When discussing the future, often the promise doesn’t live up to the eventual reality. As the saying goes, we should be commuting via jetpack by now. Similarly, when it comes to art in a web environment, the idea often trumps the reality – offers of accessibility, a democratic exhibition platform and a new language for reading and seeing how art works frequently end up being another disposable web experience with no real substance. Which is why ART MACHINE is a notable event, summoning the best of the physical and online worlds to create a new kind of exhibition experience.
“The idea behind the Art Machine exhibition is to develop a show that pits coded art machines against the text, image, video and sound content submitted to the exhibition via the website,” says curator Chris Fulham. The show, both a physical exhibition running at the ANU School of Art Gallery and online at artmachine.tv, is an example of the web and the physical world integrating, and a comment on the increasing crossover between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’. In a world full of imagery, Art Machine is a show that embraces overload.
“Art Machine removes curatorial influence by accepting all the digital content submitted and using it in the exhibition. The content providers are not aware of the how the machines will operate and the coders of the machines are not aware of the specific content their machines will operate on,” says Fulham. “This situation will continue to run live for the duration of the three week exhibition and visitors will be able to contribute to and experience the Art Machine as a constantly evolving and shifting experience. Art Machine is an opportunity for everyone to contribute digital content and be part of a gallery digital art experience.”
Fulham, an experienced curator and ANU academic, has built a structure which challenges the traditional idea of exhibiting within a gallery context – gone is the notion of the carefully constructed narrative or uniting umbrella, replaced by the chaos of a continuing stream of images.
“I wanted to create an exhibition that would both surprise and engage. I also wanted to develop a mechanism for anyone to contribute digital content to the show. I am also quite interested in the digital media that sits around unseen on our hard-drives and will most likely never see the light of day. I love that with Art Machine we can create new work and submit it for exhibition anonymously or under our names.
“Art Machine presents an opportunity to be surprised and engaged with every visit. It also presents an opportunity for anyone to contribute digital content and be part of the show. Art Machine is public based artwork and represents a form of art that has a curious place in the contemporary art landscape.”
Art Machine will be running at the ANU School of Art Gallery until Saturday July 30. More information is available at artmachine.tv .
It takes a musician of great confidence yet great humility to entrust their work to another musician for interpretation and re-creation; to allow their songs to be reassembled, their stories re-told, and the accompanying emotions completely reinvented. It's no great surprise then that one of Australia's most beloved musicians, Paul Kelly, did exactly that - handing over to acclaimed composer and pianist Paul Grabowsky a collection of his most spiritual and biblical-themed songs to be re-written by Grabowsky for performance by a group of over 19 musicians. The result, MEET ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AIR, is a "secular revival meeting" (in the words of Grabowsky), seeing Kelly's songs, as re-written by Grabowsky, performed by himself, Grabowsky, the Australian Art Orchestra, the Choir With No Name and – sharing lead vocal duties with Kelly – the renowned Bull sisters, Vika and Linda.
Vika and Linda have worked with Kelly in various capacities for over 20 years, and have performed both as backing vocalists (first coming to prominence with Joe Camilleri's band The Black Sorrows) and singers in their own right. Collaboration on such a large scale, however, is a first for them both. "We haven't sung with an orchestra before, apart from Carols in the Domain," says Linda, "and this is completely different. Their arrangements [the AAO] are dense and the time signatures change a lot. You really have to concentrate to know when to come in." Vika continues, "Yeah, it's definitely daunting, but you just have to do your homework and learn your songs. At first I thought I wouldn't be heard, with that many people on stage, but they're such amazing musicians that nothing at all is lost in the sound. One second it will be really loud, and the next, you'll be able to hear a pin drop."
The production was first performed at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2006, and has since toured Melbourne's Hamer Hall and the Sydney Opera House – not a bad sojourn, for a concert premised on spiritual and biblical songs written by an Atheist rock/folk musician and subsequently infused with Cuban salsa, reggae, dixieland and gospel arrangements.
"Paul [Kelly] took his songs to Paul [Grabowsky], and Paul [G] rearranged them, and wrote the parts for the chorus and the orchestras," says Vika, explaining the writing and collaboration process. "Grabowsky sent everyone a tape or CD with what he'd written, then Vika and I came in and workshopped it with the two Pauls. We all sat around Paul's piano and decided how to attack it."
Kelly is said to have baulked at some of Grabowsky's arrangements initially, but ultimately trusted his vision and that of the AAO, who were not hesitant to make their opinions heard during the process.
"The first time we worked with them [the AAO] was at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the first time we did the show," says Linda. "They're really naughty but really fantastic. They're rather mischievous and certainly vocal about their ideas, but they're extremely talented to match. It's one thing to have an opinion, and another to be able to pull it off."
"Worse than bloody rock musicians, I'd say!" adds Vika.
Vika and Linda first met Kelly when working with Archie Roach in the late 1980s. They've since collaborated with Kelly in a variety of forms, from singing as backing vocalists on his albums and on tour, to having him produce their records, and performing his songs in their own band. In Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air, however, the girls share lead vocals with Paul, a role which has given Kelly's songs a new release, but which was also, understandably, a somewhat scary prospect for Linda and Vika.
"We've worked with Paul a lot before, but normally we back him up in his band. This is a bit heavier a role, it's a little nerve-racking," says Linda. "Paul's very good though, in that he'll give you a song and let you have a bash at it. We'll have a conversation about where we want the song to go, but he'll let you interpret it in your own way, and give you advice." Vika goes on, "Sometimes I sit down and think 'Oh shit, I'm singing Paul's songs and he's right there. I better not fuck it up!' But then, I remind myself that he wouldn't have asked us to sing with him if he didn't think we could do the job."
Despite their long relationship, neither Vika nor Linda can put their finger on a standout memory of Kelly. Instead, it has been Kelly's influence on their careers and their own songwriting that has made the greatest impression on the sisters. "He's just been so open to sharing his songs with us and giving us his beautiful music over the years," says Linda.
"It's funny, the thing I love the most, and that I'll always remember, is sitting around a table and writing songs with him," says Vika. "He loves food, so perhaps that's part of it; his kids running around the table, us all eating lunch, having a few beers and writing some songs – that's my fondest memory."
Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air plays at The Canberra Theatre on Friday 29 July. Tickets, sadly, are sold out.
This August, the award winning QL2 DANCE ENSEMBLE is back again with their triple-bill Identify. Always a delight to watch, QL2 Dance Inc (previously Quantum Leap with The Australian Choreographic Centre) has become a Canberran institution over its 11 years, and is one of few youth dance companies in Australia. Past ‘Leapers’ have gone on to perform in some of Australia’s top dance companies (from Bangarra to Australian Dance Theatre) and even become Hollywood stars.
Unlike many creative endeavours aimed at youth, QL2 does not patronisingly
problematise the experience of teens, and focus on sex, drugs and
alcohol. Instead, it strives to find issues which genuinely concern everybody, and
youth no less than the rest of us. As a result, QL2 is now renowned for tackling
difficult themes, from the history of Australians at war in their award-winning
Reckless Valour, or the complexities of a multicultural modern Australia in My
Sister, My Brother.
This year is no different, and Identify looks at how identity is constructed and
re-imagined throughout life, and particularly how turbulent and changeable identity
can be for teens. Intellectually and creatively the pieces are shaped by dancers
themselves, and it is their stories and experiences which provide material for the
It opens with Jodie Farrugia’s The Land is Calling, which examines how immigration has shaped Australia, from the genocide of the Indigenous population to current
racial vilification. Next is Adam Wheeler’s Precipice, a collaboration between QL2
dancers and Bangkok Dance Academy which debuted in Thailand this January. It
explores how young people deal with external expectations, and the boundaries that
they either challenge or accept. The final work is Anton’s Digital Face, which
looks at how identities are constructed visually online.
The artistic director Ruth Osborne is adamant that contemporary dance is accessible
and interesting. She has made a career of introducing young people to an art form
that most adult Australians feel is intellectually and creatively out of their
reach. TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance have popularised dance, but not
beyond high-kicks and back-flips. QL2 does not pander to the assumption that
audiences can only understand obvious movements performed to popular songs which do all the work of explaining the message. QL2 succeeds in expressing the power of
dance as a medium, and more importantly, the power of this art form to transform and
impact the lives of young people today.
Identify is showing at The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre from Wednesday August 3 to Saturday August 6. Tickets are from $20, and are available from ql2.org.au .