A young artist returned from Europe looking for the next chapter – looking for an opportunity. It’s not an unfamiliar tale. But in Paul Jamieson’s case, this was the setting in which he created what has become one of Canberra’s most loved artistic institutions: THE FRONT GALLERY AND CAFÉ.
“It was to be a place to gather with friends, display art, have music and have fun. Canberra was lacking in art and music spaces and I wanted a space to exhibit my own work and give other artists an avenue to exhibit their own work.”
With the shopfront found – an old bakery – the café was fitted out by Paul with his original business partner, Rose Osborne, and the help of many friends and voila: on Friday July 1, 2005, The Front was born.
The seven years since have seen it embraced by all walks of life: hippies, hipsters, musos, artists, students, parents, kids and pets. “Art is art, after all, so I guess The Front has naturally attracted artists of all types. At the end of the day it's the staff, clientele and artists that make The Front. The relative intimacy of north Canberra provides a wonderfully diverse bunch who are thankfully receptive to new and local art and musical acts, as well as the travelling artists who grace us with a visit.”
Although music was not the original focus, The Front has become a thriving music venue with bands booking months ahead to play in the famously warm and welcoming setting. Add to this the parties, poetry and comedy evenings and it’s understandable why it’s rare to pass The Front of a night without sighting an event of some kind inside.
According to Paul, there have been too many incredible events to pick favourites. The real joy is to have seen The Front develop and grow, to meet and work with amazing staff and artists and to develop a community.
“It’s an exciting and rewarding thing to be doing and I’m always eager to see what’s next. The Front is always accepting exhibition proposals from individuals and groups and I’d like to see the visual arts crowd assert itself some more.”
As for the future? “In the coming years, I'd like to see The Front continue its agenda of supporting local art and music. Attracting interstate and even international artists is a great thing and a privilege to host, but it's the local stuff that needs the most support.”
This month in celebration of its seventh birthday The Front will be throwing a seven-day party, featuring seven nights of local and interstate bands, a collaborative art exhibition and the launch of The Front’s long-awaited website.
Share the birthday love at The Front Gallery and Café from Saturday June 30 – Saturday July 7. Tickets vary and will be available on the door each night. See www.frontgallerycafe.com for details.
Even if you don’t immediately recognise the name, the moment you hear his voice something will click in your subconscious and you’ll know who LENNY HENRY is. Growing up in the UK exposed me to many cultural highlights; this iconic British comedian was one of them. Within 30 seconds of speaking to Lenny, he had me laughing – and it didn’t stop there.
His one-man show Cradle To Rave is a very personal show about Lenny’s passion, obsession and relationship with music and his thwarted musical ambitions. “I’m doing a show about how much I love music and it’s fantastic because I talk about as many aspects of music as I can fit into the show. I try and explain the concept of vinyl to your children. I talk about classical music and how the commercials and the movies have ruined it. I talk about dancing. I talk about all sorts of things but it’s all connected to music because music is like my heartbeat and I don’t think I could live without it.”
As Lenny points out, no matter how different two people’s taste in music is, there can exist a universal understanding about the obsession and passion for music and the experiences we share of it. Lenny recalled swapping music with his mates during his formative teenage years and the “whiff of virginity about boys in a room swapping records.” One of his mates was into Dylan and The Beatles and another was into progressive rock. “I remember one afternoon listening very politely to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and wanting to get the hell out of there!”
Lenny exposed his own children to music from an early age, which included raising his daughter to the sounds of Bob Marley. “I think her first words were ‘Toots and the Maytals’. My two-year-old has just started singing along to Gotye.”
Despite his own hindered musical ambitions, Lenny has always incorporated music into his comedy. “Just because a very big producer sort of told me to take it seriously or bugger off didn’t mean that I stopped doing music. Throughout my career I just did music as often as I could. For me, music has been a part of my life and I’ve never had a record deal – or had to tour Belgium.”
He will, however, be travelling to Australia as part of his Cradle To Rave tour in June. So what is Lenny most looking forward to about visiting the country? “The people are very friendly, I like Aboriginal art and everywhere you go there’s a bloody winery!”
Is quality comedy like music to your ears? Check out Lenny Henry’s Cradle To Rave Tour at Canberra Theatre on Sunday July 1 at 7pm. Tickets are $89 + bf available from www.canberraticketing.com.au or (02) 6275 2700.
Since Rafael Bonachela was appointed Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company in 2009, Canberra audiences have been treated to a number of his productions, including We Unfold in 2010 and in 2011 Between Breath and Form, a double-bill of his previously separate works 6 Breaths and LANDforms. However, perhaps the most anticipated of his productions since joining Sydney Dance Company, Bonachela has now remounted his renowned 2009 production THE LAND OF YES AND THE LAND OF NO. The production was produced by Bonachela Dance Company and debuted at the Ludwigsburg Festival, Germany, in 2009. It was Bonachela's first collaboration with composer Ezio Bosso (who Bonachela went on to collaborate with on a number of productions, including those mentioned above) and toured extensively to critical acclaim through Europe and the UK. However, SDC's production is not a replica of the original and Bonachela says that he enjoyed being able to re-visit the production.
"It was originally choreographed for six dancers and now there are ten," says Bonachela. "The group sections in particular I've taken the opportunity to play with. Having more dancers gives you more opportunities and options. You can change the pace of the work as you have more people to play with. The sections where there is a solo, a duo or a trio I haven't changed as they are very intimate moments, but the larger group movements I've played around with."
Joining Bonachela for the new production are lighting designer Guy Hoare, costume designer Theo Clinkard and, notably, set designer Alan McDonald whose work regularly appears in feature films, most recently The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. He has also designed a number of Kylie Minogue's touring sets. McDonald's work has brought one of the biggest changes to the production, which was relatively minimalist previously and is now "bigger and better," in the words of Bonachela. McDonald's set is a brilliant display of neon tubing which frames the dancers against a back wall of solid, changing colour which, Bonachela explains, "is essentially like insulation. It's also a representation of architecture or scaffolding. It's a huge element of the work." Bonachela says he and McDonald became close friends when he was in charge of Bonachela Dance Company in London, which was a relatively small scale operation compared to the feature film work that McDonald was accustomed to. "Every time I was doing something in London he would come in and help out then go back to making movies," Bonachela says. "I told him, 'I can pay you, but not as much as Kylie'. He's an amazing designer and I certainly wouldn't have been able to get someone of his stature on board if I wasn't friends with him."
Working with Clinkard and Hoare, Bonachela says that he and McDonald would discuss their ideas for the show and would then speak to the others about their conceptual suggestions for the costumes or lighting. "Alan gave Theo and Guy very clear directions about what he wanted. Alan and I would have conversations about the set and the production and then we'd speak to Guy and Theo. It was very collaborative," he says.
The production is said to be concerned with the way everyday signs and symbols affect our actions and influence us. Rather than a Baudrillard-inspired comment on meaning and simulation, the work explores the rules, regulations and directions that guide or rule our everyday lives and how unconsciously we are controlled by them. Bonachela explains the title came from Bosso's childhood home in Italy. Bosso recounted the story during the production's very early conceptual development when the two were brainstorming themes. His family house had areas called 'The Land of Yes' where Bosso and his siblings could "go crazy and mess around," and areas called 'The Land of No' where they had to behave and be quiet. An apt metaphor, Bonachela decided, for society and the way that people's actions – most notably those actions which they believe they are undertaking freely or even rebelliously – are in fact carried out within a strict framework of conformity and obedience. Bonachela was so taken by this idea that it became the central treatise for the production. "It was a very poetic way of explaining what you're allowed to do and what you're not allowed to do," says Bonachela.
"Some sort of order is needed but sometimes it can go too far. In some places it's mayhem; people don't follow any rules and the government has no control over people. So you do need some signs and rules. But you need the right balance between the two. Nowadays, we get up in the morning and we don't realise we're being told what to do every second," he says. "It is different in every country, for sure. Australia is a country where there are a lot of rules. Soon I feel you won't be able to breath without permission. It's when you challenge certain rules that things happen you never thought were possible."
The Land Of Yes & The Land Of No plays at Canberra Theatre from Thu-Sat June 28-30 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available $30-$63 +bf through www.canberratheatre.org.au or by calling (02) 6275 2700.
ANTARCTICA is a collaborative exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery that presents seven unique views of the icy landscape captured since the ‘60s in a range of mediums. Sidney Nolan, Chris Drury (UK), Bea Maddock, Anne Noble (NZ), Jan Senbergs, Philip Hughes (UK) and Jörg Schmeisser all capture the disquiet, beauty, vastness and fragile ecosystems that make up Antarctica as they have experienced it.
In a room tucked away from the main gallery space, Bea Maddock’s Forty Pages From Antarctica lies in wait. The work is a collection of individually framed prints, which flank the better part of two walls, creating an effect similar to the never-ending horizon you might see in Antarctica. From print to print a diluted brown line peaks and falls marking out the landscape. The beautiful and quiet work was created in 1988 using a combination of processes: photo etching, intaglio and relief printing on zinc plates.
Jan Senberg’s work Antarctic Night shares Maddock’s personal connection to the landscape but comparisons end there. Senberg’s large scale canvas, painted and collage, towers over the audience. The image is an aerial, almost voyeuristic view of the inside of a cabin encroached by snow. The composition is eerie, like a screenshot from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The cabin’s fleshy tones are built up even more by the artist’s collage of female bodies in erotic and pornographic poses. This could suggest the loneliness experienced in an isolated landscape, or perhaps how basic urges are enacted in warmer climates.
Anne Noble’s series of photographs White Noise No. 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 are black and white images of snow in flight. The snow has been kicked up by a large tractor, only evident in one of the photos where the packed grooves it has left on the ground hint at the human impact on the land.
The core mutations of the landscape from ice to snow to water are explored in Chris Drury’s video installation. Seated in a dark room the sounds of crackling ice, gushing water and wind tunnels surround you. Across three walls we see short black and white videos which zoom in on the three states of H2O. The installation is calming and sparks ideas about the environment as well as the complexity of a landscape.
This exhibition complements the timing of the 2012 International Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes' Conference on Humanities and Climate Change.
Antarctica will run until Sunday July 1 at the Drill Hall Gallery, ANU, from Wed-Sun, 12pm-5pm. Entry is free.
Paul Capsis loves his grandmother. A lot. “She’s such an inspiration to me. She was extremely selfless. I’ve never met anyone like her,” he says fondly. ANGELA’S KITCHEN is Capsis’ tribute to the woman who raised him; a one-man show about a remarkable woman who bundled up five children in 1948 and set sail from Malta to start a new life in Surry Hills. It’s now in its second season and, since its debut two years ago, continues to stir up many memories and profound emotional responses in its audiences.
“It’s interesting how deeply people have connected to the piece in terms of the subjects of migration, family, home and place. An elderly lady after the show last Saturday was crying in the foyer, so I asked, ‘Are you Maltese?’ and she replied, ‘Oh no dear, I’m English’. There were about five Maltese men in the audience last night and after the show there was this outpouring and sharing of stories. It was quite remarkable.”
Angela’s Kitchen is told from the perspective of his grandmother, as well as other significant characters in her long and extraordinary life. The story of Capsis discovering Malta and his heritage is also told. For a one-man show the number of stories, themes and characters is impressive and requires extreme dedication to the craft. This work ethic was given to Capsis, naturally, by his grandmother.
“She was a very hardworking woman. Her whole life was about physical work. She was a very active woman as well. If she wasn’t on her knees cleaning and scrubbing or putting down tiles she was off to bingo and hanging out with other Maltese women. She always drilled the whole ethic of work into me. She was always saying to me, ‘No one’s going to give you anything. You’ve got to do it yourself. It’s just the way it is’. So that shaped my life and it affects how I approach my work. My dedication to my work comes from her absolute dedication to hers.”
Ultimately Angela’s Kitchen is about the sharing of stories and, through this sharing, catharsis.
“I was always questioning my grandmother about her life in this place on this island far, far away from Australia. I was always hounding her for these stories and she was very generous to me. She gave me these stories and she said them over and over and that’s a big part of the show. It’s that sharing. I don’t have children so this is my sharing of the story.”
Angela’s Kitchen shows at The Street Theatre from Tue-Sat June 12-23. Student tickets are $25 ($35 full). For bookings call (02) 6247 1223 or online at www.thestreet.org.au .
Rachel Bowak’s exhibition RESIDE walks the line between installation, sculpture and assemblage art. Rachel’s sculptures are made from stainless steel and look like drawings from a steady hand. Despite creating images of the tools we use in DIY jobs like ladders, rollers, brushes and paints, these objects are “objects that replicate the illusion of perspectival drawing… What appear to be drawings of functional objects turn out to be non-functional objects that look like drawings,” explains Rachel. Trained as a silver and goldsmith, it comes as little surprise that her steel mirrors the line your pencil would take.
The artist pairs real world objects with her cutouts. Next to a bag of cement a wheelbarrow takes shape in Abide, the skeleton made from stainless steel. By doing so she creates an absurd relationship between the two objects. Obviously this wheelbarrow couldn’t cart cement – being hollow, two-dimensional and hammered into an art gallery wall. Rachel delights in these impracticalities and sees the dysfunctional object as a metaphor for social dysfunction in contemporary life. She has said that the works should act out the “experiences that underlie our actions – striving, destroying, consolidating, envisioning, ending, retreat, control, freedom and creation.”
Rachel found the tools we use to tinker with our homes (as if it would have an impact on our lives) in a Bunnings catalogue, inspired by their simple line drawings. A lot about this show stems from reality but Rachel also indulges in fantasy. Take for example Control Again, which features a stainless steel domestic broom leaning against the gallery wall, as if exhausted from collecting lolly pink fluff heaped like autumn leaves.
Reside is unique because it mimics reality without representing it directly. The sense of playfulness you might notice in Rachel’s work finds a counterpart in the approach of Claes Oldenburg. Oldenburg’s sculptures appropriated objects we use in everyday life, such as a rubber stamp, a bathtub, a clothes pin or a hamburger. He recreated them at a monster scale and in materials you would never associate the original with. For example, a fabric hamburger sewn together the size of your head. Like Rachel’s these pieces forced the viewer to look back on the relationship we have with the object in the first place and consider its function.
Another of her wall pieces, a larger than life gas cylinder, is carefully formed using stainless steel to appear like a tracing of the real-life object. Oomph bites its tail in the discussion of where does art begin and end in installation. On the gallery wall above are burn marks and bubbling paint. Rachel came in and used a gas cylinder to set the wall alight. In other parts of the show you will find a wall hammered through, the inside of the hole is laced with glitter the colour of a Christmas beetle. These, as well as all of the other pieces in the show, are testament to the artist’s ability to find splendour in the ordinary.
Reside runs at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman House, until Saturday June 23. Tue-Fri, 11am-5pm, and Sat, 10am-4pm. Entry is free.
Hollywood’s UNIVERSAL and Japan’s NIKKATSU are the oldest surviving major studios in their respective countries and both were first established in 1912. This year the National Film and Sound Archive will be celebrating the 100th anniversaries of both Universal and Nikkatsu, with screenings from each studio starting this month and continuing into the beginning of 2013.
Quentin Turnour, the chief programmer at the NFSA, explains the history of each studio as representing “the birth of modern studio filmmaking. What’s interesting is that although they are the oldest surviving studios, they also have reputations as the least reputable – the dirtiest – in the sense that they survived not by making prestige films, but by appealing to the lowest common denominator.” Quentin adds, “Paramount is also claiming that this year is their centenary, although most people agree that they actually formed in 1915. I think Paramount is just saying that to piss off Universal!”
The 100th anniversary screenings are intended to show films that are ‘typical’ of each of the studios. “In Universal’s selection we’re going to be concentrating on horror films, melodrama and certain sorts of film noir. So the program is about genre.”
On the selection from Nikkatsu, Quentin says that the studio is most associated with youth market films that allowed a great deal of artistic expression. “The directors had to make money but other than that they had a lot of freedom with the creation – so they often made genre films that looked amazing. For example, a filmmaker named Suzuki Seijun, who made gangster films… his films were also blindingly, visually brilliant. Of course, you couldn’t follow the plot of them half the time. One of his most famous films – Branded To Kill – has all of these crazy butterfly motifs. There are gangster-inspired shoot-out scenes with butterflies all over the place and you don’t even know why they’re there… probably just to look good.”
These upcoming screenings at the NFSA won’t just appeal to audiences with a penchant for the aesthetic, but also film buffs who are interested in the history of cinema – and how two of the major studios of the past century have influenced modern filmmaking. For example, Nikkatsu’s ‘crazy Japanese film’ influence can be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s productions. Kill Bill, anyone?
Universal’s lasting effect can be seen in “the characters, which they effectively created. The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein. All of these characters as we imagine them today are because of how they were first shown in Universal films.” Even Twilight, with their sexy, sultry vampires, owes a debt to Universal’s Dracula.
As we close the interview, Quentin sums up our conversation nicely: “In summary, both studios bequeathed an approach to genre filmmaking which showed that you can create extraordinary visual statements within house genres. They’re really very interesting to watch.”
The 100th anniversary screenings run from Sat-Sat June 23-30. For more information and screening times check out www.nfsa.gov.auor call (02) 6248 2000.
HOME BY CHRISTMAS is a poignant film memoir based on director Gaylene Preston’s interviews with her father about his experiences in World War II. [Ed: See film review, pg. 50.] The film features actor Tony Barry as Ed Preston in interview scenes, interwoven with dramatisation and original archival footage.
Home by Christmas presents two sides of the same story: a young family torn apart by war. The film explores both the horror of Preston’s father’s experiences in war and tHe loneliness of Preston’s mother – a young wife with a small child, struggling back home.
On what inspired her to make a film about her own family history, Preston says, “‘During the War’ was such a silent space when I was growing up in the fifties. There was ‘Before the War’, ‘After the War’ and a secret place called ‘During the War’. I think that is true for my whole generation. When I gradually discovered my father had escaped from a prison camp in Italy I wanted to know more.”
Although one might expect difficulties when making a film about one’s own family history (extreme awkwardness at Christmas dinner, anyone?), Preston says that her family was “fortunately supportive.
“When it came to developing Home by Christmas, I just put the family in it! My sister Jan composed the music and my daughter Chelsie plays Tui [Preston’s mother] as a young woman. My brother Ted came and briefed the actors on his memories of our parents. So when I say supportive, I mean really supportive.”
Preston knew Tony Barry, who plays the older version of her father, before she began shooting, and the younger versions of her mother and father are played by her daughter Chelsie Preston-Crayford and LA-based Martin Henderson respectively. Preston says that working with her daughter was “pure pleasure from my point of view. The better you know an actor personally, the easier it is to trust one another on set. She is a brave daughter and a courageous actor, as her work in Underbelly: Razor playing Tilly Devine demonstrates.”
Preston is currently developing a six-part television drama about the personal impacts of the earthquakes in Christchurch and says that the documentary form has always appealed to her. “With a drama the frame is empty and you need to throw everything at it to imply life outside the frame. It is a constructed world. In documentary, the frame is always very full already and the filmmaking involves distillation and excluding material to make the story clear. Home by Christmas is strictly speaking a drama with archival footage added. It is closely informed by the original oral history – so we decided to call it a film memoir.”
You can find more information about the film at www.homebychristmas.com. It is showing Thu-Sun June 14-24 at the National Film and Sound Archive. Visit www.nfsa.gov.au or call (02) 6248 2000 for information and bookings.