Tuesday, November 30, 2021

31st ANNUAL ACT ARTS AWARDS

 

“Canberra Citynews” Artist of the Year

Dianne Fogwell

One of Australia’s most revered print artists has been named 2021 “Canberra Citynews” Artist of the Year at the 31st annual ACT Arts Awards evening, held in the Canberra Museum & Gallery on Tuesday evening 30 November.

Dianne Fogwell was singled out for an extraordinary year of work, but also for a lifetime of technical mastery of her art, combined with an Alice in Wonderland-like imagination that defies pigeonholing.

 

From Left:  Ian Meikle, Dianne Fogwell, Minister Cheyne, Meredith Hinchcliffe


The ACT Minister for the Arts, Ms Tara Cheyne MLA, presented her with a certificate and “Citynews” editor, Ian Meikle, presented her with a cheque to the value of $1,000.  Craft writer, Meredith Hinchliffe, gave her a finely-crafted stainless steel bowl from F!nk studio.

Fogwell said she was delighted to receive the award adding, “Canberra‘s got a lot to be proud of, where a city of creative people…if we don’t take ourselves seriously who else is going to do it?”

Praised by critics as the creator of dream-like realities set within a specific Canberra “wonderscape,” she was single out for her exhibition, “Transient,” at Beaver Galleries in November 2020, which captured the eerie light cast by the blanket of smoke and unburnt particles over Canberra during the 2019 bushfires.

Fogwell is embedded in the history of Canberra’s visual arts, she was the co-founder of Studio One print workshop, founder/director of the Criterion Press and Fine Art Gallery and a long-time lecturer in printmaking, graphic Investigation and lecturer in charge of the Edition + Artists Book Studio at ANU School of Art.

She is also known as a master printer who has editioned prints professionally for prominent Australian artists, including Jason Benjamin, Margaret Olley and Robin Wallace-Crabbe, while maintaining her own art practice.

She has won the Megalo International Print Prize and the Australian Artists’ Book Prize and was recently announced as the winner of the 2021 Geelong Acquisitive Print Awards.

In a busy year, she was an invited artists in the 11th Triennial of Chamalieres in  France, won an award of excellence in the inaugural WAMA Art Prize for works on paper in in the Grampians, and was commissioned to complete a 45-meter installation for the Geelong Art Gallery.

Fogwell has been an exhibiting artist since 1979 and has been an invited artist to international biennials for print and the artist book as far afield as Poland, Belgium, Belgrade, France, London and Korea.

Her work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Art Bank, the Australian War Memorial, the Chicago Institute of the Arts, The National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington DC and the China Printmaking Museum in Shenzhen.

 

Helen Tsongas Award for Excellence in Acting


Dylan Van Den Berg

Earlier in the evening, an exceptional Canberra actor-playwright was presented with the Helen Tsongas Award for excellence in acting by Canberra Theatre director, Alex Budd.

Dylan Van Den Berg was singled out by the Canberra Critics Circle for a remarkable year of acting and writing, especially in his play “Milk,” presented at The Street Theatre in June, in which he played a character with a background very much like his own.

“I am incredibly honoured to receive an award in Helen’s memory…awards like this are immensely encouraging for artists and it is a real privilege,” Van Den Berg said on learning of the decision.


Dylan Van Den Berg

 In April this year he had also won the $30,000 Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting for “Milk” at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

A Palawa writer/performer with family connections to the Bass Strait Islands and the northeast of Tasmania, Van Den Berg is now a full-time theatre artist, but until recently worked as Inclusion & Diversity Advisor at Starlight Children's Foundation Australia and before that as performance expert and Captain Starlight recruiter.

The multi-talented Van Den Berg has a BA in Drama and international Communication from the ANU and a diploma in Indonesian from the University of New England, as well as qualifications improvisation at the State University of New York.

Very much a product of The Street Theatre, where he has performed as a professional actor many times, he came to public attention there in 2019 as Gregor Samsa in Kafka's “Metamorphosis,” who turned into an insect.

He also had his plays like “Blue: a misery play” and “The Camel” developed under the theatre’s dramaturgical programs, The Hive and First Seen.

In 2021 critics praised both the gentle restraint of his performance as a younger generation indigenous man and the play, described by the “Citynews” reviewer Joe Woodward as “a matter of cultural necessity.”

In meeting the challenge of playing himself in “Milk,” he has said he objectified the part, declaring, “just the fact that I wrote it means I removed it from myself”.

Van Den Berg has said that he wrote the play for his baby daughter, Charlotte, to whom he said: “I wrote this play for you and you’ll know where we come from.”

The Helen Tsongas Award for excellence in acting was established by the Tsongas family in the name of the late Helen Tsongas, who died in a motorcycle accident with her husband, Peter Brajkovic, ten years ago.

The late Helen Tsongas

Tsongas was a dramatic actor, memorable for tragic roles in “Medea” and “The House of Bernarda Alba” but equally admired for her comic roles in plays like “Noises Off” and The Female Odd Couple”

She worked at Arts ACT for many years (former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope was, at the time, the Arts Minister) and then moved to the then Commonwealth Office for the Arts when Simon Crean was Minister for the Arts.

She would have been 43 in November this year.

The Helen Tsongas award takes the form of a cheque to the value of $1000 and a certificate going to the best Canberra actor of the year, with no restrictions on age or gender, as judged by the theatre panel of the Canberra Critics Circle and will continue over the coming years.

 

The 2021 Canberra Critics Circle is as follows:

 Frank McKone, Helen Musa, Rob Kennedy, Tony Magee, Meredith Hinchliffe, Bill Stephens, Alanna Maclean, Joe Woodward, Kerry-Anne Cousins, Cris Kennedy, Samara Purnell, Arne Sjostedt, Simone Penkethman, Brian Rope, Clinton White, Len Power, John Lombard, Phillip MacKenzie, Graham McDonald, Peter Wilkins, Ian McLean, Jane Freebury, Anni Doyle WawrzyƄczak, Con Boekel, Michelle Potter.

 

Canberra Critics Circle Awards

The centrepiece of the 31th ACT Arts Awards was the presentation of Canberra Critics Circle certificates by Patrick McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Film And Sound Archive, to the artists below:

Theatre

 Linda Buck

For her evocative lighting design, an intuitive and expert complement to the visceral impact of music, dance and soundscape in Belco Arts’ production of MESS.

Theatre

Dylan Van Den Berg

For his deceptively gentle and restrained performance in and writing of Milk, a play that works on many levels. This immersive, haunting piece has been shaped so well that it becomes a memorable experience that stays with an audience long after it has finished. A Street Theatre production.

Theatre

 Rebus Theatre

 To a boldly original theatre company, whose instigators have been at the forefront of a forum-style theatre that steps into the issues of the present-day world, seen in The Beauty Thief at Belconnen Community Theatre during March and What If Scientists Ruled The World? in the Australian Academy of Science's Shine Dome during May.

 Theatre

 Josh Wiseman and Pippin Carroll

 For a perfectly judged double act as perpetrators of the "perfect" murder in Rope, for Canberra Repertory, where Wiseman’s clownish anxiety was a foil for Carroll’s authoritative narcissistic protagonist.

 

 Musical Theatre

 Canberra Philharmonic Society

 For a slick and professional production of Jersey Boys in all departments, highlighted by outstanding musical direction by Caleb Campbell, sound design by James McPherson, innovative set design by Ian Croker and impressive attention to detail in directing by Jim McMullen.

Musical Theatre

 Lydia Milosavljevic

 For her portrayal of Maria in the Queanbeyan Players production of The Sound of Music, which was delightful in all respects displaying excellent conviction in characterization, and endearing humility which established wonderful audience rapport and highlighted by outstanding and passionate singing and acting.

Musical Theatre

Helen McFarlane

For her exuberant portrayal of the worldly, sophisticated friend, Tanya, a role which demanded mastery of triple-threat skills in Free-Rain Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia.

 

Photography

Melita Dahl

Opening a new chapter in the art history of portraiture, deadpan and deliberate facial distortions become political statements in her technically excellent exploration of avenues to subvert facial recognition and facial emotional recognition technologies. For her exhibition Portrait at PhotoAccess.

Photography

Sammy Hawker

Walking on Yuin, Ngarigo, and Ngunnawal Countries, then processing with collected water, soil, bark and flowers, employing pigment inks, emulsions and silver nitrate to create prints humming with the presence of the sites; unsettling and thrilling. For her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at Mixing Room.

 

Visual Arts

Stephen Harrison

For his sculptures, drawings and paintings that encompassed a strong, dark vision of humanity but also offered a beacon of light. For his exhibition, You want it darker at Belco Arts Centre in March 2021.

Visual Arts

Sharon Peoples

For her innovative and beautiful use of embroidery to illustrate the theme of our relationship to nature and our cultivation of the garden, culminating in her exhibition Between Earth and Sky at CraftACT in May 2021.

Visual Arts

Janet DeBoos and Wendy Teakel

Two senior artists found deep veins of shared philosophy, awareness and understanding in their appreciation of the landscape. For their moving exhibition Intersections at Craft ACT in February 2021.

 Visual Arts

 Marie Hagerty

 Lines twisted into shadows and curves followed the human form. Black, white and orange/red filled the dramatic shapes, all holding an individual story. The works say a great deal in their simple and shape and form. For her show New Works at Nancy Sever Gallery in July 2021.

Visual Arts

 Dianne Fogwell

For her beautiful and important print exhibition, which showed her experience of the 2019 bushfires in Canberra. She captured the eerie light cast by the blanket of smoke and unburnt particles over Canberra. For her exhibition Transient at Beaver Galleries in November 2020.

 

Music

Dan Walker

For his conducting of the Oriana Chorale in the performance of Text/ure in collaboration with Canberra poet, Sarah Rice, in which his music, “If I could have given you a note”, was performed and for the 11 concerts he performed in and led over the last year, including in the Canberra International Music Festival.

Music

Phoenix Collective, led by Dan Russell

For their mesmerising and entertaining exploration, led by Dan Russell,  of the music of the tango from its earliest days right up to the “nuevo tango” styles of Astor Piazzolla and living up to their own motto to perform “concerts that excite & inspire.”

Music

Christopher Latham

For Vietnam Requiem, an epic concert of three hours, engaging all the senses, employing vast music forces of varying music genres and cultures, and performing a suite compiled of works by Australian composers in a moving commemoration of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Music

Rowan Harvey-Martin

For her work for and in the first concert by Anomaly, a new ensemble devoted to lesser-known choral works, in which they performed Passion Music by William Todd, a work for choir, soprano soloist and jazz band.

Music

Canberra Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players, led by Kirsten Williams.

For capturing the sublime and distinctive harmonic structure and beauty of melody, harmony and balance in the Phantasy Quintet by Ralph Vaughan Williams, combined with living every note and nuance of Brahms' String Quartet No.2 in G” in a vibrant, exuberant and joyful performance led by Kirsten Williams.

Music

Wayne Kelly

For leading his jazz trio in a performance of Thelonious Monk’s music, with a nod to

Chick Corea, as well as profoundly personal originals, one of which, a suite of four parts, acknowledged the topsy-turvy year of 2020 and his deepening religious faith, all showcasing his unique piano stylings.

 

Dance

 Liz Lea Dance Company

 For a courageous exploration of connection and creativity across different dance styles and cultures through innovative choreography highlighted by outstanding use of music and a remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris, The Point.

 Dance

 Olivia Fyfe and Alex Voorhoeve

 For a collaborative blend of live music and movement that highlighted expressive connections between dancer and musician while dramatising certain effects of climate change in nature during Australian Dance Party’s Symbiosis, an exploration of the National Botanic Gardens as part of Enlighten 2021.

 Dance

Bonnie Neate and Suzie Piani

For their remarkable re-imagining of Giselle, which they produced, directed and choreographed embracing elements of classical ballet, contemporary and commercial dance, to create Unveiled, a thrilling evening of impeccably prepared, presented and performed dance to showcase the talents of twenty pre-professional dancers chosen at open audition.

 Dance

 Quantum Leap

 For a beautifully structured work that examined concepts of isolation and belonging in the production, Sympathetic Monsters, which juxtaposed the group and the individual through choreography by Jack Ziesing, original music by Adam Ventura, and a committed performance by the large ensemble.

 Dance

 Michelle Heine

For her imaginative, exuberant and brilliantly crafted choreography for Free Rain Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia.

 

Film

Deborah Kingsland and Hannah de Feyter

For their inventive adaptation to a changing market and a changing audience and their needs through the film festival Stronger Than Fiction, including offering childcare to patrons.

 

Writing

Lucy Neave

For Believe in Me, (UQ Press, August 2021) a complex and wise novel in which a young woman pieces together her mother’s life story, hoping to understand her better and come to terms with her own history and identity.

Writing

Irma Gold

For the novel The Breaking, (Midnight Sun, March 2021) a confronting story of the link between animal tourism and cruelty in the elephant camps of Thailand, seen through the eyes of two young women.

Writing

Merlinda Bobis

For The Kindness of Birds (Spinifex, May 2021), a poignant collection of linked stories that travel between Canberra and The Philippines to pay homage to kindness amidst grief, discord and displacement, using the metaphor of birds.

Writing

Sarah Rice

For Text/ure (Recent Work Press, 2021) a full colour book, a feast for eye and ear alike, that follows the author-artist as she commissioned original music from six Canberra-connected composers based on her poem, “If I Could Have Given You A Note,” which were later performed by the Oriana Chorale, backed by her own projected artworks.


Awards Presentation Photos by Len Power

Monday, November 29, 2021

RECOVERY

Photography | Brian Rope

RECOVERY | Various Artists

ANBG Visitors Centre Gallery | 25 November – 12 December

Recovery is the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group.

This year there are four categories of images. Firstly, there are plant portraits of a single plant, or group of primarily the same species. Then there are wildlife images (in the Gardens, but also outside due to access restrictions this year). Next there are creative compositions of banksia plants in recognition of Joseph Banks’ visit to Australia and the new banksia garden. And, to complete the show, images of rare, threatened or endangered plants. In total there are forty-eight prints by twenty artists, all framed in a light-coloured timber and, so, the overall exhibition looks cohesive.

The exhibition successfully displays in print aspects of our beautiful natural environment through the camera lens - and on screen with revolving images of plants, birds and animals in the ANBG.

There are just three monochrome prints on display, all by the same author - Ulli Brunnschweiler. They stand out amongst the colour works, not just because they are black and white but also because they are quite lovely works each showing plants (plural). In particular, Acacia pravissima, hung at the top of the three works here is just delightful. Commonly known as the Ovens or Tumut wattle, this is an acacia with which we are all familiar. But generally, we see it in yellow and green.


Ulli Brunnschweiler - Acacia pravissima

Amongst the colour works the standouts for me include David Bassett’s Feeding Gang-Gang and Imperial Jezabel. This Queanbeyan author’s nature imagery – indeed all his varied artworks - are consistently excellent and these are no exception.


David Bassett - Imperial Jezabel

Local professional and photography teacher Irene Lorbergs has contributed several fine prints - Honeyeater and Macrocarpa, Bee and Flower, and Banksia. The latter is suggestive of a delicious tasting cupcake.


Irene Lorbergs - Banskia

Pam Rooney’s winning Woolly Banksia image superbly displays what can only be described as delicate tracery.


Pam Rooney - Woolly Banksia

Bill Hall’s vulnerable Thick-lip Spider Orchid shows great detail and makes excellent use of complementary colours. Steve Playford’s Bejeweled Qualup Bell does the same with virtually identical colours.


Bill Hall - Thick-lip Spider Orchid


Steve Playford - Bejeweled Qualap Bell

Graham Gall’s Juvenile Male Satin Bowerbird shows the bird’s soft, mostly green and brown, colours amongst similar greens and browns of the foliage. The rich blue of the bird’s eye is striking and commands attention.


Graham Gall - Juvenile Male Satin Bowerbird

Jim Gould’s Baby Blue Flowers is a visually pleasing selection of a small piece of a silver-leaved mountain gum, clearly showing viewers how its flowers bud in groups of three; white flowers and cup-shaped to cylindrical fruit.

Jim Gould - Baby Blue Flowers

All the prints are worthy of close examination, and I encourage readers who can do so to visit and see for themselves.

Both framed works and unframed prints are for sale. Unique gifts of cards, calendars, photo bags and more are also on display and available for purchase. A percentage of sales go to the Friends for projects in the Gardens.

Visitors can also check out the 2022 Calendar that is available in the bookshop; all images produced by the Photographic Group members.

The exhibition supports and raises awareness of the aims and values of the ANBG and highlights the Gardens’ wide-ranging diversity of flora and fauna through the medium of photography. The participating members of the Photographic Group should be pleased and proud of their contributions.

Any reader who would like more information on the Photographic Group should email photo@friends.org.au. The Group encourages potential speakers and new members.

This review is also on the author's own blog here.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Uncalibrated Space

Photomedia | Brian Rope

Rory Gillen | Uncalibrated Space

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | Until 16 December 2021

Rory Gillen is a Canberra-based audio-visual and new media artist and educator. He has worked extensively in documentary and event photography, as well as maintaining an arts practice exploring the cutting edge of post-digital and networked photographic art. Working across photography, audio, video, and electronics, Gillen creates multisensory installations that critically engage. 

Graduating from the ANU School of Art and Design in 2019 with first class honours, Gillen has exhibited in various galleries, including Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Brunswick Street Gallery (Victoria), and the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art.

Gillen is sometimes referred to as the resident tech nerd at Photoaccess where he currently works developing post digital programming and workspaces as well as tutoring and facilitating visiting artists in their practice and technical skills.

Many scholars consider us to be in the era of ‘Post Digital’. What does this mean for photography; its analogue form in some ways already consigned to the dustbin of history by theorists who insist that we live in a post-media era?

In a recently streamed conversation with another multidisciplinary artist Gillen dived deep into the changing face of photographic practice. He suggested, correctly, that whilst digital photography is essentially about capturing data, post digital is about investigating it and exploring concepts that silently exist in the data set. As someone who was amongst the first computer programmers in Australia and who watched the ones and zeros coming together as light dots on a bulky “pre-computer” whilst debugging my programs, I am fascinated now when people speak about manipulating ones and zeros - akin to manipulating negatives in darkrooms.

In his artistic practice, Gillen is fascinated by “the digital paradigm shift toward the fundamental machine readability of objects, exemplified by the digital image”. Here he explores the facets that deep learning carves into images and investigates “the underlying machinations of the algorithms themselves” posing the question “what is real, and how do we know”?

This exhibition comprises twelve inkjet prints plus a mixed media installation showing faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects – and much more. Aluminium, plywood, a desktop computer, wires and miscellaneous electronics are all part of the installation, without them there would be no screen images to see.


3500 Steps From Illustrations, 2021 © Rory Gillen


3500 Steps From Objects, 2021 © Rory Gillen

The prints relationships to faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects is not immediately obvious. At first glance I asked myself why one smaller print was of parked cars with a music stand amongst them. Closer inspection revealed that the stand was in fact supporting a copy of one of the larger prints. The same is true for other smaller prints of a landscape, Gillen’s own face, and an illustrative poster – stands in each of them support copies of larger prints in the exhibition. Four large prints titled 3500 Steps from Faces, etc. are curated grids of images resulting from heavy manipulation of ones and zeros.

 

Untitled Source Image IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen

Untitled Source Image II, 2021 © Rory Gillen

There is so much to look at, so much to wonder about. Images on the computer screen are mesmerising, flashing on and off at a rapid rate. Individual images on a larger LCD screen have a dreamlike quality. I saw cartoon-like faces, old hand made nails, overhead views of building site plans, hieroglyphics and lenses. Whatever you see you will enjoy.

 


Uncalibrated Space IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen



Uncalibrated Space III, 2021 © Rory Gillen

Grant Scott, the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, has written “The role of the 21st century photographer has changed and is constantly evolving. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the engaged photographer to understand that reality and to respond to those changes.” Gillen is so engaged. We can expect the future to bring us many more manipulated and appropriated artworks from him and others.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 27/11/21 here. It is also on the author's own blog here.

 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Chiaroscuro

 

Chiaroscuro by David Atfield.  Canberra Theatre, Courtyard Studio, November 25-27 2021

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 25

Writer & Director David Atfield
Designer Rose Montgomery
Lightning Designer Gillian Schwab
Intimacy Choreographer Liz Lea
Design Assistant Imogen Keen
Company and Stage Manager Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak

Cast:
Caravaggio Mark Salvestro
Gregorio Shae Kelly

David Atfield is not the first to imagine that Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio may have been homosexual.  In the 1986 movie Caravaggio (1h 29 min  18+), directed by Derek Jarman, “The volatile life of the eponymous 17th-century painter is gorgeously re-imagined through his brilliant, near-blasphemous paintings and flirtations with the underworld. With Tilda Swinton, Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gough, and Nigel Terry in the title role.
https://www.amazon.com/Caravaggio-Noam-Almaz/dp/B00241VL42  ]

At https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/books/reviews/caravaggio990711.htm Richard E. Spears wrote in 1999:
Fascination with Caravaggio's art and life is at an historic high, to judge from the quantity of writings about him, not just exhibition catalogues and scholarly studies but plays, mystery stories, novels and Derek Jarman's boldly homoerotic film, "Caravaggio." For the past year alone I count at least 25 new titles, including a thesis on "The Life and Legend of Caravaggio Interpreted through Fiction and Film."

But Atfield has made a work of art about a work of art: The Raising of Lazarus.

Michelangelo’s model for Lazarus, Gregorio, thinks that can’t be the artist’s real name because Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine Chapel, “has been dead for fifty years”.  Gregorio makes most of his money from being a “whore” for gentlemen.  He (and we) soon discover that this Michelangelo makes money being contracted by rich gentlemen to paint Biblical scenes which they donate to churches.  Though he’s not exactly a gentleman, a sexual relationship with Gregorio develops because, to the artist, his model is “beautiful”.

For Gregorio the money-making becomes problematic.  He reaches a point where he refuses to be paid for the work as a model; but does that mean Michelangelo should pay him for sex?  Or is there a sincere love between them – a ‘connection’, as Gregorio says?

Shae Kelly as Gregorio; Mark Salvestro as Caravaggio

So, from this angle, the play sheds light in our time on a broader question than just the acceptance of homosexuality, but even to the legal and political issue of the nature of consent.  When they both drink too much, jealousy and misunderstandings become violent.  Michelangelo might well have killed Gregorio  - reminding me of Kenneth Halliwell’s murder of the playwright Joe Orton; and of the women killed at the rate of one a week in Australia by men.

Atfield could have written a very good play about these real life matters, but this play is about the shades of light for which Caravaggio was so famous, and which shifted arts practice.  It was said that a Caravaggio painting was like a poem.  A poem uses words as the painter brushes on the colour – Caravaggio was said not to draw but only to work directly with the brush.  The imaginative use of words in poetry creates images and meanings out of the ordinary; while a whole poem can become a metaphor which changes the reader’s perception of the ordinary.

So a shift comes about in Chiaroscuro as Caravaggio works at re-creating the here-and-now Gregorio into Lazarus – what does the image of Lazarus mean?  Lazarus who has died and four days later is miraculously brought back to life by Jesus.  When Michelangelo killed his friend/rival, why did this innocent not see the wonder of heaven as he died?  Michelangelo saw only terror in his victim’s eyes.  Did Lazarus see nothingness as he died the first time?  What does he mean to hold his hand up towards Christ – seeking to return to the here-and-now because there is no heaven; or to warn us all not to believe in Jesus’ words?

Then the painter, Caravaggio, sees Gregorio in a new light.  He becomes Lazarus insisting on partaking in life, in the ordinary world, not even on the outer in the way Caravaggio is as the painter – as the artist.  At the point when Caravaggio knows how to finish the painting of “The Raising of Lazarus”, Gregorio leaves him for real life.  And Caravaggio knows that after death, as Lazarus knows, there is absolutely nothing.

And in writing this play, David Atfield shows the meaning of Caravaggio’s painting as a marker in history of the beginning of disbelief in religion – while we see the raising of religion, a new Lazarus, in our Parliament this very week, with MPs arguing futilely about ‘religious protection’ and ‘religious discrimination’, to allow religious institutions to discriminate against homosexuals.  We heard, as the play was ending on Thursday evening, from a Christian gay woman teacher who has been dismissed by a Christian school just because she is gay.  Check out Q&A on ABC TV, November 25, 2021.

Chiaroscuro, a play of the light and the dark, is a work of art; a poem in 70 minutes; a Caravaggio of his time and ours.







CHIAROSCURO

 



Written and directed by David Atfield

The Courtyard, Canberra Theatre Centre to 28 November

 

Reviewed by Len Power 25 November 2021

 

In ‘Chiaroscuro’, David Atfield has taken a painting by the artist Caravaggio as inspiration for his new play that focusses on a short period of the artist’s life in Sicily and his fictitious relationship with a young male prostitute.

‘The Raising of Lazarus’ was painted in about 1609 and hangs in the Museo Regionale, Messina in Sicily.  Caravaggio lived and painted in Sicily for some time after fleeing from Rome as a result of a murder he had committed.

In the play, Caravaggio has employed the prostitute, Gregorio, as the model for his painting of Lazarus.  A relationship develops between them as work on the painting progresses.  The two men are very different.  Caravaggio seems intelligent and educated in comparison to the young man who is street-wise with coarsely original views on life and religion.

Mark Salvestro is a thoughtful and sensitive Caravaggio in his relationship with the young man and he also displays a steely resolve under the surface and a hint that violence is not far away.  Shae Kelly is convincing as Gregorio, a rough young man living on his wits who has seen the dark side of human nature in his work as a prostitute.

Shae Kelly (Gregorio) and Mark Salvestro (Caravaggio)

The contrast between these two very different men mirrors the light and dark, the chiaroscuro, in Caravaggio’s paintings.  While this is a fictional story about the artist, Atfield’s skilful character writing draws us into this relationship between the two men.  The use of modern day language and expression gives this period story greater accessibility for today’s audiences.

The set and costume design by Rose Montgomery nicely evokes a sense of the period and the lighting design by Gillian Schwab is excellent, capturing the look of Caravaggio’s art.

Atfield keeps the story moving at a good pace.  The intimate scenes between the men are played with sensitivity.  He has obtained in-depth performances from his actors but the amount of nudity in the production seemed excessive, given that in the finished painting, Lazarus is modestly covered.  The growing relationship between these men and its outcome was of more interest than the eroticism.

Without giving away too much plot-wise, the sudden introduction of a supernatural element at the end of the play seemed contrived.  Nevertheless, this play has well-written characters, a period story that is compelling and engaging and a fine production design.

Photo by Sam Kennedy-Hine

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’, ‘Arts About’ and ‘Arts Starter’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.

CHIAROSCURO

 

Shae Kelly (Gregorio) - Mark Salvestro (Caravaggio)

Written and Directed by David Atfield.

Designed by Rose Montgomery.  Lighting Design by Gillian Schwab.

Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre 25 – 28th November 2021.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Chiaroscuro is the inaugural presentation by the Canberra Theatre Centre in its New Works Development Program which was announced earlier in the year. This program is designed to support the creation and presentation of new performance work from Canberra Artists.

As one of the first beneficiaries of this program, Canberra playwright, David Atfield, was granted a four-week rehearsal and presentation residency to develop his play “Chiaroscuro”. The residency involved two weeks in the rehearsal room, one week for technical rehearsals and five performances. The residency also included all venue and associated costs, including technical, box office and front-of-house staff, as well as artist fees for up to four artists, with the centre funding all marketing and publicity for the presentation. Originally programmed for presentation in August, Covid restrictions delayed the premiere of “Chiaroscuro” until this month.

One of Canberra’s most experienced playwrights; Atfield is a NIDA graduate who had studied drama previously at UNSW and acting at the Ensemble. His play Lovely Louise, about silent-film star Louise Lovely, was selected for the 1998 Australian National Playwrights Conference. Since then he has written and directed several plays, mainly gay themed, including Pink Triangles, Scandalous Boy and Exclusion.

In a similar vein, Chiaroscuro is inspired by Atfield’s intense reaction to the Caravaggio painting, “The Raising of Lazarus” which he encountered some years ago during a visit to Messina in Sicily. The play concerns an imaginary relationship between the artist Caravaggio, (Mark Salvestro), and a male prostitute Gregorio (Shae Kelly) hired by Caravaggio as the model for the figure of Lazarus in his painting.

As the painting progresses, so does the relationship between Caravaggio and Gregorio, who challenge each other with probing questions about their religious beliefs and sexuality. “You smell like someone who’s been dead for four days, but it was more than your smell that attracted me to you” Caravaggio informs Gregorio, early in the play, in response to Gregorio’s query as to why Caravaggio chose him as his model for Lazarus.

Atfield’s production and direction is uncompromising, confronting and occasionally frustratingly ambiguous.  The dialogue often seems unnecessarily crude with the actors speaking with Australian accents, initially rough and streetwise for Gregorio, more cultured for Caravaggio.  As the play progresses however, Gregorio’s language changes as his questions and responses become more erudite, until the final denouement when he exits unexpectedly, leaving the audience to wonder whether there was not more to Gregorio than originally presented.

Both the actors acquit themselves well in challenging roles.  Mark Salvestro is particularly effective in capturing Caravaggio’s increasing anguish as he wrestles with the conflicts between his religious beliefs and his sexuality.  Remarkably unselfconscious, considering he is required to spend almost the entire play on stage naked, Shae Kelly gives a brave and convincing performance as the streetwise young prostitute, Gregorio.

Although Rose Montgomery’s setting makes effective use of the limited space, and is successful in suggesting the disarray of an artist’s studio, her lack of attention to detail was jarring. As items such as Caravaggio’s paint brush, canvas and easel, wine bottle stopper, and underpants are modern, perhaps this ambiguity was intended. If so, it was distracting.

Nor was it helped by Gillian Schwab’s too bright lighting design, which given that the word used for the title of the play, chiaroscuro, describes the technique famously used by Caravaggio in his treatment of contrasting light and shadow, too often missed the opportunities provided by the setting to capture the theatricality of Caravaggio’s’ painting.

These reservations aside, Chiaroscuro is an ambitious, thought-provoking and entertaining play by David Atfield and an auspicious inaugural presentation for the Canberra Theatre Centre’s New Works Development Program. 


                                                    Image: Sam Kennedy-Hine 


              This review also appears in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

New Platform Papers No 1

 

New Platform Papers No 1, Currency House, November 2021.
Contact: Martin Portus
Phone 0401 360 806
mportus2@tpg.com.au

Preview by Frank McKone

The Platform Papers series published by Currency House, previously directed by Katharine Brisbane, is taking a new approach, under the new General Editor, theatre director and academic Julian Meyrick

Katharine provides in her Christmas Greetings an outline of changes, especially in the status of women, that have taken place over the two decades of her leadership in setting up Currency House, following her stepping down as publisher of Currency Press.

Rather than each Platform Paper being an essay by a single expert contributor, this New Platform Paper contains five papers, with additional material:

No 1. Imagination, the Arts and Economics  
Introduction: A Snail May Put His Horns Out, Harriet Parsons  
Models, Uncertainty and Imagination in Economics, Richard Bronk  
What’s Wrong with Cannibalism? Jonathan Biggins and John Quiggin  
You Can Sing (Averagely)! Astrid Jorgensen  
Afterword: Looking Back and Looking Forwards, Ian Maxwell

Rather than offer a summary of the complex arguments and practical experiences presented by such a variety show of commentators, here is a selection of quotes which hopefully will stir your social, political and artistic interests and knowledge.

Julian Meyrick explains:

The first issue of the New Platform Papers published in this volume arose out of an event which will be central to the series from now on, an annual Authors’ Convention. The Convention itself was the initiative of my colleague, the new Director of Currency House and Katharine’s daughter, Harriet Parsons. A brilliant addition to our activities, the Convention is a two-day public gathering where we invite the authors of Platform Papers to come together to reflect on a given theme.


Harriet Parsons (Wurundjeri country)
Introduction: A Snail May Put His Horns Out


We have to decide what changes we are willing to make if we are to plan a route, not just out of the pandemic, but off the dangerous course we have been following for the past forty years. The arts may seem an unlikely point man for this operation. We have become more like a snail than a butterfly, withdrawn inside the protection of its shell, but as the eighteenth-century radical Thomas Spence once wrote, ‘a snail may put his horns out’.

 
This first volume of the New Platform Papers is devoted to exploring how our imaginations became captives of the ‘dismal science’, and the role the arts can play in leading the way out.


Richard Bronk (United Kingdom)
Models, Uncertainty and Imagination in Economics


The coordination properties of models and their associated narratives—their tendency when internalised to frame expectations and influence behaviour and outcomes—makes them an instrument of corporate or government power. And this power may—initially at least—be in inverse proportion to the degree of humility with which the narrative or model is promulgated.


The poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, underlined the role of imagination in sympathy and therefore morality in his Defence of Poetry:
A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of the moral good is the imagination—and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.

 
Such sympathetic identification with the plight of others is often seen as the quintessential opposite of the narrow self-interest of homo economicus.
…we all have no choice but to imagine the future, interpret the creative interpretations that others place on their predicaments, and invent new ways of making sense of our own.

Jonathan Biggins and John Quiggin (Awabakal and Worimi country / Turrbal and Jagera country)
What’s Wrong with Cannibalism?


Jonathan Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal was prompted by the British national debt crisis of 1729. Having offered conventional solutions in a number of essays, he turned to satire in frustration, proposing that landlords eat the children of their poor tenants:
I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children …

 
Swift’s A Modest Proposal seems, yes, a ludicrous idea, but then look at Airbnb, where you monetise your family home. The home was the sacred hearth of the family. But then someone came up with the idea of selling part of it to strangers on a nightly basis. We recently toured to Orange in regional New South Wales. It has 364 Airbnbs, but no-one can rent a house there.


At an artistic level, much of our cultural policy is now being dictated by social media platforms, and artists are increasingly self-censoring. We were recently told not to portray non-Caucasian characters in the Wharf Revue. We were portraying Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, two of the most powerful people in the world. I find it extraordinary that satirists are now being told who they can and can’t offend. I would have thought the point was to offend everybody.


Harriet Parsons asks:  So is the universal basic income the answer for the arts?
JQ:  I’m certainly a proponent of a version of the universal basic income, which is the level of income guarantee, which would include a basic living standard for artists engaged in creative work. It differs in the sense that you don’t give it to Gina Rinehart and try to extract it back through taxes, you only expand the provision of basic incomes. But that would provide a basic income to anybody who wanted to apply themselves to creative work. That is something we could and should do.

Astrid Jorgensen (Turrbal and Jagera country)
You Can Sing (Averagely)!


I could not wrap my head around the fact that teenagers were spending every second of their lives consumed by music while simultaneously proclaiming to hate Music, the subject. They would walk into the classroom with their favourite singer blasting in their headphones, then take the headphones out, slump in their chair and despise singing with me for 50 minutes. I started to worry that I was ruining music-making for children, which was a heavy burden to bear.


[Astrid left school teaching to set up the well-known Pub Choir, which in the pandemic lockdowns became Couch Choir online, attracting participants from all over the world.]


But there was one thing still bothering me. None of these choirs reflected me in any way. Each of my seven choirs were either made up of kids forced to sing by their parents, or were mostly white, semi-retirees. There is nothing unpleasant about working with either group. But as a 20-something Asian woman myself, it was confusing to me that none of my peers wanted to sing.

So in 2017, after years of friends declining to sing with me, I wrote a list. On it, I put every excuse I’d ever heard about what stopped somebody from joining a choir:
Auditions
Time commitment
Having to compete/perform
Reading sheet music
Unfamiliar repertoire

General choir lameness
Having a bad singing voice
.


I determined to solve all of these roadblocks. Thus, Pub Choir was born.
Not always in a pub, the trademarked name, Pub Choir, describes my musical act. It’s a ticketed show during which I transform an audience—any audience—into a functional choir.


I believe that Pub Choir gives people the opportunity to embrace and value mediocrity and truly, madly, deeply embrace their averageness. There is a freedom in a crowd where you are genuinely unimportant. Nobody believes that they have become a better singer at Pub Choir. They just feel less afraid to share whatever horrible voice they have. If one person forgets what to sing, someone nearby will remember. Some people sing flat, some sing sharp, some sing too early, some too late and the overall effect is a rich, full, electrifying average. Our audiences reclaim music-making back into their lives, realising that singing belonged to them all along.


The diversity within Couch Choir participants was remarkable. In one song we had 5,000 participants from 45 countries. We received submissions from places we had never considered visiting, like Kazakhstan and Norway. People sent videos from their farms, their wheelchairs, from houseboats, using sign language. They were younger, older, more colourful. Couch Choir was the distillation of what I had always hoped Pub Choir would be: regular, diverse people feeling personally empowered to contribute to the whole.


Sure, it’s not peer-reviewed research, it’s just 613 people who chose to participate. But when 100 per cent of them self-report that their mental health is improved by joining in, it’s worth taking note. Singing—even online—made them feel happier, more connected and more hopeful. And they thought it was an experience worth fighting for. Art has always been more than just entertainment or a distraction. Art can heal us.

Ian Maxwell (Cadigal and Darramuragal country)
Afterword: Looking Back and Looking Forwards


Exhaustion, then, is integral to the [arts] field at the best of times. In the context of the acute crisis of the current Covid-19 epidemic, the arts eat their young…. [leading to] three questions, which were put to the Convention for further discussion. Four key themes emerged. First, the proposition that art and culture are fundamental to the sustainability of society; second, that those engaged in the fields of art and culture do not have the capital to support them; third, that the arts are exhausted; and fourth, that its professionals have been pitted against each other in the competition for resources, with the result that the sector has become fragmented and unable to advocate for its interests as a whole.


Ambiguity is the strength of art, as well as its weakness. Historically—indeed from Plato onwards—the protean, make-believe, liminal nature of theatre—and the recent genres that take up the even more equivocal trope of ‘performance’—has generated profound anxiety and moral panics.


Our challenge is to resist reprising old arguments that belong to the past, and instead peer through the lens of new experiences with the eye of imagination. That, I hope, is the project Currency House has set before us, and towards which the inaugural Convention of 2021 has made the critical first step.

For interviews, review or purchase, please contact Martin Portus.