It’s unlikely that you think of malls as inspiring venues for art and literature. Julian Fleetwood – curator of MALL STORIES taking place during this year’s YOU ARE HERE festival – would disagree.
Running over the course of the ten day festival, Mall Stories is a walking tour that takes the listener through Civic and entertains them with recorded stories submitted by local writers (with a few interstate contributors) about the humble mall.
Why malls? Well, Julian already had a fascination with walking tours. “Whenever Bonnie my wife and I go travelling I drag her along to these ghost tours which are usually really cheesy, but I really like them,” Julian explains. “They have someone who walks you around a place and tells you a story associated with a particular area, and sometimes they have some lame trick or something as well. I really love that, but Bonnie’s like ‘it’s a bit lame!’”
After going on a lot of walking tours himself, Julian got thinking about the idea of places that people regularly frequent and the stories that could be mixed up in them.
“There’re a lot of personal stories going on at places that everyone goes to and people don’t really think about it; they’re just passing through a place,” he says. “So I guess I got mixed up with malls being interesting as places because once you go inside, they try and keep you inside, but they also try and move you through the space. So there are no clocks, hardly any exits.”
That’s something I definitely hadn’t thought about before, and Julian agrees that people don’t always examine the spaces they occupy. “One of the things we’re trying to provoke with this is thinking of spaces in a different way.”
After pitching the event to the Emerging Writers festival originally – and being turned down as they had a similar event already running – Julian was pleased when You Are Here agreed to take Mall Stories on. Having been involved with the festival last year he knew it would be perfect for You Are Here, and it certainly suits. An advantage to the punter is there’s no fixed time in which you have to experience Mall Stories – the yarns will be available as a downloadable PDF/recording from the You Are Here website, and the tour can be undertaken at your leisure.
So, what can people expect from the Mall Stories recording? “There was a surprising amount of old-people-hating that came through some of the pieces, which was interesting – I didn’t expect that,” Julian laughs. “There were also a lot of stories from a teenage perspective.”
Malls may seem like an unlikely space for an adventure, but Mall Stories proves that there’s a lot more to the shopping centres than we may expect. It will be launching at The Newsroom (YAH HQ) at Petrie Plaza on Thursday March 8 from 12:30pm. Head to youareherecanberra.com.au for more info, and for the downloadable PDFs.
There’s a remarkable sense of appropriateness – some may say destiny – surrounding Neil Armfield’s decision to direct one of the most iconic pieces of Australian theatre, Ray Lawler’s SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL, as his first piece after retiring as Artistic Director at Belvoir St Theatre. The play premiered in 1955, the year of Armfield’s birth, and follows two Queensland cane field workers who, for 17 years, have returned to Carlton to enjoy five months with city girls Nancy and Olive. Upon returning for the seventeenth summer it is revealed that Nancy has recently married, and the remaining characters are left to face the growing realisation that good things don’t last forever. So was it these themes that inspired Armfield to direct ‘The Doll’ after, yes, 17 years at Belvoir?
“It was a play that a lot of people had said they’d like to see me make,” says Lawler. “But I wasn’t sure what I could bring to it in production that could make it fresh. Ralph [Myers, Belvoir’s new Assistant Director] asked me to do it. I read the script, and the play revealed itself in a way that showed my memory had shattered it. I rang up Robyn [Nevin] and asked if she would play Emma. Once she said she wanted to, that was it. We decided to do it.”
Lawler – now 91 – received worldwide acclaim after the play’s national and international success in the late ‘50s. He re-visited the script in 1977 when he returned to Australia to adapt it into a trilogy, and this time around has worked with Armfield in tinkering certain aspects.
“At first it seemed to me a bit bizarre and problematic. You know, it’s a great play, it’s proved itself. You don’t want an old writer tinkering with it,” he says. “But every one of the changes he made improved it. I realised that when the play took off in the ‘50s it was rushed into publication. The early published editions were just a record of what had been put together for those early performances. But doing it this time, it gave Ray an opportunity to make it a stand-alone play. There was a whole lot of stuff he wanted to change and develop.”
The play is renowned as a coming-of-age piece for Australian theatre; a work that was pioneering, and significant in bringing Australians out of their age of innocence. As Armfield explains, “For Australian audiences it was the shock of seeing themselves on stage. It was the power of the theatre to mirror the lives of the audiences in such a deep and playful way, which was new for Australian theatre and its audiences,” he says.
GRAEME DRENDEL can spend hours or days alone in the studio with the same characters in various reincarnations. I spoke with the artist before Outsiders opened at Beaver Galleries for some insight into his preoccupation with relationships and how the “vagueries of the human condition” affect his practice.
In contemporary art composition is not always centre stage, but for Drendel it underscores one important thing. “I paint connections and disconnection between characters and often disconnection can have as much or more meaning. We are conscious of ourselves, our gesture, our stance, but it’s also something other people notice. I see it on the tram, in first encounters.” With cinematic flair two cropped paintings of the faces of the male and female characters in another painting, The Thin Air of Desire, oil on canvas, offer insight into the inner worlds of his “cast”. Drendel explains: “I am trying to get into their heads… to get behind their eyes. I’m curious, what are they thinking about… or seeing?”
Drendel’s actors hold feathers, walk a pair of ferrets, carry buckets, hover in space, nurse farm animals, shotguns or tug at long Soviet-era braided hair. However, symbols, in short, are our own creation. “We all have events, glances, ideas that keep recurring throughout life, you catch these same feelings or moments,” poses Drendel. Do we notice these things because of something within us or just because it happens? Drendel tempts reality and fiction against the backdrop of Ouyen, country Victoria, where he was raised. Like in a still life it can be a relief not to have to think about the background Drendel explains, mainly because he thinks of his characters “as alone in this group setting anyhow, you know the feeling – you’re always locked within your own thoughts, even in a crowd.”
Early in his 20s Drendel visited galleries, read art books and developed a palette for art. He admired the Renaissance artists for their fidelity to the figure and ability to spin a narrative. Later he noticed that a lot of contemporary art he’d observed years before had faded out of fashion, so “I resolved in my early 30s that I would only paint what I wanted.” Balthus galvinised him, famed for his resistance of the tyranny of labels, histories, or biographies.
Morandi also inspired Drendel. Painting the same things sometimes can be frustrating but it presents a challenge to stay satisfied. You work harder, refine the ideas. Drendel says the most excruciating moment is calling something finished. “When I think I have finished a painting I come back into the room and I stand in front of it and I look each character in the eye.”
Outsiders runs from Thursday-Tuesday March 1-20 at Beaver Galleries, 81 Denison Street in Deakin. The gallery’s opening hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday-Friday and 9am-5pm on Saturday and Sunday.
There is sometimes nothing more rewarding and magical than discovering a hidden treasure. It could be the last slice of cake you already thought you ate, a secondhand book that changes your life, a new cozy café or even discovering a new friend where you never expected. PETITE PUBLIC ART aims to showcase these hidden treasures of the everyday. Small, intimate artworks hidden within the fabric of our often mundane city centre hope to bring a joyful smile into your day.
Part of You Are Here’s jam-packed program for 2012, Petite Public Art is curated by YAH co-producer Yolande Norris, who has been particularly inspired by the more discreet forms of public art. Small interventions such as flowers planted in the cracks of the pavements, or a Lego man diorama in a public toilet. Subtle yet surprising additions to the existing landscape, bringing a smile to anyone lucky enough to notice.
One intended outcome of this event is to demonstrate that public art doesn’t need to be large scale sculptural work in order to make an impression. The small and the discreet can have just as powerful an impact on the viewer. Particularly work which engages the pedestrian to think twice about what they are seeing. As at first some of these works appear to have been created by chance, but on closer inspection reveal themselves to have been carefully placed in the landscape of the city.
Petite Public Art fits nicely within the larger ethos of You Are Here; to encourage the audience, the passerby to open their eyes and look twice at what’s around them. To discover what you may have previously been unaware of, and to take the time to reflect and appreciate everything amazing Canberra has to offer.
Bringing together a wide range of artists, including Jacqui Bradley, Dan Stewart-Moore, Jess Kelly, Al Munro, Fiona Veikkanen, Adam Veikkanen, Natalie Mather, Tiffany Cole, Helani Laisk, Simon Scheuerle, Owen Lewis, Jon Webster and Dan Edwards (plus even more), Petite Public Art promises to be a surprising and diverse exploration through the Canberra CBD. Be on the lookout for tiny sculptures in flowerbeds, on signposts, under park benches and every other nook and cranny of the city you can think of.
Running for the duration of You Are Here, Petite Public Art will be officially opened at The Canberra Museum and Gallery on Friday March 9. CMAG will also be the launch pad for a walking tour of the city, courtesy of Petite Public Art. Pick up your map and get exploring. You will be rewarded with all kinds of unexpected treasures.
Official opening at 5.30pm on Friday March 9, Canberra Museum and Gallery. Petite Public Art will run from Thursday-Sunday March 8-18 around the CBD. Check out youareherecanberra.com.au for more details.
Last year’s You Are Here festival was loved by many, and reviled by some few on a particular contentious detail – the assumption that the festival was being made by and consumed by the most hated subculture known to Canberra – hipsters.
A term that is generally just used as a snide tag for anyone that is a bit odd, or pretentious, or perhaps just really irritating, the word ‘hipster’ has virtually no meaning, a fact that You Are Here couldn’t resist poking a little fun at in this year’s festival.
With their tongues firmly placed in cheek, this year’s YAH crew bring you the outdoor dance party to end all dance parties, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN HIPSTER, being held in Petrie Plaza on Friday March 16. Featuring DJs Dead DJ Joke (Reuben Ingall) and Chris In Da House (Chris Finnigan), as well as ‘electroglam cum luchadore’ trio Babyfreeze (made up of Babyfreeze, Handsome Luke and Face Face), the event is a wink in the direction of last year’s critics, and also an excuse for punters to dress up in their most ironic outfits and dance to music that’s either good, ironically good, or so bad it’s good.
The DJs of So You Think… have very little interest in the word or subculture ‘hipster’.
“I don’t think anything resembling a coherent subculture of ‘hipster-ism’ exists in the real world,” Chris says. “It’s just a label that’s used to denigrate anyone suspected of acting like they’re culturally ‘above’ other people.”
Babyfreeze disagrees somewhat though. “Hipsters are the final bastion of heroism in a world of pointless sincerity. They alone have the courage to look into the cold expanse of God’s creation and say ‘I preferred his earlier work’.”
Fun-making aside, So You Think… promises to be an evening to remember. Dead DJ Joke creates danceable mash-ups of anything from Top 40 hits, to hip-hop/crunk to polyphonic ringtones, all at the kind of energy level that creates the perfect atmosphere for some seriously rad dancing.
Slightly more mellow, DJ Chris In Da House is hoping to provide a set of classic pop tracks from the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the musical eras that are the favourites of nostalgia obsessed ‘hipsters’.
With two potentially cheesy, and definitely danceable sets to kick off the evening, Petrie Plaza is bound to be rocking from the get-go.
Babyfreeze, however, are not entirely confident in their stage-mates, and seem keen on sparking some healthy rivalry.
“Babyfreeze are excited to be playing alongside our sworn creative enemies Dead DJ Joke and DJ Dance Captain, and will do whatever we can to undermine their performance. In all seriousness though, both those guys are incredible talents, especially taking into account their prodigious drug habits.”
Rivalries aside, one thing all three performers can agree on is that there is a definite need in Canberra for the kind of events that You Are Here provides.
“I think Canberra needs this kind of thing pretty desperately, to unearth and bring together different alternative arts scenes, make them stare at each other awkwardly across rooms,” Dead DJ Joke says. “Mostly, Canberra arts patrons need a good kick up the arse.”
Audience engagement can certainly be an issue at Canberra events – could the use of an outdoor, public space like Petrie Plaza be the solution to reeling in the crowd?
“[Petrie Plaza] is perfect,” DJ Chris In Da House says. “The area in front of the merry go round is actually perfectly sized for a dance floor and the enclosed nature of the plaza means that the sound quality will be good.”
Dead DJ Joke is mildly concerned about annoying people who might just be out for a quiet wander through Garema Place (people do that, right…?).
“I think a general problem with public street parties is passers-by who might not be tolerant to the music style. This isn’t really an impediment to my DJ set though, as I’m usually alienating half the audience with my awfulness anyway.”
Such modesty! Not a trait Babyfreeze suffer from, but then, according to Babyfreeze himself, they’ve had experience will all manner of venues.
“Petrie Plaza is the latest stop on our tour of Civic’s hottest ‘now’ venues, which has also included the Canberra Centre ANZ and Club X’s loading dock,” he explains, with true hipster-like nonchalance.
From what we saw last year, at You Are Here’s alternative Skyfire event (also featuring Dead DJ Joke), the Plaza can reel in all manner of punters, from giddy 15 year olds to dudes keen on a crazy dance, to hipsters young and old.
“And really drunk people yelling ‘play some ‘80s!’,” Dead DJ Joke remembers. “It’s inspired my DJ set format for So You Think… – as well as playing my own mash-ups I’m going to take requests, then play the worst-best mash-up/remix I have in my collection, can quickly find online, or can quickly edit together.”
With instant remixes and trashy ‘90s pop to look forward to, So You Think You Can Hipster is a great excuse to badly dance to loud music in public, without the walls and dim lighting of a club to shield you, and with a few hundred other hipster-haters/wannabes to keep you company.
Babyfreeze is certainly looking forward to the musical carnage, but issues this final warning to potential So You Think… attendees:
“Remember, So You Think You Can Hipster is only open to hipsters or people who really hate hipsters. And those who are indifferent. That’s hippest of all.”
So You Think You Can Hipster will features DJs Babyfreeze, Dance Captain and Dead DJ Joke and will take place in Petrie Plaza near the merry go round at 7.30pm on Friday March 16. It’s free!
Let's start with a simple one. God: does he exist or not? And what about religion – lovely idea, or a stupid argument between one group of people who feel that their imaginary friend is better than another group’s imaginary friend? Perhaps not so simple. Luckily we have theatre makers The Landlords, who, assisted by their creations Professor Richard Pritchard and Doctor Arthur Downwards, will provide answers, entertainment, and apparently the threat of sectarian violence through their show GOING TO HELL IN THIS HANDY BASKET.
The Landlords, aka Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr, are two former Canberra kids decamped to Melbourne, familiar to local audiences through last year’s Bringing Some Gum To A Knife Fight, a highlight of the 2011 You Are Here festival. This year’s YAH offering is a sequel, where Prof. Pritchard and Dr Downwards are apparently “ready to reveal to you, the fickle unbeliever, which religion is THE RIGHT ONE”. Prosser, however, is less of a fundamentalist than his creation.
“For starters, I feel people treat this question [of whether God exists] too often as an absolute; that there either is, or isn’t, and that every person is either right, or wrong in their beliefs.
“Certainly, Sam and I believe unequivocally that there is no God of any shape or form as put forth by institutionalised religion. What we do believe, however, is in people’s freedom of choice, something which, ironically, we perceive many religions as denying their own faithful.”
Heady stuff. But Going to Hell... is no lecture. Thanks to our two hosts, things could get messy.
“Well, look – with the very best of intentions, Pritchard and Downwards’ research projects do generally end up in some manner of scientific misadventure, or occasionally, mass death. That being said, they are gentlemen scientists and anthropologists par excellence, so the pub and theatre goers of Canberra have nothing to be afraid of, as long as they keep an open mind. Refreshments, however, will most certainly be provided.”
The Landlords’ return to YAH is an opportunity for Prosser and Burns-Warr to both connect with their hometown and a festival which Prosser describes as “one of the most exciting arts events currently happening in our country”. Though they’ve left town, Prosser remains an advocate of the capital.
“It is one of my pet hates – people in Melbourne having a dig at Canberra. Obviously Canberra is the youngest and smallest of all Australia’s capital cities and hell, some things, like a genuine and thriving arts culture, cannot be forced. But festivals like You Are Here and the ever-growing reach of the city’s artists are the kinds of things that are going to slowly steer it in that right direction, so that in not so many generations’ time it can be a cultural hub on par with other, far larger, far older Australian capitals.”
Going To Hell In This Handy Basket will be performed at The Phoenix in the city at 7.30pm on Thursday March 15. Entry is free.