Friday, December 21, 2012

Shadows at Marion Bay

Kylie Eastley is heading North tomorrow to check out the art installations produced by a group of environmental artists including Vicki West, Martin Cole, Ralf Haertel, Sonja Hindrum and many more. Check out more about the exhibition at

Monday, December 10, 2012


Production by IHOS OPERA as part of the Queenstown Heritage and Arts Festival
October 2012

by Elizabeth Barsham

Inspired by the Greek Orthodox feast commemorating the Dormition, the death of the Virgin Mary and her assumption into Heaven, Kimisis takes the theme set by yesterday’s commemorative activities to another level. In the Church this service lasts several hours, but Con Koukias has considerately compressed his version into just twenty minutes.

The Unconformity Project

by Elizabeth Barsham
“I’ve never seen so much interest in rocks!” exclaimed the happy geologist from Devonport.
Far too many people were crowded into the LARQ gallery in Queenstown for the opening of The Unconformity Project, and loving it.
The Iron Blow - some of the rocks that inspired Julian Cooper
 We were surrounded by the wonderful bold, colourful paintings of Julian Cooper, LARQ Artist in Residence in 2011. Julian lives and works in Cumbria in the UK Lake District, and climbs rocks and mountains when not painting. The rocks around the old Iron Blow are not of great interest to a climber, but they inspired some terrific paintings, and these are great, energetic celebrations of stone. Julian's rock walls are alive and sparkling, reflecting harsh sunlight off uneven planes, hiding their secrets in shadowed clefts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Everything Must Go

By Eliza Burke

Image courtesy of Theatre Royal

Rachel Leary’s Everything Must Go is a very funny and at times very touching monologue set at a garage sale in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. The sole character, Nancy Browne, is selling off a motley collection of belongings from the family home – a toilet-roll doll, a tyre swan, a deer’s head with one eye –you know the sort of things! – as well as a few not so familiar items like a jar of goat poo and two bickering pet bricks. She is moving out of the valley where she has always lived pending the multi-million dollar suburban development of ‘Perfect Ponds’.

On the surface Everything Must Go is a hilarious series of skits based around the various objects on sale and Nancy’s observations about the nature of life in the valley and the people who live there. But as the play progresses, deeper meanings emerge about loss, change and self-survival creating a unique fusion of comedic and dramatic theatre and a raw poignancy that stays with you long after Nancy has left the stage.

Hungry For You

Dark and funny adult puppetry is back in Hobart !

Directed by Merophie Carr and seen at the Peacock Theatre, Hobart

Gai Anderson

It’s a rare treat to see new independently created local theatre in Hobart and Hungry for You, created by puppeteer/ performers Mel King , Kirsty Grierson and Mel Mills- Hope (as Extended Play Projects) had me transfixed from the first moment at the Peacock Theatre last weekend.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

JESSE EYNON - MIDLANDS History & The senses

A Preview of Paintings
Oatlands Gaol
27 October – 1 November 2012

By Lucy Wilson

Jesse Eynon chose to paint the Tasmanian Midlands for the light, its theatrical light. From her Cygnet studio she liberated herself by packing just what she needed to embark on a six-week Tas Regional Arts residency based in Oatlands. Having surrendered to the demands of mothering three children, the youngest now being six, she left her family behind to devote herself purely to painting.

It takes Jesse a long time to find a fragment in the world she wants to paint. She always knows when she finds it. It speaks to her gut instinct. The fragments she found were stretches of road, moments in cloudscapes, archetypal images like a man walking with dog, and old town buildings. The images she exhibited in Oatlands speak of a powerful meeting between her paintbrush and the fragments she found – almost as if they’d been waiting to be painted by her.        

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'll Break My Own Heart

By Kylie Eastley

The name says it all. I'll Break My Own Heart is all about the torture and journey of love; the darkness, the disturbing and the beautiful. This is cabaret. It is sexy one hour degustation from Rose Grayson, who both devised and performed the show.

Dressed in fish net stockings, a corset and top hat, Ms Grayson welcomes the audience with Illusions a song written by Frederick Hollander. A good choice, as the subject matter, if you hadn't already guessed from the title of the show, is about love, lust, passion, hate and heartache. The trauma and wonder of love is conveyed in 19 songs and poems. There's a little storytelling, a little chatting with the punters, but mostly the audience experiences the range and beauty of Ms Grayson's voice.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Unconformity Project - LARQ Combined Openings - Queenstown Heritage & Arts Festival

By Lucy Wilson

Walking to the Opening of The Unconformity Project at LARQ (Landscape Art Research Queenstown) run by Raymond Arnold, I caught sight of Mount Mother Lyell in the late afternoon light. Spectacular. The sun was illuminating the bare rocky surface, which glowed through its weather washed patina. I soon learnt in the exhibition speeches about ‘the Western Feeling’.

It was in The Unconformity Project that geology and art came together. Where the movement of human endeavour above and below the surface of the earth encountered the natural and mysterious movement of rocks below. Vivid connections were made by artists Tim Chatwin, Julian Cooper, Ruth Johnstone and Jan Senbergs in a four part exhibition.

Friday, October 26, 2012

COPPER CULTURE Queenstown Heritage & Arts Festival 12-14 October 2012

By Lucy Wilson

An inspired gathering occurred in Queenstown in Western Tasmania last weekend.

“Oh, is that the town that looks like a moonscape?”


It’s the mining town that 100 years ago thrived; it must have with fourteen pubs, and another thirteen in nearby surrounding towns like Linda and Gormanston. The North Lyell mine, affectionately called “Mount Mother Lyell” had a disaster that ravaged the heart of an isolated community and left 42 men dead. The second biannual Queenstown Heritage & Arts Festival marked the centenary of this disaster on 12 October 2012 and over the weekend wove family history and reunion, with mining and environment, with contemporary art. It was a compelling mix. Set in an extraordinary town with the copper brown-coloured Queen River running through. Surrounded by the scarred hills left bare and orangey moonscapesque from 130 years of miners plunging ever closer to the core of the earth to leach out its ore. 

Still – Darren Cook & Matt Warren : Queenstown

By Lucy Wilson

It rained as we walked the inhabited but somehow derelict Queenstown streets, to the old disused West Coast District Hospital to see Matt Warren and Darren Cook’s installation Still.

As we entered others exited muttering, “…it’s noth’n, just noth’n, just two rocks in a corridor”. Yet we found it intriguing. In the abandoned wide corridor with its smooth shiny reflective floor and walls painted in pink tones, a dark eerie feeling set in. We were able to explore, but our wandering was interjected by the local volunteer who pointed out what each room used to be: Intensive Care, maternity, the nursery, surgery and so on. Her commentary loomed large and focused on the flurry of the hospital's yesteryear rather than allowing viewers to be still and quiet to allow the sound, video and installation to prevail. 

Kimisis - Falling Asleep – IHOS Opera : Queenstown

By Lucy Wilson

In signature style IHOS Opera staged their performance Kimisis in a unique setting, this time in Old Hanan’s Transport Warehouse in Hunter Street, Queenstown. The audience gathered just inside the old dark shed, as piercing daylight poked through thousands of little holes in the corrugated iron walls. Greek incense wafted and a wheelbarrow of sand held a golden abundance of slim burning candles.

The Drink by Peter Waller - Queenstown 2012

By Lucy Wilson

Peter Waller’s installation The Drink was in Linda, a once-thriving town 7.5km up the road from Queenstown by Conglomerate Creek, where most of the miners used to live. (Queenstown was actually where the office staff and managers used to live.) There’s only a café there now next door to a striking ruin of the Royal Hotel – a double story concrete shell.

The old hotel’s grey walls have neat, rectangular holes where the windows would once have been grander. It was through one of these, peering into the dining room I experienced a moment of something I don’t know a word for but means a mixture of tranquility, peace, beauty and inner resonance.

It was like a simple yet smartly framed picture of reflection hanging on the floor.

Wall-to-wall water.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Back In Town

by Elizabeth Barsham

I took several photographs of the mountains above Queenstown, but photographers Claire Krouzecky and Raef Sawford spent a full day up on Philosophers Ridge taking turns at set intervals to photograph a 360 degree panorama of the hills. They used old-fashioned 35mm slide film and the hundreds of slides resulting from this day’s work had to be sorted into twelve different sequences of landscape transformed by the changing light as the hours passed.

Over the Hill

by Elizabeth Barsham

Early in the last century Linda, terminus of the railway line from Kelly's Basin to Mt Lyell, was a major town and Gaffney's Royal Hotel was but one of several serving its inhabitants, the majority of whom were employed at the North Lyell Mine at the time of the 1912 tragedy. Last drinks were finally called in 1952, and the burnt-out concrete shell of the old hotel has been a landmark for travellers on the Lyell Highway ever since. This weekend it is enhanced by Peter Waller’s installation, The Drink.

The Disaster

by Elizabeth Barsham

The hospital entrance hall is dimly lit. The only lights are on a television screen in the corner, and they are elsewhere; rescue teams work around the clock. The sound is off and all is silence. Square black steel and plastic chairs line the walls of a large vacant room. Not the usual waiting room – there is a hand basin half way along one wall. Offices are empty, but for another soundless television set showing flames flickering red, reflecting an eerie glow in an unlit room.
I venture down a passage to the first ward but no nurse rushes to protest my presence. The ward is empty. Stripped empty, leaving only the curved curtain tracks and a single curtain offering no privacy. In the middle of the floor is a child’s picnic, a cloth and a picnic basket, pretty little china cups and saucers, plates, bowls and teapot scattered as their youthful owner fled. Some contain dark liquid – not coffee. Others are buried under piles of sugar or flour, domestic echo of the mullock heaps outside. By now I am feeling decidedly uneasy. The incongruity of discovering several lumps of ore, not large, but significant, resting on the carpet behind me does not help.
Backing out, I make my way towards the other end of the building, confused and alone in the dark passage. Everything is wrong. Emergency lights flash red and blue in a darkened room; elsewhere windows glow with light that provides no reassurance for the curtains are drawn. Doors marked “staff only” gape open on empty spaces. Flour is piled in corners.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Go West as Artentwine 2012 Begins!

by Patrick Sutczak

After a generous invitation to the opening of the fabulous community celebration of the arts within the West Tamar Valley, I drove confidently along (ahead of time I might add) to my destination. As I crossed the sister bridge to the west, I could see the older and iconic King’s Bridge set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cataract Gorge out of the corner of my eye. This always pleasing scene was gone within a flash and I was on my way into Riverside for the official opening of Artentwine 2012 at the Windsor Community Precinct.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Smouldering Dancing Queens - Caravan Burlesque

by Gai Anderson

Caravan Burlesque
Finucane & Smith,
Theatre Royal , Hobart

Finucane and Smiths Caravan Burlesque is an action packed show, a scintillating, body - beautiful, writhing, all dance-spectacular. Driven relentlessly for the most by a boisterous rock and roll, disco, pop, gogo and even Bollywood soundtrack, its short and sharp, song and character-based routines are fantastically entertaining.
Filled with endless luscious costumes, bordello-red velvet set, seductive lighting and atmospheres you can cut with a knife, it is all, and more, than we have come to expect from the latest reincarnation of carnival burlesque. And that’s without even mentioning the shoes!

Interferon Psalms

by Thomas Connelly

Interferon Psalms – Luke Davies (Allen & Unwin). Wow and I have to say wow! Have just finished Interferon Psalms, and what a roller coaster ride of a read it was. We have been told, since the days of the Seven Sages, not to speak ill of the dead. This rule should be extended to include not speaking ill of the ill. It would take a brave one to search out pedantic flaws in this collection of poems.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

In Finite Blue Planet # 3

The power of Landscape
Gai Anderson
Subankar Banerjee
Caribou Migration I,Brant and Snow Geese with Chicks, Caribou Tracks on Tundra, Caribou Tracks on Coal Seams II.

The power of landscape continues with the work of New York Based Indian Artist Subhankar Banerjee. The beauty of his large-scale, incredibly detailed still-photography –  aerial views of pristine  landscapes – is startling.

The combination of composition, colour, light and form grab you immediately, like the most exquisite paintings. But then slowly, as you move in to take a closer look at the incredible detail of the environments he captures, a different vision begins to appear. For these landscapes are alive with beings - caribou and snow geese in this case.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In Finite Blue Planet #2

by Gai Anderson

Water as Danger  


Steadfast, 2009

Water continues as a theme in the 7-minute film Steadfast, where U.S. artist Phil Hastings uses the interaction of man and water to comment on the human condition – which like the ocean is ever changing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Last Bight at the Biennale - In Finite Blue Planet

by Gai Anderson
Focus rather than scatter
With one small bight at the Biennale of Sydney already under my belt I feel like I could have taken a month to begin to take it all in. My first Sunday at Cockatoo Island was one of total scatter -  overwhelmed by the surging crowds and imposing nature of the site, the art works for the most seemed random in quality and difficult to even get at.  

Back for another bight and this time, having researched the curatorial premise in more detail ( thanks Lucy Wilson, see Art Wank), I will  focus-in on the Art Gallery of NSW where 26 artist are presented  side by side ( on two floors) as In Finite Blue oceans.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Artwank - 18th Biennale of Sydney

By Lucy Wilson

If you flip to page 2 of the 18th Biennale of Sydney Guide or look online at, you’ll find a statement headed all our relations by the Artistic Directors Catherine de Zegher (curator and writer) and Gerald McMaster (curator, artist and writer).
Travelling to Sydney to experience the Biennale I was keen to read what the curators had to say. But unfortunately I found their style of writing hard to follow, with the seemingly big concepts at either end of a sentence clanging like a brain twister, which unfortunately landed in a heap.

untitled (oysters and tea cups)

By Patrick Sutczak

It was as if I had happened upon an accident. As if the pressure was too much the door had bowed, buckled and given way, swinging open with violent force spilling the contents from within to flow and settle on the ground resting where it may for my observation and consideration.  Had I missed the eruption, or was this glacial – instant upheaval or gradual shift? Paradoxically, I think this is one and the same. Oysters and tea cups - nature and the civilised, change and adaption.
Again, Jonathon Jones dips into his heritage in order to explore how cultural intersections have, and are continuing, to occur in Australian history through ritual feast. This time, he looks at Aboriginal winter feasts of oysters, and the introduction of tea by the British into Aboriginal communities.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tame Pussy

By Elizabeth Barsham

Three small boys are discussing the colours in a large stencilled and sprayed painting, taking turns photographing each other in front of it. They have been out with the spray cans themselves and one still has a paper mask hanging round his neck. We are surrounded by huge, spray-painted images by graffiti artists Aedan Howlett, Hiiragi, Jacob Leary, Jamin, Phibs and Tom O'Hearn, but we are not in an alley between grimy concrete walls. We are in the super-respectable tastefully restored Barn at Rosny where the artists have spent the last week creating six mural-sized paintings for StArt, the Clarence City Council's annual Festival of Street Art.

Outside in the sunshine there is a free barbecue, face painting and live music; visitors make badges, stencil designs on calico shopping bags and try their hand at spray-painting and reverse graffiti (drawing into the grime on detatched car doors).

A group of Yarn Bombers help children make big, colourful pompoms, hanging the results from the bare branches of a winter tree. With Council support the guerilla knitters were able to afford far more, and more colourful, wools than usual, and handrails and bollards along the street sport eye-catching stripes.

Designs by three digital artists have been printed up billboard size and mounted on the walls of the shopping centre. School children's drawings and paintings compete with commercial displays in shop windows. On Monday it will all be gone; the only artwork to distract shoppers and commuters will be the usual advertising signs.

untitled (barra)

By Patrick Sutczak

Finding myself in another tunnel and once again finding myself having to stop.

The idea of a tunnel acting as a thoroughfare across Cockatoo Island (I assume to save time) is proving problematic in that very intention. For now, these are gallery spaces, sites of artistic installation, and sites of interventions. I could also say they are sites of reflection. I am the token tourist on Sydney's Gloucester Street who could be seen stopping every five meters to photograph the original terrace housing – or to peer into the excavations beneath the YHA accommodation, and actually enjoy it. There is something about history that captivates me, and certainly the endevours to unearth it, preserve it, and more importantly to learn from it. A captivation shared by many, but not enough. But those structures are the solid things, the remnants still here – the kind of relics that can be cordoned off, dusted down, chipped away at and displayed - things of permanent exhibition. What if history is oral, migratory, or is testament to an assimilationist – how might we engage with that? Biennale artist Jonathon Jones raises his hand…

Monday, August 27, 2012

Swarm (ASX) & The bee library

By Patrick Sutczak

One of the greatest things about an arts event like the Biennale is that as a viewer, works reveal themselves as the venue is explored, quite often when you least expect it. Before me, as I sat on the bench after meandering around on the upper part of Cockatoo Island, the work of Scottish born artist Alec Finlay was sparking my curiosity. His installation dotted around the grassy area in front of me consisting of sound, sculpture, and books (they were above my head), was inviting closer inspection, but I didn’t engage. Not at first.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Madeleine Goodwolf - Drawings & Paintings

Madeleine Goodwolf's exhibition was opened by Lucy Wilson on 24 August 2012 at Handmark Gallery, and this is what she said...
those poignant moments
by Madeleine Goodwolf
Welcome everyone to the Opening of Madeleine Goodwolf’s Exhibiton of drawings and paintings … (dot dot dot) … and no prints!

I’ve enjoyed seeing this series of Maddy’s drawings a few times. The first time I saw them was one night when I dropped in on Maddy and we had a cup of tea and were chatting and I asked her what she’d been up to, and she said “drawing”, and I said, “can I see?” and she said “yeah”. So we whipped out the back to the studio and scurried up the stairs … and it was exciting to see these drawings – black charcoal lines on big white paper. There was a tenderness and an aliveness and a beauty about them.

And what was more exciting was seeing Maddy and how happy she was about doing drawings ….and not print making anymore. Really? Gulp. Madeleine Goodwolf, Printmaker of nearly 20 yrs with a reputation that crosses oceans, and not just Bass Strait but across to Germany and beyond, and has been collected by many art lovers and acquired by prestigious collections.

Dune, 2007-12

By Patrick Sutczak

The Dog-Leg Tunnel carved through the rock of Cockatoo Island’s impressive bulk beckoned me in as I sought a respite from the unusually hot morning sun. Square cut and dimly lit, a backbone of sleepers lined the path ahead while bearing tons upon tons of earth and rock against their aging frames. Progression through the long tunnel sees the light grow even fainter as it fades to black creating a menacing space that evokes a degree of trepidation. However, there is nothing to fear here. What Daan Roosegaarde has created within this subterranean thoroughfare is a sensual installation that provokes as much thought as it does engagement.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Harbour Wave, Second Wave

by Patrick Sutczak

To begin my Biennale experience, I woke to up to what I was to discover later that evening, would become the hottest recorded winter day in Sydney for seventeen years. As I stood on the balcony of the hotel, uncomfortably high above the bustling street below, I sipped on my cup of tea and watched the interweaving ribbons of vehicles exit and enter the city-side of the Harbour Bridge. It was 7 am and it was already 20 degrees. A quick glance toward my hastily pulled-up bed and I realised the pile of warm clothing nestled at the foot of it was now just useless bag-filler for the journey home. If nothing else, this was a reminder that preparation is excellent, but releasing myself of expectation was even better. No finer day to visit Cockatoo Island.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A bit more Biennale: water, water everywhere...

by Stephenie Cahalan

The title of the Biennale collection at the Art Gallery of NSW was ‘In finite blue planet’ inspired by an unimposing little piece of art placed by the entry to the exhibition.

Not much larger than a soccer ball and modestly framed, the image appeared at a distance to be a simple globe. On closer inspection, I realised that it was a planet comprised entirely of the seas, oceans and waterways of the world, with all the landmasses excised to leave only the water.

As Tasmania awaits the arrival of a supertrawler, heralding the advent of factory fishing in Australian waters (a third-world ecological disaster springing to right life here at home), the immense importance of the world’s waters has searing relevance right now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Murder in Casablanca

by Thomas Connelly
Sorell Memorial Hall

Having recently moved to rural Tasmania I have quickly learned that one must make one’s own entertainment. There are few cultural outlets in these small towns. Not even a cinema. So culture is mainly confined to the library and the video shop.

Country people are therefore forced to rely on their own efforts, as we do not get the pleasure of, for example, the TSO or Bell Shakespeare Company coming to our little towns. Into the breach steps our own Sorell On Stage (SOS) theatre group. This is a lively group of enthusiastic amateur thespians. Being, as my wife reminds me, an art snob, this is not the sort of theatre I would produce, if given the chance. But I am only too happy to support them. To this end I went along to their most recent production Murder in Casablanca.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tom Vincent Septet Premiere

By Lucy Wilson

Bahai Centre 
Friday 3 August 2012
Before I begin I have two declarations…firstly, Tom Vincent’s grandfather and my grandfather were brothers, which makes us second cousins. And secondly, this is the first time I’ve written about jazz.

The Tom Vincent Septet Premiere began with Tom clicking his fingers to a full house at the Bahai centre, and the notes flowed from there.
We heard a collection of original and arranged works by Tom, including some recognisable pieces by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington. By recognisable, I mean there were certainly moments where I felt a line to the 1960’s, where these old favourites were evocatively and audibly evident, but placed in a bed of notes that defied genre or a particular style. Septet Trombonist Don Bate described Tom’s compositions and arrangements as “Cubist Jazz … where the old tunes had been wacked out and the notes had been totally re-written”.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nothing Domestic about this...

by Kylie Eastley

In the industrial warehouses on Cockatoo Island white art has replaced the white walls of a contemporary art gallery. Sculptures and objects sit inside the huge grey rusting metal sheds that should dwarf all within. However, the stark whiteness brings a strength and incredible contrast to the surrounds.

Cal Lane's work titled Domestic Turf sits behind the iron bar doors of one such space. The visitor is invited to enter and walk along a path bordered with red sand. What appears to be decorate floor covering is in fact grey sand on red, in an intricate and careful arrangement reminiscent of a traditional Asian rug; maybe even a prayer mat. This sets the scene for this work.

The path leads our eye to a white rectangular cage set in the centre of the room. It is brightly lit and open for people to step inside. It appears almost as a paper cut out, however, the structure is a shipping container; number 207232 0. Only the rear wall remains in tact, the rest has been sliced into and peeled back. What is left is an ornate and beautiful temple-like creation.
There is a spiritual element to this work. Lane has managed to transform a weighty, ugly but highly functional steel container into a delicate and calm structure. He has taken the rawest of materials; sand, steel and created an oasis. One could read so much into this work. Manipulating our environment; holding on to what has meaning and matters.

The shipping container and culturally influenced design on the floor and container could be about the movement of people across the world. It could be playing with the idea that spirituality is created out of the humblest of objects. Or perhaps he is attempting to create a place of worship. Noticably the other half of the warehouse is bare with only scatterings of sand; it sits neglected and unimportant and represents the impermanence of superficial beauty. Is this a commentary on the adoration of the decorative and beautiful, to the expense of what is earthy and real.

Either way, this is an incredibly strong and impressive work that is made more successful through its placement.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

MCA Gallery

by Kylie Eastley

When viewing so much art it is difficult not to be seduced by the next big thing and lose the feelings that were evoked from the previous exhibition. There is little doubt that certain works resonate stronger, connect deeper or hit harder, but there is also worth in those other works that initially may seem a little more subdued, but on closer inspection or if you spend some time with them, can take on a whole new appearance.

Aluminium liquor bottles and copper wire are used by El Anatsui to make an amorphous wall mounted sculpture titled Anonymous Creature 2009

The works in the MCA are about 'bringing together disparate elements' and reconstruction. This Nigerian artist has demonstrated this beautifully. Rather than sitting flush against the white gallery wall, the decorative panelling ripples, writhes and creates a a moving topography that appears to fall from the wall.Something reminiscent of a samurai warriors coat of arms, it is a sprawling and undulating arrangement of flattened out aluminium whisky bottle caps bound together with copper wire.
Perhaps this is about reconstructing from the destructive. Taking control of those things that control us, or communities? Either way, this piece works beautifully. There is an irony about utilising the very items that can cause such destruction. Introduced by western culture, alcohol, along with other disposable products have impacted on the cultural, social and environmental life of communities. Likewise the binding together of the useless with a valuable wire hints to the consumerism of western society that is desired throughout the world, but brings its own failures.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales

by Stephenie Cahalan

After the modern, casual and relaxed vibe of the MCA, then the gritty reinvention of Cockatoo Island, day three of our Sydney Biennale binge took us to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is a classical gallery, complete with stately facade and a charming, uniformed man in the cloakroom. It is orderly, earnest and heavy with the gravitas of an institution groaning under the weight of art of every era and provenance.

Here the Biennale does not take centre stage but shares the space with other visiting and permanent exhibitions. So does it suffer for being crammed in amongst many other outstanding and ferociously famous displays? I don't think so. The Biennale as found here at the AGNSW continues to offer an exciting journey into contemporary art, in so many thoughtful, creative, imaginative and downright clever forms.

Baby powder, embroidery, burnt microscopes, organic matter, rubber thongs, maps, more maps, digital imagery, sound and movement. Oceans, water, trees, migratory paths, ice, cities, river plains and dammed gorges. There is so much going on and I recall no piece of work that I walked away from without feeling a sense of profound respect for the artist.

Everything is going to be alright by Guido van der Werwe
So now that I have described three of the major Biennale venues, I feel like I can go back and revisit the details of the works. Where to begin…

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cockatoo Island, the perfectly dirty gallery

by Stephenie Cahalan

Growing up in Sydney Cockatoo Island was always a no-go zone in the middle of the harbour. Like a big present in the middle of the room that you have to walk around but are never allowed to open. For the twenty-five years I lived in Sydney within eye-sight of Cockatoo Island, I had never set foot on there. It was a ship-building site, a naval base, an industrial zone under remediation, a ferry stop at which guys in greasy work clothes alighted or boarded, and always an exclusion zone.

Not now. Cockatoo island is now an amazing post-industrial gallery space that has captured the layers of living and working history, preserved it and reinvented it. It is a fascinating museum littered with beautiful, industrial objects and relics. It is the perfect venue for a contemporary art festival aiming to juxtapose seemingly disjointed eras and purposes. It was a far cry from the tempered, blank canvas style of venue that is the MCA.

However, there is already so much to look at on Cockatoo Island that an artist must compete with an existing visual landscape.

In a reinvented workshop there is a wall of wooden boxes that used to house nuts and bolts of every measure. A whole wall from ceiling to floor with every box labeled (split pins, half-inch bolts, two inch clouts, hex screws…). It is a beautiful sight.

Cockatoo Island bolt boxes.
From the Museum of Copulatory Organs by Maria Fernanda Cardosa
Within this darkened room lies another exhibition by Maria Fernanda Cardoso, The Museum of Copulatory Organs that is a collection of sculptures of insect genitalia enlarged to an outrageous degree. It sounds a bit repulsive and obscure. But if you didn’t know the detail of the inspiration behind the work you would only look and marvel at the delicacy and detail of the sculptures in wax, blown glass and other media.  Inside finely-crafted glass and wood cases, with accompanying video installation, these representations of the microscopic genitalia of the Tasmanian harvestman (a small beetle-like insect displayed in a corner of the case for scale) made elegant, marble-like, flowing forms.

This is exhibition of work that has begun in a clinical laboratory environment, now on show an industrial site that still has the collected grime of may decades makes for a glorious clash. The gallery is dirty, yet perfect.

We got blown off the island and our visit was cut cruelly short. 120 km per hour winds whipped up and with no such thing as a lee side of the island for shelter we made a bolt for the free ferry back to town. As it turned out, the top part of the island was closed due to the wind which was shame; when I studied the map of the island on the way home I realised I had barely seen a thing.

It is a treasure trove there, worth as many visits as you can squeeze into a Biennale feast. Having had a nibble at the edges of that festival venue I beat a retreat to the ferry bouncing on the Sydney Harbour whitecaps, wishing I had made it to the main course.

Pin Drop - Created & Performed by Tamara Saulwick

Threat is compelling. Your heartbeat sharpens and your ears stand up like a dog’s, while something in your guts churn. Completely unexpected situations in life can do it. Film does it. Yet in theatre I’ve never experienced it quite so convincingly as in Pin Drop created and performed by Tamara Saulwick.

The sensation of threat is rarely put under the spotlight, as an isolated and specific focus. As the stories rolled out and wove between each other, I wondered what inspired and drove Tamara, consciously and unconsciously, to record interviews with people since 2008 about their experiences of threat and terror, and follow it through with the skill and commitment to make such a polished show.

I sat deep in my seat, wanting to know what was going to happen next, both in the unfolding of the stories being told, and in the way they were being told.

This is a solo show and the interviews become the performance: sometimes literally, sometimes being retold in character, sometimes both overlapping. It’s a beautiful mix.

Every element of the show was measured and mixed for the audience to be pricked by a threatening pin drop. The collaboration between Tamara and Composition Sound Designer Peter Knight wove a stunning aural landscape, and Harriet Oxley’s Costume Design was simple, stylish and suitable.

Tamara’s performance was anchored. She didn’t overdo it or under do it; she came from a point of strength.

I hope I don’t freak out when I’m next alone at home...

This is a Mobile States and Salamanca Arts Centre presentation. There are four shows offer, so go get a Season Pass if you still can. 

The Living and the Dead

by Kylie Eastley

Arin Rungjang from Bangkok worked with Rwandan potters and orphans to create the work titled The Living are Few but the Dead are Many, 2012.
Six television screens are installed in a corner of a white room. Each play a different documentary or story of an orphan in Rwanda. With each screen is a headset and depending which one you choose, you may hear traditional singing, music, stories of trauma or other sounds. Opposite the screens, on the other side of an inconvenient post, are a collection of handmade terracotta pots, arranged in what seems like no particular order. Coloured paper flowers are positioned in the pots.
There is no getting around the fact that this space feels very stark. Not welcoming or warm. Many visitors to the space exit quickly, in a rather dismissive manner. It's a shame really. As it is not until you place the headsets on, especially those that emit the beautiful Rwandan music, that there is any cohesion with this work. The songs and sounds seem to better prepare us for the tragedy and trauma of the stories that we read on screen. Without this, the viewer is a little at sea. I wonder if people move on quickly because we have become so desensitised to tragedy that we glaze over such stories. Changing the TV station before we see the starving African children. I don't know. But visitors pass quickly through this room without engaging with the experience. It just doesn't seem to do justice to the content. Is this intentional? Is there a message that the artist is trying to send us?

Even with the sound element, there is a disconnect with this work and I found myself getting really quite angry about it and more importantly the way it has been curated. The pots seem to be thrown together in a corner of the room, sitting on a collection of disparate shelves that give no reverence or importance to the pieces. Is this intentional? If it is it is certainly not clear to the viewer.
The nature of artists working with communities, particularly disadvantaged communities can be complex. And work produced through such collaboration can challenge as it both invites us to view the work as an art installation but also to consider the narratives that influence it. The reality is that we do not see the months and sometimes years of engagement between the artist and community, we just see the physical outcome.
Depending on the intention of the artist there are obvious curatorial decisions that could have helped to connect the visitor to the work. But again, this comes down to the intention of the artist. My feeling is that the work hasn't been fully realised and like the artist statement needs clearer articulation.

The Living are Few but the Dead are Many, 2012 is part of the Sydney Biennale and is housed at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Sense of South Africa

by Kylie Eastley

Nicholas Hlobo's two pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Inkwili and Tyaphaka, 2011 are quite exquisite. They connect to an earthiness that longs for the simplicity that making provides. He works with paper, stitching hand dyed pieces together with ribbon, creating a patterning of coloured tracks that link the undulating pieces together to create a topography; a country, a place.
Detail of Inkwili by
Nicholas Hlobo

There is a nostalgia in this tea stained mapping. The stitching reminds me of the baskets my grandmother made. Hole punched recycled christmas cards sewed together to make something decorative and functional. It was also something that contained stories and narrative just like Hlobo's work.
Rich, warm colours, rivers and ridges are all visible in a piece that conveys so much. We can feel his story, his country - South Africa.

The First White Gallery

by Kylie Eastley

Anything Can Break is an installation by Pinaree Sanpitak from Thailand. This work draws you into the white room just inside the first floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Hanging from the ceiling are a collection of hundreds of handmade silver paper boxes and blown glass bulbs. Individually they are fragile, but en masse they create an imposing structure that hangs above you like a storm cloud or an alien spaceship.

It is imposing and slightly ominous, but this is broken by the sounds that are triggered as you walk under sensors placed within particular boxes. There is a real joy in finding these and the types of sounds evoke euphoria and balance the weight of what hangs above.  Sounds echo through me and we, me and the other visitors, become integral to this work. It is crisp, beautiful, warm and inviting. I could have stayed in the room for quite a while.

Along the wall is the work of Alwar Balasubramaniam titled Nothing From My Hands, 2011. White, thick and cement-like eruptions punching out of the white walls. The distorted shapes and curves create shadows and characters that give the impression of busting out, reaching out, pulling, twisting and tension. They are tactile and meld beautifully into the wall.

The two works sit well within the space and have been well executed. Well placed lighting compliments both and add to the sense of movement. They are a welcoming and easy introduction to the Biennale and invite me to revisit.

The room of many colours

If you walk away from the ferries, up the big front steps of the MCA and turn left, you will find yourself in an airy gallery with a feast of colour.

Tacked onto two walls are hundreds of spools of cotton, large ones like those on an industrial over-locker. Some tail end of threads trail into the air and flutter under the air-con breeze, but most extended out and away from the wall to stay fixed to garments piled on a table. There you can see everything from delicate crochets shawls to leather miniskirts and teddy bears.

This is the Mending Project by Lee Mingwei (Korea) in which visitors bring their clothes with tears, runs and holes and leave them to be mended. They will live in a pile on a trestle table until the end of the festival when owners  are notified by email to collect their items.
The installation has been staffed over the months of the Biennale by ten stitchers – mostly art and design students – who, true to the Lee Mingwei’s philosophy of celebrating the repair rather than hiding it as would a tailor, make their mendings more than just visible, but a feature of the garment.

Three large canvases by David Aspden hang on adjacent walls. Still feeling the warmth of the Mending Project led me to take in these huge oil paintings of red and yellow hues, throwing light and bright colour out into the room. Reminiscent of works by John Olsen it conjured up notions of deserts, horizons and blissful isolation.

It was a shock then to read the title of one piece: Mururoa. Painted in 1973, seven years after the first French nuclear test on the Pacific atoll, the reds and amber colours to me became bloodied. The splashes of blue became obscured, poisoned glimpses of a once-pristine ocean.

Knowing the subject of the work completely changed my attitude towards it. The happy room of many colours momentarily took on a darker feeling.

Not for long though.The prevailing ambiance was definitely light.


Hello from the Biennale of Sydney, otherwise known as BoS.

The tenacity of Kylie Eastley and the logistical nous of Steph Cahalan have got us here. I’ve come with my two daughters who are three and one, who were supposed to be staying with their NanTan but plans went elsewhere, so we’re all staying in an old-world pub in the Rocks, with music blaring from downstairs. These are the sidelines to seeing the A R T.

This evening we went for a peak. To the Museum of Cotemporary Art (MCA). Clean surfaces and friendly helpful staff wearing “Ask Me” badges. We didn’t need to ask them, they came and offered…

We walked into a room of vibrant colour including 800 spools of thread ‘randomly organised’ on the wall. There was no black. It’s The Mending Project by Taiwan’s Lee Mingwei. We met Grace, an assistant mender. Like long strands of silken cobwebs, the threads unspooled from the wall to their respective mended cloth, all placed in a pile on a table. Look closely and each mend is an eccentric flutter of colour to suit each garment.

The mend becomes the art.

We had something to mend. Were we prepared to leave it there till September? Actually no. We’re from Tasmania and this is my daughter’s only jumper. Ok. Grace, her namesake, sewed on a button and strengthened the others. The third button down now has a colourful spooly flower behind the button.

That’s her Biennale of Sydney Button. Otherwise known as BoSButton.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Regional Art Fund for assisting us to get a team of Tasmanian writers to the Sydney Biennale. All the WriteResponse contributors volunteer enormous amounts of time, energy and resources towards reviewing of the arts. This type of funding assists hugely to what we all love to do; experience art of all kinds and write about it. Thanks RAF.

Here we go

by Stephenie Cahalan

The 18th Biennale of Sydney began on June 27 and runs up to September 16. It occupies five different substantial venues. This means the people of Sydney have had 81 days to scrutinise what we are about to cover in about four. 

I feel like I am going speed dating with art.

We arrived, dumped our bags in our little Rocks pub at 3.30 this afternoon and by 4.00 we were excitedly drumming our fingers on the information counter at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay.
Anything Can Break 2011 by Pinaree Sanpitak,
And what a reception we got. From the girl on the front desk, to the beautiful lady in the gift shop searching menus on Cockatoo Island for us at one minute to closing time, we were showered with good jou-jou. A venue open to 9 pm (just like late-night shopping – only on a Thursday), gallery attendants explaining the MCA app, and offering samples to fondle of an installation that we are clearly dying to touch in spite of the stern warnings against doing so.
Really, as a starting point for a large and slightly intimidating event, my first impression of the Biennale is of an open, accessible and welcoming experience.
And that’s before I have even got to the artworks. We’re off to a good start.