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A conversation with The Bait Fridge

The Bait Fridge—a conglomerate, a multiple, a multiplicity. An ever-shifting critical performance/art ensemble based in South Australia, that aims to be mighty real about how it goes about business. And after seven years of collective practice, they are beginning to attract attention and invitations far and wide from across Australia.

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The Bait Fridge performing as part of Art Basics, 2020, commissioned by The Mill. Photo: Morgan Sette

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Hospitality at its most basic interpretation from the Latin hospiter – to receive a guest is a core thread in their work. Dynamically embedded in their openly nurturing model for each other’s ideas and how they seek to connect with the diverse publics at their outcomes. From pizza at rehearsals, to making crocodile shaped skins for cars, ongoing shows at The Lab where they aim to make it different each time, to taking on an invitation from the City of Adelaide to create a work for their ‘Aus Day’ in the Rundle Mall event, where not all members felt right to contribute.

On the 28 September 2021, I sat down with three core members of The Bait Fridge, Kaspar Schmidt Mumm, Henry Jock Walker and Emmaline Zanelli, to discuss the collectives work through the lens of hospitality.

Kaspar: Being hospitable in The Bait Fridge is all about saying ‘yes’ as a collective response in how to realise someone’s idea. We demand an openness to the fluidity of being accessible and accommodating. But our performances and outcomes also require that the public is hospitable to us. It’s a two-way exchange.

Henry: We seek to create a process and outcomes that are not set in stone. Trying in some way to work it out like you have never seen it before. Constantly exploring how we can collectively develop our language, our costumes, and how we connect with each other and the public. Getting behind each other’s ideas supports this intention but it’s also not that every idea gets voted for or taken up.

Emmaline: A founding principle of The Bait Fridge is one of being openly accommodating, but this does not mean that everyone can be part of this collective. There is the potential that The Bait Fridge may even be more exclusive at points in the future. But we also don’t have a resolved answer for what the next step is for the collective either. More so, we remain open to a considered dispersed approach, and it’s just important for us to do a gig in a shopping mall as it is to do one in a gallery. We see value in both.

K: Our work fundamentally aims to relate to high contemporary art concepts and pays respect to this in what we produce. This a conscious decision. But not a limiting one. We are always playing with the parameters of what we create, and in turn, are constantly opening the collective’s output to a broader demographic of people.

The Bait Fridge performing as part of Art Basics, 2020, commissioned by The Mill. Photo: Morgan Sette
The Bait Fridge performing as part of Art Basics, 2020, commissioned by The Mill. Photo: Morgan Sette

Can you talk about how your processes are changing in relation to some current projects?

There has always been a musical component in The Bait Fridge and a band of some description, that has now evolved into its own entity, Slow Mango. They were offered to do a gig at The Lab, and we collectively decided to make a show together.

K: And this has now become a year-long residency at The Lab, which for us, is an experiment in what we can be. The series of 7 shows are a great opportunity for us to see how we can intertwine art production in a music setting and connect to an audience that is mostly used to coming and just watching a band play. The ongoing Covid-19 restrictions of what the public can and cannot do, has had a big impact on how we engage and make connections within these shows.

H: The project with the Aboriginal community at Gunbalanya in Western Arnhem Land is very different for us, as it’s the first time we are collaborating with another community. Normally we are collaborating with each other and through specific moments of interaction with the public.  

E: In the lead up discussions, it was clear that this was not about airdropping in a workshop, but more about how we could become integrated into the community and them into our world. A time to work on what we could do socially as people as much as learning new skills and making something together.

The Bait Fridge making the Croc Car in Gunbalanya, 2021. Photo: Emmaline Zanelli

Still from Hi Animals, how’s it going? a moving image work created by The Bait Fridge with young people of Gunbalanya, Western Arnhem Land, 2021. Courtesy: Emmaline Zanelli

How do you see The Bait Fridge evolving?  

: To consciously build a community you need to have some direction, some form of structure. A foundation to build from. Letting things be untamed is not always the best notion of freedom, or equality.

H: You need to be critical of where you are at, make decisions from these observations and then seek to make changes based on this new knowledge.

K: There was an interesting moment where instead of thinking of The Bait Fridge as a pile you keep throwing things on top of, we started to see it more as a little house that you are opening doors to new areas that people can come into.

E: A massive asset to the collective has been Daria Koljanin and Clara Solly Slade. They have brought new perspectives and ways of considering an open and accepting community around difference. And these invitations to them were intentional. It wasn’t just hey, yeah, I know someone… And more than just seeking people through targeted invitations, our question is how we can change our working environment to make it more inviting. More accessible. More sustainable. More hospitable.

The Bait Fridge perform at The Lab, Tarntanya (Adelaide), as part of their 2021 residency. Photo: Keelan Cook

The Bait Fridge at Rundle Mall’s ‘Aus Day’ event, 2021, commissioned by City of Adelaide. Photo: Dave Court

Can you speak about this in practical terms?

 So we are allocating out of our group budget, money to rent a space, to get a table so that everyone can sit around it. Buying pizza, eating, and relaxing together in a friendlier setting. In general, we are working on some base hospitality to ourselves and each other.

K: We are also working on ways in which we can bring everyone’s point of view, intentions and what The Bait Fridge means to them to the table.

H: The Bait Fridge has had a core group of people working on it for 7 years without being paid. So how do you make it fair for new people coming in as well as honouring people who have stuck around and been committed? Our aim is to make a structure for people within this core group to be paid more fairly for their time and allow them to keep being committed on a regular basis without feeling they have no energy or time left to do it anything else.

E: We are also currently working on a mission statement. Something like a set of guiding principles, that acknowledges the vibrancy of our different opinions and how our individual connections create outcomes. Being able to trust each person to represent the collective without diluting who we are, supports the friendship that underlies the collective’s makeup.  

K: But overall, we don’t have one defined system of approach to making work. It’s chaos sometimes, but our system allows for more fluidity, more creativity, more collaborations, and more opportunities. And in turn, this allows us the ability to stand back and be hospitable to change.

The Bait Fridge performing as part of Art Basics, 2020, commissioned by The Mill. Photo: Morgan Sette
The Bait Fridge performing as part of Art Basics, 2020, commissioned by The Mill. Photo: Morgan Sette