Behold the Yurt: The Wonder of SJ Finch’s ‘Grr Nights’

Words: Jasmine Uitermark-Thaung




A circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey.

Featuring SJ Finch’s homemade yurt called ‘Grr’. This February The Blue Room will play house to Grr Nights, a collaboration representing the magic of nostalgia and love harboured within a community, formed for the Summer Nights program of the venue’s festival calendar.

The Ink Grid had a chat to SJ Finch to speak about the program’s conception.

 “Susannah Day, producer for The Blue Room Theatre, messaged to me about the possibility of a Fringe World 2016 show collaboration between The Blue Room Theatre and The Grr Project around June last year. We talked about the specifics of the collaboration over the next few months. She encouraged me to apply to Summer Nights, and to develop my idea for Grr Nights out of my dreams of what the space of the grr represented. Susannah Day imagined childhood camping in your backyard under the clear stars and wide-eyed wonderment,” said Finch.

For the Perth writer living in his yurt as a yearlong commitment made for a less than ideal time. Travelling to various backyards every eight weeks, transporting the yurt on a self-made push cart, Finch explored the meaning of living sustainably and off the grid. Something he believes we as a human race need to learn to do if we are to exist in the future.

“It was the middle of winter. It was muddy, cold and wet. I had just recovered from cancer, and I was broke. The grr for me was a lived meditation on suffering, both my own, and the sufferings of others (other species, and other humans) who didn't have access to an elaborate form of meaning-making, such as The Grr Project. Grr was a meditation on nomadic forms of community.”

To Finch, Grr has helped him open up to whatever form of creativity the public seeks. When I approached the question as to whether the self-contained space encouraged more creative encounters, he replied saying solitude was not the objective he had in mind whilst making his yurt. Speaking about hermetic life rooted in the knowledge that the hermit is at the service of humanity.

“I think that ways of being an artist or a writer are changing and that by embracing being broke, as well as nomadism and creative collaboration I am opening myself up to the possibility of new ways of existing as a writer/artist. Part of it is about opening dissolving my private room into a public space. Part of it was abstaining temporarily from certain types of technology or forms of sensual pleasure. Grr was not just the structure, but an approach, an imagining. What the Grr did was provide a physical reminder and an impetus to pursue a hermetic life, a life of communion. For me as a creative producer, communion is always the goal.”

Featuring a bill of exciting shows from local and national performers, Grr Nights stays true to its initial vision of sustainability and eco-friendly material with eco-cabaret by Choo Choo Troupe, a group that recently formed a few months ago to work on their first piece Synaturethesia.

“The show is about getting the audience bodied and active in their imaginings. In this way, the show directly addresses the inertia from people when confronted with a moral calling to live more sustainably,” said Finch when I asked the Perth creative what made this performance troupe so eco-friendly.

Another step taken by Finch and the team behind Grr Nights was an eco-pledge, “…started up by Tanja Beer and others that aims to provide a support network for performance artists to create work that doesn’t create waste. The point is to consider the whole process of the work, from inception to post-completion as on the same level of importance and indeed part of the artistic concerns related to the performance of the work.”

Mentoring SJ Finch through a series of skype meetings, Tanja Beer – a well-known ecoscenographer– placed emphasis on what would happen to the interior of the yurt post Fringe.

“A lot of her directions have been about the afterlife of the scenography, that I’m not just buying a whole bunch of junk and throwing it out afterwards. We also spoke of creating kokedama (Japanese hanging moss balls) and a rug composed of repurposed fabrics, all made with a temporary community of people. Just really nice gestures towards a community of care,” said Finch.

Grr Nights runs from the 9th of February to the 20th. With a multitude of shows available to people with varying interests, the wonder of the yurt is not to be missed.

SJ Finch left us with these parting words:

One time I saw Amber Fresh perform a cover of a Beach House song and I still think about how I felt in that moment. I felt like I had stumbled out of my life into a secret room. If one of these shows could resonate just so in an audience member’s mind, and if in that resonate existence there could be the thought that they can contribute something good and beautiful to our dying world then that would be perfect.

Find out more about Grr Nights here.