Thanks for “infusing fresh blood” to our city
By Xun Zhang
Staying in China for over 20 years, indeed, I love my home country and I am very proud to be a Chinese. But during these 20 years, I never thought about street performers. I almost ignore this group of people, having no interest in them, never stop to watch their performance. Because in my mind, street performers could not be regarded as an occupation, what they need is just sympathy or alms. Not only me, but also my Chinese friends have similar opinions.
Yue Wu, a well educated girl who has two doctor degrees of domestic and overseas said, “I was born and grow up in Beijing, during these years I have not seen any people who perform in the streets could be defined as real street performers. Neither in other big cities. I think foreigners are more open, they regard busking as an enjoyment of life instead of surviving.” Beijing is the capital city of China, also one of the most developed cities. She continued, “ In terms of respect, it depends on personal cultivation. The whole city is ‘forward-looking’, most people will prefer respecting the upper class.”
Before, giving them money is a kind of alms rather than respect. But when I came to Sydney, after the first time I stepped in city area, I found my attitude towards street performers is ridiculous.
Street performer playing instrument in Pitt Street Mall. Photoed by Xun Zhang.
Pitt Street Mall is definitely the most popular places engaging a lot of top artistic level street artists. Walking through modern shopping centers, a crowd of people may gather to watch their fantastic performance, especially at weekends. Some pedestrians even dancing with the intoxicating music. Charming guitarist swiftly moved his finger, producing a series beautiful music. ‘Audiences’ sit down in front of him, closing eyes and enjoying it peacefully.
Street performer playing instrument in Pitt Street Mall. Photoed by Xun Zhang.
Every busker there is professional, well dressed and good looking. Pedestrian zone outside Pitt Street Mall is like their outdoor theater. Compared to the formal theater, busking in this prosperous place outside seems to make their performance more passionate and liberal.
The scene and busking atmosphere are harmony and moving. Respect is interactive. Buskers provide the best skills they owned, while pedestrians offer their best reflection, not only the money, but also the smile, the applause and the interaction.
In this busy ‘busking street’, James Kite was focusing on drawing his 46th panorama — Innocence Lost, which is a huge arts work about Anzac.
The left side of the 46th panorama– Innocence Lost. Photoed by Xun Zhang
“I can paint for 8 hours per day, it is different with busking like singing or playing instruments.” James said. “As long as the weather is no rain, I will painting every day, 4 hours outside Queen Victoria Building, in the morning and 4 hours in Pitt Street Mall in the afternoon.”
Videos of James Kite busking outside Queen Victoria Building. Filmed by Xun Zhang
Queen Victoria Building Forecourt is also a prosperous open ‘theatre’ for buskers. Similar to Pitt Street Mall, it might be only high skilled street artist can hold this golden field under the Queen of Victoria.
“The only tool I use is this black ball pen, in the last 6 or so years, a minimum of 880-1,000 ballpoint pens…and most likely more than that.” When talking about why he choose this as his tool, he answered, “colors will fade, ball pen is cheap.”
Until now, James has finished 46 panoramas and continue drawing his 47th one– The International Space Station. Every panorama is a huge work and takes him three weeks to finish it in average.
Painting outdoors on the ground is absolutely not an easy work for 8 hours per day. A pair of boots besides him might be his good friends. “It is much harder in summer, because most of time, it reaches 40 degrees and even heater on the ground. My clothes are wet with perspiration.” James siad.
There are a few differences between performing indoors and outdoors.
“If you perform outdoors, you have none of that controlled. So you need to deal with the weather, the environment, the crowds and the competition of what’s around you. So I think it’s much more challenging in a way. Because you have less control over the environment.” Dr Jonathan Bollen said, who is the senior lecture in theatre studies of school of the Arts and Media, University of New South Wales. “However, the benefit of performing indoors is that the environment is controlled. So if you performing indoors, you don’t need to worry about the climate. You can seat the audience down, watch the audience behave. It’s also the way in which performers make money by performing indoors is more regulated.” Jonathon complemented.
Performing outdoors does not allow you to bring much equipment. Maybe buskers could just turn it up and start busking. It’s more complicated performing indoors. The cost, equipment, tickets and the complex procedures for a performance should be taken into consideration.
It seems that he has the magic to bring the characters under his simple ballpoint pens to life. Every thing seems vivid and live. In his leisure time, James will also draw some tiny works and reproduce them in photocopies. Every now and then, James will kindly tell the people who stand looking his tiny work “It’s free! Take as you like!”
When busking outside, he is not alone. Pedestrians like to greet or talk with him, some people regard him an old friend. Some people see him as a teacher, they will stop to consult some professional questions from him.
Insisting busking for six years almost every day might be amazing. To some extent, James himself is a gift for Sydney as contributing such many talented work to city arts. In other hand, for a person who takes busking as a career, getting the recognition from the public is a hard thing.
Many people hold the view that good buskers add wonderful atmosphere to the street while conversely bad buskers could leave tourists with negative impression.
“To be honest, I think it’s the people passing by who get to decide whether the performer is good or not. If the performance is not good, there will be no audience. I don’t think that performer will stay there very long. If performance is good, it’s in the right place in the right time, then it will draw a big crowd. So really it’s not so much what the city decides. The city could make a decision where to perform. But whether there will be audience or not, it depends on the the performers themselves. So I think it’s not a good idea for the city to license bad street performers. But even if they do, I don’t think they will last very long.” Jonathan said.
A good street performer adds much-needed color and energy to the city, encouraging us slow down our rush steps for a while to think about the depths of human talent. There should be more busking, not less, and we in the crowd should probably be more appreciated and respectable.
“I have seen many buskers and street performers during my lifetime. Different styles of busking bring different cultural aspects of buskers country of origin to focus. Good buskers can not only bring diversified musical attributes to the fore but they can also bring an exciting atmosphere to their respective cities where they perform.” Another James who is growing up in Melbourne with musical background said.
Busking is almost existing in crowd city, it is rarely to be seen by country people. So country people probably view buskers differently to city people.
“Some people in remote area may be very exciting to watch the performance. Buskers bring a nice atmosphere to the city area. They can improve the image of Australia highlight this countries multiculturalism.” said by Emily, a primary school teacher of Bairnsdale, Melbourne.
Australia is a multi-cultured and comprehensive country, busking culture can not be formed in a quick way, it need a long period to maintain such a harmonious atmosphere.
Interviewees and contact methods:
James Kite: https: //www.facebook.com/James.Kite.Fan.Page
Dr Jonathan Bollen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yue Wu: email@example.com
Diary Of A Busker
Sydney Street Artist–James Kite