IN MY EYES is an exhibition of photography on show now at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre. Six entrants are from the Canberra School of Art, helping make up a group of 25 drawn from the Australian National University across the disciplines of Science, Humanities, Asian and Pacific studies and Business. It’s a collection of images that explores how ephemera and familiar sites consolidate our connection to this city.
The exhibition was conceived as a community project to bring international students of ANU and domestic students into conversation and if nothing else you might find that individuals from a diverse background share a sentimental journey. Ruo Yan presents a 360-degree panoramic landscape taken at dusk from Black Mountain Tower because, “the first time that I fell in love with Canberra was when I saw the city from afar, with an outsider’s perspective. I’m from Sydney and when I first came here by myself to study I felt I should still be in Sydney. But now I feel a sense of belonging. Canberra’s my home.”
Joseph Ting’s photograph is of the ubiquitous ducks of the ANU campus, which he hopes will transmit a sense of happiness and nostalgia. Joseph explains, “I find it especially enjoyable when I see a story unfold through a still image, the way it invokes all the other senses although it relies on sight alone.” He continues, “All these images are contrary to the common belief that Canberra is a boring, lifeless city that came into existence as a result of a discord between its two closest cities. My piece shows the way that nature weaves itself into the lives of people in Canberra, which is also expressed through other pieces, amongst other ideas… I hope people will feel a sense of belonging because they are one of the 400,000 out of the 7 billion in the world who understand what these works mean, just because of Canberra.”
Jessica Hioe’s entry is of the poster board outside the Copland Building on the ANU Campus. Uniquely her image is inspired by the campus at night. She explains, “although it has been stated to be 'unsafe', I must admit that ANU at night is the best time to walk around. It's the only time when it looks completely beautiful with its ‘orangey’ lights around and the way the lights glow and cast funny dim shadows on the trees. It gives off an eerie feeling but no matter how peculiar the atmosphere becomes because of the lighting there is definitely something satisfying about it.”
Jessica concludes, “a fragmented depiction of Canberra, the nation's capital, is produced, but this fragmented perception of Canberra by various students is tied together through a common theme and purpose.”
Visit the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre before Wednesday May 16 to catch the In My Eyes exhibition. It is open daily Mon-Fri, 8.30am-6pm, and admission is free.
Everyone has a different voice. Everyone has different stories. Everyone has different ways of using their different voices to tell their different stories. And everyone’s voices and stories and different ways of telling them matter. It all starts to jumble together doesn’t it?
These are the statements I’ve been thinking and breathing and speaking for the last few months. I believe each of them. And over the last year with the help of some very supportive friends and poets I’ve been able to be a part of something new that we’re starting called ANU VOICE POETRY SLAMS. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We are trying to make more wheels start spinning in more places. In particular, schools. I believe that creativity and rhythm and poetry and hip hop music and this whole collection of things that have jumbled into one big mass in my mind are amazing tools for crafting community and empowering young people.
I work in a school as a chaplain and I hang out at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre often; I’m all too familiar with the jarring statistics that have been grafted onto this generation of young people. A quarter of young Australians aged 16-24 suffer from a common mental health illness. There are young people in schools cutting their arms, abusing drugs and alcohol, finding themselves homeless, committing crimes, taking their lives…
When you don’t listen to people’s voices, they find other ways to shout.
When you give people their voices, they sing.
I’ve seen girls with marked arms sing out beautiful, sweet melodies. I’ve heard a refugee speak out with rhythmic courage about the horrible things he’s witnessed. I have heard the voiceless find their voice. I have seen the unseen stand tall. I believe that ink on the page needs to replace blood on the arms. I believe that the voices of individuals are more powerful than numbers on websites. I believe that everyone is a poet. And that poetry really can change the world.
So, ANU Voice Poetry Slams?
We are extending the invitation to everyone that poetry is not exclusive or elusive. We are creating opportunities for High School/College students in the ACT to speak out and take pride in their unique voice. We are yelling at a mountain, hoping to start an avalanche.
At Kippax Library on Thursday April 12 we kicked these events off for the year. On Wednesday May 16 at Erindale Library we’ll take things up a notch. Then it’s Gungahlin on the Wednesday July 25 and finally on Wednesday August 22 at Theatre 3 we are going to pull all the strings together, let all the snow fall and yell, bleed, laugh and listen to the young people in Canberra.
My interview with digital painter PAUL SUMMERFIELD took place while he was in the middle of hanging his new exhibition. He was having difficulty squeezing the 18 intricately detailed works that constitute Sky Aquarium into The Front’s small cafe/gallery space. “It’s a really good space,” he tells me, taking a few minutes away from the assembly process. “It’s a bit more grungy than some other spaces. It’s kind of like someone’s lounge room.” Paul has shown his work in dozens of cafes across Australia and enjoys the experience of working in a busy cafe atmosphere.
But Paul’s paintings are sometimes too big to fit into cosy coffee-scented nooks. He was one of five artists selected to be part of Enlighten’s Architectural Projections; Paul saw his piece The Moad scrolling across the sides of Old Parliament House, blown up to nearly 600 metres in size. The finely lined and richly detailed nature of his work made him a natural fit for the large-scale project.
“I’ve tried to approach the art making process in a traditional way,” he says of his preference for digital methods. “If you have a canvas you can just slap on the paint – and there’s a point when you can go further or you can stop. With digital media you can keep working on it, you can add bits; undo, if you make a mistake. I still do those things – I use the digital medium to my advantage – but I try and look at it like it’s a painting.”
A previous exhibition was the product of a year spent living in Japan, but Sky Aquarium is not bound by such an earthly setting. “Sometimes I make up stories to go along [with the artworks]. There’s no real geographical counterpart but some of the works... [form] a series. The same kind of colours or buildings. I guess I’m building my own little locations; my own little imaginary worlds.”
His imaginary creations are full of the kind of hidden details you’d expect from actual places. Some of the paintings are crammed with activity; others are more subtly complicated. A particularly mesmerising piece from Sky Aquarium seems initially to be a simple arrangement of bright blue water and luminous pink flowers; closer inspection reveals fish painted so that each scale is visible. Allowing me a glimpse into the half-hung exhibition, Paul tells a story of how he once hid a picture of his own face in a painting. “No one noticed it for years,” he laughs. “Then once they realised it was there, it was all they could see.”
Sky Aquarium is a bright, curious collection of work full to the brim with half-concealed, fascinating detail. Undoubtedly the more time you spend with his work, the more beauty you will find lurking there.
Sky Aquarium opened Thursday May 3 and continues until Monday May 21 at The Front Café and Gallery, Lyneham. Entry is free.
In 2007 a 14-year-old boy from Manchester was charged with inciting his own murder after convincing another boy of 16 to attempt to kill him with a six-inch knife. Over the course of nine months the boy known as 'Johnny' posed as six different online characters to ensnare and manipulate the older boy 'Mark', eventually convincing him that Johnny was a Government spy who needed killing.
Melbourne's Adam Cass was so enthralled by the mysterious tale of love, lies and deception that he turned the story into the award-winning one-man play I LOVE YOU, BRO. The play premiered at the 2007 Melbourne Fringe Festival and went on to receive extensive acclaim throughout the UK including at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
"The whole script is extremely complex. It's 30 pages of words with around 15 different characters and voices," says Brisbane's Leon Cain, the actor tasked with playing Johnny, Mark and Johnny's various characters in director David Berthold's production of the play. "But probably the most difficult thing for me first time around was just the pressure of what it means to do a one-man play; to keep an audience enthralled for a whole hour and ten minutes."
Johnny's tale and the circumstances of his meticulously planned 'suicide' have both bewildered and captivated onlookers since they were made public in 2007. His manipulation of Mark, albeit cruel, is often overshadowed by the public interest in the mind of a boy who appeared so lost, lonely and powerless that he turned to the internet as a means of creating his own reality.
"I have more sympathy than frustration for Johnny because in a weird, twisted way, Johnny's intentions are still meant in a good way, or at least he sincerely sees it that way in his own mind," says Cain. "I think audiences as well are drawn to Johnny because of his desire for intimacy. He has a big heart and loves completely. But as an outsider you can see that he is still young and doesn't really know what love is."
The current production opened in 2010 with La Boite Theatre Company in Brisbane. The initial season was extended due to popular demand and its success resulted in the decision to take it on a 24-show tour in 2012. Cain says that he undertook a lot of research when preparing for the role of Johnny. Berthold would let him try his own approach initially and then ‘mould’ his performance to bring out the complexity of Johnny and his enigmatic psyche. "The strongest emotion that Johnny draws from you is sheer bewilderment in the way his mind works and what he actually does, especially considering his age."
I Love You, Bro plays at The Street Theatre from Tue-Sat May 15-26. Tickets are $25-$35, available through The Street’s website or by calling 02 6247 1223.
Futures Pass Remains is an exhibition by eminent glass artist BRENDEN SCOTT FRENCH on show at Beaver Galleries. I spoke with Brenden before the opening and he explained why careful consideration of medium and technique is characteristic of his work. His process of layering colour and shape leads to unique patterns that reflect and parody industrialisation, the urban jungle and the gentle giant also known as our ecosystem. These kinds of dualities carry through the show.
The sculptures are constructed from glass blocks that are kilnformed (a process that prepares glass to be halfway between solid and melting) and fused together. When the glass is cool he uses a cutting lathe to incise. As opposed to its luminescent qualities, it was the strong hues, opacity and density of colour that attracted Brenden to the medium of glass and he enjoys working with its immediate and spontaneous nature. Because of its colour and format (many of the pieces are wall panels) some have aligned his work to painting, particularly abstraction or colour field. But the artist says, ‘”Mine is a labour of assemblage…a work will start from individual pieces of coloured glass sheets and through this process of mosaic come together to form an object.”
It is interesting to hear that Brenden sees himself working with assemblage in mind. Assemblage entered the debate of representation with the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and later Joseph Cornell and Rosalie Gascoigne who used found objects like newspaper, old toys or spare parts, to paint a different picture. Brenden doesn’t use commonplace objects, he depicts them and allows his blocks of colour to form relationships with one another to decide his composition.
You could argue that Brenden uses the idea of a ‘collective consciousness’, initiated by the Dada movement and Surrealists, where symbols, colours or shapes that most people would recognise (intentionally or subliminally) prompt a reaction. “Most important to me was not gender but what we do with aggression and destructiveness,” said Brenden, “because universal symbols such as the handgun and the vehicle… are very familiar and nostalgic works that connect with people's own personal experience… It is not how we got to be in this place or who we are that is my main interest, it’s what we are doing or are about to do.”
Brenden has trained extensively in glass practice, undertaking residencies at the Canberra Glassworks and the Northlands Creative Glass Centre in Scotland. Even with such accomplishments Brenden says, “Perhaps when the dust settles I will have a clearer perspective. Though I do find it interesting that any hint of subtlety has found its way towards me when the sense of urgency in nearly everything that surrounds me is palpable.”
Catch Futures Pass Remains at Beaver Galleries, Deakin, until Tuesday May 22. The exhibition is open Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm, and Sat-Sun, 9am-5pm. Free.
Having to suffer through at least one of William Shakespeare’s plays at high school is one of the universal Australian experiences. Whether it be Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet or another of the 36 works the master playwright penned, teenage apathy, poor teaching and an inevitable reliance on Spark Notes sapped most people’s interest in experiencing Shakespeare’s works in the form in which they were intended to be enjoyed: on the stage. However, Bell Shakespeare, founded in 1990 with a focus on interpreting Shakespeare’s plays through a contemporary lens, has gone a long way towards reversing the Australian public’s disinterest in experiencing live Shakespeare.
Bell Shakespeare’s latest touring production is MACBETH. A classic depiction of how ambition and power can corrupt, Macbeth tells the story of a man who carries out regicide in order to become king and the lengths he must go to in order to maintain his power. This is the first time Bell Shakespeare have toured Macbeth to Canberra in almost 20 years. Speaking to cast member Lizzie Schebesta, one quickly discovers that Macbeth will follow in the company’s tradition of viewing Shakespeare’s plays in a new and modern light.
“This is not a traditional production of Macbeth,” Schebesta tells me when asked what Canberrans can expect of the play. “It has very much been pulled apart and re-analysed to give it a new, younger feel. However, there is still fidelity to the original work,” she says. “It is definitely going to appeal to a younger generation and there are many different influences on the treatment, including Japanese horror films... At the core of it, the play is about a good man whose heart gets corrupted and we are very much truthful to this. Bell Shakespeare are a wonderful company to work for, and really gave me input into the production.”
Playing all three of the play’s infamous three witches, Schebesta notes the need for companies like Bell Shakespeare to give audiences something different to traditional productions. “I play all of the three witches in one character, in a kind of possession. This makes the characters seem more real and scary. It brings a new feel to the play and gives the audience something different.” When asked what she thinks of Macbeth compared to Shakespeare’s other works, Schebesta tells me that she didn’t like the play at first. “It was very difficult for me to relate to. With themes of murder and war I always felt that it was a very masculine play. But now I realise that it has a very strong feminine energy. It is perhaps the most poetic of Shakespeare’s plays. The language is so rich, emotional and wonderful.”
Macbeth opens at The Playhouse on Thursday May 17 and runs to Saturday June 2. Tickets are $33-$130 available through the Canberra Theatre Centre website or by calling 02 6275 2700.
Most comedians go to great lengths to point out their act is exactly that – an act. Tracy Jordan made some unsavoury remarks about his son and homosexuals and it was an act, you see, a character. He doesn’t really believe the things he says. Being ‘in character’ gives you freedom to say insane things with impunity.
Karl Pilkington has quite the opposite problem – very few people believe he’s real. Whether it’s playing foil to STEPHEN MERCHANT and Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras) in the groundbreaking podcast series (The Ricky Gervais Show) or being sent around the world to marvel at the otherness of others (An Idiot Abroad) Pilkington is often assumed to be a character – a hapless, ignorant round-headed buffoon – created by two of the most successful comedy writers of their generation.
Not so says Merchant. “Some people think he’s an actor called Graham and we write all the lines for him. Some people think he’s a comedian who’s playing a character. But this is who he is and he does think these things. What started as the Ricky and Steve show became the Karl Pilkington Show and we were simply there to prod and poke and get him talking. And out it came.”
And Pilkington spouts some intensely ridiculous things; suggesting nothing gets done by planning, wondering what those things in the film Gremlins are called and claiming to have witnessed a bee having a heart attack. There’s no doubt – he can deliver some off-kilter observations.
But how does he feel about being called a fictional creation? “He’s certainly annoyed at the idea that people think he’s an actor. That frustrates him. He lives in his own universe and the world doesn’t impact on him so generally other people’s opinion of him doesn’t concern him. But I think he wants people to know that it’s not an act and he is reacting genuinely and that he has done all those things and that when you see him pissed off he’s not playing it up for the cameras.”
Suffering is the name of the game for An Idiot Abroad, a show where Ricky and Steve try their hardest to make Karl as uncomfortable as possible. After the success of the first series a second was always on the cards. Selling it to Pilkington wasn’t easy. “It was a tough job to get him to do another series because he really was angry, hateful and exhausted. But he agreed reluctantly so we tried to give him the illusion he had more control. But rather like magicians with a pack of cards – you think you made a free choice but actually we forced you to take it. The same with Karl.”
In the end, Pilkington went through with it to prove his mettle under extreme circumstances, explains Merchant. “He didn’t want to give us the satisfaction of seeing him freak out. Which is even more bizarre because we got exactly what we wanted.”
An Idiot Abroad: Season Two is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray through Roadshow.
The second NATIONAL INDIGENOUS ART TRIENNIAL is about to open at the National Gallery of Australia and welcomes a host of 20 visual artists from across Australia until Sunday July 22. Carly Lane, an independent Indigenous curator, has shaped the show. In the fury of installation of UNDISCLOSED (some art works reach 3m high by almost 8m wide) I spoke with Senior Curator of Indigenous Art at the NGA, Franchesca Cubillo about what we can expect this time around. She explained that the installation saw works from Naata Nungurrayi, Bob Burruwal, Lena Yarinkura and Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori hung. “It's very exciting to see the artwork in the gallery. The works vary across media – synthetic polymer paint on canvas, fibreglass oversized masks, bark paintings, video installations, works on paper and illuminated fluorescent lighting.”
One of the preconceptions about Indigenous visual art is that the canvases are primed and sculptures woven with personal histories, lore and knowledge about the land. That is an excellent starting point but only represents a fraction of the inspiration in contemporary Indigenous art. In 2012 unDisclosed explores broader themes and loops in and out of Indigenous and universal concerns. The works in the show have been created independent of one another but collectively consider rival ideas such as fact and fictions, self and country, success and failure and living the history versus remembering it. As Carly Lane has explained, “layers of public and restricted information may co-exist in a single work. unDisclosed is an attempt to bring elements of the known and unknown equally to the fore.”
Jonathan Jone’s installation Lean To uses MDF wood, tarpaulin and fluorescent lights to create a glowing structure made up of two chunky panels propped up by one another. Jonathan uses everyday materials but refers to lofty ideas; the piece could be linked to minimalism, a canon of art history. It also may debate colonial and current attempts at the homogenisation or assimilation of Indigenous peoples, particularly in reference to housing or shelter. You can’t approach this space to live or sign a lease. But of his ideas more generally Jonathan has said, “throughout our history there have been moments between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, meetings based on great insight, humility and understanding. These encounters often challenge the stereotypical relations… People like William Barak, Vincent Lingiari and Charles Perkins became pillars of support – a position and form re-created in Lean To.” The outer shell of the panels sees fluorescent tubes placed in sequential lines. This look could find a modern counterpart in white-hot highway markings, the luminescence of an overpopulated city or the swinging sign of a tattoo parlour, but actually refers to Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri cultural line work.
I asked if the works in this exhibition had surprised Franchesca, as they largely deal with ideas of what goes undisclosed. “I am continually surprised by the changing face of contemporary Indigenous art. New artists, new work in various media and new concepts emerge on a regular basis. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art history of Australia is currently unfolding before us and it is the role of curators to present the changing face of this exciting new art practice.”
Fiona Foley presents a series of 34 photographs within a mixed media work made up of three opium pipes, a sketch book, a stool and 34 brass poppy sculptures titled Let a hundred flowers bloom. This work, created in 2010, was pre-empted by Fiona’s position as an Adjunct Professor with the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University. Fiona’s presentation of a beautiful field of flowers with a very sinister undercurrent is pitch perfect. Fiona learned that in Queensland, opium was provided for and used by Indigenous and Chinese workers. It is a little known part of the state's history that affected the health and lives of many. The event in itself was compounded by the introduction of a ‘protection act’ which removed and dispersed Aboriginal people. Missions such as Palm Island and Yarrabah were set up, and “this history is not taught in schools,” said Fiona.
Christian Thompson is back again for the Triennial (a coup for other artists such as Tony Albert Vernon Ah Kee, Julie Gough and Lorraine Connelly-Northey) with a majestic video titled Heat. Running for 5.52 minutes it depicts three bare-chested but not exposed young women from the Queensland outback. The women (Charles Perkin’s granddaughters) are still as their hair is whipped up by hot air you can only imagine. Set against a soft rust background the film conveys heat moving slow and with their steely gaze you feel they are tied to the land but also possess the insight of teenagers. The artist has said, “I love the mysticism and the seductive cruelty of the desert, my home, and how it can be so elusive and alluring and potentially life threatening.” Christian’s work is similar to the themes of Jonathan and Fiona because it brings up binary ideas of performance and reality and the irony of communicating earth, wind and fire in a near empty room indoors.
unDisclosed will be a sight for sore eyes because aside from the NGA’s new exhibition space, our exposure to contemporary Indigenous art in Canberra is not as far reaching as other cities, Franchesca added. “I do think that Indigenous art is well represented in Canberra, however it would be great to see more local contemporary art by young Indigenous artists in the community.”
The National Indigenous Art Triennial, unDisclosed,opens at the National Gallery of Australia Friday May 11 and runs to Sunday July 22. The exhibition is open 10am-5pm every day. Free.
DAVID FRAZER’s work is at its core about the human condition. Although his scenery is typically Australian the story is universal. Homesick is an exhibition of paintings, works on paper and sculpture on now at Beaver Galleries. The title of the show speaks volumes about work that is nostalgic for the way things were. David is inspired by artists who transferred their sense of rural disquiet to modern life, such as Stanley Spencer and American realist Edward Hopper, who was known for periods of ‘unconquerable inertia’.
After studying painting and printmaking in Melbourne in the late 1980s, it was Frazer’s experience outside of art school that gave shape to the story he wanted to tell. “I didn't know what my subject was until I pursued a tragically hopeless career in showbiz… that subject being the misfit loser dreaming for fame and fortune and failing miserably. I've developed this over the years to a more general theme of hopelessness. It's sort of sad but yet so damn funny!” In 2007 David was a major prizewinner at the International Print Biennial in Guanlan, China and a featured Australian artist on the ABC’s documentary series Artist at Work.
David’s prints and paintings address a generation of men whose role in society has undergone major shifts. “I think it also finds its humour in the fact that we are never happy, wishing for a better place and reminiscing about something that wasn't much good in the first place. Unfortunately, though, being happy and optimistic all the time isn't very funny or tragic and wouldn't make for very interesting art.” Visually this translates as male figures in large empty landscapes, usually alone, sometimes sitting on the roof of their house or in the park. A caravan home recurs so much that it could be one of David’s characters. Maybe the mobile home represents being near and far from civilisation, technology, idle time, exploration, tuning in or dropping out. David explains, “I like the isolation and the loneliness of country towns and farms. A misfit can stand out more in such an environment. I grew up in a small town and I can still picture the melancholy of the deserted empty main street on a Saturday arvo.”
His characters don’t show their hand; at once they appear thoughtful, bored, content or plotting to leave. And this draws us in. Who is going back to the weatherboard house or the tin van? Are they visiting from the city, or did these men never leave their hometown? By no means is he a pessimist, saying, “It's vaguely biographical in a fictional way… Often the men in my pictures look like me but it's not really me, it's just a bloke.” In short, David Frazer makes sense of it all with an accent that is uniquely Australian – mate.
David Frazer’s Homesick is on now at Beaver Galleries, Deakin, until Tuesday May 22. The exhibition is open Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm, and Sat-Sun, 9am-5pm. Free.