Call for Artists!

Listen up kids, I have an announcement!
This year I’ll be working in conjunction with Queensland design institution Ambience Store to curate an exclusive series of art exhibitions in Brisbane. So…if you’re an early or mid career artist yet to score representation, you should totally submit work for consideration. All styles and formats will be considered (unless you’re a performance artist who rolls around in ketchup or something. That’s unlikely to work here, I’m afraid).

The idea is to support artists, and to that end there’ll be no hidden nasties – just you, me, a few white walls, and the chance for some exposure. Commissions will be low, and there’ll be no hanging fees. There will, however, be some killer opening nights and maybe even some red dots!

If this sounds like you, get busy and email me links to your work, and feel free to tell me anything about yourself you deem interesting. 

Let’s DO this!

  

Ladies In Black

When I was about four years old, I lost my mother in the ‘Ladies Fashion’ section of McDonnell & East. A good deal shorter than the racks of clothing that surrounded me, I was completely disoriented and just about to enter full meltdown mode when a lovely lady with a perfect French roll found me and took me back to her counter. As the call went over the PA system that a mother was sought for the child now in women’s lingerie, she appeased me with banana lollies, and I watched as she served customers and nattered with her coworker. I recall it being quite a traumatic experience overall, but I also recall my mother’s “I didn’t even know I’d lost her” when she came to retrieve me, so clearly the trauma had been entirely mine. With hindsight, I think I actually found it rather thrilling to glimpse what lay beyond the mirrored counters. I certainly remember being fascinated to discover that the enigmatic sales assistants floating from counter to counter in their black frocks and pearls were in fact normal human beings who complained to each other that their feet hurt and, in the case of the lovely lady with the perfect French roll, wanted to be home in time to get the sausages in the oven.  Heady stuff, I know, but given I’d always considered department stores to be some kind of fantasy land, the day was quite a revelation to my tiny self.

I hadn’t thought about that old Mac & East building in almost 35 years, but as the curtain rose on Ladies in Black last night, it all came rushing back to me – the creaky wooden escalators, the polished glass cabinets, and the equally polished accents of both shoppers and staff. And as the music swelled, and the cast emerged, I also remembered the sense of transformation that once existed in department stores before discounted white goods and surly checkout operators burst my bubble.

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Billed as a coming of age story, Ladies in Black is as much about the maturation of Australian society as it is the growth of the central character. With tongue firmly in cheek, it looks at life in the late 1950s as Australia was losing its naivety amid the arrival of European immigrants; Continental refugees who brought with them new cuisines, new artists and new philosophies on life. Those who resisted social change did so dogmatically, while the more curious developed what was soon to become known as ‘the cultural cringe.’ It was a time of displacement and adjustment for everyone, and from it emerged a generation of young women who saw work and education as a way out of the quagmire.

It seems funny to think it now, but employment in a department store was one of few respectable career options available to women in post-war Australia. Ladies in Black acknowledges this, and treats it with respect. At Goodes, the fictional store in which the play is set, we are introduced to a cast of strong and forthright women who quickly take newest recruit Lesley Miles (Sarah Morrison) under their collective wings as she awaits the results of her high school leaving certificate. Though Ladies in Black is primarily Lesley’s show, it is the intersecting stories of her work colleagues that give it the layers of depth needed to lift it beyond your average metamorphic story. Through the exploits of Hungarian refugee Magda (Christen O’Leary), perennially single Fay (Naomi Price), war widow Miss Jacobs (Deidre Rubenstein) and abandoned wife Patty (Lucy Maunder), we are given glimpses of immigrant life, infertility, loneliness and disgrace – all aspects of the human condition that remain as relevant to Australian life now as they did back then. But it is perhaps the role of Lesley’s mother, played by cabaret diva Carita Farrer Spencer, that is the most touching. Known only as Mrs Miles throughout the play, she is representative of a generation of mothers who watched their daughters become the women they themselves might have been had circumstances been different. Through her eyes we see both her motherly pride and her personal regrets.

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Adapted from Madeleine St John’s hugely popular novel, this uniquely Australian musical was in fact brought into being at the urging of New Zealander Tim Finn, who chanced upon a copy of St John’s book in an airport lounge, and saw immediate potential in its pages. Having written a few preliminary songs, he sought the input of husband and wife team Carolyn Burns and Simon Phillips, as script writer and director respectively, and drew on the support of both Queensland and Melbourne Theatre Companies to get the production off the ground. With Finn’s music providing a fresh new take on musical theatre conventions, costuming so sumptuous it brought audible gasps from the audience, and a deceptively simple set design that allows the cast to reveal their characters without distraction, it’s a bit like Are You Being Served? minus the camp, vaudevillian element.

Ladies in Black is witty and appealing, and manages to poke fun at our nation’s foibles while showing genuine affection for the things that make us unique. Though it doesn’t delve too deeply into the racial vilification that existed in Australia at the time, it does broach it in a way that shows it for the ignorant stupidity it was. With contemporary issues regarding racism and patriotism now back in the news with alarming regularity, it is a gentle reminder of how ridiculous such thinking always seems in retrospect.

Do see it.

Ladies in Black
Southbank Theatre, Melbourne
Until 27 February 2016
Tickets

Profoundly Tested

“We are profoundly tested.” That’s how Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper described the situation she found herself in just one year after the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes that forced her gallery’s closure. In an article for Artlink, she wrote of the difficulty in seeing the gallery devoid of visitors, of the frustration of living with an uncertain future, and the reality of staff redundancies. She wasn’t to know then just how much greater the challenges were to get. Despite having already planned and cancelled three reopening events, Harper and her staff were still quietly confident of being up and running again in early 2014. But early 2014 saw no celebration. Neither did early 2015. Christchurch Art Gallery’s eventual reopening date would turn out to be 19 December 2015, almost five years after the second earthquake. Profoundly tested, indeed. And yet, during those 1761 days of closure, Jenny Harper and the team at CAG managed something extraordinary – they kept going.

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Christchurch Art Gallery (image care of NZMuseums)

Having steered the gallery through its first year of closure with a regime of administrative tasks that saw their website upgraded and 90% of their collection online and copyright cleared, Harper began to look at new ways of bringing art to Cantabrians. Without a physical building, they were free to reinvent themselves as dynamic, resourceful and entirely community-centric. Thinking outside the box, or in this case the white cube, Christchurch Art Gallery became the gallery without walls as the curatorial team looked for alternative sites from which they could feed the public’s imagination. Ingenious ideas came to the fore.

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At the heart of their post-quake programming was the belief not only that good art mattered, but that it was vital to the recovery of Christchurch. This wasn’t just rhetoric. Prior to the quakes, public art abounded in Christchurch. One of the city’s singular delights as a visitor was in knowing that great art, both classic and contemporary, could be glimpsed around every corner. After the earthquakes, the majority of these works lay in ruins. With all of the city’s commercial galleries closed, and many artists left without studio space after the quakes, the local art community was at a standstill. Christchurch Art Gallery stepped in to provide support where possible, encouraging the artists to maintain their practice, and giving them a reason to do so with the maxim that ‘their creativity inspires ours.’

The collapse and partial demolition of so many buildings throughout the city had seen an apocalyptic landscape emerge of fragmented structures and concrete spans. Using this strange new topography as a guide, Christchurch Art Gallery elected to expand rather than scale back their existing OuterSpaces program of public art. Injecting humour into the rubble, they commissioned artists to create murals on newly revealed external walls, and animated the windows of an abandoned house with nighttime projections. Vacant premises were commandeered as venues for small-scale exhibitions and, as rebuilding began, an exhibition of work by Emily Hartley-Skutter was installed in a suburban display home, with sales agents doubling as gallery attendants.

To facilitate their existing children’s programming, a series of demountable showrooms were clustered together on a vacant block, and a family-focused exhibition of brightly-coloured and tactile works created. Adding an on-site classroom ensured schools could bring their students in for lessons, and a series of artist-led workshops was held for secondary school students. Schools that couldn’t attend had the option of scheduling a gallery educator to come to them with reproductions from the collection and materials needed for art lessons, with 20,000 Canterbury school students taking part in this two-year outreach programme.

Exhibitions that had been planned for the gallery were reconsidered, but not necessarily cancelled. A large retrospective of Maori artist Shane Cotton’s work was instead premiered at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane to coincide with the influx of visitors for the Asia Pacific Triennial, thereby exposing both artist and gallery to a wider audience. Others were remodeled to fit temporary gallery and outdoor spaces, including one Reconstruction, that became something of a swansong for buildings lost.

With the public collection in storage indefinitely, curators launched Faces from the Collection, selecting artworks for reproduction on billboards, partially demolished buildings, and in shop windows throughout the city. Staff wrote a weekly column in the Christchurch newspaper, and were given scope to blog freely about their latest news. Since closing, Christchurch Art Gallery has presented more than 101 projects; won multiple Civic Trust, Museums Aotearoa and Museums Australia Awards; added over 500 works to the public collection; and become the first gallery in New Zealand to introduce specific dementia programming.  And it has all been achieved despite enormous funding cuts.

Fighting for funding is never easy, but it is especially difficult in an environment where literally everyone needs assistance. One of their temporary exhibits, a 1.8 tonne bronze bull by artist Michael Parekowhai, struck a chord with audiences as a symbol of hope and strength. Letters to the Editor began appearing in the paper imploring the council to buy the work for the gallery. Knowing that additional funding was unavailable, Jenny Harper actively pursued benefactors to put money in the buying fund, hosted dinners where she committed each person to a monetary donation, and turned to crowd funding websit PledgeMe to raise the $206,050 required to purchase the work. The result, as Harper rather sheepishly admitted to the audience at Best in Heritage 2013 in Dubrovnik, was donations in excess of $1million. Astonishing in a city with residents still living without running water and flushing toilets.

“In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance”

Jeanette Winterson

Old adages come to the fore when you think about Christchurch Art Gallery, all those naff sayings that people sprout when someone is going through a tough time. But there is one that can be applied to Christchurch Art Gallery with absolute sincerity – extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The strength of CAG’s resilience has been in making themselves indispensable to the local community. Research conducted prior to the earthquakes showed 91% of Christchurch’s residents defined themselves as return visitors to the gallery, an extraordinary level of community engagement. This put them in a position of trust from which they could help people grieve, heal and move forward through the power of art. Treating the city under construction as a sort of evolving installation art piece, Christchurch Art Gallery used public art as a way of reconnecting people to the changing landscape, initiating discussions about the future, and providing the levity needed to allow the community to focus on less serious issues.

As an example of how to approach adversity, Christchurch Art Gallery is perhaps without peer in the art world. Though their story has been extreme, and they have undoubtedly been bolstered by the outpouring of emotionally-driven support that follows each natural disaster, there are aspects of their last five years that those of us in less drastic situations can and should learn from (and frankly, if you look at the recent and ongoing funding cuts to the arts in Australia as a disaster of sorts, the term ‘disaster management’ might ultimately prove to be an accurate description of what we do). These are the things that I have taken from Jenny Harper and her gallery’s story:

Don’t be defeatist. Stop whining. Yes, the arts are underfunded, but that is not about to change any time soon. Find another way. Last year, Christchurch Art Gallery’s acquisition budget was cut by two thirds, making it one of the most poorly funded galleries in New Zealand, yet they managed to acquire 527 substantial artworks by 2015. Creative thinkers make good problem solvers. In the words of the post-quake emergency signage, “use an alternative route.”

Be proud of your abilities and achievements. If you think that your work has value, say so. Australians like to rib their Kiwi mates for being overtly proud of themselves, but there’s something to be said for their self-belief. Australians are buggers for being too apathetic or worrying about being tagged as a wanker, but reticence gets you nowhere. Have pride in your talents, and what you have to offer the world. Having said that, don’t actually turn into a wanker. There’s enough of them around. Which leads me to the next point….

Forego any sense of elitism. The Arts should include, not exclude. Be accessible. You don’t need to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but so much of what is produced seeks to alienate and belittle under the pretense that its ‘high art’. We are a sector made up of people who have experienced being on the outside in one form or another. Hold that experience dear, and encourage audiences to engage at whatever level they feel comfortable. We need them as much as they need us.

Work together. The cultural sector is primarily a sector of solo practitioners. Find your allies, find mentors and mentees, and find people with a similar ethos to work with. As an industry, we’re up against some pretty big players in mining, education, agriculture etc. We have a better chance of being heard if we’re united.

Be courageous. Do you think it was easy for Jenny Harper to stand in front of several hundred people and ask for money to buy art in a city with so many competing priorities? She herself described it as “rather reckless”, but the strength of her convictions gave her the gumption to do it anyway. Stand up, take risks, buy the goddamn bull.

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All images supplied by Christchurch Art Gallery unless otherwise stated.

The Instaart family say goodbye to Bowie…

Dennis Hopper once said “if I could put it into words, there’d be no need to paint it” and it seems that quote holds true for the artists on Instagram paying tribute to Bowie.

In the past three days I have been inundated with hundreds of messages from artists and their friends wanting to draw attention to their work. There have been painters, sculptors, street artists, Lego artists, hyperrealists, textile artists, collage makers, performance artists, singers, sketch artists, felters, florists, weavers, chocolate makers, even some dude with an etch-a-sketch!

So I’ve put the best together here for your viewing pleasure. It’s a shame Bowie himself won’t get to see how the art world is saying goodbye, but what a great legacy to leave the world in a cloud of artistic endeavour!

And one more thing…because I’m a writer and I can’t draw how I feel, here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote on Bowie the other day as one more voice in the crowd:

“Bowie was the soundtrack to my very first years of independent adult life, realising I was different, beginning to understand why I never felt like I fitted in at school or work, taking tentative steps to explore what that meant. I loved his music, and I loved that it felt like a discovery all of my own. What a thrill to emerge from the fog of adolescence with Bowie on my side.

You blew my mind, Starman.”

#ripbowie⚡️

Julian Meagher’s Alone In The Sun

Late last year I was lucky enough to sit down with Archibald and Wynne Prize finalist Julian Meagher to discuss his new body of work for Edwina Corlette Gallery. In front of an audience of VIP clients, artists, collectors and curators, we discussed Julian’s childhood growing up in a large Sydney family, and the growing desire to understand his ancestors. 

   
 The show itself was a beautifully rendered portrait of a family and its tribulations, and incorporated both historical photos and his existing motifs of empty alcohol bottles and native Australian flora. 

Here’s a little excerpt from the piece I wrote for Edwina Corlette Gallery. Follow the link to read the full essay…

“In Alone In The Sun, Julian expands on his previous examinations of ritualised masculinity and Australia’s drinking culture, looking to our white colonial past for answers to some of our most challenging contemporary problems. Continuing to question how much of his own identity has been shaped by our collective history, Meagher began dissecting the most pervasive and revered myths upon which our culture was founded – myths of bushmen, booze and the birth of a nation.” READ MORE

Found and Lost: the art of Emma Lindsay and Victoria Reichelt

Long before David Attenborough seduced us all with his dulcet tones, art and science were inextricably linked by the use of scientific illustrators to provide visual records of each new discovery. Though the earliest examples were often comically inaccurate, having been drawn from second-hand descriptions or dead specimens, it ultimately became a highly technical profession. During a time of intense scientific activity, from the Age of Discovery right through to the Enlightenment, illustrators were as venerated as the scientists they worked alongside, with artists like Mark Catesby, John James Audubon and Edward Lear (incidentally the author of children’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat) household names. Some, like Catesby, amassed so much knowledge from their illustration work that they became naturalists in their own right, further blurring the professions. As photography and printing technology improved, the need for illustrators lessened, but the images they produced remains some of the rarest and most fascinating of objects held in the world’s museum collections.

It is impossible not to be struck by the detail of these early studies, each one a hand-coloured masterpiece in gouache or ink. The time and skill required to produce an illustrated journal was extraordinary to contemplate back then, let alone when viewed in the context of today’s digital world. Much as I love Attenborough’s documentaries, with their super high definition and special effects (and that voice of his), there is something missing, something inorganic and lacking in wonder, when compared to a 500 year old bound book of taxonomic illustrations. Such precise work makes you stop and contemplate every brushstroke, every line and every area of shading. It is a moment of reflection that doesn’t exist when we’re watching The Private Life of Plants, or flicking through a copy of National Geographic. Two recent exhibitions, by artists Emma Lindsay and Victoria Reichelt, brought this point home to me very clearly. Both realist painters, they explore the extinct and endangered in the social and natural worlds via their research into common cultural practices.

Emma Lindsay’s work pays homage to the early biological illustrators with her use of white space and intense detail, but differs in that its intent is not the wonder of discovery so much as what has been lost to wilful destruction. Inspired by museum specimen collections, Lindsay began what she calls The Extinction Project, a series of studies that highlight animals now gone or in peril due to human interference in the world’s ecosystems. Museum specimen stores can be a fascinating sight, with row after row of unique wildlife represented. But the damage that is also represented by such a collection is a tragedy matched only by the fact that newly extinct species continued to be added to the list, even now. The Natural History labs are kind of the Found & Lost department of the museum.

By focusing on the creatures of the current Anthropocene, Lindsay ensures the work remains contemporary both in style and topic, however the conventions of taxonomic illustration are never far from the viewer’s mind. Lindsay’s careful application of glazes and impasto creates a haunting replication of traditional museum displays, evoking the eerily lit dioramas of taxidermied animals we regularly see in Natural History museums. As Lindsay’s body of work reminds us, this is as authentic an encounter as we can hope to experience with an increasing number of creatures.

Animals feature intermittently in Victoria Reichelt’s work too, though they exist more as a reminder of the parallels between humans and beasts and their changing habitats. With digitisation and robotics making people redundant in ever increasing ways, Reichelt sees humans as the hunted – and the sites of current human engagement as the Future Ruins created by that redundancy. Traditional institutions are increasingly threatened as people elect to inhabit the virtual world. Collections are online, books are in e-Readers, and google image search has the world’s artwork at your fingertips. As a result, our libraries, archives and museums are on the cusp of insignificance. If the creatures in Reichelt’s deserted landscapes look a little startled by their surroundings, it is only a precursor to how future generations may also view the remnants of our cultural foundations.

The most compelling of Reichelt’s works, however, are the ones devoid of any life at all. Scenes of the future epoch, where traces of people exist in ghostly ways. A shelf of archive boxes with handwritten notations, a drawer of catalogue cards left open as though the librarian had mysteriously vanished, an office chair without the body it ordinarily supports. These are canvases that reflect my own experience working in museums back to me, alone in the Collections store, surrounded by the spooks of our collective history.

Like Reichelt and Lindsay, I can’t help but question what is to become of the world’s collections. I wonder if we haven’t relegated objects to a place even worse than oblivion by keeping them locked away in perpetuity. Sure they’re safe from harm, but is an eternal shelf life any better? At work I’m surrounded by languishing history, useless and unappreciated, kept on the off-chance it will be considered relevant in the future. A fraction of our collection will be displayed at some stage, but the vast majority is destined to remain unseen. No wonder it feels a bit creepy in the stores – too many untold stories. The objects become like headstones in a graveyard called The Past. Preserving our history is important, but actively engaging with it is potentially more so. Perhaps today is the future we were keeping it for.

I began this piece with the antique art of scientific illustration, and what little use today’s world has for such a skill. But the work of Emma Lindsay and Victoria Reichelt makes me believe that this one dying art might just be the thing to help conserve another. Take the time to study these works. David Attenborough might not be narrating, but the stories are still worth hearing.

Emma Lindsay at Heiser Gallery

Victoria Reichelt at Jan Murphy Gallery

Rumour Has It Naomi Price is back in town

I once said to me mum that had it not been for the Brit School, I’d have been a teen mum. She said to me, ‘no babes, it’s cos you was fat and ginger what saved you’

Irrepressible Adele. She’s always been good for a soundbite. Except that quote wasn’t said by Adele at all – not last night, at any rate. It was cabaret powerhouse Naomi Price channelling Adele, in the little red company’s production of Rumour Has It. Opening its fourth return season in Brisbane, it was a fabulous homecoming for both the show and its leading lady Price, who is returning to ‘normal’ life after coming to national attention during this year’s The Voice Australia.

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Rumour Has It tracks the story of Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, from performing for her mother in the lounge room as a child to appearing before a crowd of thousands at Royal Albert Hall just a decade later. 

There are few celebrities who rise as suddenly, and capture society as quickly, as Adele did. But then there are few teenaged performers who could simultaneously appear on chat shows saying “fuck” every five seconds, and flip the bird at record label exes during award shows, while writing searing love songs so beautiful that middle aged men were routinely brought to tears at her arena concerts. Onstage she was glamourous, confident and mind-bendingly gifted for someone so young, immediately compared to legends Etta James, Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald et al. Offstage she was a mouthy loose cannon who overshared her personal life, laughed at her sudden fame, spoke with a broad cockney accent and openly joked about her weight and dramatic love life. She was an anomaly, her influence quickly seen throughout the music and fashion industries as established performers began covering her hits and professing their admiration, and girls everywhere decided beehives and heavy eye makeup were the way of the future. At her peak, when radio stations were flogging her songs to death and every magazine had her on their cover, she had the talent and charisma to sustain it. It was as though she had arrived a fully formed, and very modern, cultural icon.

This extraordinary level of fame was a turning point not only for Adele, but for Price and her co-director at the little red company, Adam Brunes, who saw potential in the story of the girl from Tottenham and set about writing a cabaret act that showed off both Price’s vocal ability and her comedic timing. It was only a short parody skit, maybe fifteen minutes, but it proved to Price and Brunes that the idea had legs, and Rumour Has It began to take shape.

Today, Rumour Has It has evolved into two hours of brilliant cabaret, a showcase for some of the best contemporary performers in this country. Naomi Price is still front and centre inhabiting the role of Adele, but now supported by a four piece band and trio of backup singers, she is able to push her performance into another realm. There is even greater confidence this time around, which is perhaps the result of her recent television experience, but is just as likely the result of being happy back in Adele’s skin. What Price does with the character isn’t an impression so much as an embodiment, to the extent that it’s hard to know how much of the script is anecdotes from Adele’s own mouth, and how much is improvised by Price while on stage. Either way, she nails Adele’s unique spirit completely.

Rumour Has It is the last of Queensland Theatre Company’s Diva Series, a run of actress-driven shows commissioned by QTC that has been a feature of 2015’s programming. This year’s offerings have been a little patchy, with amazing highs (The 7 Stages of Grieving, Home, Grounded) and one serious stinker (Happy Days, ironically). Rumour Has It, originally scheduled for July this year until Price’s television commitments interfered, is a great way to end the series – full of heart, genuine laughs and incredible talent. Brisbane had to wait a little while to see it this time; now that it’s here, don’t miss it. I thought I was at the point where Adele songs made my ears bleed, but Rumour Has It proves there’s life in the old girl yet! 

Rumour Has It
Bille Brown Studio until 17 October

Images used with permission of Dylan Evans Photography and the little red company

Are we in PARADI$E yet, BITCH?

Have you ever had flowering tea? Appearing at first like a tightly bound ball of chaff, it bursts open when steeped to reveal a beautiful floral bloom. Served in glass teapots so that you can appreciate the beauty unfolding, it really is one of life’s simple pleasures. I first tried one at White Rabbit Gallery’s tearoom, and it occurred to me at that time that it was the perfect analogy for the gallery itself. Not particularly exciting from the outside, but with an interior that gets more beautiful the further in to its layers you delve.

White Rabbit Gallery is one of the true cultural gems of Sydney, a gift of benefaction to the city from founder Judith Neilson, who opened the doors on her considerable collection of Chinese art in 2009. But the gallery is something of a gift to China as well.

It is easy to forget that China is a country capable of immense beauty. Red Guards and Communist manifestos, unfathomable population size and the ‘One Child’ policy, the world’s largest economy built on mass production and exploitation…it’s a disturbing history which makes it hard to appreciate the culture beyond the dodgy humanitarian record. The other China, the one of Confucian philosophy, music, language, martial arts, architecture, cuisine and visual arts is virtually drowned in the wake of its controversies. Yet China’s artisans have never lost sight of the long history that precedes them. They’ve outlasted both the Cultural Revolution’s destructive forces and the modern government’s form of repression by denial. Chinese art, the world’s oldest continuous tradition, has been reinvigorated by the country’s emerging artists being quick to adopt innovative and exciting new approaches to art practice. White Rabbit Gallery’s role in conveying this remarkable tenacity of spirit cannot be underestimated.

PARADI$E BITCH, the gallery’s latest exhibition, is heavily focused on the new and innovative. Neon, lasers, multimedia and kinetic art are all represented in a way that leaves your senses buzzing. Gangsta dwarves covered in bling compete for your attention with vintage porn movies and fully recreated niteclub scenes. Overstimulation is at the heart of this show, with the superficiality of 21st century life and where it’s leading us the primary focus.

As a result, the works in PARADI$E BITCH are more clinical and hardnosed than previous White Rabbit Gallery shows, with few moments for calm reflection – a bit like having a conversation with a hyperactive preteen. The messages are chaotic and urgently delivered, making notable exceptions like Zhang Dali’s melancholy tribute to the Tiananmen Square massacre all the more arresting.

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In fact, that for me is the genius of this show’s curation – regardless of how much I enjoyed the laser beams and installations, it was the works ground in more traditional art forms that really moved me, and I was left pondering how much we lose in a world moving ever further away from tactile, unmediated experiences. This paradise we’re living in really is proving a bit of a bitch.

Back in the tearoom, where the focus is on the 3000 year old tradition of brewing cured leaves, I am free to contemplate China’s new position at the forefront of contemporary art. Much of the contemporary work emerging from China covers themes and ideas the art world has seen before, repeated across all genres, and some of it can seem a little reductive. But it is saved by a palpable sense of mischievous delight from the artists at finally being able to express themselves, experiment with external influences on their art practice and push the boundaries of authoritarian intervention. I wonder if part of the global appeal of contemporary Chinese art is in the voyeuristic element of watching a country’s people find their individual voices, and in seeing how much of what they have to say confirms or rejects our preconceptions.

White Rabbit Gallery provides an encouraging and inclusive space for both visitors and artists to reconsider that old cliché of East vs West, and remind us that China never lost its soul, the rest of the world just stopped searching a little deeper to find it.

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PARADI$E BITCH until early February 2016
Images used with permission of White Rabbit Gallery

 

The Friendly Fire of Riverfire

I was sitting at my desk writing when the Super Hornets began their flyovers across the city – practice runs for Riverfire, a celebration of pyrotechnics and music that marks the end of Brisbane Festival. As they thundered past I wondered, not for the first time, at the incongruity of the relationship between warplanes and arts festivals.

Image via Tony Kevin Photography

The day before had been the helicopters’ turn. Four ADF choppers flying low through the city, sending birds and old ladies into panic mode. From my high-rise apartment it looked like Obama was back in town. It didn’t take long for social media to light up with images of them hovering mosquito-like around the CBD; everyone seemed to have Instagrammed it. Later in the day I was out with my dog when a guy and his mother walked past, obviously discussing the military displays. “At least they’re not dropping bombs, imagine living in a warzone.” Quite.

It seems to me a bizarre thing to celebrate arts and culture with fighter jets and reconnaissance helicopters. I understand they’re loud and fast and occasionally shoot flames out their arse (which in fairness does have parallels with at least one show I saw during Brisbane Festival) but surely at this point in time, with Australia undertaking airstrikes in Syria, and our troops still actively engaged in operations in Africa and the Middle East, there’s something a bit gross in celebrating the existence of a warplane? There is nothing celebratory in the sound of combat aircraft overhead. It is the sound of war, a terrifying daily occurrence for a large percentage of the world’s people. To make a spectacle of it seems…I don’t know. Arrogant? Insensitive?

Perhaps it’s a hangover from the Golden Age of aviation, when flying was still a novelty and pilots considered daring. Back then, there was at least some cultural value in planes in as much as they opened up new worlds and ways of thinking, made icons of Lindbergh and Earhart and helped advance the status of women. But there is little cultural value to be found in a Super Hornet, a machine capable of carrying air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, unless it’s in the untold destruction of cultures ravished by war. They have no artistic merit, designed only to inflict damage. They drop bombs, ruin towns and destroy life. They kill people. Should we really be quite so proud of their existence?

The arts community, for the most part, likes to sees itself as a socially aware sector. Often we’re the barometer by which the rest of society sets their moral compass, whether that be in agreeance or dissonance. We inspire, we outrage, and we provoke discussion. A little more than a year ago a considerable number of artists boycotted the Sydney Biennale over Transfield’s sponsorship of the event, an issue that damn near brought one of the largest arts festivals in Australia to a halt, but also gave rise to an important ethical discourse. It was a discussion that needed to be had, and the Arts community were are the forefront of the debate. But is it not a little hypocritical for the sector to take such an impassioned stance on the treatment of asylum seekers in detention, yet celebrate with one of the very things they were fleeing in the first place?

We now know there is no glory to be found in war; it is evil and insidious, and serves only to inflate the egos of already overbearing leaders. It is the antithesis of everything that the arts community as a whole sets out to provide society with. And while I understand that for some the supersonic booms are an absolute highlight, there are plenty more people in the world for whom there is no sound more distressing.

So go tonight and enjoy Riverfire – it really is a spectacular event, and a fantastic end to three weeks of theatre, art, music, fun and love. But perhaps when the ADF go across your heads this time, save your cheers and hug your friends and family instead – and say a silent prayer for those for whom a celebration of culture is as unlikely as a Super Hornet on a joy flight.

Image taken from The Courier Mail

O death, where is thy Sting?

I become a little more enamoured with David Walsh every time he writes something.
Such a great wordsmith.

Mona Blog

By David Walsh

Who’d have thought thirty year ago we’d all be sittin’ here drinking Château de Chasselas, eh?

Monty Python, Four Yorkshiremen, 1974

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my legs don’t break
Walking on the moon

The Police, Walking on the Moon, 1979

In late ’79 or early ’80 I first heard Walking on the Moon, at a bar at Wrest Point Casino in Hobart, in the very early, desperate days of my gambling. I was stunned by the song, not the first time that The Police had that effect on me. But I said to my mate, ‘Why would your legs be more likely to break on the moon, just because the reduced gravity makes you take giant steps. It’s ridiculous.’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘it isn’t ridiculous. If you had been on the moon for some time, your…

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