Last Sunday, we held our annual Children’s Book Festival (in partnership with the State Library of Victoria). From 10am until 4pm, the State Library Lawns, our Performance Space, Little Lonsdale Street and various venues inside the library were overtaken by an extremely busy programme of events and activities.
More than 15,000 kids (and their adults) joined us for the day – a record turnout! We slept well that evening.
Amongst the throng, you may have noticed a gentleman quietly observing, his wrist whipping across the pages of his sketch pad. That man was, of course, Oslo Davis – our artist in residence for the day.
Today, we’re pleased to share with you Oslo’s illustrations from the Festival. Were you there? Is one of those people you?
(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge them.)
By Andie Fox
Middle age can make you a more savvy audience for art … but also a lazier one, as it must be squeezed into an ever-more time-poor life. Andie Fox realises that she’s become so risk averse when it comes to books and films that she’s missing out on the unexpected pleasures and new ideas art can offer.
Last year there were at least a dozen books I started reading and did not finish. When I grew tired of the way a book was unfolding or the style of its writing, I didn’t persist, I simply put the book down regretfully and moved on to the next novel in my pile. Actually, in all honesty, I began to find myself gleefully discarding them. After the first few times you give up you discover a certain reckless abandon in subsequent disappointments.
Partly, I wasn’t picking the best novels and partly, I wasn’t in a generous frame of mind. The rejections were like a new freedom for me. Each one emphasized the importance of my own time. There’s so little of it, you see, that isn’t now claimed by work and family responsibilities. I never used to be like this – to be such a scanning, flicking, rejecting kind of consumer of the arts. It is not that my taste is particularly niche or peculiar now, it’s that through necessity I have attained ruthless efficiency in assessing the things I love. I have never surrendered so many loves at once as during my thirties.
Some of the things lost were smashed and chipped and pulled apart, but others were neglected so badly they stopped calling, or interrupted so many times I forgot how to do them or even, to want to do them. The sacrifices began to highlight the trade-offs. This book or more sleep, or this book or that film, or this book or seeing a friend, or this book or reading to my child (who will only be little for a couple more years). Occasionally, all the weighing up is paralysing and I simply can’t choose and so instead I miss out on everything.
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote recently in The Atlantic that at this stage of his life he no longer prioritises ‘difficult books’. Instead, he wants to read books that make him work, not so much as a reader, but as a thinker. My refusal to finish certain books last year was less about the difficulty of those books and more about an intolerance for frustrations of all varieties. But I relate to this sentiment of Coates. I’m tired and rushed, as I imagine him to also be, but I’m still hungry for thoughts. More than ever now. I am skipping breakfast, racing to catch a train, rewriting drafts, reading reminder notices on unpaid bills and arguing with my children about cleaning their teeth – so, I’m dying for big thoughts that will weave their way through my head for weeks or months to come.
In fact, if I had to pick a difference between me in my twenties and me in my thirties I would say that this is it. When I was young I looked to the arts for ideas about everything and anything. In a way, I asked a lot of what I viewed while bringing very little myself. In my thirties, I look to everything with particular puzzles in mind, hoping to find something to excite new ways of resolving them. This is what I think Coates referred to when he said he wants to work as a thinker. And when I find these insights in someone’s creation I am awestruck, because not only do I understand the hard work involved in its realisation, but through the artist’s astute observations I am released from some of my own struggle. Frankly, I am a better audience at this age than I was in my twenties. But there’s a catch.
Like Coates, I want the big, interesting thoughts but I don’t want to run a gauntlet for them. As I’ve described, I’ve become impatient. And it is not just books, I’m impatient with film, too. My current short-cut to an evening of thoughts comes via a diet of HBO and Showtime television series, that I watch for minimal cost in my lounge room, with a glass of cheap wine. In comparison, the cost of an evening at the cinema involves not only my painful awareness of the opportunity cost of other longings denied, but the ticket price must now include $80 worth of babysitting too. At this price, one does not need to try very hard to be cranky enough to find a film disappointing.
On the other hand, an evening watching Walking Dead or Mad Men is as cheap and reliable as a franchise restaurant menu. And for someone like me, struggling to keep up with much of anything at the moment, there is undeniable pleasure in seeing something current enough to have me re-join the dinner party conversation.
But like fast food, these television shows never quite deliver the complexity and spectacle that truly amazing films will when seen on enormous cinema screens. My consumption decisions have become so risk-averse that not only am I avoiding the so-so events and the tedious flops, I am also missing the chance happenings – those nights out when you are unexpectedly transformed by the art you see. And short-cuts can become ruts. I lack the conservatism to believe all the great books and music have already been made and I’ve seen them, but I worry I’m losing my skills to appreciate experimentation.
For instance, I have long adored surrealism but for those years when I had a toddler, my appetite for the surprise juxtaposition was significantly reduced. Toddlers are the original Dada practitioners – leaving utterly random items in your handbag and spilling out phrases of charming nonsense incessantly. They will exhaust you with the abstract, and in this state I found myself bored by any art trying to change its parameters. Possibly this problem is not exclusive to mothers.
Some of my childless friends work twelve-hour days, chewing through endless piles of 30 second email interactions, and say they now struggle with the attention span required for a one-hour episode of HBO television, let alone a languid three-hour film. Another friend of mine, a playwright and the father of a young child, says he finds it tough to summon the energy for seeing live performance now that he realises he is not also there to get laid or loaded. You can see how we become the kind of dreary consumers the art world hates, only able to cope with linear plots in bite-size format and wanting it all to be finished in time for an early night. One way or another my friends and I, like Coates, are all doing the equivalent of avoiding difficult books. It seems that we are being changed by the years entering middle-age.
Except, some out there make different decisions. Some art-lovers continue to prioritise the difficult books and choose the path less travelled into middle age. (I assume it is a path also involving less time with toddlers). And I’m grateful these people exist, because this year I made the resolution to prioritise similarly and I need their advice. I won’t see and read and listen to everything, as I used to – for I love my new life, too – but I will allow myself more of a chance to try the difficult things.
Because the problem with risk aversion in my art consumption is that I’d accepted a bargain with certainty, rather than possibility. After a time, I stopped questioning my sacrifices.
So, for a year I will read difficult books again, and see new art, and turn off the television sometimes to watch films on big screens. I have new puzzles to solve and I want very big, new thoughts.
Andie Fox blogs regularly about motherhood, feminism and what’s on her mind at Blue Milk.
We bring you our five favourite links and articles from around the internet this week.
Ernie Button really, really loves cereal. He’s spent the past decade working on a series of photographs that ‘explore the texture, color and marketing wrapped up in these niblets of nourishment’. Takes playing with your food to a whole new level. Maybe it’ll catch on for kidults? ‘The landscapes were often influenced by the Arizona desert that surrounds him, but other times he let the shape of the cereal guide the project.’
There’s a terrific (if ominous) article in the New York Review of Books about the inevitability of Hurricane Sandy in an age of global warming. Bill McKibben points out that researchers had been warning of a disaster just like this, and had even produced documents describing the exact risk to the New York subway system. Seas are rising faster in the northeastern United States than almost anywhere else on the planet.
The same researchers who predicted events like this week’s horror have warned that unless we cease burning coal and gas and oil the planet’s temperature – already elevated by a degree – will climb another four or five. At which point ‘civilization’ will be another word for ‘ongoing emergency response’.
No, we’re not talking about black-framed prescription glasses for hipsters, berets for poets or lots of black for all publishing folk … the Guardian has some examples of book-based fashion wear. Want the Anna Karenina look? Banana Republic has a clothing range inspired by the movie. How about some Catcher in the Rye sneakers? And one fashion designer, Carlos Campos, has created a whole collection inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
David Simon (creator of The Wire and former journalist) has written about what the re-election of Obama, and the coalition of disparate voters who returned him to the presidency, means for a changing America. His conclusion: white men are no longer the definition of normal. ‘There is no normal.’
America is different now, more so with every election cycle. Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling. Fifty thousand new Latino citizens achieve the voting age every month. America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can comfortably walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.
A new movie about the making of Psycho stars Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma, and Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh. Judging from this trailer, it looks promising.
Hitchcock will be released in Australian on 10 January 2013.
Speaking about filming that famous shower scene, Scarlett Johanssen said:
You have got to be brave, get into the shower, and face Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock jabbing you in the face with a 12-inch kitchen knife. As much as Anthony Hopkins is a pussycat, he’s terrifying. Maybe I watched Silence of the Lambs too many times when I was a kid. Maybe I was having some flashbacks. So I didn’t need too much preparation for the scene.
We collect our favourite links and articles from around the internet this week.
Here’s an eye-catching example of Olympic art, via the Atlantic: a London bus that does push-ups. The sculpture, by artist David Cerny, will live outside the Czech Olympic headquarters for the duration of this year’s Games. Cerny bought the 1957 Routemaster bus in the Netherlands and spent six months fitting it with robotic arms, powered by an engine. The motion is accompanied by a recording of sounds evoked during tough physical effort.
An article in the Atlantic looks at a country on the opposite end of the spectrum from the gun-happy US: in Japan, almost no one owns a firearm (even the notorious Yakuza tend to forgo guns). While in 2008, the US had over 12,000 firearm-related homicides, all of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than at Aurora alone. The country’s murder rate is the second-lowest in the world.
To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.
This year’s breakout hit series Girls came under considerable fire for its predominantly-white casting, as opposed to its ethnically mixed setting of Brooklyn, New York. The latest outbreak of commentary on the issue (from Slate) broadens out into the wider issue of race and casting in general, using the example of some found casting notices for minor role on Girls. How are minor roles cast and how often do they blatantly cater to stereotypes?
One notice sought a ‘pleasantly plump’ Latina co-worker, Chastity, for Hannah; a rainbow group of nannies with accents (including a “sexy” El Salvadoran and an ‘overweight’ African American with a ‘good sense of humor’); and a ‘VERY VERY HANDSOME AND VERY SEXY’ African-American lover for Jessa. The other notice advertised roles including an Asian sake bar waiter; Tako, a ‘tough, tiny’ African-American lesbian; and a female junkie, for which agents were asked to ‘PLEASE SUBMIT ALL ETHNICITIES,’ leading Jezebel writer Cassie Murdoch to quip, ‘Ooh, the junkie can be any ethnicity! How progressive.’ (The junkie was ultimately played by a white actor.)
Drone technology, which allows wars to be fought by remote control pilots, while their planes attack targets in Iraq or Afghanistan, has been an increasingly hot topic, when we talk about modern warfare. We often speculate about the impact of fighting wars on screens, like a video game, but rarely hear from those who operate this brave new machinery of warfare. The New York Times recently interviewed a drone pilot, who says it’s nothing like a video game – in fact, the cameras take pilots far closer to their prey than they would ever get flying a plane.
He steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.
In the New York Times, Colson Whitehead shares his rules for writing, from ‘show and tell’, to ‘have adventures’, to the intriguing ‘fiction is payback for those who have wronged you’.
This week’s Friday High Five is a visual spectacular, as we bring you five fabulous sculptures, all made out of books. Enjoy!
By Robert The.
By Nick Georgiou.
‘A wonderfully crafted and cleverly folded lamp springs to life from the hardy white pages of the bound book, powered by a simple low voltage adapter.’ Created by Takeshi Ishiguro for Arctecnica. via Gizmodo.
By Robert The.
Artist Alex Queral carves his sculptures directly into the phone book. He says, ‘In carving and painting a head from a phone-book directory, I’m celebrating the individual lost in the anonymous list of thousands of names that describe the size of the community.’
Ford’s Theatre, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 assassination, is still operating. And they must be carrying around some serious guilt, because they’ve recently invested in a (literally) towering monument to Lincoln’s legacy: The Lincoln Book Tower.
This awe-inspiring sculpture represents (and resembles) the tower of books written about the man. Though it looks like it’s built from actual books, they’re actually bent aluminum book replicas, with covers printed on.
Roughly 15,000 books have been written about Lincoln. Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theatre, says this makes Lincoln the most written-about person in world history, apart from Jesus Christ. Nearly 7000 books (or, book replicas) are contained in the tower.
205 titles are represented, most of them still in print. Because the tower was designed in 2010, there are no books published after that year.
‘There are books here for people of all ages,’ says Tetreault. ‘There’s young people’s books, there’s an Abraham Lincoln stickers book, there’s an Abraham Lincoln coloring book. And then of course there’s all of the bestsellers: David Herbert Donald’s great book about Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals — all of these major scholars who’ve written about Abraham Lincoln, they’re all contained in this stack.’
If you love books and love design, then this Thursday’s free event, How to Design an Australian Classic, with W.H. Chong, is for you.
Join us at the Wheeler Centre from 6.15pm. You can book here.
Winners of this year’s Prix Ars Electronica were announced this week. Celebrating artists and projects at the forefront of media experimentation and digital innovation, the awards are considered amongst the most prestigious and coveted in the field. Six Australians were acknowledged in the honours list.
In the Interactive Art category, It’s a jungle in here by Melbournians Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine (with programmer Matthew Gingold) was given an Award of Distinction. The piece – ‘a confronting tour of the fragile rules that organise our public lives’ – reflects the regular collaborators' preoccupations with creepy, unsettling scenes and playful representation.
Controlled by facial recognition, voice and pressure sensors, attackers morph into grizzly bears or crows; their victims can retreat into a turtle shell, or be subjected to the unwanted advances of snakes.
In the Hybrid Art category, Peta Clancy and Helen Pynor received Honorary Mentions for their piece The Body is a Big Place. Prue Lang scored the same for her system Un Reseau Translucide, which harvests dancers' kinetic energy.
Life as an artist can be a slog, and many practising artists choose to refocus their energy on the daily grind: a more regular job, perhaps, or a family, wondering what may have been.
Writing for GQ, Eric Puchner was wondering the same thing when he met his doppelgänger, a singer-songwriter named Kyle Field. ‘As a writer, I’d always been fascinated by the trope of the doppelgänger and its long literary life, from Dostoyevsky to Nabokov to Spider-Man,’ he offers. ‘I’d started wondering if there was someone out there who embodies not your worst self, but your freest one – a person who encapsulates everything you’ve ever dreamed of becoming.’
The 99% Conference recently wrapped up in New York – its name not Occupy-related, but rather gleaned from Edison’s adage that ‘genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration’. With a broad focus and a diverse roster of speakers, the event generated a slew of suggestions for snaring the muse. They’ve posted a list of ‘key takeaways’ on their website, quoting figures such as Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal, Radiolab co-host/creator Jad Abumrad and Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile.
One of the 99% Conference’s guests was Australian designer/illustrator Rilla Alexander of art and design collective Rinzen. Alexander was showcasing Her Idea, an adult-friendly picture book about the tension between ideas, focus and realisation.
On the subject of picture books, we couldn’t let this week go without a nod to the genre’s hero Maurice Sendak, who passed away on Tuesday aged 83.
Tributes to the iconic author and illustrator have been made far and wide, but perhaps the most unusual comes via Best Made Co. – a customised, coloured and spotted axe dubbed Max’s Axe.
Looking further back, a 2006 New Yorker profile entitled ‘Not Nice’ reveals Sendak’s early loneliness, raw wit and close ties to the mystique of childhood.
Questions of life and death did not elude Sendak. In interviews such as the one below, he spoke about living and dying, asking: ‘Why bother to get born?’
‘I have adult thoughts in my head, experiences – but I’m never going to talk about them,’ he says. ‘I’m never going to write about them. Why is my needle stuck in childhood? I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s where my heart is.’
A terrific new coffee table book by the art director of the New Yorker, Françoise Mouly, collects her favourite covers that were either rejected (often for being too controversial) or have an intriguing story behind them. Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See comes with commentary by Mouly – and the images range from the shocking to the hilarious, to the absurd. Here’s a taste:
At the height of the Lewinsky affair, Art Spiegelman proposed this sketch titled ‘Clinton’s Last Request.’ ‘When a word like “blow job”, which you never dreamt of finding in the paper is on the front page every day,’ he explains, ‘I had to find a way for my image to be as explicit without being downright salacious.’
Sometimes it looks like an artist is poking fun at the more sedate New Yorker covers. This was proposed by M. Scott Miller, years before Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. He claims that the inspiration for this jeté is an experience familiar to anyone who follows classical ballet.
Fans of Wire and Treme, rejoice! David Simon, creator of what is generally agreed to be the Best Television Series Ever, is now blogging. Simon was a writer of journalism (and books) before he turned his hand to television, which means that his writing is well worth reading. What’s more, he’s opinionated and loves to share his opinions. The posts so far vary from an impassioned article on journalism, prize culture and the Pulitzer to bite-sized observations from the streets of Baltimore, or his own lounge room. Bookmark this one.
A Belgian not-for-profit, Responsible Young Drivers, has hit on a brilliant strategy for teaching teens that texting-and-driving is insanely dangerous. They tricked student drivers into believing that in order to pass their driving tests, they also had to demonstrate proficiency in texting while driving. The responses? ‘I’ll stop driving if this is introduced as law’, ‘People will die’ and ‘This is dangerous’.
It’s a bit like that urban myth, where a parent catches their kid smoking and forces them to chain-smoke an entire packet of cigarettes (and they never smoke again). From the looks on these kids' faces, the message has sunk in. This video is genuine car-crash viewing – almost literally.
Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House and co-founder of the New York Review of Books, has written optimistically for the former about why he believes ‘actual’ books will survive the digital age (as will bookshops and libraries), and will coexist with digital books:
Few technological victories are ever complete, and in the case of books this will be especially true. Bookstores will not disappear but will exploit digital technologies to increase their virtual and physical inventories, and perhaps become publishers themselves. So will libraries, whose vast and arcane holdings will soon be available to everyone everywhere.
All book lovers are fond of the idea that books are art. Chinese artist Lui Wei has taken the idea literally, creating intricate cityscape sculptures from stacks of schoolbooks, held together by steel rods and wood clamps. His sculptures include a range of iconic buildings from the Pentagon to Saint Peter’s Basilica, and depict cities in a state of metamorphosis, a concept familiar in his native Beijing.
Wondering what to do with your old books? It can be hard to get much (or any) cash from your local second-hand bookshop these days. If you’re a dab hand with scissors and a glue-gun, you might like to try making them into art.
Surely this only took a few rainy-day afternoons, right?
Spanish artist Alicia Martin’s Biografias project uses 5,000 books in each of her three site-specific sculptures, based in historic buildings in Madrid. The current installation is at Casa de America.
Each of the large-scaled books columns is held securely by an intricate metal and mesh framework inside. The metal skeleton gives the voluminous sculptures shape and holds each and every page in place, although the pieces appear to be flowing downward.
‘By constructing the curving towers with a rather free and disheveled exterior, while maintaining a sturdy core, the books’ loose pages are free to blow and rustle in the wind, allowing the piece to be further animated,‘ writes My Modern Met.
You can watch the installation in action in the video below.
Does it symbolise the death of the print book, or its fetishisation? Or is it simply a really cool piece of art?
Is nothing sacred? It’s a subject that continues to torture the stylish brows of French literary types following the bombing of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week. Last week’s edition – titled Sharia Hebdo – had reported on the triumph in Tunisian elections of an Islamist party and featured on the front page a cartoon of the prophet promising readers 100 lashes if they didn’t “die laughing”. As a result, the magazine’s Parisian HQ has been firebombed, its website has been hacked and death threats have been aimed at its staff (full story). Readers wondering how the magazine would respond to the events will discover on their newsstands today (Paris time) this cover featuring a magazine cartoonist and an Islamic man locked in passionate embrace under the headline, ‘Love is stronger than hate’.
Towards the end of his recent Skype appearance at the Wheeler Centre, UK fashion designer Gareth Pugh was asked to sign off with some advice to aspiring fashion designers in the audience. Here’s what he said:
“People get very confused, I think, when thinking about fashion and design. Especially with fashion because obviously you see it everyday …. I think if you want to be a designer and do it for a long time, you have to not think at all about how you’re going to sell those. You shouldn’t think in terms of commerciality. It should be more about the ideas, because without the ideas you don’t have anything. You just have a collection that you could get anywhere or you could see anywhere. It needs to speak to people on a level for people to actually believe it and to want it ultimately.”
Pugh’s appearance was presented in partnership with the State of Design as part of a series of ‘9 to 5’ talks, in which Melbourne’s leading designers posed nine critical questions to five of the world’s most important design thinkers. Other videos/podcasts in the series: interior designer Ilse Crawford, design group Troika, Korean urban designer Kyung-won Chung and US designer-illustrator Milton Glaser.
By Mark Mordue
The Rolling Stones song ‘Emotional Rescue’ is a seduction song thinly veiled in romance. The urgency and strut that it exudes, Mick Jagger’s startling use of falsetto – it’s all about getting a woman to leave her husband and join him in bed.
By surrendering to her desires and to his, the singer will come to that woman’s emotional rescue. It’s likely to be a very temporary liberation, however. As Jagger hints early in the song, “Don’t you know promises were never meant to keep.”
There are often gaps between what we say and what we mean, of course. Some conscious, others subconscious. Our listening can involve similar arts of opportunity and self-deception. There are messages we don’t want to receive. Others we need to have, whether they are present in what someone says or does – or not.
Our emotions are rarely singular, and pass over us like one cloud hiding another and perhaps another again. The argument would be we should use our mind to read that weather more clearly, to make sense of those feelings that impel us, and then to see ourselves and perhaps act more wisely. Or to surrender – because we want to surrender – to something that at first glance is irrational, wild, destructive or thrilling, as the case may be. To be rescued, as it were, from the rational world that dulls us and even imprisons us.
Art is a kind of tarot for our feelings, a set of stories and symbols through which we can see ourselves. In Shakespeare’s time the connection was more ordered and universally understood, a universe of bodily humors from which character and all human destiny stemmed.
Though we lack such an elaborate and living map of the self today, I find I am still able to read another map, a map that is not fixed but somehow flowing, visible within the arts available to me. And that through these encounters I can examine what my feelings are – and even reinvigorate them by listening to music or reading a book when modern life seems to extinguish those sparks.
In a recent interview, Laura Marling – the young English singer most often compared to Joni Mitchell – declared herself to be an anti-romantic rationalist, to be all about logic over feelings. Marling is a woman barely 21 years old who’s produced a supreme second album entitled A Creature I Don’t Know (oh the irony). It’s hard to recall a record of such up-tempo and annihilating dispensations emerging since Chrissie Hynde appeared on the scene with The Pretenders some 30 years ago. Though arising out of an English folk-pop background, Marling’s voice also echoes the smoky, side-on snarl of Hynde at her best. Her lyrics are not only literary, they venture into a dark yet ultimately optimistic aloneness that seems rare: neither soporifically happy, nor darkly cliched. She works towards stripping away illusions about romance while sustaining a deep poetry and sense of mystery to her lyrics.
At the same time I started listening to her new record and absorbing her world-view, I found myself hurled backwards – somewhat nostalgically – by the documentary Autoluminescent. A depiction of the life and loss of former Birthday Party guitarist, Rowland S. Howard, Autoluminescent takes some of its hard-edge romance from the influence of 19th century French poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, both of whom Howard echoed in his looks, lyrics and ambience.
In the documentary, Howard talks about writing his first important song, ‘Shivers’, when he was only 16. He had noticed his schoolmates indulging in their emotions to hysterical extremes. It was all too much. Thus the withering lines of a jilted young man who might well be Howard himself: “’I’ve been contemplating suicide/but it’s really not my style.”
Howard could look back at the song and laugh at his own bravado, and his insight into excess emotion. “Says me”, he observes wryly in the documentary, “a guy who has always had a glass heart on his sleeve.”
Howard died last year of liver failure brought on by complications wrought by hepatitis C, contracted from intravenous drug use as a young man. Ultimately Autoluminescent is about promise unfulfilled, but it’s also about the great things Howard gave us as a musician and songwriter. It’s a legacy at once genuinely tragic and yet luminous, leaving you with a far-from-singular feeling – one that might best be described as ecstatic grieving.
A great artistic encounter brings something truthful to how we feel about ourselves and see the world. It’s a mysterious tension – an overlapping, contradictory richness – that somehow makes sense without ever reducing things to an easy answer or summary. It may be this is the only emotional rescue we can ever count on. In the meantime, we continue to seek our freedoms in the strangest ways – as often as not in spite of ourselves – jolted back into awareness by a wave of music, a line of poetry, a painting, a song … then continuing on our way.
Mark Mordue is the 2010 Pascall Prize Australian Critic of the Year. He is currently working on a biography of Nick Cave.
This weekend is the last chance residents of and visitors to East Gippsland have to take in an exhibition of book art. The Books … beyond words exhibition at the East Gippsland Art Gallery in Bairnsdale has attracted artefacts from across Australia and the world. With a theme this year of ‘evolution’, entries were received from artists as far afield as the US, France, Switzerland, the UK and Germany. All entries were eligible to win awards from a panel of judges.
The overall award, with a $5,000 purse, went to French artist Marie-Noelle Fontan for her piece, Melaleuca’s Book. The $1000 Artist of East Gippsland Award went to Janet K. Howard from Lakes Entrance for her piece, Bird Collector’s House. A $1000 Innovation Award was given to German artist Gerlinde Hofmann for Flotenrolle – Pipes Roll.
The exhibition runs until Tuesday. For those that can’t make it, images of many of the entries are available on the gallery’s website.
“The art of Nicolas Poussin might obsess someone whose head was full of conspiracy theories,” wrote the Guardian’s Jonathon Jones recently. Jones was commenting on a recent incident in which a 57 year-old British man sprayed red paint on Poussin’s 1633 masterpiece, ‘The Adoration of the Golden Calf’, a painting at the UK’s National Gallery. Jones described it as a painting “about the forces that can destroy civilisation.” It’s unclear what motivated the 57 year-old vandal, although his paint did cover the painting’s nudity.
What is it about Poussin’s centuries-old paintings that continue to stir such passion?During his recent Wheeler Centre conversation with Antoni Jach, noted art historian and poet TJ Clark spoke at length about his own obsession with Poussin’s ‘Landscape with a Calm’ and art in general. The conversation was broad-ranging, linked by the themes of art, love, obsession and futility. “Art,” said Clark, “is the enemy of truth; art is the practice that knows life is an illusion – all the way down.” Here’s a report by WH Chong on the event.
No novel better captures the obsession some of us have with centuries-old works of art than Old Masters, by that strangest of comedic misanthropes, Thomas Bernhard. The novel features an 82 year-old music critic called Reger, who for 30 years has spent four or five hours every other morning sitting on the same bench in front of Tintoretto’s White-bearded Man in the Bordone Room of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Towards the end of the novel Reger concludes, “in the end we are abandoned by all these so-called so-called great spirits and by these so-called Old Masters, and we see that we are mocked in the meanest way by these great spirits and Old Masters.” (It’s a slightly awkward quote, admittedly, but anyone who’s ever read Bernhard would appreciate how difficult it is to quote him.) Perhaps it was that feeling, that feeling of being mocked in the meanest way by Poussin, that drove one 57 year-old British man to decide he must destroy a painting almost four centuries old.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been released from detention without trial after almost three months in detention. The government’s official news agency Xinhua reported he was released “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.” Authorities say the artist and his production company stand accused of tax evasion and destroying incriminating evidence. Here’s how we covered the story previously.
Typewriter art has been around since at least 1867, with the oldest surviving example dating back to 1898. Mid-last century, Paul Smith, who suffered severe cerebral palsy from early childhood, was the form’s best-known exponent – at least until it was superseded by ASCII art with the advent of computing. These days, British performance artist Keira Rathbone has taken up the art of the typewriter. Here are a German news report on the artist and samples of her works, which can fetch up to €6000 (A$8000) each.
A volume of lavishly-illustrated drawings for children by a pioneering Australian woman will be auctioned next month. Charlotte Waring arrived in Australia in 1826 at the age of 29. She’d been hired to be a governess to the children of John Macarthur’s nephew, but instead she married agriculturalist and author James Atkinson, whom she’d met on her way to the colony.
As well as writing and publishing the first Australian children’s book – A Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales (1841) – an Age report describes Atkinson as “a child prodigy; a fiercely independent, well-educated woman; a single mother of four left to run one of the most important colonial properties in the Southern Highlands; a young widow who was reputedly raped by a notorious bushranger; a battered wife who fled her alcoholic second husband, though it left her penniless.”
In 1843, Charlotte illustrated a 30-page notebook for her daughter Emily’s 13th birthday with coloured drawings of the flora, fauna and indigenous people of the Southern Highlands region. That notebook has come to light after languishing in the drawer of a descendant for some 25 years, and will be auctioned on June 12 by the Aalder’s auction house in Sydney. Another of her daughters, Louisa (1834-1872), became a pioneering writer, naturalist and feminist.
Indigenous artist Richard Bell has revealed that he decided the winner of this year’s prestigious Sulman Prize on the toss of a coin. Bell awarded the prize to Peter Smeeth for his painting, The artist’s fate. Smeeth was reportedly less than impressed by the revelation, admitting, “It’s a bit deflating”. The Sir John Sulman Prize is awarded annually to ‘the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project executed during the two years preceding the [closing] date’. It’s administered by the Art Gallery of NSW, which awards some of Australia’s most prestigious prizes for visual arts, including the Archibald (for portraiture) and the Wynne (for landscape). These two latter are awarded (occasionally to great controversy) by a committee of 11 trustees under the guidance of gallery director Edmund Capon. The Sulman, on the other hand, is determined by a single judge, appointed by Capon.
Richard Bell, who revels in the role of agent provocateur, reportedly compiled his shortlist on the basis that he likes animals, but added that he also felt obliged to break his animal-based method in order to include some of his friends. Defending his method of choosing the winner of the $20,000 prize, he added, “Like every prize, it’s a lottery.” The Sun-Herald reported that, even though winning such a prize can make or break a career, Edmund Capon agrees with the sentiment: ‘'It’s very much a matter of individual taste and instinct and the kind of aesthetic, wit and humour of the individual artist. And I like that.’'
The revelations prompted Crikey’s WH Chong to cite other instances of lotto metaphors for major art prizes: “Kiran Desai, winner of the Man Booker in 2006 with The Inheritance of Loss, says: ‘Awards are such a lottery.’ A.S. Byatt, whose novel Possession won the Man Booker in 1990, knows whereof she speaks: ‘I’ve won it and judged it and it’s a lottery.’”
The politics of awards have been much in the news. Locally, the Miles Franklin shortlist raised more than a few eyebrows last week, prompting a personal response from the Wheeler Centre’s Michael Williams: “Suddenly the arbitrary nature of literary awards seems cruel rather than useful.” In the UK, the administrators of the MAN Booker Prize have decided to award a special, posthumour Booker to Beryl Bainbridge, who was shortlisted five times but never won. In a special online poll, about 1000 readers judged her historical novel Master Georgie to be the best of her five Booker-nominated titles (it lost in 1998 to Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam). The special Booker has been derided as a condescending publicity stunt by Robert McCrum. The Guardian’s Sam Jordison denies there was never any conspiracy against Bainbridge, concluding, “Each year [the Booker] is a lottery.”
If bad artists copy and great artists steal, as Picasso quipped, Ai Weiwei has been paid a high, if backhanded, compliment. Chinese art’s provocateur-in-chief has been charged with plagiarism after being arrested at an airport in Beijing on April 3. Foreign governments have called for the artist’s release, according to the New Yorker, which published this fascinating profile of the professional rabble-rouser last year. In his last interview before his arrest, the artist said, “China in many ways is just like the middle ages.”
As part of a recent installation at Tate Modern, Ai Weiwei had 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds hand-made and painted and spread over the floor of the museum’s Turbine Hall (“Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen”). The dust generated by visitors walking over the installation forced the museum to temporarily close it for health reasons.
Websites supporting Ai Weiwei have appeared in response to news of the arrest. Tate Modern expressed its support for the artist by displaying a banner on an outside wall demanding his release, and a protest has been held outside the museum.
What’s in a finger? More than you think. The thumb hitches rides and expresses approval or lack of it, the index finger identifies and accuses in turn, the middle finger is potently aggressive, the ring finger an indicator of availability if not always fidelity, and a little finger is something to either be wrapped around or to wrap others around.
The finger plays its part in the history of art, too. In a conversation with David Hansen, Angus Trumble, Senior Curator of Paintings for the Yale Centre for British Art, returns to his home town to expand on the origins of his most recent book The Finger: A Handbook. With the humble finger to guide him, Trumble has been able to “graze widely in the fields of history”.
Ever wonder what your favourite writers' doodles look like? Back in the days before word processing, writing was a matter of putting pen – or pencil – to paper. As writing is a slow, laborious and often dull activity, writers were prone to distraction or even, perish the thought, procrastination. Often they would resort to doodling.
Flavorwire has published a fascinating overview of doodles by some very famous scribes. Featured writers include Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, Charles Bukowski and Vladimir Nabokov. There is a particularly affecting self-portrait by Jorge Luis Borges, drawn after he had gone blind. While the Wheeler Centre is normally not given to editorialising, we must admit to a particular fondness for Kurt Vonnegut’s doodle. Now there’s something we never thought we’d say.
Our visual arts session of critical Failure brought together veteran arts critic Patrick McCaughey and young curator Phip Murray, saw Sydney Morning Herald arts critic John Mcdonald debate the importance of criticism with Naomi Cass, the director of the Centre for Contemporary Photography. For art makers and critics, it was a night of opinionated discussion.
Blogger, designer and visual artist, Culture Mulcher has been keeping a scrapbook of his visits to the Wheeler Centre and this week of Critical Failure he’s been particularly busy with sketches capturing both quotes and characters from the sessions.
Here’s a selection:
We’re looking forward to what Master Mulcher comes up with for tonight’s session on the visual arts.
“As an artist, my relationships are experiential rather than theoretical. I certainly share with scientists and philosophers a desire to make sense of my existence. It is just that my approach is poles apart. It is a fragile, highly intuitive process, in which sensory acuity and memory are subtly intertwined.”
~ Jonathan Mills, State of the Arts lecture 2010
I had an English teacher in high school who one day strode into class, looked around belligerently at his students, and demanded to know if any of us read poetry. I did. I had read the dusty anthologies we had at home from end to end, and supplemented them with random buys from school jumble sales. I was a passionate and indiscriminate reader, devouring Alfred Noyes and TS Eliot with equal enthusiasm.
But this teacher so clearly thought that no one – and especially no one in this class of scruffy 13 year olds – could possibly read poetry for pleasure, that I didn’t dare to raise my hand. I sensed that he himself didn’t like poetry much, and that the price of outing myself would have been his unexpressed contempt. Certainly, he was a bad teacher of poetry.
I guess it wasn’t all his fault: the pedagogical approach to poetry was discouraging. I don’t know if schools still do this, but back then a staple of English comprehension lessons was the question: “What is the poet trying to say?”
This question enraged me. I didn’t think the poet was trying to say anything: the poet said it. The poem was what it said: it wasn’t there to be nailed down to an unambiguous message, but instead, like life itself, shimmered in its sensual ambiguity.
The meanings of a poem exist as much in its sounds and rhythms as in its semantic sense: but it was precisely those material aspects of language that were dismissed in the insistence on a particular kind of comprehension. After all, the suspension of certainty that is at the heart of any work of art is not easily translatable into exam questions.
Later, when I read Baudelaire’s insistence that “a poem must be a debacle of the intellect”, I knew exactly what he meant. Poetry is the place where the legislating impulse of language, even to its very grammar, is exploded from within, where our desire for order and control meets the anarchy of existence.
This subversion of the human wish to control reality is where art finds its power. It isn’t always a comfortable power, but it is always liberating, opening the consciousness to new perceptions of the world we live in. As Jonathan Mills claims in his lecture, art is one place where the many possible ways of perceiving and understanding can be articulated.
It resists paraphrase, claiming for itself a primacy of experience that is parallel to, if not the same as, life. And like life, its liberations are too often chained by the insistence it conform to a very limited idea of what “meaning” is.
In her famous 1964 essay Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art. “What is important now is to recover our senses,” she said. “We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.”
All anyone needs to understand art is to look, to listen, to feel: all else follows. They are, not uncoincidentally, exactly the same skills we need to love. Yet our education system leads us to believe that this is not enough. I’m sure that this is the primary reason for the hostility so many people, including my English teacher, feel towards art. Having been taught that they ought to look for meaning in the wrong places, art makes them feel stupid, as if they are found wanting.
That’s not the fault of artists nor of those who reject their work. But it does express a terrible failing in our culture, a constriction of our thought, that has far wider implications. And as Mills suggests, if we are to face the challenges of our future world, it’s a failing we need to address.
Alison Croggon is a theatre critic, blogger, poet and novelist. Her blog Theatre Notes is one of Australia’s most respected reviews, criticism and play news.
Mandy Ord looks at our critical animals and finds a lot of marsupials. Her exhibition, Dark Contrasts, opens at Hawthorn Town Hall in September.
Indigenous art and culture is a contentious issue and none more so than Truganini, the so-called “last Tasmanian Aborigine”. Dr David Hansen wrote his challenging essay asking how we can understand and exhibit indigenous culture. Brenda L Croft and Tony Brown create an active debate around the idea that “there’s too much political correctness” and how social value conflicts with economic value of art.
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