blanks with a cause close to their hearts. The interactive theatre group Kaleider will also stage a performance of The Money, which invites audiences to work with others and decide where they want to spend their allotted funds, the only condition being that it must be unanimous and lawful.

Antidote takes place at the Sydney Opera house from September 2 – 3, 2017. You can find out more information about Antidote here.

Tile image: Shirley Yu/Courtesy of Antidote
Cover image: Jenna Masoud/Courtesy of Antidote