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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU

Power, hope and art: how this year’s Antidote festival is doing things differently

A Newtown's cradle device with the end ball swung out in motion, the photo-artist has replaced the end ball with a fluffy white cloud

Festivalgoers can expect something a little different from this year’s Antidote. Festival director Chip Rolley says the 2022 event is going back to its roots.

“This year we’ve gone back to the original tagline, which is ‘a festival of ideas, art and change’,” Rolley says. “Art has always played a big role in the festival, but we’re leaning into it more this year.”

Antidote is taking place at the Sydney Opera House and live online on Sunday 11 September, with a lineup that features fiction writers, musicians, comedians and actors, alongside the politicians, journalists and experts that attendees would normally expect at the festival.

“We’re not just looking at politics, we’re looking at ethics,” Rolley says. “We’re looking at how we treat each other and how we respond to threats and concerns as a community.

Portrait of Chip Rolley, Direct of Antidote Festival, smiling to camera
  • Antidote Festival director Chip Rolley is taking the 2022 event back to its original themes of ideas, arts and change.

One Antidote event likely to start an important and timely conversation is Welcome to the Pandemicene, a conversation between Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Yong and epidemiologist Professor Raina MacIntyre. Yong and MacIntyre will explain why there’s never been a better time to be a virus, connecting the threat of climate change, our duty as citizens and – perhaps most surprisingly – hope.

“We’re going to keep having floods, we’re going to keep having bushfires, we’ve got these pandemics coming, and new threats all the time,” Rolley says. “What I wanted the biggest message of the festival to be is that politics isn’t going to fix everything. Everything might be political or have a political idea attached to it, but a lot of this is going to have to be about how we treat each other and how we care for each other.”

Care is a big theme of this year’s Antidote. Astrid Edwards and Danielle Celermajer, along with host Bri Lee, will come together for Fatal Adaptation, a conversation that asks us not to get so accustomed to disaster and devastation that we stop taking care of each other. This event, along with others in the lineup, will shine a light on the importance of hope and community in times of tragedy, whether they be caused by bushfire, floods or war.

Of course, there will always be space for politics at Antidote, and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Greens leader Adam Bandt are both due to appear in festival events. Turnbull, alongside Ed Coper, a leading expert in impact communications, will dig into the dangerous consequences of disinformation in Unfriend the Algorithm. Meanwhile, Bandt will join newly elected independent MP Allegra Spender and former crossbencher Cathy McGowan in The World Turned Upside Down, a look at our growing federal cross-bench and the potential future of Australian governments.

Montage of a selection of Antidote Festival guest speakers
  • Just some of more than 35 speakers and artists participating in the 2022 Antidote Festival at the Sydney Opera House this September.

Antidote’s investigation of power in all its forms will also feature some surprising speakers on the topic. One example is Succession’s Brian Cox, who will appear in person at the Opera House for The Evil in Us All. “The arts can give us unique insight into the way power and politics work,” Rolley says. “And nowhere do we see this more than in Brian Cox’s portrayal of the malign cruelty of power as exercised by Logan Roy. His work as an actor is a big part of why Succession is an obsession for so many of us.”

Comedian Jenny Slate (writer and voice in Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, actor in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and the author of Little Weirds), is another artist to add to the must-see list, Rolley says. “With Jenny Slate, the ‘antidote’ we are offering is sweet comic relief,” he says. “Her off-centre take on life gives us a chance to look at the awkwardness and weirdness all around us and find the hilarity and charm in it.”

Author Mohsin Hamid will also appear at Antidote, in conversation with journalist Osman Faruqi, discussing privilege, prejudice and white anxiety in The Last White Man. Sharing a title with Hamid’s latest novel, the event will be a critical and important discussion on race.

“The book is speculative fiction, a genre ideally suited to amplify contemporary concerns,” Rolley says. “In it, a white man wakes up one morning with darkened skin. The storyline immediately raises questions about white supremacist anxiety and replacement and the end of privilege. I am really looking forward to Osman Faruqi unpicking this parable with Mohsin Hamid and confronting some of the challenges we face here in Australia.”

people milling in foyer of sydney opera house, underneath the soaring concrete arches of the sails

Festivalgoers can also learn some new skills: interactive workshops at Antidote will explore the likes of kitchen waste, soap making, and, Rolley’s personal favourite, the traditional Japanese art of kintsugi. “The whole idea of taking something that’s broken and repairing it – and having that be a legitimate and different work of art – is such a great metaphor for what we want to do with the world,” Rolley says. “We’re trying to repair the world, but we’re also trying to come up with ways to make our lives better and to make our society better.”

The 2022 Antidote Festival takes place at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday September 11, view the full program and ticket options.

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