Saturday, November 14, 2015
On Friday I heard Courtney Barnett's single 'Depreston' for the first time. I know what you're thinking. Am I living under some kind of rock? I'm last to hear anything and everything, my music know-how so low, since my car radio is tuned to Fox, PBS and Radio National depending on my companions and my own state of mind.
I'd been hearing good things about Barnett's album and its barnstorming ways up charts here and in the States so my response to hearing her now award-winning song surprised me. I liked it but I think I expected a bigger song, instrumentally and its canvas, though press articles about the "telling detail" in her writing should have alerted me to the fact that specificity – being attuned to the spaces, places and emotional texture of life at this point in time as a 30something north sider – is her thing. She sings about going to an open for inspection in the now gentrified former working class suburb of Preston with a light, comic touch, though the subtext of the song is economics. I wondered whether 'Depreston' has struck a chord with people because of its truthfulness: on the subject of Preston we are in total agreement.
In life we are rarely given the opportunity to feel into another person's inner world, even our family and friends remain essentially mysterious. That inner world is the place where working life intersects with intimacy and love, the place where our bank balance and our aspirations face one another. This is the the land of self-talk, a patter that veers between hopefulness and resignation that circles around questions of self-worth and the material. Some days it veers off towards questions of security and safety, other days it strays towards worries over power and influence but it always begins and ends with the question: how much is enough?
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Louisa Bufardeci's exhibition The Sea Between A and I (as in Australia and Indonesia) opened on Saturday at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. The artworks – all needlepoint on a fibreglass screen – make reference to maritime disasters, sunken boats and the plight of desperate people risking their lives to make the perilous journey across the seas. Bufardeci has used Google Earth to pinpoint the precise coordinates of eight of these tragedies and crafted intense and abstract forms in gradations of blue. They invoke the swirl of meteorological matter, weather charts and thermal imaging, though in this instance in place of heat associated with living, breathing organisms these works speak of the opposite – death itself.
The real events described in Bufardeci's artworks felt very far away on that sunny Saturday afternoon. I felt very graciously welcomed into the gallery where I was not only offered a Campari after climbing the stairs but the monkeys even had a room set aside for art making. I was surrounded by some pretty lovely people, some of whom I knew. The opening speaker, human rights lawyer David Manne gave a considered, moving address. It was long sure, though not overly, and given the subject matter it felt appropriate: my legs were bearing less stress than the asylum seekers. Manne drew on statistics on the number of displaced persons around the world, recounted the lack of detail in reporting of asylum seeker journeys and drew a line between that and the abstracted language of Bufardeci's needlepoints. For someone who admitted he hadn't written about art since year 11, to my eye some twenty five years earlier, it was a perceptive observation.
If you are wondering whether there is a market for these kind of works, the entire show sold to the NGV before the exhibition opened. Not only was the work well crafted, but topical. I felt very pleased for the artist with whom I share a personal connection (we both have girls in the same class at school). It was only afterwards, on the journey home that I felt growing ambivalence. The work and its backstory forces us to consider uncomfortable truths about the country we live in and the world at large. But in the space that opens up afterwards, what resides there other than Guilt and Shame, and possibly Anger. Is there anything wrong with turning tragedy into art and those art objects into dollars? Is it worse to not make that art? Does not making the art only mirror the silence that characterises the government and media on this 'issue'. I just don't know.
The Sea Between A and I
17 October - 11 November 2015
Anna Schwartz Gallery
185 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Saturday, September 26, 2015
We always get to a film during school holidays. The obvious choice would have been Oddball, the new Australian film about the unlikely friendship between a penguin and a labrador, but Otto – already ten years of age – remembered the trailer for Gayby Baby (Maya Newell, 2015) from our Jim Henson fest at the Nova some time back, and had it in his sights. I could see its appeal. The documentary features four kids aged between 9 and eleven as they navigate life – school work, sibling relationships and passions – in family's with same sex parents. It tells the story of Gus, Ebony, Graham and Matt, and their relationship with themselves, their parents and the world outside their font door as they negotiate acceptance and their own sense of belonging.
In each of the stories Newell has found a satisfying narrative: Gus' campaign to persuade his mums to accept his passion for crazy-ass WWF wrestling; Ebony's audition and hopes to be accepted into a socially progressive performing arts high school; Graham's struggles with literacy, the legacy of a heartbreaking early childhood; and Matt's unenviable situation – working out whether he believes in Jesus when his church considers his mother, a lesbian and full-on Christian, a sin against God.
I was expecting an interesting film but I was surprised by its beauty. Newell's sure sense of craft is evident at every level, from casting to cinematography, editing and sound. Gayby Baby also uses setting to create contrast: messy bedrooms, rain soaked sports ovals, the fecund tropical gardens of Fiji. Newell's approach to narrative – focusing on change and moving between the individual and collective, the private to public – borrows from fiction films to superb effect.
The drama is not in the same-sex relationships: the relationships represented, what we see of them, are all loving and functional. It's in the struggles all parents of children face: negotiating difference, relegating resources, providing support and boundary setting. What stays with me – other than the kids irrepressible sense of fun – is the ordinary and yet moving portraits of family life, the love and hopes that parents have for their children and what effort familial love inspires. Gayby Baby finishes on an uplifting note and the joyful celebration of Madi Gras. No shame. The shame is mine, for this country and its cruel, outdated laws.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
I was reminded of the value of celebration this week. Bringing friends together in the name of an occasion – five years blogging – at the outstanding Cafe di Stasio was memorable fun. I'm pretty certain that a long lunch is the definition of civility. Really. Great company, delicious food, good wine and sparkling conversation is simple confirmation that sharing is living.
Thanks to Obus, Marmoset Found and Ruby Pilven for their role in making the day extra special. I felt like Santa handing out gift bags with these awesome goodies. If you missed out this time, I'm planning the ten year event already. Be at the ready. If you would like a copy of the limited edition sweetpolka publication (a 24 page trip down memory lane) it can be yours for $10 + postage. Email email@example.com
Friday, August 21, 2015
This week I sat in front of 20 Preps studying Journeys and told them the story of our family's migration to Australia from Poland when I was precisely their age. I had their rapt attention. It's that kind of story, which includes our family separated across continents, my father's trip by boat to Africa, my mother's escape from Poland with four small children over the mountains in an unreliable car and our eventual reunion in Vienna before the long journey by plane to Australia.
My own background as a refugee was one of the reasons I was so glad to participate in Red Cross' exhibition, The Right To Know, which tells eight stories of family separation and reunion thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross Tracing Service. It's difficult not to be moved by the stories of sadness, longing and loss told so achingly concisely.
Designer Cate Hall and I worked on the project out of her backyard studio calling out measurements to each other against a background of children's voices, and Cate's large, doleful black rabbit hopping silently around the yard.
It was the beginning of winter. There was a birth – beautiful Nina in Adelaide – and the shock of Otto's diagnosis of diabetes to contend with the week the artwork was due at the printers. To be honest I was grateful for the chance to lose myself in meaningful work. I laid out photographs of Emmanuel – his warm, positive and dignified face – alongside quotes that were horrifying in their meaning. His story begins: "I was only 14 years old when my family members were killed, when I witnessed that mass killing."
Moving graphic elements around millimetre by millimetre in Illustrator and changing pixels sizes in Photoshop, I felt fate's cruel hand: good and bad fortune, historical and geographical forces. What choice do we have but to keep moving forward one foot in front of the other?
400 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Until 25 October 2015
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
When people ask me how the school holidays are going I usually say, great. It's restful not doing the school run. The kids have a chance to unwind. We stay in our pyjamas until we feel like going somewhere, build lolly dispenser machines using cardboard boxes, kick the soccer ball around the backyard, head out for spring rolls on Victoria street, you know, knit together as a family.
But that's only part of the story. At this point of the holidays I am also a shadow of my former self. By former self, I mean me, two weeks ago. It's as though through the process of tending to my offspring my contours have become blurred. I exist in the service of others. The monkeys have no interest in my inner life, other than to check in with me when they become concerned or suspicious that I am "phoning it in." It's true, every now and again a powerful sense of hostility and aggression erupts inside of me about the demands of motherhood and the difficulty of securing one fricken' hour to myself during the daytime (after a solo trip to the milk bar for a can of beans I am unrecognisable like I've just returned from a month long Vipasnia retreat. Present. Radiant. Energetic. Calm). On weekends Stevie's loving gaze carries a heartbreaking amount of sympathy. But to his offers of hugs, I can only yell: Don't come near me, I'm hungry.
I think professionals call it "self-managing".
Because I need to be here, I fantasise about being there. There, being anywhere. Only a few things keep me sane on this tour of duty: a night out on the turps with friends, brisk walks in parkland's and reading fiction. I am ridiculously grateful for authors, especially good ones. (Not you Kirsty Clements of Vogue editorship fame, your novel was so lame, so tedious I read it only with the thought it might be useful one day if I write anything that requires a working knowledge of magazines and/or eating disorders). Good novels, on the other hand, are my salvation. Outline by Rachel Cusk was superb. Formally inventive – a series of recounted conversations – it is so insightful, elegant and provocative, that I felt genuine wonder for how it achieves both a sense of melancholy and gentle satire. The story is simple. It follows its middle aged protagonist, a recently separated professional writer as she travels to Athens to run writing workshops. The book is a moving meditation on the value and role of relationships in culture and the catastrophe of divorce, while revealing almost nothing about its narrator. It's as though she simply exists. This week, that struck a real chord.