THE REAL AND IDEAL is the current photography and video art exhibition showing at Griffith’s M16 Artspace. It is the brainchild of emerging Canberran curators Grace Carroll and Katrina Osborne, initially conceived over a cup of coffee last year. It presents the work of six artists – Katherine Griffiths, Amy McGregor, Alexander Bell Moffatt, Samantha Small, Natalie Azzopardi and Johnny Milner – whose work, although very different to each other, creates an open dialogue once placed alongside each other within the gallery. Each work presented in The Real and Ideal explores, at the most basic level, the relationship between people and space – both natural and constructed – while entertaining an interest in the artist’s task of ‘capturing’ this interplay through the lens of a camera.
“The title [of the exhibition] is the underlying theme,” reflects Grace, “and the medium of photography is important in that. It’s different from other forms of art in its documenting authenticity.
“The ‘ideal’ is what’s being challenged,” adds Katrina. Whether the ‘ideal’ is notions of reality and truth, idealised moments, or indeed a slipping into the surreal, each artist plays with our ideas of reality and, on a subconscious level, our expectations of a work of art.
Natalie Azzopardi is one artist whose work engages strongly with the latter concern. She has printed single sentences, accompanied by photographs of unfamiliar landscapes, onto fabric which is precariously pinned to the central wall in the space. The effect is that of leaving the audience member feeling somewhat disoriented.
“She’s created these pieces that have a narrative and we expect that it’s going to be a logical story that we can follow – the ideal being that we expect to be guided through and told a story,” says Grace, “but she actually denies you that. She gives you fragments that are not meant to be one consistent story – they don’t make sense.”
Similarly, Johnny Milner’s piece – a black and white home video reel of children playing, accompanied by a quite sinister musical composition – plays on the viewer’s expectations of a body of work. “We rely on the visual image and we think that what we look at depicts a narrative,” says Grace. “But in fact, when you put different sounds over that image, it completely colours the way you see it. He has played with the idea of what the camera can promise.”
The exhibition as a whole, like the works presented therein, is philosophical without being impenetrable; playful while intellectual. It succeeds in conjuring a complex array of meanings that give an uncanny energy to the gallery; a credit to the curators, and a long way from a cup of coffee.
The Real and Ideal is showing until Sunday March 25. Katrina Osborne and Grace Carroll will be giving a floortalk at M16 Artspace Gallery on Saturday March 17 at 1pm.
When Scottish playwright David Greig and his collaborator Gordon McIntyre were contemplating how to title the play that would eventually become MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS), they sought to draw attention to the musical element of the production while simultaneously avoiding the chance that it be confused with a musical or an opera.
“We were keen not to be described as a musical, simply because I think had we been described as a musical people might have been disappointed by it,” Greig says. “Whereas a play with songs gave us a bit of leeway. In truth, the play is much more concerned with playing with the genre of Hollywood Romantic Comedy. That’s really its roots.”
The play’s script was written by Greig, the songs by Scottish singer/songwriter McIntyre of indie group Ballboy. Set in a rainy Edinburgh in midsummer, it follows Helena, a divorce lawyer, and Bob, a shady low level criminal – two 30-somethings who meet at a wine bar and enjoy a lustful night together. Within hours of parting ways, the hungover pair meet again by chance and make a spontaneous decision to spend the $25,000 that Bob was en route to deliver to a petty gangster.
The play received extensive acclaim after its debut at 2009’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and has since gone on to play in Ireland, Canada, the USA and now Australia. It has also been translated for productions in Germany, Quebec, Portugal and Brazil.
“That’s been a huge surprise to me since Gordon and I genuinely thought we were making it for about 2000 Ballboy fans in Edinburgh,” Greig says, speaking of his and McIntyre’s ongoing disbelief with the production’s success. “I genuinely made it because I was a fan of Gordon’s music and I wanted to make a play for other fans of Gordon’s music. Walking up to the Sydney Opera House, clutching our ukuleles and our grubby plastic bag full of props, I thought ‘what the hell has happened here? This wasn’t supposed to be how it went. This was supposed to be on for two weeks in a studio theatre in Edinburgh one wet November’.”
Greig and McIntyre worked together for a long time fleshing out the storylines and the characters of Bob and Helena, much of which was inspired by the experiences of the writers and actors themselves. Greig has said previously that the play’s advantage over, and distinguishing point from, musicals is that while in musicals the songs help tell the story itself, in Midsummer, the songs act as a means of conveying the thoughts and feelings of the characters, thereby giving the audience a greater insight into the minds of the characters. McIntyre began writing the songs once the pair had a basic idea of the characters and the plot, shortly after which Greig wrote the script in a “short, intense writing burst”, as he describes it. As he wrote more of the script, he came up with new song ideas that he would put to McIntyre.
“During that burst I rang Gordon up a couple of times to say things like ‘I need a song entitled Japanese Rope Bondage and I need it tomorrow morning’, which he responded to with commendable promptness and aplomb,” he explains.
Since its debut the two person cast of Bob (Matthew Pidgeon) and Helena (Cora Bissett, who was awarded the Stage Award for Best Actress at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival) has remained the same. After so many performances, Greig admits that the way the characters are portrayed has changed, albeit unintentionally.
“The roles haven’t changed but the performances have become much darker and richer and deeper. I describe it as like when you make a chilli and it’s delicious,” he says. “But if you leave it overnight on the stove top, the next day it’s just better. It’s not that you’ve done anything in particular, or added any new ingredient. It’s just become more complex as all the flavours mingle. Every time we do the show it gets better, I think. Matt and Cora bring more and more of themselves to it.”
The characters and their adventures were borne of the stories – both personal and secondhand – of Greig, McIntyre, Pidgeon, Bissett and the production’s designer Georgia. Greig describes how the group would sit around and tell their stories to each other, with most of the more embarrassing anecdotes finding their way into the script. “We were – when we made the show – all hovering around 35, the midsummer age. So we’d all been where Helena and Bob have been. I stole stories left, right and centre. I think that’s why the script has the ring of truth,” Greig suggests. “But writers can be very cruel. It can’t be nice for an actor to tell you an embarrassing story about a wedding, when drunk, and then come into rehearsal the next morning to find it’s in the script.”
Although all audiences have connected with either Bob or Helena, or their situations, to some degree, Greig finds it interesting that each audience will draw more from one character than from another.
“The reactions are subtly different in each place though,” he says. “In Australia a lot more of the audience see it as Bob’s story. Elsewhere it’s tended to be Helena’s story more. I don’t know why that is. Sympathy for the underdog, maybe?”
Canberra Theatre Centre presents the Traverse Theatre Company Production of Midsummer (a play with songs) from Wednesday-Saturday March 28-31 at The Playhouse. Tickets from Canberra Ticketing or www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au .
HELANI LAISK has just closed Mammal, an exhibition of sculpture and works on paper tied to the Canberra Contemporary Art Space residency program. She is now exhibiting with a You Are Here festival project called Petite Public Art as well as in Fine Lines at the ANU Foyer Gallery. Helani weaves, knots and dapples colour and texture to manufacture the most familiar object of all, our bodies.
At face value her sculptures don’t look like the human body. But first impressions can be deceiving and if you look a little closer, you might notice nipples, nodules, clumps of hair, armpits, your naughty bits, and even text book representations of the structures that lie beneath such as cells, flesh, blood and follicles. These doll parts are blown out of scale and reworked in domestic materials such as wool, fabric and thread. Helani disproves the idea that sculpture is an inert object. There can be dripping, a kinetic buzz or, in this case, mutant limbs which kick out into the audience.
This idea has been hyped again and again in works that make up the history of art, see: Joseph Beuys, Meret Oppenheim or Annette Messager. And like those artists, particularly Messager, Helani explores the ideas we prescribe to objects of the modern world and considers how we form and break apart ideas concerning our inner worlds. She circles some “superficial” items out as important – the things we find comfort in or shelter with, such as blankets (a stacked installation of folded blankets reaches the ceiling in Mammal). Helani’s work could also be about encounters; she indicates that the existential ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti were a major inspiration.
The artist deliberately uses colours that refer to skin or organs, her craft tests her coordination and physicality and the product is left to our imagination. Helani explains, “I’m interested in the shape of the clothing; how it pulls, drapes, puckers, bulges, as well as the shape of the hollows and holes, the joins and stitches, the openings that remain open and those that also close. I’m interested in the tangibility and the skin-like qualities of these materials, and the roles that these materials play in everyday life. How they relate to the body, their proximity and their function in relation to a body.”
To Helani “drawing is a way of thinking, drawing out a thought, a tangible extension of an abstract concept.” As mammals we create, destroy and improve our tools. The most potent tool is our body and with it you can do anything, like make art.
Helani Laisk’s work is featured in the Petite Public Art program of the You Are Here festival. It can be viewed around the CBD from Thursday-Sunday March 8-18.
FLICKERFEST is one of the most exciting short film festivals in Australia – and Festival Director Bronwyn Kidd certainly agrees.
“[It’s] a fabulous smorgasbord of a journey, through captivating and inspiring cinematic gems from around Australia – and around the world – that you wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see! For me, short film is the most exciting place to work in cinema today. It’s where true creativity meets inspiration and passion, minus the commercialism of feature film box office concerns.”
Flickerfest had humble beginnings as a short film festival in Balmain in 1991, but over the years it has become a major player on the short film festival circuit – in fact, it’s the only short film festival in Australia that has BAFTA and Academy accredited status.
It has come a long way for a sprightly young thing that is only 21 years of age – although legally able to drink in America. Bronwyn responds, “Flickerfest has become a true adult now, for sure, but still a cheeky one – we would never want to become too serious! We’ve grown from 200 entries and a five day festival back in 1997 to a ten day short film fest with 40 national touring venues. The great thing about this growth is we are able to show more fabulous films to more audiences across Australia – which makes it all worthwhile.”
When asked what kind of fabulous films audiences can expect to see, Bronwyn is enthusiastic about the diversity of themes.
“I think the great thing about Flickerfest is the wonderful eclecticism… from a young Pauline Hanson, to a spaced out folk singer of dolphin awareness songs, to a manic trip across the Nullarbor and two make believe Maori Santas – you never know quite what you are going to get!”
In the future, the aim of Flickerfest is “to continue to provide a platform for nurturing our next generation of Australian filmmakers… we will also be taking Flickerfest over to Bali again for the second time this year.”
The festival is currently on tour, and – as well as screening in Bali – will this year be shown at 37 venues across Australia. Bronwyn says that it’s “been fantastic! People have found the programs uplifting and inspiring and we’ve had enormously positive feedback… When you spend all year working to bring the best short films to Australia, it’s a great joy to see audiences embrace Flickerfest so strongly.”
To close, Bronwyn says, “I hope Canberra audiences this year love and embrace the films as much as other audiences have around the country. Flickerfest promises two fabulous nights of fun cinema in Canberra, and we are thrilled to be touring here again for our eighth year.”
Flickerfest will take place at Dendy in Civic over Saturday-Sunday March 24-25. Tickets cost $18/$16 for one session or $30 for both and are available direct from the cinema.