Monday, June 23, 2014

The Boy in the Yellow Dress

Good fortune took me to Brisbane to study writing. I knew it the moment I set foot on the splendid sandstone University of Queensland campus in St Lucia. Like many people who arrive at their life's calling relatively late (though from this vantage point are you that old in your late 20s?) I threw myself into my degree with joyful commitment.

The friendships that flourished between that diverse group of classmates unfolded organically and at different speeds, on and off campus, over the course of the year and at its end when we dispersed interstate and overseas, our conversation moved online.

It has been a decade of drafts, manuscript re-writes, residencies, further study and in several instances the publication of the original material hashed out by each of us on the sixth floor of the Michie building over successive Monday nights.

One of my classmates was Victor Marsh who read out loud from his memoir, a work in progress, about growing up gay in Perth in the 1950s. The passage he shared involved attending a demonstration in Sydney while on an acid trip. I'd pieced together bits of Victor's colourful life over tea and biscuits in the coffee room at break time. I knew it included a career that took in travelling the world as an assistant to a guru and a stint as a producer on Young Talent Time. I was certain that this story ever made it into print it would be a ripper read.

If this were a film it would be a short montage later. At the speed of actual life it has been a decade. This month I had the pleasure of finally reading The Boy in the Yellow Dress curled up in bed with a cup of tea. The bookworms out there will be familiar with this simple grade 'A' pleasure. Victor, the wait was worth it.

Firstly I'd never read a 'spiritual' memoir. My experience of spiritual non fiction extends to the short browse at the airport book shop in the section titled 'I escaped the Family/Scientology/Orange people'. I'd always enjoyed thumbing through those books, sure, but these were prison break stories filled with preschoolers breaking rocks before sunrise. Victor's own story is closer to a spiritual quest, a serendipitous discovery (the teachings of Prem Rawat or Maharaji) and a decade of service that involved cleaning, meditating, teaching and eating little. While this section of the book sounds a bit dour, it's actually fascinating and Victor brings it to life by conveying the necessity of this work to his very survival. Naturally Victor – bright, engaging and capable – distinguishes himself and ends up part of the Maharaji's inner sanctum, criss-crossing South East Asia setting up Centres and assisting with teaching.

What is the nature of the black hole that Victor is circling? Yes, it is a search for meaning but it's also bound up with growing up gay in a homophobic culture and, in Victor's case, feeling deeply rejected by his own father. When Victor finds himself a successful television producer in Los Angeles many decades later the sight of parents of LGBT children marching in unity at a Mardi Gras parade provokes a strongly emotional response in him. In many respects this is a story about fathers and sons. It is also a story about sexuality. Despite the fulfilment and belonging he feels as part of the 'shram, it's his urge to explore his sexual self that leads him to leave the organisation in his late thirties.Victor's various sexual encounters – from his first gay experience with an older overweight toothless garage attendant, to a fleeting, wordless threesome in Japan – are electrifying.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, he's on the set of Young Talent Time. It's nice to think that long before we met Victor was troubleshooting production issues in Nunawading at the studios of my very favourite show. I was 11 and living one suburb over.

The Boy in the Yellow Dress by Victor Marsh. Out now though not through all book sellers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Angelica Mesiti's The Calling

Before visiting ACMI last weekend I would have said that DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition would be hands-down more entertaining than Angelica Mesiti's The Calling. I am pretty sure I don't have to explain the DreamWorks studio (creators of feel-good animations including Shrek, Madagascar, Kung-Fu Panda etc). The Calling is a half hour non-narrative multi screen artwork about whistling. And yet despite DreamWorks' pleasures – and there were many including several  interactive opportunities, delightful dioramas, masterful illustrations and informative documentary shorts that outlined the creative process – Mesiti's beguiling artwork won out.

Me and the monkeys sat glued to our bench seat captivated by the action as it unfolded across three screens. We saw goats on a hill side, old ladies picking tea leaves, a tourist bus stopping at a restaurant, children in a classroom. The settings shifted between Turkey, France and the Canary Islands. Each sequence showed, at some point, whistling conversations between people separated by distances. We were intrigued by so many different things: the ambiguous relationship between footage that created a strong sense of suspense; the different whistling techniques; the rituals and routines of rural life in different parts of world.

I appreciated the calming sense of space that it opened up internally. I only ever feel like that after practicing yoga, a trip to the country or an hour with the psychotherapist.

The Calling
Angeica Mesiti
4 February – 13 July 2014
Entry free

Still from Angelica Mesiti: The Calling 2013-14.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Shibori dreaming

When I take a long break from blogging I return uncertain. How to pick up the thread? How do I connect there with here. That period included a birthday – and a week long hangover during which I almost burnt the kitchen down and ate lots of soft cheese and bread – a trip to Canberra to give a lecture to art history students on collaborative screen printing workshops (1972-present day) and a crisis in my day job. See what I mean? I'm not sure I was even the same person back then. I'm beginning to think this is how a habit can break. You pause. To be honest this intense confluence of events has prompted a period of reflection. That reflection has taken place on a number of levels: on the historical forces that shaped late twentieth century visual culture here in Australia (the lecture), my own life (the 40th) and what the future might hold (the job crisis). Which brings me to the tote which caught my eye when I was googling 'shibori' in a late night stupor a few weeks back. I love it. There is something about the earthy, inky quality of indigo that no other dye seems to possess. It's quietening. I like the bags geometric forms, soft lines and shading. Right now it's the right metaphor for where my psyche is at. This bag holds my uncertain thoughts, unspoken fears, and deep longings.

Rebecca Desnos. 100% organic bags hand dyed with natural indigo. 22 pounds

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bath Evader

Okay, for those of you with little peeps, are probably familiar with Moshi Monsters, a website developed for tweens. It looks and feels very pan Asia – a little Kawaii, a little Bollywood with Willy Wonka thrown in for good measure. It is, in fact, the brainchild of UK website developer Michael Acton Smith. I have read more than one Moshi Monsters magazine out loud at bedtime though it's difficult to describe the pun-riddled copy as 'writing' and yes, I did see the movie when it came out. Thankfully, not being a Pixar/Dreamworks animation there was no take home message about personal growth and leadership, just small critters – clouds with legs, doe-eyed unicorns, little devils – tearing it up on screen. The characters are crazy cute. Naturally, Otto has been scratching his (head lice free) head trying to come up with his very own. I'm always interested in observing someone else's creative process. Otto is no fan of the bath but loves Star Wars. Put that in a blender and you get Bath Evader, Darth Vader's smelly cousin. That light saber is swatting at flies.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Richard Butler Bowden is a South African born Melbourne based artist. He is also sweet polka family (if you are curious about the connection he is Marion's brother-in-law). It's how I came across his latest venture, a self published book, IMAGES FROM THE NON W.E.I.R.D, a coffee table book that I found on the coffee table down at Anglesea, where we were holidaying over the weekend. Even though I have known Richard for aaaaageeeees, and knew of his long-standing engagement in the Middle East, India and Africa through his own travel and involvement with migrant communities, I was not actually aware that he was a photographer, a really good photographer.

Meditating on the cover – two figures on a motorbike riding through an arid landscape – brought back the late 60s counter cultural cinema classic Easy Rider. It's worth mentioning because something of that  spirit lives between the pages of this book. Richard has a bold sense of adventure; many of the places he visits are low on infrastructure. Many of the images, especially the streetscapes, are taken from a good distance and for this reason they reward careful study. Richard's observant eye is invariably drawn to the humorous, the poetic even the whimsical. He is interested in how people inhabit spaces and self organise. 

I am usually put out by art travel photography because of its formal exactitude. In this genre of photography the human body is a dynamic prop that activates a space. What I liked so much about these photographs is that the subjects of the images are present in a wholly different way. Where some might find difference he finds friendship. 

I honestly have no idea where you can find this book although Stevie Zee tells me MGA has a few copies in the bookshop.