1. the quality of being composed of matter, the physical aspect or character
2. the quality of being relevant or important
Materiality is the title and over-arching theme of the seventh Australian Print Symposium at the National Gallery of Australia this October. Initiated in 1989 by Roger Butler, the conferences are an exciting collaboration between the institution and a range of artists and art spaces. Materiality promises to be both educational and entertaining and is an opportunity for the general public to get involved with the ideas and discourse of the professional art world.
Butler is the Senior Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings at the NGA and has been responsible for the department since it was established in 1981. Over nearly thirty years, he has developed the NGA’s holdings into the strongest and most significant collection of Australian prints in the world. His enthusiasm for Australian printmaking is evidenced by his encouragement of wider appreciation of the print medium, and his dedication to the development of accessible education resources. To this end, and with the support of the NGA, he established the Australian Print Symposiums.
The Symposiums are hosted by the Gallery and held roughly every three years. Canberra is an ideal venue: there is a strong interest in and appreciation of prints in the Nation’s Capital – and it’s getting ever stronger. Over 23 years, the Symposiums have enriched public understanding of prints as art, and encouraged thoughtful academic study of the medium. At a time where contemporary printmaking is being influenced by a digital revolution, this year’s exploration of ‘materiality’ promises an interesting discussion.
Over three days Materiality will providea forum for a range of arts professionals to explore notions that are simultaneously realistic and abstract. Past Symposiums have coincided with and complimented major NGA exhibitions, such as The Story of Australian Printmaking: 1801-2005 (2007), Islands in the Sun: prints by Indigenous artists of the Australasian region (2001) and The Europeans: Émigré artists in Australia 1930-1960 (1997). This year, the conference relates to a loose theme that explores ideas of Corporeality, Reality, Palpability, Perceptibility, Physicality and Experience.
When applied to art, the term ‘materiality’ relates to the physical and formal attributes of a work, but also to philosophical ideas of its reality and existence. Prints are replications of an original design, so by definition raise questions regarding artistic significance, physical state, uniqueness and authenticity. In this way, they encourage consideration of physicality with more abstract ideas of existence. Such are the sorts of conversations promised during the course of Materiality.
The earliest Print Symposium included a talk given by Ron Radford, who has since been appointed Director of the NGA, and the most recent symposium, held in 2007, saw local artist eX de Medici take the role of keynote speaker. This year’s keynote is the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art’s Glenn Barkley. As a curator at the MCA, Barkley is used to working with and speaking about cutting-edge local and international artworks. Ever since his early days at the Wollongong Museum of Art, his exhibitions and publications have demonstrated an ongoing interest in Australian art and the medium of print. Over the years, his work has particularly focused on artists’ books, zines and the use of text in art, and recently Barkley participated in the Sydney Writers Festival and the MCA’s Zine Fair. This wealth of experience makes him an ideal guest for a symposium that explores the conceptual qualities of prints in Australia’s contemporary art world.
Barkley will be joined by an amazing line up of guest speakers: Angela Cavalieri, Richard Tipping, Emily Floyd, Del Kathryn Barton, Adam Cullen, Euan Macleod, Billy Missi, Jon Cattapan, Julia Silvester, Paul Uhlmann, Caren Florance (Ampersand Duck), Luke Sinclair (from the Sticky Institute in Melbourne), Domenico de Clario, Lesley Duxbury, Marian Crawford, Tim Maguire, Robert Jacks, Mini Graff, Rae O’Connell (Djumbunji Press), Angus Cameron (Nomad Art Production) and Lucas Ihlein (Big Fag Press). Between them, these presenters have worked with an incredible variety of printmaking techniques, from linoprint to lithograph to photography and digital mediums. They include influential prizewinners, founders of art centres and central figures of art culture across Australia. They are teachers and curators, representatives from galleries and members of collectives, with cumulative experience and insight that is certain to stimulate dynamic and fascinating conversation.
As one of the few events in the capital to draw contemporary arts professionals based in the larger cities, the Print Symposiums are a rare and infrequent privilege for Canberra audiences. Further, the NGA conference is complimented by concurrent events and exhibitions staged across a variety of smaller galleries in the territory, including Nomad Art Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and Megalo Print Studio. Even if you don’t get a chance to attend the main Symposium events, there will be a lot of print love going on around the city this October.
Having said that, this year’s symposium is particularly accessible, with students able to purchase tickets for only $80 (rather than full $250). So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get your print on.
The Symposium takes place on the October 15, 16 and 17, with lunch and refreshments included in the ticket price.
Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studio September 18-20
Producing the first ever ANU Arts Revue was never going to be a simple task. Other faculties - Law, for example - have relatively smaller and more close-knit student communities, allowing them the benefit not only of a student base with more faculty 'spirit' (I did choke a little bit when I wrote that), but also the luxury of knowing that their target audience will have shared virtually identical faculty-related experiences and therefore will be able to comprehend what would otherwise be niche, gratuitous comedy (ha ha, JP Fonteyne's accent sure does crack me up! Oh wait, there I go…).
The Arts faculty, by contrast, is notoriously dispersed, with most students unaware of which 'schools', 'centres' or other various sub-stratum of subject specification actually come within the monolithic umbrella of 'Arts', let alone having the desire or ability to capture a common 'Arts' experience and perform it live, to music, over the course of two hours.
So it's no small accomplishment then, that in its inaugural year, the ANU Arts Revue succeeded in creating a show that was brilliantly witty, original and entertaining, and which at the same time struck the perfect balance between Arts-centric comedy and comedy that could be appreciated by your regular, off-the-street Canberran. Under the directorship of Meg O'Connell - herself a former director of the ANU Law Revue - and supported by a group of stupidly talented actors and musicians, the Revue explored the vast spectrum of theatrical styles, moving constantly (yet seamlessly) between simple sketch comedy routines, full-cast big band musical numbers, and a large amount of everything that comes between. The obvious targets - the 'usefulness' of an Arts degree, Market Day, efforts to gain extensions from unsympathetic tutors, the pretension of International Relations students, the 'usefulness' of ANUSA - were all given good servings, alongside a healthy dose of political satire, public servant-bashing and pop culture spoofs (Gemma Nourse and Carl Reinecke's depiction of Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton was particularly veracious).
However, like much theatre, it wasn't so much the subject matter of the production, but its execution, that made the Revue so entertaining. Whether it was denouncing the homogeneity of policies between Gillard and Abbott by way of a parody of My Fair Lady's The Rain in Spain ("It's such a shame, our policies were the same" - outstanding), lambasting Canberra's lack of romance via Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, performing an ultra-summary (with pirate ending!) of The Sound of Music, or exploring every Arts students' arch enemy - procrastination - by way of Simon and Garfunkel's The Sounds of Silence, it was undoubtedly the sharp song-writing, polished musicianship, and amazing performance of the Revue's musical numbers that helped maintain its momentum (and with the audience's undivided attention) over the course of two staggering acts.
If this performance is an indication of what we can expect in years to come, then we are all well in for a treat.
When Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan first premiered in the last decade of the nineteenth century, the things it explored would have been quite risqué. Infidelity and sexuality were (at least in the common understanding of Victorian society) things not to be spoken of. His characters – the painfully young and puritanical Lady Windermere (Zoë Tuffin) and her stitched-up husband Lord Windermere (Ross Walker) – tiptoe around all but the cleanest of subjects, allowing the audience and the more dynamic characters Lord Darlington (Adrian Flor), Mrs Erlynne (Christa de Jager) and the Duchess of Berwick (Liz Bradley) to smile archly, twitter knowingly, and generally feel superior.
Wilde’s fin-de-siecle comedy of manners, in which the gauche Lady Windermere is led to believe that: a) her husband is having an affair with the fallen woman Mrs Erlynne, and b) that the appropriate response to such news is to elope with Lord Darlington rather than to tell Lord W to foot it, is in this version updated by Tony Turner and the folks at Rep – but not totally.
Turner is cognizant of the play’s general outmodedness; the manners and mores of Victorian society do not fully mesh with our own. (Having said that, if I found out that my spouse was giving large sums of money to women of dubious repute, who he then insisted I invite to my own birthday party, I’d probably chuck a tizzy, too). Turner does not, however, simply plant Lady Windermere et al in 21st Century London, along with F-book, Twitter, and iPhones. To bridge the gap between Wilde’s world and our own, Turner has set the show in the entre deux guerres period, complete with bobs and dropped waists on the ladies and a monolithic modernist set done in sorbet colours.
The cast do a fine job of capturing the moral ambiguities of Wilde’s script. I confess I enjoyed the bad characters far more than I enjoyed the good ones: Bradley’s Duchess was zestfully delicious, while de Jager’s Mrs Erlynne combined complicity and sass in a winning performance. Jerry Hearn was another delight as the crusty, baffled Lord Augustus. I must also confess that, having retained the upper-class English setting, I do wish that Turner had made a bit of extra effort with his actors in retaining the upper-class English accent, but this is a minor quibble. The costumes are sumptuous, the players attractive, and the audience has a grand old time - which makes me think of Wilde’s words after the first performance:
“Ladies and Gentlemen. I have enjoyed this evening immensely. The actors have given us a charming rendition of a delightful play, and your appreciation has been most intelligent. I congratulate you on the great success of your performance, which persuades me that you think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.”
Josh Thomas’ brand new Barry Award nominated stand up show is called ‘Surprise’, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to many of you that the performance may contain a satin glove-full of social curveballs - such as coming out to his parents via text message.
“I just think a big sit down, coming out thing was a bit too 90’s for me, and I didn't want to be old fashioned, so I sent them a text message. I just couldn't be bothered really. I think I have the same attitude when I do my taxes”.
Thomas, or, as your mother would know him, the Gen Y ‘team captain’ from Channel Ten’s hit TV show ‘Talkin’ bout your Generation’, built the theme for his stand up show around his experiences of his first serious relationship; one that has since dissolved, forcing him to switch a few words around in his routine.
“I just use the past tense and I get away with it. It’s been nice, we had our official opening night last night, all this media were there and I thought they would all be big idiot douches but they were enthusiastic and they laughed and even clapped at the end.”
Back in 2005, Thomas took the gong in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s RAW Comedy Competition, which was no mean feat for an impish 17 year old.
“I don't think I really had any confidence, I don't really know why I did it. The first time I did a gig I almost vomited, it was pretty terrifying!”
Since he ‘came out’ as a stand up, Thomas’ trademark shaggy bed hair has become acquainted with all manner of audiences across the world, including Ireland, The USA, Belgium and Scotland.
“The Irish people didn't really like me too much. The older generation in Ireland has had it really rough and the new generation has had it really good, so my comedy, about how much I like Ipods, they didn't really get into.”
On-stage success led to the gig with Channel Ten, and has proven to be a valuable learning curve for the young comedian. “Amanda and Charlie always have to leave because they have real jobs to go to, whereas me and Shaun (Micallef) don't. So we just sit down and eat the sandwiches and he tells me about comedy, and it’s really interesting because he, like, knows about it” he laughs.
But it wasn't all light-hearted banter over complimentary ham and cheese triangles, with the realisation that ‘Generation’ was becoming an unstoppable ratings juggernaut.
“I nearly said no to it actually, which sounds pretty stupid. The first time I did it was in front of 1.7 million people who didn't know who I was, and I could just sense the nation deciding whether or not they liked me.”
If you turn on the television or radio, open a newspaper, or (be you so inclined) log onto a quality news website such as news.com.au, you're unlikely to hear a story about Africa relating to something other than war, poverty, the pillaging of natural resources by multinational corporations or, (ahem) cricket and lions. The false perceptions of African fostered by such 'news' is what Winston Ruddle hopes to dispel in his brilliant, colourful celebration of the world's most misunderstood continent, CIRQUE MOTHER AFRICA. "In two hours, we try to take the audience to Africa, and to show them a different side of the country to what the media portrays. I want people to be inspired by Africa, not depressed by it."
After beginning his performing career as a break-dancer in Zimbabwe, Ruddle travelled the world (including Australia) performing in various circuses, before opening his first acrobatic academy in Tanzania in 2004. In 2007 he produced and directed the first incarnation of Cirque Mother Africa. In its first performance season the circus played to more than 450,000 people throughout Europe, and then sold out in Europe in 2009-2010, before coming to Australia for an extended tour.
"Our first stop was the Gold Coast. We were supposed to be there for six weeks, but it ended up being extended to seventeen" says Ruddle of the show's stay-over at the infamous Jupiters Casino. "The owner said he'd never seen so many standing ovations in his theatre!"
The show is comprised of 40 performers from the great spectrum of African nations. With more than a quarter of these being musicians, Cirque Mother Africa's strong focus is on music and dancing, giving it a pulsating infectiousness that - in addition to a plethora of other elements - sets it apart from traditional circuses. "This is the fourth production I've made, and the dancing and music is certainly my greatest inspiration" says Ruddle. "There are just an incredible, boundless number of tribes and styles."
When describing the show, Ruddle can only nominate Cirque du Soleil as a comparison in terms of uniqueness. He then goes on to list the many tribes of South Africa. "They all have different dances, different traditions - and that's just one country" he says. "If you think of the whole of Africa, I could change the production every night and we'd never run out of inspiration. I want to package these different histories, these different parts of Africa, to bring them to the audience and show them how awe-inspiring Africa is. To show people a different side to the news is so important for us."
Cirque Mother Africa will perform at the Canberra Theatre Centre from October 6-9. Tickets are available through Canberra Ticketing and canberratheatrecentre.com.au.