Monday, July 27, 2020

The Body Electric

Photography Review by Brian Rope

Various artists: The Body Electric

National Gallery of Australia | Until 26 January 2021

The Body Electric presents works by 25 woman-identifying artists, pioneers with respect to recent photography and video. It is about sex, pleasure, and desire; celebrates women’s erotic experiences; explores stories of domestic intimacy and love; examines how women’s sexuality has historically been represented; and shows sex, love, and loss as an animating part of human experience.

On the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) website, Curator Anne O’Hehir highlights one of the artists, Nan Goldin. O’Hehir notes that, historically, photography has played a pivotal role in the way sex and sexuality are seen in society; images of women by heterosexual men for heterosexual men dominating. This exhibition reveals a different view to us. O’Hehir’s piece is well worth reading before visiting.

A tender image by Pixy Liao used on the NGA website to represent the exhibition on its listing of current exhibitions clearly illustrates intimacy. Her other works shown are sexy and surreal.

Pixy Liao - Some words are just between us from Experimental relationship 2010
chromogenic photograph, 40.6 (h) x 50.8 (w) cm
image courtesy of the artist

Australian Polly Borland is also represented. Others have said her artistic work tends to marry the infantile with a sexual interest in parts of the body other than the sexual organs. The examples here are consistent with that view.

Polly Borland - MORPH 9 2018
pigment inkjet print, 200 (h) x 162.5 (w) cm
image courtesy of the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne
© Polly Borland

A 1976 work by Jo Ann Callis portrays an anonymous woman seated, holding a flashlight in one hand. Decide for yourself what her purpose is but, almost certainly, we are meant to think about masturbation.

Jo Ann Callis - Untitled (woman with flashlight) c 1976
pigment inkjet print, 40.6 (h) x 50.8 (w) cm
image courtesy of ROSEGALLERY, © the artist

Christine Godden shows us her own umbilicus in a simple selfie. The title of this work is Self. Sunny day in winter 1974. An alternate title used for this image is Jeans and jumper. Both titles are simple descriptions of things in the image, leaving the interpretation of it open to us as viewers. Many of Godden’s works are intended to show ‘how women see and how women think’.


Christine Godden - Self. Sunny day in winter 1974
gelatin silver photograph, 14.9 (h) x 22.6 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
gift of the artist 1987, © the artist

Works by Nan Goldin are much more powerful. Again, titles are simple, but there is strong material in these images.

Nan Goldin - Nan and Brian in bed, NYC 1983
dye destruction photograph, 39 (h) x 59.9 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1994, © the artist

Likewise, to the casual observer, a beautiful backlit transparency by Petrina Hicks might be seen simply as a photo of a woman hiding her face behind a rather lovely conch shell. However, the shape of the shell immediately speaks of the pleasure and desire this exhibition is about.


Petrina Hicks - Venus from the series The Shadows 2013
backlit transparent archival film (lightbox), 118.5 (h) x 118.5 (w) cm
image courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Fiona Pardington rephotographed found erotic 1950s images of women. Intended for publication in men’s magazines as pornographic fodder, they fit neatly into her thinking that photography is deeply sexy.

Collier Schorr challenges binary notions of gender and sexuality, reflecting both her queerness and desire. She asserts that her photographs of men and boys are of ‘women’.

Francesca Woodman plays hide and seek with her own body, producing intense yet witty and playful images.

Claire Lambe contributes a provocative red image that allows viewers to muse extensively as to what she is seeking to say to us.

Claire Lambe - Untitled (red Emily) 2017

chromogenic photograph, 94 (h) x 140 (w) cm

image courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents

An exhibition such as this must include work by Cindy Sherman. Here is a disturbingly explicit view of a female doll crouched on knees with a ready plastic orifice.

Cindy Sherman - Untitled #255 2018
chromogenic photograph, 114.9 (h) x 173.4 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1997, chromogenic print, © the artist

I invited my wife to accompany me to the exhibition so that I might witness her reactions and discuss the works. I also observed other visitors, mostly older women. But none of them, of whatever age or gender, revealed their thoughts to me.

Another of the included photographers, Annie Sprinkle, is quoted as saying “I want to tell women that they are sexually powerful beings, but they often don’t get in touch with it because they are socialised to please men.” Is that still true today? Each of us will have our own thoughts.

This review was originally commissioned by the Canberra Times but not used by them. I have also published on my personal blog today at

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Selby and Friends perform Beethoven’s 'Ghost.'

                                      Selby and Friends perform Beethoven’s 'Ghost.'

Selby and Friends: “Beethoven’s Ghost.” Artistic director/pianist, Kathryn Selby with guest artists, young Australian virtuoso violinist Harry Ward and Timo-Veikko Valve, principal cellist, ACO,  performed and filmed live at City Recital Hall, Sydney, July 6. Reviewed by Jennifer Gall

 Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1 No.3; Beethoven's Transcription of his Symphony No.2 and Piano Trio in D major, Op.70 No.1 'Ghost'.

 While the critics were divided in their opinions about Beethoven’s debut piano performance in March 1795, perhaps the most evocative account was written by virtuoso viola da gamba player and composer, Johannes Schenk when he described Beethoven’s playing:

It had the clarity of daylight at high noon! Casual figures developed into rich motifs, full of truth and beauty. Suddenly he changed into an entirely different key and expressed the most violent passion. More gentle modulations led in turn to a divine melody, and now, the bewitching tones of the piano became melancholy, playful and with a touch of roguery…. his playing was as superb as his inventiveness.

Selby and Friends captured the essence of the young Beethoven in this, the third concert of their 2020 season. A fresh addition to the ensemble was young violinist Harry Ward, who brought a combination of confidence and daring with his appearance. Timo-Veikko Valve is one of those extraordinary musicians who seems to have the notes leap towards him willingly from the instrument without seeming to expend too much effort. His touch on the finger board appears light and the arrow-sharp aim of his bowing leaves no room for slips or inaccuracies. Kathy Selby was at ease as piano anchor despite Beethoven’s demanding transcription of the Second Symphony piano trio.

This concert was filmed on the stage of the City Recital Hall, and the quality of the sound and the close-up photography was impeccable; the balance between the instruments perhaps the best I have heard for the line-up.  An on-line concert is an intriguing experience, as the proximity of the camera to the musicians suggests intimacy, but of course, the musicians are at an un-bridgeable distance from their audience. There may be a whole new area of academic inquiry into musical reception launched by the upsurge of online concerts stimulated by the pandemic!

The Trio Op.1 No.3 was a fitting beginning, with the seductive opening phrase leading onward from Ward’s violin into the body-swaying waltz-time melody embraced by the ensemble. There was a nice rapport between violin and cello and the tone of the instruments blended sympathetically - the stately opening chords rolling into a rollicking Allegro con brio tinged with a hint of Beethoven’s ‘roguery’. Following on, the Andante cantabile had a psalm-like beauty and equanimity, contrasting with the lively third movement Menuetto and resolution into a rousing final movement.

Beethoven’s reworking of his Second Symphony into a piano trio was a shrewd move creatively and financially. His admirers could hear and play the stirring composition in a new and more intense form. The dramatic dynamic and tempo contrasts worked extremely well in the smaller ensemble setting and Selby and Friend’s interpretation featured passionate interactions between the stringed instruments and a piano commentary varying from delicate remarks to emphatic interjections – as Schenk described, ‘rich motifs, full of truth and beauty’.

In the second, slow movement of The Ghost, we heard the loveliest moments of the concert. The Largo creates a sanctuary in the structure of the Trio, a reflective space after the energetic scalic passages of the opening movement leading into the Presto final movement – on this occasion played at a spacious and lively tempo with warmth and tenderness.

While we all look ahead to the return of live music concerts, we will remember these performances by Selby and Friends as oases in the strange 2020 world of Covid-19.




Friday, July 17, 2020

Winter session #1 "In Conversation" with Chris Endrey

The Canberra Critics Circle kicked off its annual Winter Conversations this week, with ex-Canberran all-rounder Chris Endrey our first guest.

Report by Samara Purnell

Helen Musa OAM and Chris Endrey

The critics were lucky enough to find themselves nicely spaced-out (physically at least) and hosted under strict Covid-safe practices at The Street Theatre, where we spent an hour listening to and probing Endrey (gently for the most part), on his study, work, desires and creative pursuits.

Endrey is a familiar face around Canberra, a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to creative and artistic creations and interests. He has interviewed heavy-weights, written and performed extensively across many platforms of music, songs and plays, including a local version of Eurovision - "Canbeurovision". 

He also holds a degree from the ANU that covers museum curatorship, physics and music!

Endrey is currently involved, during lock-down, with the Canberra Theatre Centre's online program, hosting his own variety show, "The World From Here with Chris Endrey". 

Endrey had just released his second album earlier this year and was about to embark on a tour, when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all the tour dates. Endrey spoke with resignation about how that specific moment in time, momentum, relevance and feeling will never be available again, regarding his album tour. But he acknowledges that lock-down did offer different opportunities to both himself and audiences, albeit not always the ones we want. 

Endrey used this isolation time to bring awareness to recognising opportunity when it came his way, even ones in a form he may not have expected or been aiming for. He spoke of trying to gain an ability to see, appreciate or act on those when they arose and related this to the artistic population in general.

Spaced out at The Street Theatre

The socially-distanced critics "In Conversation"

The overarching desire to be authentic and genuine informs Endrey's artistic creations and even upon answering some of the questions asked of him by the critics, he took the time to ensure he was giving a genuinely thoughtful answer, including to the question "Are you elitist!" Questions around "eliteness", including the fact it isn't an actual word, arose as this is the topic of one of Endrey's shows.

When it comes to making a comfortable living, Endrey pulls no punches about how difficult a path it is to maintain creative integrity and to earn an income, as it is for many artists. But it is a path he has no plans to deviate from. His search for meaningful connections, in all forms, and truth and exploration, without compromise, clearly define the parameters of his work. 

In relation to the comments we hear ad nauseum about Canberra being boring or that nothing is going on in the creative fields here, Endrey is steadfastly defensive. He does acknowledge, however, that it is a difficult place to make those discoveries and connections and likens it to little terrorist cells trying to find each other.

The topic of who chooses to pursue artforms as a career was brought up and Endrey suggested that there are likely many people here with creative inclinations. He believes that the overall wealth of Canberrans and the specific, local job market likely contributes to few people actively working towards play-writing, publishing works, film-making and so on. The lack of extreme personal wealth and philanthropy being directly channeled into the arts is mentioned as another challenge to the local arts scene.

"Stuck" for the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future on the outskirts of Canberra, Endrey accepts it may be a while before he can return to Melbourne. 

The critics speak to Chris Endrey

Endrey is very open and analytical in his discussions and before we knew it, the time was up, drinks were downed and we dashed off into the cold Canberra night, farewelling our multi-talented guest from a Covid-safe distance.

Monday, July 13, 2020


Written and directed by Alexis Michalik

Alliance French Film Festival 2020

Palace Cinemas from 14 July to 4 August

Previewed by Len Power 12 July 2020

A movie based on real incidents and characters might not be historically true but sometimes you wish it was.  Such is the case with ‘Edmond’, a hugely entertaining film from start to finish.‘Edmond’ is a 2019 French dramatic comedy written and directed by Alexis Michalik.  It’s an adaptation of his highly successful 2016 play of the same title, which premiered in Paris in 2016.

In 1897 in Paris, the struggling young poet-playwright, Edmond Rostand, impetuously offers a role in a play to the famous actor, Constant Coquelin.  The only problem is that the play is not yet written.  He only has a title – ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ – and only three weeks to complete it.  Distracted by the love stories of his best friend, temperamental actresses, the jealousy of his wife and the lack of enthusiasm of those around him, Edmond tries to write this play in which nobody believes.

The recreation of theatre life in 1890s Paris in this film is masterful.  Chaos reigns backstage with the casting of plays often for reasons other than skill or talent.  Temperamental stars rule the day and companies seem close to being shut down for financial and other reasons.  Against all odds, Rostand emerges triumphantly with a play that stands the test of time.

Thomas Solivérès as Edmond Rostand

The performances in this film are delicious.  At the centre of the film, Thomas Solivérès gives an endearing performance as the anxious Edmond Rostand.  Olivier Gourmet is a charismatic Constant Coquelin, the first actor to play Cyrano and Maria Legault is delightful as the temperamental actress, Mathilde Seiner, playing the love interest, Roxanne.  The handsome Tom Leeb is perfectly cast as the actor Léo Volny who plays the dashing but not very bright young lover, Christian.

Sarah Bernhardt, played with all stops out by Clémentine Célarié, darts in and out of the film as does Georges Feydeu, the famous French farce playwright, played by the director of the movie himself, Alexis Michalik.  A huge cast of character actors give great support to these leading performers.

It’s not surprising that many situations detailed in the play are inspired by Rostand’s day to day experiences with these colourful characters.  It’s great fun seeing how he incorporates them along the way.  It’s not necessary to know the play in detail but, if you do, you’ll have a wonderful time recognizing these incidents.

One of the highlights of this film is a laugh out loud scene involving a hotel reception clerk that is pure Feydeu farce.  Surprisingly, it’s a hapless Georges Feydeu himself who is caught up in it!

If you love theatre and the colourful characters that inhabit it, don’t miss this one.  It’s a joy from start to finish.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at