Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ode to Tom

Thomas Connelly was a passionate writer, poet and contributor to the Tasmanian community and the arts. As part of a new ABC Open initiative I was invited to write a little about Tom, who died unexpectedly in October 2014. Tom had many writing projects on the go and we will miss his wit, his poetry and his passion.

Thomas Connelly

This is a photo of Thomas Connelly. To me he was just Tom, a big gentle beardy man who loved Greek mythology. We had just been to an exhibition opening and it was a cool Hobart evening as we sat outside, drinking coffee and talking of art and life.

Thomas Connelly was a beautiful writer, philosopher and friend who came into my life only a few years ago but whom I thought would be around until we were both older and more wrinkled. As a fellow writer we shared are stories and thoughts. And now as I sit at my keyboard to write, I automatically think of him as my editor and mentor. I edited his complex, tangled words as he reviewed Tasmanian exhibitions and shows and we discussed the challenges of being an artist; living a creative life.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Stephenie Cahalan

Tasmanian Theatre Company
Director, Sue Benner and Assistant director Ivano Del Pio
Featuring Rowan Harris, Karissa Lane, Jane Longhurst, Jeff Michel

With cars left behind in the safety of a Sandy Bay car park, we boarded a minibus and rode through the streets of Hobart’s well-appointed middle class into another era. The bus exited the kerbed bitumen and climbed a winding dirt track to reach an architectural icon. 

Fort Nelson House is a rounded, glass eyrie that describes its owner and designer Esmond Dorney as craving both openness and seclusion.  The dwelling, which evolved over several iterations between 1966 and 1978, is surrounded by 78 acres of native bush overlooking the Tasman Peninsula, Bruny Island and the Meehan Range. The house and property, now owned and managed by the Hobart City Council, is rarely open to the public.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Capturing the Self - Josie Birchall

Family Portrait
Review by Kylie Eastley

Josie Birchall is a Tasmanian artist who is standing out from the usual suspects. She began as a graphic designer, before attending TAFE to develop her skills in painting and drawing and then went onto the School of Art. Her layering of life experience and commitment to her craft has enabled this artist to fully realise her narratives.

It is what Birchall leaves out of her painting, and chooses to include that is so alluring. In Family Portrait (Pictured), the inclusion of the iconic Bambi, Donald Duck, the plastic pink flamingo and the cu pi doll, all represent various eras that each of us can relate to. Birchall cleverly paints herself as two figures; split with the use of random brushstrokes as reference to her pulled-apart self. She includes simple child-like doodling that clash with the beautifully executed and realistic painted figures. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dole / Dolour: An Allegory for the Fifth Corner of the World

by Thomas Connelly

σκότος ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν
In the evening
after work,
shadows fall
across the world.
And the city quiets
And calms itself.
And now the city is ours
The weak and broken ones
Come out to play
Take over the city.

Went to the Top Gallery in the Salamanca Arts Centre, a small room torn brick, convict sandstone, rough wood. A room that echoes the cries of those worked to death in the old days. Drunk and trapped. The scrap heap. Dolour -- endless unhappiness. This seemed an more than suitable place for these particular art works.

Monday, September 22, 2014

RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize

by Thomas Connelly

I went to the RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize award night. This competition is the result of a highly successful partnership between RACT Insurance, Clemenger Tasmania and Tasmanian Regional Arts. Looking at the variety of works on display, one can safely say that the future of portraiture is safe in Tasmania. This exhibit is more vibrant and daring than similar prizes.

This award takes a different path than most portraiture award. A few things stand out to make this award unique. Quoting the Conditions of Entry, “The submitted work must be a titled portrait of a living Tasmanian.” This has the effect of making the prize a local prize. This can be both good and bad. Good in that it supports local artists, who due to the nature of the world tend to get swamped by the sheer size of the north island. Bad in that it feeds on an isolating tendency. What you wish to give weight to is, of course, up to you; but for me I would support the idea of a prize that seeks to support and nurture local artists. As we live in a world based on the idea that big eats little, sometimes little needs a helping hand. How else can little mature and start devouring.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tell Tales

by Thomas Connelly

So on a beautiful full moon night, one of those nights when the stars hide away and the moon swollen and full makes the world glow silver; I drove into town to see Tell Tails, a new performance piece by Bridget Bridget Nicklason-King.

The sort of night that is the power of the woman.

Tell Tails was a show inspired by Bridget’s granny. One can imagine the performer as a child listening intently as her grandmother told wild stories of adventure, danger and love. All completely true…and then some.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lola's New Cousin

by Thomas Connelly

Some people find breast feeding confronting, but what happens when the baby gets hungry? She drinks her mum's milk of course.

I went to the Aboriginal Centre in Risdon Cove on National Aboriginal and Islander Children's day, as part of World Breastfeeding Week, to the launch of the children's book, Lola's New Cousin, written by Luana Towney.

This book is more than a simple children's book. Sometimes, a teacher once told me, you will hit a wall, the only way around this wall will be a book. Lola's New Cousin is such a book, adding to our communal toolkit. In her work with aboriginal mums Luana noticed that the decision to breast feed or not depended on the support, and ideas of those around the expectant mother.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bullshot Crummond

by Thomas Connelly

On Friday August 1, I went to the Sorell Memorial Hall to see, Bullshot Crummond, performed by Sorell On Stage. Sorell On Stage is an amateur, regional theatre group.

Who is Bullshot Crummond? Originally a series of best-selling novels by H. C. McNeile, under the pseudonym of Sapper, about a World War One veteran, Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond, "a demobilised officer who found peace dull." From 1920 until his death in 1937 McNeile wrote ten novels about Bulldog, as well as several adaptations for stage and screen. Over twenty Bulldog Drummond movies were produced, making the transition from silent to talkies.

Monday, July 21, 2014


We are, The Philosopher said, animals whose nature it is to be artificial.

Sitting and and at the same time hurtling 100 kilometers per hour down the highway, through showers of heavy rain, listening to Radio National, I made my way to the Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny Farm to see the exhibit Man-Made. An exhibit of recent paintings by two local artists Peter Tankey & Aaron Wasil. Even the the Schoolhouse Gallery itself comments on the dichotomy of the natural and the artificial. The building was built as a bicentennial project and is modeled on a schoolhouse that was built at Osterly about 1890.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Terrapin Puppet Theatre
Playing at the Theatre Royal Hobart

By Gai Anderson

Big Baby the latest show from Terrapin Puppet Theatre, is an evocative multilayered piece of puppetry and visual theatre created for children and families. Directed by Sam Routledge and written by Van Badham, the show explores notions of vulnerability and power through the journey of the Big Baby and his father.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Arnold Zable and The Cry of the Excluded

by Thomas Connelly

This is slightly different; not the review of a performance, but rather of a public lecture. I am not reviewing something entertaining, rather documenting an education.

On Saturday night, June 7, I went to the Founders Room in the Salamanca Arts Centre for Hobart's inaugural PEN lecture. The theme was The Cry of The Excluded. On the stage there was everything required for a public talk. An empty chair sat on stage. A chair that represents the silence, the isolation, the locking away of the persecuted writer. This is a PEN tradition. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Art from Trash! Wow! One of the most eagerly awaited art events in Hobart these days is organised by the Resource Work Cooperative, best known for running the Tip Shop.

For non-Australians, a word of explanation. A "tip" is a refuse dump, garbage tip, waste disposal facility. In other words, where the detritus of civilisation is sent to die. Since 1993 the Resource Work Cooperative has been collecting and selling discarded items from a shed at McRobie's Gully, South Hobart, and you can pick up some wonderful things for a minuscule amount of money.

In 1995 they organised the inaugural Art From Trash exhibition, open to all comers, with the only proviso being that the source of materials used in artwork construction be the Tip Shop. It's proved a huge success, with participants ranging from kindergarten classes to professional artists and it's amazing what they create.

There are always variations on some standard pieces: dresses made from furnishing fabric, tablecloths, packaging materials, drink can ring-pulls or disposable cups; guns, robots and humorous animals from plastic bottles or scrap metal; old windows as picture frames; furniture rejuvenated with mosaic, decoupage or painted images; serious assemblages with meaningful environmental messages hand-written across them. Each year there is something clever, some idea so simple and obvious you wonder why you haven't seen it done before, something beautifully crafted from unlikely materials, or something that's just plain silly and great fun.

These are some of my favourite pieces from this year's exhibition.

Some fanciful constructions by children from the Jordan River Learning Federation – I especially liked the suspended globe with a 33 rpm record as "rings".

The Margate Primary School kindergarten class took the theme of Faces, children using a variety of scrap plastics, papers and fabric to make faces which were then assembled as a great, big smile.

It was difficult to capture the magnificently ridiculous sculpture, Egghead by Melanie Zaugger; and I really liked the use of a tow-chain and hook as a very silly bird called Stickynose by Alan Culph 
It's been done before, and it will be done again, but I always enjoy a well done assemblage of plastic toys. These are two pieces by Catharine Brunt – Production Madness and Plastic Warfare.

So this is where Cinderella's slippers went! To my chagrin, it took me a couple of minutes to appreciate the title of this one – Tip Toes by Patsy Primozich.

This works so well on so many levels – Tripe Trophy is a beautifully knitted/crocheted sheep's head mounted on a serving tray with an affixed Onkaparinga blanket label. Karen Lyttle's succinct Artist Statement says: Our throw away culture is tripe, our lack of regard for domestic animals, tripe also.

As usual, this exhibition was not short on guns and robots, and very beautifully crafted they were, too. In fact, that was their downfall because the artists seemed so focused on perfecting the object they failed to convey any particular message. Not so The Final Battle by Hein Poortenaar.

Yes, the craftsmanship and finish are there, but there is a deliberate battered uncertainty to these "weapons". Vaguely anthropomorphic, they totter on crooked legs threatening to collapse at any moment. Cobbled together from whatever happened to be available, they make an exhausted last stand that I found very poignant

My favourite, however, had to be Trash Snack by Saarasa Madden and Rayma Kennedy. Here is one of those crazy, obvious ideas that has you cracking up with laughter at its audacity. What to do with all those plastic bags?  I think the picture says it all, really.

This year's Art From Trash exhibition - 24 May to 4 June, 2014 at the Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre. Get along and see it. It's anything but trashy art.
More information: http://artfromtrash.org/

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


by Thomas Connelly

Being an atheist I am not moved by spirituality, indeed I am mistrustful of words such as god or the soul. Art then, in it's manifold forms, is what passes as prayer for me. Feeling this way about art, it follows, that there few experiences better than coming across an artist whom you know nothing about, but whose work immediately knocks you out.

Seeing -- quite by accident -- the exhibition, Ausländer, by Nina Keri, was one such experience. Ausländer is a German word meaning foreigner or alien. This word is often used as a pejorative. Keeping this in mind, one is struck by the power of the paintings.

Simple designs painted on mostly found bits of board, plexiglass, or whatever was handy and appropriate. With these simple designs, found surfaces, and her restricted palette Nina was able to impart a great, dark, the-world-is-closing-in sort of emotional experience.

All sorts of images assailed me, and sent my thoughts chasing off in varied directions. Seeking a grounding for these works I recalled half forgotten romanticised images of Old World fairy tales; the running about oak and pine coverts of my difficult boyhood. Or my later disillusioned young adult years of mindless work crowding images of Werther and of Woyzeck and always the strong scent memories of my Polish grandmother's potato and cabbage cooking.

When viewing a, for me, new artist, I want to see the work itself. In this case I knew nothing of Nina Keri and could only look at the work through my own personal prism. There are many times where I learn more about an artist or an art work, and then like it less. It was only later after I had left the gallery that a friend told me that the work was based on the experiences of the grandmother of the artist during World War Two. A Ukrainian living under German rule. This knowledge and context only deepened my appreciation of the work.

Being as poor as I am irreligious it is not often that I see an exhibit where I say, “I wish I could have bought one of the works.” Ausländer is one of the few. In all a powerful body of work from an artist I had no knowledge of, but an artist I am keen to watch and learn from and about. This is one of those rare must see exhibits, and I recommend everyone goes to see it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Heart is a Hall

Emma Porteus: Concept, direction and choreography
Finegan Kruckemeyer: Concept and writer
By Wendy Newton 

I make my way towards the Mole Creek Memorial Hall under a full autumn moon for the second site-specific performance of Stompin’s My Heart is a Hall.

The Art Deco building is spotlighted like a Hollywood starlet at her premiere and people spill around and into it from the cold.  I’m handed my ‘admit one’ ticket and enter the wood-panelled hall, self-consciously solo.  But in the true spirit of community, I don’t have to vie for a seat for too long.  Strangers sense my predicament and slide along the wooden bench seat that skirts the walls, and I am invited to sit and join them. 

Dancers wait at the foot of the stage, motionless and barefooted, half-circled by hundreds of shuttlecocks that glow with blue and purple led lights.  We wait, like wallflowers at a community dance.  The hall waits, too, for another story to be etched into a living history where people meet, fall in love, play, compete, survive the elements and grow old, but mostly celebrate and share the rituals that create a sense of belonging and kinship.

A lo-fi ambient score sets the dancers in motion as a young man narrates the fantastical tale of an unending rainstorm that dislodges a town hall from its foundations.  Dancers spill with the tide, languid movements that mimic the water as it rises and peaks.  Memories swirl with the waves, bodies are objects that rock and collide and are contained in the hall.  It becomes impossible to separate one from the other: they are the hall, the church spire that pokes out from the flood, the rowers that row the hall across the ocean until they can build a new town around the old hall. 

Solo dancer Megan Denne's sublime performance as the spirit of the hall captivates as she uses movement and voice to translate the hall's connection to place.  Through her, we hear the histories, glimpse the lives before, we feel the elements, the dust that holds her foundations, as birds call and the wind rises.  She is the moment, the passage of time, and it is an intimately executed vision of character and perfect grace.

My Heart is a Hall is a triumphant collaboration between two master storytellers: locally loved and internationally awarded playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer and Stompin, who continually prove how diverse, creative and exciting they are as a contemporary youth dance ensemble.

Emma Porteus’ creative and artistic vision and direction are at their strongest yet, and the triumph is in the dancers’ charming performances as they contribute to the strength of the narrative and natural coherence of the contemporary piece. The hall is set and prop, the character at the heart of each story.  Shuttlecocks rearrange as the hall is built, moved, filled and emptied.  Lighting is minimal: four sets of floor spotlights that colour the hall in a sequence of pink, blue, green, yellow.  Music ranges from thumping, driving drumbeats, a moody Thom Yorke piece, the 1960's classic, Then he kissed me, and finally to an up-tempo foot-tapping reel.  The elements are layered, lush, idiosyncratic, and it all makes sense. It all makes for heart.

Kruckemeyer’s voice as a writer is quintessentially Australian, sublimely poetic, and universally heartfelt.  It crosses generations, time, experience.  It is a story that runs through us, because it is the story of place.  Our place.  We recognise it immediately. Myth, storytelling, theatre and poetry weave together like a dream that imprints and stays with us. 

An older woman recounts a youthful and heart-rending memory of waiting to be asked to dance at a local ball.  Braver dancers spin to the nostalgic tune, together, alone, in harmony with the moment they find themselves in.  A clock ticks louder and louder while she waits, intolerably, and she feels time flattening out her curls.  When she's finally asked to dance by someone who likes her hair, we are as elated as she is and moved close to tears. It is a lyrical moment, rich with feeling.  Kruckemeyer has taken us on a journey that has mesmerised and meandered its gentle way deep into our hearts.

Stompin’s strength as a contemporary dance troupe is in creating transformative experiences for dancers and audiences alike, and My Heart is a Hall is no exception.  At the finale, shy dancers invite us to dance, to leave our own imprint on the floorboards, the hall, and the performance experience.  The inspired element is in the way Stompin continues to create unforgettable performances in extraordinary sites without becoming formulaic.  Every performance is unique, surprising and uplifting, full of emotion that you can’t help but feel.  And we all leave a little changed because of it.

The drive home is one that might be an echo of many before, across time and purpose. A clear night, a joyful encounter, a chat with strangers over a cup of tea with homemade cake (compliments of the CWA) to give breadth to the encounter…and I have the comforting sense of sharing something with people that I may never see again, but that has surprisingly bonded me in a new way to a place full of heart.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


By Tom Connelly

Cynical, morally ambiguous, conveying a feeling of helplessness, of alienation; these are some of the attributes of the film-noir genre; or perhaps more accurately, the file-noir style. Classic film-noir movies have a certain visual style, combining low-key lighting, chiaroscuro and skewed compositions. This style, used by directors as diverse as Billy Wilder and Orson Welles, creates a certain tension as the stark shadows obscure and accent the moral dimensions of the characters. 

As befits a cinematic style based on light, shadow, and ambiguity it is hard to pin down exactly what defines the film-noir style. Some critics define the style based not on visual style, but on character. Some stock noir characters include the femme fatale, the private detective, the washed up boxer. Often struggling just to keep poverty at bay in the alienating modern city, these archetypal outsiders have only their wits, their looks, or a hidden stiletto to protect them. 

Noirhouse, a new film-noir comedy series cheekily subverts and at the same time pays homage to the classic film-noir world of Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck. This short series - only three episodes - captures with an obvious affection the style of film-noir. The alienating, expressionistic lighting, and skewed camera angles form a strong reference point for the series. Due to the time constraints of this web series there is little time for detailed exposition, the story moves along, but as Noirhouse is a comedy these broad strokes are acceptable. 

The main question would have to be: does Noirhouse work as comedy? I will leave that for the reader or viewer to decide. The series, however, is a success as a parody of film-noir. All the actors are strong and convincing. Melanie Irons portrays Nadia, the femme fatale. She won the Best Female Performance at the recent Australian Webstream Awards. Nathan Spencer plays the Detective. He is, along with Shaun Wilson and Fiona McConaghy, part of the production team. Mick Davies, plays the Russian; Sarah Wadsley plays Alice and Matt Burton is the hapless salesman. 

Actors are the obvious face of any production, but actors are often only as good as the story and production allows them to be. In this regard Noirhouse shines, the award winning script by Tim Logan is handled with a light touch, the dialogue is sharp, and the story hustles the viewer along. The camera work and the lighting are a loving embrace of noir sensibilities. The production team Sky Machine won the Australian Webstream Award for Best Visual Effects. Liz Goulding wonderfully captured the feel of the noir style and deservedly won awards for her makeup, hair and costume design. 

With Screen Australia funding six more episodes, I urge everyone to point their browser to http://noirhouse.com and see this series; before it becomes a thing. 

As Tasmania was ground zero for the NBN, it is good to see people able to grasp the opportunities that the networked future offers. 

Thomas Connelly is a regular contributor to WriteResponse. More of his writing can be viewed at http://bogong-moth.blogspot.com/

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Body Residing - Wendy Morrow

This review was published with the kind permission of Sawtooth Ari, Launceston, Tasmania.
I hear the word and think of closeness. I think of exclusiveness and privilege, of trust and of understanding. I think of a moment when one body is released from self-consciousness and surrendered to a moment of mind and heart to be given to another. The unseen energies of emotional complexity overwhelm the fickleness of physicality in favour of desire. Nothing matters in this space but mutual alignment. Intimacy is meant to extend beyond our self - it involves an other. Intimacy is harmony, and can be as temporal as a song.
I think of intimacy particularly as I seat myself barefooted on the floor with others who have gathered in the final hours of the first residency that Morrow will undertake this year at Sawtooth ARI. A second will follow in the winter months, but that seems as distant as consequence. Morrow has requested that we remove our shoes and let the soles of our feet touch the surface beneath us. It is strangely unifying.
Morrow prompts us to position ourselves at the fringe of the Sawtooth Front Gallery. We have been invited here as observers and potential collaborators. We are as in the present as Morrow is. What is happening is happening now void of choreography and rehearsal. With A Body Residing the artist is precariously negotiating the place between the activation of a space and being activated by it. Morrow’s residency in the empty Sawtooth gallery is an exploration into self, place and external collaboration conjoined with movement and dance. In this space, she has listened, conversed, and reacted to the undercurrent of essence that a building possesses yet is seldom exposed.
I think about destination. I think about journey.
As Morrow moves in exquisite silence, the building itself compliments her. It buckles under the heat and rattles at the intervening afternoon winds. The soundscape of the street below creeps in, as does the flight path of the skies above. All the while, Morrow is moving and exposing us to a beautiful kind-of synergy offered by the walls she is performing between. Nothing is fixed. Everything is fluid.
When the artist has exhausted her improvisational interaction with the space, she comes back to us and we are ushered backwards through a second space to take seat again for the second observation. The time Morrow introduces the space of objects, where introduced items are there for use or non-use. A directional lamp faces a corner with its core function redundant, instead becoming a listening device rather than a light. A thin strip of paper has begun to fall away from the wall. The layers, the skin, of both person and place are evident. On the floor, large sheets of tissue paper and stacked into a neat pile. Even here, the layers can be seen. Some sheets are crinkled by a previous interaction, others are untouched. Morrow moves around the space and then onto the paper. Intently she steps one foot first and then the other allowing time to absorb the sensations and sounds being produced by her movement. Eventually she lays herself down and begins a slow writhe ultimately wrapping her body with the paper in a mesmerising display of connectedness.

To complete the trilogy of spaces Morrow has worked with during her residency, she retreats beyond the wall to explore the window into Sawtooth’s heart – the office. Short but beautiful, Morrow exposes the window, a thing of practicality that offers both a view in and a view out, and if nothing else is an unsightly blot that most gloss over perhaps more out of etiquette than any other reason. The glass creates a division between public and private, for but Morrow it acts as a device that heightens the presence of reflection. We can see her, but her dance is competing with the view from above us and behind. She weaves herself seamlessly into the frame, and then all too quickly recedes.  
Afterwards, all who are present talk and discuss the happenings within the space over the last few days and of Wendy’s collaborations with artists who she worked with to investigate creative play. We are reminded that this residency is but one of two, and just like intimacy we have been tantalised enough to want to be in this position again.
Bring on the winter.
 - Patrick Sutczak (January 2014)
Sawtooth ARI Artist-in-Residence.25-27 January 2014