Saturday, October 16, 2021

Madeline Bishop wins her second Iris Award

Photography

Madeline Bishop is a photo artist now based in Melbourne. However, she grew up in Canberra, began her career here, and regularly visits the capital - and her family - when you know what permits. She completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours) at the ANU in 2013, before gaining her Master of Fine Arts (First Class Honours), at the University of Melbourne in 2016.

Some, if not all, of Bishop’s family members have been subjects for her evocative people imagery. So too many friends have found themselves called on as subjects. Her 2014 show at Photo Access exploring the complexity of sisterhood and female relationships is a case in point.

This artist has had considerable success, including being a finalist in the Bowness Photography Prize, the Alan Fineman New Photography Award, the National Photographic Portrait Prize, and the Maggie Diaz Photography Prize. She was also Artist in Residence at Canberra’s Photoaccess in 2014, Photographer in Residence at Carriageworks (NSW 2018), and was a Firecracker Photographic Grant Winner (UK 2020).

In addition to participating in numerous group shows, Bishop to date has had at least thirteen solo exhibitions commencing with three in Canberra - Familial/Familiar at the ANU in 2013, then 80 Denier at Photoaccess and Monuments at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, both in 2014. Since then, she has also exhibited in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Tasmania. Right now, her Without Your Mother series is showing at Sawtooth ARI gallery in Launceston.

In 2016 Bishop won the Iris Award (Perth Centre of Photography, WA). Her winning image, Liz and Talulah, was from The In Between series exhibited here at Photo Access in early 2018. That series explored the construction of women's identities and the development of relationships within domestic space, using her share house as a site and constructed photographic images as a tool to "consider the social malleability of liminal space and the relationships forged within it".

Now she has just won the Iris Award again with her image Neil and Vasantha, from another series, Without your mother. Her artist statement for this series reads “We begin our lives looking for our mothers. Do we ever stop looking for them and do they ever stop looking for us? As we grow, we attempt to detach ourselves in order to become independent and live adult lives. What remnants of this relationship that defines our early lives remain in the distance of adulthood? Our memories morph, the details become duller and distorted over time and we’re left with a summarised version of what might have happened, similar to a photograph. Some edges will blur and some will sharpen until those are the only parts we can remember.”


Neil and Vasantha © Madeline Bishop


Julie and Jacqui © Madeline Bishop
    

Shashi Meera and Simran © Madeline Bishop



Stef and Marina © Madeline Bishop


Margaret and Liz © Madeline Bishop

Those who consider photography prizes awarding single images to be unfortunate would be extremely pleased that Bishop has had opportunities to show the full series from which her Iris Award prize winners have come.

The artist’s website, www.madelinebishop.com, seems to me to present her works very much as she generally presents them in exhibitions. It also includes images showing her installations in galleries, which reveal her choices to sometimes hang works low near the floor - or even on it. At least some photo historians would wish she had also shown images of exhibitions that included people viewing the works, considering such shots can reveal a great deal about the public response to an exhibition.

Canberra can be proud of Bishop - and indeed of many other artist graduates from the ANU. Hopefully, those who are collectors include some of her works in their collections.


This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 16/10/21 here. It is also on the author's blog here.

Installation View

Book Review

Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly| Installation View: Photography Exhibitions in Australia (1848-2020)




In 2014, Canberra-based Dr Martyn Jolley and Melbourne-based Dr Daniel Palmer received a grant to research the impact of new technology on the curating of Australian art photography.

 

One outcome - their substantial new book, Installation View - enriches our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography. It is a significant new account, told through the most important exhibitions and modes of collection and display. It presents a chronology of rarely seen installation views from both well-known and forgotten exhibitions, along with a series of essays.

Additionally, the authors hope to identify some of the challenges faced by institutions in effectively engaging with new forms and practices of photography enabled through digital circulation. Establishing a dialogue around old and new curatorial approaches, the research is premised on the idea that in this age of photo sharing, when photographs are proliferating as never before, the curatorial selecting, collecting and contextualising functions have never been more important.

The foreword correctly notes that photos can be ephemeral even though the camera records and remembers. It invites readers to visit exhibitions of the past and actively imagine what it would have been like to be there. Somewhat like imagining what today’s virtual exhibitions might look like physically in an actual gallery.

 


1866_Intercolonial Exhibition_nla.obj-260430885-m

Our appetites are whetted by references to viewing images at exhibitions, to the ghostly figures that are audiences, and to the changes in exhibition spaces since the 1870s - to spaces where photographers’ intentions interact with institutional imperatives and exhibition design.

Then the introduction speaks of the exploration of the “constantly mutating forms and conventions through which photographers and curators have selected and presented photographs to the public”. 

Despite the book’s 424 pages, the authors have had to be selective as to which exhibitions they have explored. I have also had to be selective as to which content to discuss here.

Seeking to demonstrate shifts in how photography has been conceptualised, who has produced it and the types of spaces where it has been exhibited, the authors note that photographers and curators have always grappled with scale so that images command attention. They discuss how photographs rely on other media, including print and reproduction technologies, and graphic design. They suggest that art museums have frequently turned to the nineteenth century to complicate the contemporary moment. 

So, this is not a book for light reading. It is a substantial text to be studied, raising numerous things for us to consider and contemplate. I do not like the design – tiny margins, and a strange style of page and plate numbering – nor the lack of an index and the listing of the plates in the separate appendix. But the content is excellent. All serious creators, photographers and collectors should have a copy on their reference bookshelves.

An important question posed is what constitutes Australian photography? Is it work by Australians, here and on travels? Does it include significant works made by non-Australians whilst visiting these shores for short periods? How important are overseas exhibitions involving Australian-based photographers? Have exhibitions of international works here impacted on local practice? Very early in the book it is asserted that, in the 1980s, photography moved from the periphery to the centre of the art world; and it speaks about the loss of photo medium-specific curators and galleries.

Having personally had 45 years involvement with amateur Australian photography societies, I was enjoyed reading about the involvement of amateur associations and pictorialist photography exhibitions, starting with a description of the first annual exhibition by members of the Amateur Photographic Association of Victoria way back in 1884. Any person interested in photography would be aware of the New Zealand born, Sydney-based Harold Cazneaux. His 1909 solo exhibition in the Sydney rooms of the Photographic Society of NSW was the first such by any Australian.

Another famous Australian, Frank Hurley, had his first solo show in 1911 – again in Sydney, but at the Kodak Salon. Given our recent experiences of exhibitions having to await gallery re-openings after pandemic lockdowns, it is interesting that Hurley had to wait for the influenza epidemic to subside before his venue similarly could re-open.

Reading about the use of photographers’ studios as exhibition spaces in the mid nineteenth century set me thinking about parallels today. Many photographers now would display examples of their works in their workplaces, including their homes, where clients would come to have studio portraits made.

Chapter 11, Exhibiting the Modern World, describes the major 1938 Commemorative Salon of Photography, again in Sydney, as part of the celebrations for Australia’s 150th anniversary. It was a joint effort by amateur and professional associations. Australia’s Bicentennial, 50 years later, is mentioned briefly in chapters about indigenous photographers and digital spaces, but the major 1988 traveling Australian Bicentennial Exhibition with which I was personally very involved is not discussed.

There is a reference to photographic constructions in the form of a ceremonial arch over Sydney’s Bridge Street during the 1954 Queen’s visit which I’m sure some will remember. The extraordinary and famous Family of Man international touring exhibition in 1959, including just two Australians out of 273 photographers, gets a short chapter to itself which refers to this country’s White Australia policy being dismantled against the context of the exhibition’s vision of global humanity.


1967_Expo '67 Montreal 2


 

1971_Frontiers, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 8_RGB

The ongoing significance of some photography is highlighted by reference to the important After the Tent Embassy show – displayed at our own Woden shopping mall in 1983. It included some works that became incredibly important later. 

Of considerable personal interest to me as an organiser of a current annual Prize for conceptual photography was the chapter Photoconceptualism, discussing the emergence of that style of exhibition practice. The first Australian exhibition to include conceptual photography was held in 1969 at Pinacotheca Gallery in St Kilda.

Juxtaposition of images and texts remains a device employed by many conceptual artists today. Locally, the Canberra PhotoConnect group aims to promote “the evolving practice of photography and its links to the arts and society”. It encourages using poetry as an integral part of image presentation.

Plates in the book, of which there are 218, include a hand-coloured installation shot of Micky Allan’s exhibition Photography, Drawing, Poetry – A Live-In Show. Another has particular local interest, showing Huw Davies at the door of Photo Access in Acton in 1984. The gallery at that organisation’s current premises carries Davies name.

1978 Micky Allan, Photographs, Drawing, Poetry - A Live-In Show, hand-coloured installation shot, GPG, Melbourne, courtesy Helen Vivian

References regarding Bill Henson, Simryn Gill, and Tracey Moffatt representing Australia at the Venice Biennale identify them as key moments putting Australia at the “centre of the art world”. The book also notes that photography has been “so successful at becoming art that the place of photography departments in Australian art galleries appears to have become unmoored”.

During an online conversation about the book, a question posed was whether institutionalisation has left us with sensory deficit. We heard that curators are now working like artists, and vice versa. Mention was made of William Yang using a gallery as a diary space. The audience, which included Yang, also heard that “each person who walks into a gallery changes everything”. Remember that when next you visit a gallery!

 This review was first published in the Canberra Times here. It is also on the author's own blog here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

DIANA:THE MUSICAL

 

Book by Joe DiPietro

Music and lyrics by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro

Directed by Christopher Ashley

Streaming on Netflix

 

Reviewed by Len Power 4 October 2021


‘Diana: The Musical’ covers the life of Diana, Princess of Wales from her first meeting with Prince Charles, through their marriage, divorce and her death in Paris.

The show had been due to open on Broadway in March 2020 but the production was suspended due to the Covid epidemic.  Now expected to open on Broadway on November 2nd 2021, a film of the live stage production has just been released on Netflix, giving the world a unique opportunity to see the show before its Broadway run.

The show looks good with a sumptuous scenic design by David Zinn and great costumes by William Ivey Long.  Director, Christopher Ashley, who previously guided the hit show ‘Come From Away’, has given it polish, energy and some surprising theatrical moments that work well.  It’s been filmed very professionally but without an audience due to Covid restrictions.  It would have been good to hear a live audience’s reaction to it.

The trouble with the show is the over-familiar story, the script’s tabloid approach and the condescending portrayal of the British as amusingly eccentric.  In under two hours, there isn’t time for the show to give any of the characters or incidents much depth, so it’s an unsatisfying and often inaccurate whistle-stop tour through Diana’s life.  Significantly, prolific author of romantic novels of the time, Barbara Cartland, is also a character in the musical.  Maybe intentionally, the show plays like the plot in one of her novels.

It’s also not helped by the pedestrian rock score and banal lyrics of David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, who were previously known for the score of ‘Memphis’.  We’re treated to lyrical gems like ‘I could use a prince to save me from my prince’, ‘A fecky, fecky, fecky dress’ and ‘Thriller in Manila with Camilla’.  The composers also couldn’t resist the obvious rhyme of ‘callous’ with ‘palace’.

As Diana, Jeanna de Waal gives a confident star performance.  She sings well and looks good but never for a moment convinces us as Diana.  Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles is hamstrung with a character written as just an ineffectual, petulant clown and Erin Davie does what she can with a role that portrays Camilla Parker-Bowles as a two dimensional scheming bitch.

Judy Kaye plays Queen Elizabeth II like a cross between Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell and the Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’.  She also doubles pointlessly as a cartoonish Barbara Cartland.  There is some fine singing from the chorus but the choreography generally looks like movement just for the sake of it.

Premiering a new stage musical on a streaming service prior to its Broadway opening is an interesting and innovative approach.  Will this strategy create a ready-made and critic-proof audience for the show on stage?  Only time will tell.

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/.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE

 


Music by Dan Gillespie Sells

Screenplay and lyrics by Tom MacRae

Directed by Jonathan Butterell

Streaming on Amazon Prime

 

Reviewed by Len Power 27 September 2021

 

‘Everybody's Talking About Jamie’ was originally a coming-of-age stage musical with book and lyrics by Tom MacRae and music by Dan Gillespie Sells.  It was inspired by the 2011 British television documentary ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’.  The musical follows a 16-year-old teenager as he overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness to become a drag queen.

An Australian touring production, which was to have included a season in Canberra, had been announced for late 2020 but was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

A film of the stage musical has now been released on streaming service, Amazon Prime.  The screenplay has been written by Tom MacRae, based on his book of the stage musical.  It’s been directed by Jonathan Butterell, the original stage production director, here making his feature movie directing debut.

Butterell’s film is polished, energetic, colourful and enjoyable.  Although it’s no surprise that the film has a happy, almost fairytale ending, there are some surprisingly gritty incidents throughout the film, reminding us that the journey of a young man who chooses to be different is never going to be an easy one.

Newcomer to the screen, Max Harwood, is a terrific Jamie, showing all facets of this fascinating character.  He’s charming, quirky and sensitive but has an iron will underneath.

As his mother, Sarah Lancashire, of TV’s ‘Last Tango In Halifax’, is tough but loving and supportive of Jamie’s dreams.  Her singing of ‘He’s My Boy’, towards the end of the film, is very moving.

Richard E. Grant is a stand out as a former drag queen and Jamie’s mentor.  His song, ‘This Was Me’, is one of the best and is a chilling reminder of the worst days of the HIV epidemic.  The song has been written for the film and replaces another song in the stage musical.  Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman, Holly Johnson, joins with Richard E. Grant for this song.

There is also a fine performance by Lauren Patel as Pritti Pasha, Jamie's classmate and best friend.  She sings ‘It Means Beautiful’ with great warmth and feeling.  The rest of the supporting cast, including many young performers, give natural and believable characterisations.

The musical numbers have been staged with flair and imagination, often employing digital tricks that really work well.  The music by Dan Gillespie Sells is catchy and appealing with several songs remaining in the mind afterwards.

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a memorable movie musical with a message.  Stay watching through the credits at the end of the movie for a look at the real Jamie and his mother.

 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/.

 

Monday, September 27, 2021

'RUTHLESS!' AND 'THE BAD SEED'


Reviewed by Len Power 21 September 2021


The Q Theatre in Queanbeyan recently announced their February 2022 musical production will be the off-Broadway show, ‘Ruthless!’  This 1992 musical with music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley has a zany plot that spoofs Broadway musicals like ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Mame’, as well as movies such as ‘All About Eve’ and ‘The Bad Seed’.

‘Gypsy’, ‘Mame’ and ‘All About Eve’ are well-known, but ‘The Bad Seed’, which is the inspiration for Act One of ‘Ruthless!’, would mainly be known to audiences of a certain age.

Produced on Broadway in 1955, ‘The Bad Seed’ was a play adapted by Maxwell Anderson from the 1954 novel by William March.  The play, a psychological thriller about a mother, Christine Penmark, who realizes that her young daughter is a ruthless killer, starred Nancy Kelly as the mother, Christine, and Patty McCormack as the daughter, Rhoda.

Both actresses repeated their roles in a film adaptation of the play.  The film was one of the bigger hits of 1956 and both Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack received Academy Award nominations for their roles.

Although the novel and play conclude with Christine dying and Rhoda surviving, the Motion Picture Production Code of the time did not allow for ‘crime to pay’.  Changes had to be made to appease the censors and Warner Bros., who produced the film, added an ‘adults only’ tag to the film's advertising.

Viewed today, it’s hard to believe that 1950s audiences flocked to see this ‘shocker’.  The homicidal child, Rhoda, is played so sickeningly sweet you’d have to know she was up to something and Nancy Kelly chews the scenery as the distraught mother.  It feels like both actresses are trying to project their voices to the back of a theatre.

Several of the supporting cast play their roles as if they are still in the theatre, too.  It’s this over the top theatricality as well as the melodramatic subject matter that makes this film much sought after these days as a camp classic.

At the end of the movie, the cast take bows as if they really had just completed a stage performance.  To lighten the mood, there is a jokey finish to the curtain call that has to be seen to be believed.

Patty McCormack has continued to act in films and television.  She played Pat Nixon in the 2008 film ‘Frost/Nixon’.

A Blu-ray copy of the film is available for purchase online.  It can also be rented on various streaming services.  If you can borrow the 2004 DVD copy from someone, it includes a very entertaining commentary by female impersonator, Charles Busch, with the grown up Patty McCormack.

Try to catch ‘The Bad Seed’ before you see ‘Ruthless!’ at the Q.  Knowing the references to the film will add to your enjoyment of the musical.

‘Ruthless!’ is scheduled to play at the Q Theatre in Queanbeyan from 24 February to 12 March.

 

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/.

 

 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

A Young Black Kangaroo

Photography | Brian Rope

A Young Black Kangaroo | Dean Qiulin Li 

PhotoAccessonline| https://www.gallery.photoaccess.org.au/young-black-start

A Young Black Kangaroo by Dean Qiulin Li is an ongoing photographic project documenting people and stories from the public housing community in Woolloomooloo. Li is an early career artist deeply committed to a humanitarian photographic practice.

Let me deal with the title first. Woolloomooloo is thought to have been derived from a local Aboriginal, possibly Gadigal, word meaning a young black kangaroo. The artist uses this translation to reference the area’s colonial history.

I lived in Potts Point for a short period in the late 60s and walked through Woolloomooloo each day going to and from work. I loved exploring and getting to know it - in a general sense only.

In February 1973, the Builders Labourers Federation placed a two-year long green ban on the area to stop the destruction of low-income housing and trees. It succeeded and 65% of the houses were placed under rent control. Most Australians living at that time would know of the ‘Loo because of the associated media coverage.

Children were often encouraged to commit the difficult to spell name to memory through spelling rhymes, one of which includes:

It's easy to say, I know very well,

But Woolloomooloo is not easy to spell.

Double U double O double L double O M double O L double O

A catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition suggests that browsing through the entire image series is like visiting your neighbours. The artist “tells stories as if reading a book to you, carrying you along with memories and emotions”. Li himself says his project is “about flipping common perspectives of public housing residents on their head, showing the true side to life. It is an exploration of the underlying stories within the four walls of what one calls home.” Both are excellent descriptions of this exhibition.

In another catalogue essay, Rozee Cutrone shares her personal story of becoming a resident, revealing that she has “been vilified, ridiculed, judged, physically attacked, had my home set on fire, undermined and underestimated.” That one story alone is a great reason for Li’s exploration.

Amongst the sometimes charming, other times confronting, images we see Rayson, with his striped shirt styled with those glasses, revealing something of his teenage years. There are many simple moments on display, giving viewers a sense of déjà vu.

Faith was photographed in her living room. A well-known indigenous activist who fights for the rights of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders, as well as the minorities in Australia, she and Li had a few cigarettes together in her backyard whilst she shared some of her bitter past.

Then there is Daniel and some of the pigeons he feeds, Ike and his guitar, as well as Ronny and his collections room. There is Con with his dog, and a view through his window. Tyriesha and Oscar show us how they cuddle. Sabrina poses in front of her boyfriend’s painting of their favourite characters Joker and Harley Quinn. Rayson shows us a photo of himself with Elvis.

Richie, a retired drag queen sitting in his designer couch, says the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was based on his life.


Richie, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

There is a flamingo is inside Richie’s kitchen.


Flamingo, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

And Ayesha, a famous transgender dancer in Kings Cross from the 70s to 90s, says there is a documentary online about her life.

 


Ayesha, 2020  © Dean Qiulin Li

There are so many stories here. They have been woven together wonderfully. There would be many more, but the selection shown certainly successfully portrays these public housing residents of the ‘Loo.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 25/9/21 here and on the author's blog here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

FOUR BIOGRAPHICAL FILMS ABOUT OSCAR WILDE


Reviewed by Len Power 21 September 2021

Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright.  After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, ‘A Woman Of No Importance’, ‘An Ideal Husband’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, his novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for gross indecency, imprisonment, and early death at age 46.

There are four biographical movies about Oscar Wilde and all are currently available for viewing on streaming services.

In 1960, Robert Morley starred in the film, ‘Oscar Wilde’.  Morley had previously played Wilde on stage from 1936, first in London and then on Broadway.  It proved to be a career-making role for him.  The depth of his characterization in the film clearly owed a great deal to his experience of playing the character so many times on stage.  He is especially moving in the courtroom scene where he crumbles under questioning by the lawyer for the defence, played by Ralph Richardson.

Also released in 1960 a week after the Robert Morley version, was another film about Oscar Wilde, this time starring Peter Finch.  Known as ‘The Trials Of Oscar Wilde’ or ‘The Man With The Green Carnation’, this wide screen, colour production boasts an excellent performance by Finch, who seemed a surprise choice to play Wilde.  Finch went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance.

In 1997, Stephen Fry starred as Oscar in ‘Wilde’.  The screenplay by Julian Mitchell was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 biography of Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann.  The film was more forthright about the homosexual aspects of the story than the earlier films could be and Stephen Fry gave a strong performance that was generally praised by the critics.  It was no surprise that Fry could deliver the famous epigrams with skill and humour but his performance of the dramatic scenes later in the film showing Wilde’s decline were impressively touching.

‘The Happy Prince’ is a 2018 biographical film about Oscar Wilde, written and directed by and starring Rupert Everett in his directorial debut.  The film's title alludes to the children's story by Oscar Wilde, ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’, which Wilde would read aloud to his children.

The film focusses on the remainder of Wilde’s life following his trial and imprisonment in London.  Now ill and exiled in France, he is denied contact with his children and is ultimately abandoned to poverty by his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.  Rupert Everett gives a fine performance as the tormented Wilde.  He was nominated for many awards and won several.  Colin Firth, Colin Morgan and Emily Watson give strong performances in the film as well.

Both ‘Oscar Wilde’ with Robert Morley and ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’ with Peter Finch can be viewed free on YouTube.  ‘Wilde’ with Stephen Fry is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Rupert Everett’s ‘The Happy Prince’ is showing on SBS On Demand.

This is a rare opportunity to compare the performances of this fascinating character by the four actors in these fine films.

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/.



Saturday, September 18, 2021

Are We Dead Yet?

Photography Exhibition Review | Brian Rope

Stephen Dupont | amBUSH Gallery, Kambri (ANU) | Until 24 October 2021

This exhibition comprises 21 large photographic prints detailing various devastating ecological events around Australia, that have made award-winning Australian photographer Stephen Dupont realise the inevitability of the shift in conversation from ‘Is climate change happening?’ to ‘Is it too late?’

Inspired by his young daughter Ava – a climate activist – Dupont’s discussions about environmental issues ask the big question: is it possible to save the planet, or have we pushed Mother Nature to the brink of extinction? Are We Dead Yet? is part of a long-term artistic documentation of the effects of climate change on our nation.

In a review published 18 months ago, I confessed having struggled somewhat for several months seeing so many images of the bushfire crisis. On social media I had found it very difficult to ‘Like’ excellent images that revealed the anxieties all of us felt. Now here we are still seeing images of the aftermath of drought, bushfires and the pandemic – not only in this exhibition but numerous others.

Given Dupont’s experience and expertise, it was not surprising to see very high-quality images on display. Shot over the course of the past few years, in locations across several States, Dupont’s photographic journey tells striking visual stories, and conveys a sense of urgency. He wants to motivate us, his audience, to question our roles and responsibilities in these real-time catastrophes.

Using a solitary figure swimming in the ocean during a dust storm, a flooded football ground, the remains of a caravan, charred bushland, the parched ground of drought-stricken regions, and the rich colours of smoke and dust-filled skies, Dupont socks it to us. If we were previously immune to its impacts, or unchallenged by climate change, he wants to infect us with concern right now.

Some of the images reveal the impacts of climate change less obviously than do others. The remnants of a tree, used on the exhibition poster and in the catalogue, is probably the most graphic despite its simplicity; but another more effectively reveals the widespread and devastating destruction in the Tarkine region.


Tarkine, 2018 © Stephen Dupont

An image of a dust storm is very dramatic and powerful, showing the dust towering over a lone bather in the sea. Other images of dust storms remind us that they are widespread and commonly occur.


Scarborough Beach Dust Storm, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

Floating burnt embers during a bushfire are the real story element in a quite strangely beautiful story of sunlight streaming through the fire’s smoke. Once again, whether we need it or not, we are reminded by this and half a dozen other images that these types of fires were widespread in 2019 and 2020.


Hillville Fires 02, 2019 © Stephen Dupont

Another bushfire image clearly shows the human impact. The face of the man in it needs no words to tell of his emotions. And another equally, and poignantly, tells of the impact through a rather sad looking Christ figure.


Bodalla Fires, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

And an image of the skeletal remains of a caravan owned by Dupont’s friend, completely destroyed by fire in the devastating 2020 black summer bushfires has just been named as a finalist in the Australian Life competition (albeit with a different title). This powerful photograph clearly conveys just what such a fire can do and will, I suspect, be a strong contender in that competition.

A view from above of whites and blacks of trees impacted by dieback and fire is visually arresting. For me, the patterns make it the strongest artwork in the exhibition.


Snowy Mountains, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

Whilst the exhibition is technically open, the gallery is closed during the ACT COVID lockdown expected to run until 17 October. In the meantime there is a walk through of the exhibition here. All the images may also be seen on the artist's website here.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 18/9/21 here and is also on the author's own blog here.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The School Drama Book

 

The School Drama BookRobyn Ewing (University of  Sydney) and John Nicholas Saunders (Sydney Theatre Company).  Currency Press, Sydney 2016 (Reprinted 2021)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Saturday September 4, 2021


I have just been listening to the ABC Science Show.  The speakers emphasised the need for everyone to be science literate, pointing out that new discoveries are not found by following the norm, and not only by putting things in boxes but more by linking the boxes together in new and previously unexpected ways.

Having myself been a teacher of clear thinking and logic (in team with a woman mathematician), while also teaching drama, I remember with joy the last school production I directed.  I needed a student who would know how to set up and run the new-fangled programmable lighting and sound board.  The science staff directed me to a lad who had never attended a theatre in his life but, they said, was brilliant.

He was astounded – watching rehearsals, devising and operating the lighting, sound and video for Tyger the musical  by Adrian Mitchell about William Blake – by how the actors, dancers and singers could do what they do.  “Every science student should do drama” was his conclusion from that experience.

That was in 1993.  By 2009 Sydney Theatre Company began piloting School Drama, an “artist-in-residence professional learning program for primary school teachers, which focuses on the power of using drama as pedagogy with quality literature to improve English and literacy in young learners.”  By 2012 the program moved on from the pilot stage, the teachers reporting “that the implementation of drama devices in their classroom English program enhances students’ deep understanding of literary texts, improves their oracy, inferential comprehension, writing and their confidence more generally.”

Professor Robyn Ewing, University of Sydney, and Helen Hristofski, STC’s Education Manager 2006-12) were discussing a potential collaboration between the theatre company and the university, at the same time as the Co-Artistic Directors of STC, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton were discussing the potential role of artists in primary schools.  

The School Drama Book was first published in 2016, to be used alongside the School Drama program, with 7 Workshops outlined for each of 22 titles which provide the stimulus for making drama, from Being Different using Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon to The Power of Words using Phileas’s Fortune: a story about self-expression (Agnès de Lestrade and Valeria Docampo).  The Book has been reprinted this year, proving its value to the education community.

In each Workshop, the Drama Devices for the teacher to use are given with what would be Stage Instructions in a playscript.  An example, which could well relate to my recent commentary on Big hArt and the Roebourne Indigenous Community’s NEO-Learning program, is John Jagamarra using The Burnt Stick (Anthony Hill and Mark Sofilas).

After a Word Bank starting from ‘isolation’, ‘family’, ‘loneliness’, ‘stealing’, ‘journey’,’mother’, ‘loss’; Freeze Frames are used to lead to a Class Discussion.  Then the teacher (or artist-in-residence) reads from the story ‘John Jagamarra grew up at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children ... [to Page 13]…the colour of the evening, so much darker than his own’ and takes the class into a Visualisation session, asking them “to think about Pearl Bay Mission [and] to imagine they are invisible and standing in the Mission [and] to think about what they can see, hear, and feel at the Mission.”  After another Freeze Frame, the workshop ends with the creation of Soundscapes which each group in a circle performs for a listening group in the centre.  Each student writing their own description of Pearl Bay Mission is a follow-up exercise.

In any Workshop there may be any number of Devices used.  Some others, for example, are Conscience Circle/Teacher-in-Role; Tableau and Tapping In; Hot Seating; Postcard; Artefacts….and immediately I find myself back in my drama teaching days – except that in my time the idea of such explicit devices only became clear from the work of Brad Haseman and John O’Toole in 1986.  My group improvisation workshops, usually starting from a single stimulus point, were far more randomly exploratory than The School Drama Book’s more guided workshops.

But the point is that the guidance needed for primary school teaching, with the purpose of pedagogy, might not be appropriate for senior secondary students focussed on exploring the drama experience for its own sake; or perhaps for developing new drama skills with an eye to their possible future in theatre.  The discussion in the introductory sections of The School Drama Book of the principles in the process – of Making Meaning and Developing Literacy through the artforms of Literature and Drama – is very well done indeed.  Professor Ewing's and her co-writer John Nicholas Saunders' (appointed STC’s Education Manager in 2013 to oversee the growth of the program) work is a major contribution to the understanding of the history and development of drama in education.

So, to return to my beginning, where the drama so impressed that science student, while the scientists seek science literacy for everyone, I can see how the drama process so clearly laid out in The School Drama Book can be used beyond Literature as the source of stimulatory material.  Topics in Science and Mathematics can be explored not only in the ways they are now in classrooms and laboratories.  Using Drama, students’ understanding can grow from different perspectives, including the ethics of application of the results of STEM studies.

I can imagine these Drama in Science classrooms, but I think we would need artists-in-residence of the standing of the Sydney Theatre Company to change the education (and therefore political) culture described in The School Drama Book as still the norm:

…many primary teachers do not feel well equipped to embed the Arts into what has become an overcrowded curriculum.  Many western education systems, including Australia’s, are increasingly turning to a narrowed curriculum, triggered by high stakes testing and a technical focus on literacy and numeracy.  As a result, teachers often feel they must concentrate on the ‘basics’.

While despairingly, The Arts remain under-valued and under-used components of primary curricula despite unequivocal evidence that they enhance student wellbeing and, in turn, improve learning outcomes across other disciplines and subject areas.






 

 

 

 

 

Negotiating the Family Portrait

Photography | Brian Rope

Marzena Wasikowska | Negotiating the Family Portrait

Canberra-based photo artist Marzena Wasikowska has built a name for herself over the years. Since 2000, when she completed her Master of Visual Arts at the ANU, she has had more than a dozen solo exhibitions (as well as being in numerous group exhibitions). Her works are in several public collections, and she also has been publicly commissioned on a number of occasions. Wasikowksa has been successful in various major competitions, including being a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) five times.

Now, Wasikowska has been selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards. Joanna Milter, Director of Photography at The New Yorker selected the series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021 for an Award. Experts, such as Milter, explored entries from across the globe to select their top three personal favourites. There’s no jurying as a panel; just choices made individually by each of the expert critics.

Images were submitted by photographers from over 150 countries and twenty-one critics chose individual photos and series that captured their hearts. Explaining her choice of Wasikowska’s series, Milter described the images as lively and noted that the artist “purposely captures those instances before everyone is in place. Yet she understands that the presence of a photographer changes everything; even in seemingly offhand moments, her subjects are performing for her camera.”

The ten images in the series have been captured over a decade – indeed it is five of them that have been finalists in the NPPP. Wasikowska says the series title summarises how she thinks about the act and procedure of making family portraits for public viewing. As we all should be, she is keenly aware of the discussions and negotiations of private and public - what to exhibit and what to keep private. She suggests, and I agree with her, that image makers tread a fine line when contributing to the dialogue of family portraiture while revealing something candid but not uncensored.

We have all experienced difficulties taking photos of getting people to smile, not hold fingers above heads, and not hide behind taller folk. Wasikowska has solved those problems. Whilst saying she longs for them to be the actors in her images, she also expresses her hope that each photograph holds the essence of a genuine, personal event, for herself and each of them. These annual portraits of her immediate family are a highlight of her portrait photography, summarising the previous twelve months.

In one image, every family member has brought their year’s story to the table.


Negotiating the Family Portrait 2015-16 - A study of history, myth and identity family
© Marzena Wasikowska

In another, one of two young children appears to be struggling in the arms of the adult holding them, most probably longing to be put down and set free to again explore the camera equipment now being used to capture them.


Negotiating the Family Portrait 2018 – Chaos © Marzena Wasikowska

And then another image is filled with visual symbols for the conflicting extremes associated with this dreadful pandemic affecting each and every one of us in various ways; some the same for us all, others different for particular individuals.


Negotiating the Family Portrait 2020-21-A COVID Kind of Day © Marzena Wasikowska

It is a delight to see these ten images together. They start with a relatively simple, yet exquisite, image of just two of the family.


Negotiating the Family Portrait 2010 - Long Distance Conversation 1 © Marzena Wasikowska

Along the journey we see far more complex groupings of much larger gatherings of family members, in which the theatricality and performance style truly shines through.


Negotiating the Family Portrait 2012 © Marzena Wasikowska

We are members of an audience. Some may wish they were videos rather than just one still image of a moment frozen in time. But these are the precise moments that the artist selected and wants us to see.

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 4/9/21 here. It is also on the author's own blog here.

Friday, August 27, 2021

NEO-Learning

 

NEO-Learning – Interactive Online Digital Education Platform.

Launched August 26, 2021. Yindjibarndi Community, Ieramugadu, (Roebourne) WA and Big hART

Commentary by Frank McKone

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NEO-Learning is a First Nations education program for primary schools, devised by the Ieramugadu children and guided by their elders as a continuing gift to all Australians.

Big hART was first invited to work in Ieramugadu (Roebourne) 10 years ago by senior women Elders, who wanted Big hART to deliver projects which highlight heritage as living, continually evolving in the here and now. It was thereby vital that NEO-Learning celebrated living continuous culture, and was co-created by young people from Roebourne and guided by Elders and senior members of the community.

As Elder Michelle explained at the launch, “How do you bring stories about your life?  We’re in control of our story in NEO-Learning,” going on to show how the children in the schools using the platform are “not just consumers” – because they are actively engaged – and that learning online in this way is a “new literacy” for her children, as well as for everyone else.  

Most important, from the Yindjibarndi perspective, is how NEO-Learning works “to maintain our culture” from the old into the new.  “We are the teachers now,” said one of the Roebourne students, while their Elders talked of the importance of their young people taking on their role as creatives and innovators in their culture, and so being engaged and committed to their community.

The Yindjibarndi people are one of the five clans who had to take over the responsibility to care for the land known as Murujuga or Burrup Peninsula, after the ancient traditional custodians – the Yaburara – were massacred in 1869.  The area, with literally tens of thousands of rock art drawings, has been extensively damaged mainly by the LNG gas and chemicals industry which should never have been allowed to operate there.  

The Ngarluma community has taken on the task of managing as best they can what is now the Murujuga National Park, in the face of Woodside attempting to expand their operatons.  When I spoke to a Ngarluma Elder, in 2018, his central concern was that the rock art, which scientific studies show dates back to at least 35,000 years ago and was still being actively worked until the massacre, is essential in the education of young people today, so that they understand and respect their culture, and are committed to their community.  

Despite the WA Government doing its part in requesting Murujuga be nominated for World Heritage (which requires the Federal Department of Environment to prepare for the Minister to put the nomination, representing Australia, to UNESCO), Woodside may yet be given what I would call a red light to go ahead with their proposed expansion.


Watching the launch of NEO-Learning, two points important for education became clear.  First is how the engagement of the teachers and their students works.  Second is the arts education principle, which underpins the process.

This is where an appreciation of Big hART comes in.  I have previously written of Scott Rankin’s work, on this blog: Cultural Justice and the Right to Thrive by Scott Rankin.  Platform Paper No 57, November 2018 (Currency House, Sydney).  

Speaking at the launch he made his philosophy clear, in simple terms: “It’s harder to hurt someone if you know their story.”  Big hART people are “servants of society”, operating not as a generalised charity, but as facilitators of specific projects through the arts.  “We are the privileged ones,” he says, because of what the Yindjibarndi people are doing for us.

The Canberra Hospital School teachers – team leader Jo Daly, Penny Fry and Debbie Sam – spoke enthusiastically of the flexibility of the NEO-Learning program, with Big hART’s highly practical facilitator Mark Leahy, in their constantly changing situation.  

The students come and go according to their hospital treatment requirements, and what they are capable of doing from day to day is unpredictable.  The NEO-Learning program consists, for a start, of videos made in Roebourne with such enthusiasm and sense of fun, that even hospital inmates who can’t get up and dance are thoroughly enthused about their own futures.  And for teachers in more stable circumstances, it is through the arts activities, perhaps especially in dance, painting and music which the videos generate, that real understanding of First Nations culture becomes built into their students’ learning.  

Governor-General David Hurley spoke powerfully of the essentially inclusive nature of the project – bringing us together as Australians in a multi-cultural society – as he introduced the first Indigenous woman Member of Parliament, Linda Burney, to officially launch NEO-Learning.  She spoke of her own work teaching, and then in advocacy and curriculum development for Aboriginal Education, remembering her own experiences when young, of being made to feel inferior, in the time when “Aboriginal” meant at best “primitive”, and at worst meant to be massacred, as the Yaburara had been in 1869.

Though she spoke more briefly than she had intended – because the enthusiasm of previous speakers had let time get away – I thought of the great contrast between the treatment still of Indigenous people in the “justice” system, and of the explicit racism I have seen in many places on my travels around Australia, compared to the dictum provided to us by Scott Rankin

It’s harder to hurt someone if you know their story.  And even harder if you join with them in the art of story-telling through NEO-Learning.








Saturday, August 21, 2021

A Migrant's Son

 

Opal Mining at Coober Pedy
A dream image representing
A Migrant's Son
by Michaela Burger
(Image: Stage Whispers)

A Migrant’s Son by Michaela Burger.  Produced by Critical Stages Touring.

Filmed at the Hopgood Theatre, South Australia 2020, streamed online by Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (Sydney) as A Migrant’s Son Online Watch Party and Interactive Live Chat, Friday August 20, 2021.

The performance (without Live Chat) is also available to stream On Demand on Youtube from Saturday August 21 to Sunday September 5 – viewers can watch as many times as they wish.  Bookings via https://riversideparramatta.com.au  or phone (02) 8839 3399.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 20

Performed by Writer and Composer        Michaela Burger
With La La Land Choir and George Grifsas (Bouzouki/Guitar)

Director                                                            Jane Packham
Musical Director and Choral Arrangements    Carol Young
Music Producer/Arranger                                 Dave Higgins
Dramaturgs                                      Sally Hardy & Elena Carapetis
Song Development                                           Jethro Woodward
Costumes                                                          Artemis Sidiropoulou
Lighting Design                                               Tom Bayford

After-show Live Chat with Michaela Burger hosted by Critical Stages CEO Chris Bendall.

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Michaela Burger is a force to be reckoned with – as a story teller; a voice for her family and migrant community; simply as a powerful speaking and singing voice; as an instant creator of character; as a musician and composer; and as an actor with presence who communicates honestly with her audience.  

Filming a stage show can often mean losing the human warmth of a live show.  This performance was filmed between Covid restrictions, and, as Burger and Bendall laughingly recalled, was a hurried job as the unlikely opportunity arose.  

Though I have not seen the show onstage – it’s life  seems to have begun  at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne in May 2018 (Stage Whispers) and has toured in Australia and UK – this Hopgood Theatre performance seems to have a sense of immediacy, almost as if improvising as the musicians, choir, and solo performer Burger switch from song to story, from costume to costume, from one family character to another, including herself as the daughter of the son of the Greek migrant whose parents had arrived in Australia in 1924.

Michaela Burger

Michaela Burger (George Grifsas behind)

Although this work has been classed as fringe cabaret, this to me puts it down a peg below its significance.  Cabaret, of course, can be more than attractive entertainment and certainly can be political, as it was in its beginnings in post World War I Germany.  And it can be something like standup comedy, much of which nowadays consists of a humorous, often ironic, take on the performer’s personal life.  In the Canberra-Queanbeyan tradition, we are used to a variation on this theme in the shows by Shortis & Simpson, which began in the Queanbeyan School of Arts Café back in the mid-1990s.

But Michaela Burger has revealed in this show a highly personal experience which is clearly fundamental to her sense of herself, of her understanding of her identity, and even of her need to be a creator and performer.  She shows us why she is what she is because of the bonds in her family, on her father’s side through from her grandfather and even great-grandfather, and the culture of Greek women in their lives.

This, in my view, places A Migrant’s Son in the line of work of quite recent times, which I have called Personal Theatre.  Though my situation means I never see as wide a range of theatre as I would like, so far all work of this kind seems to be by women.  I will now add Michaela Burger to my list: Liz Lea in Red (2018), Ghenoa Gela in My Urrwai (2018), I’m a Phoenix, Bitch by Bryony Kimmings (2020), and Stop Girl by Sally Sara (2021).

The content and theatrical form in each case is quite different, but the essence of this type of theatre is that we are taken directly into appreciating, understanding and respecting an element of each creator’s personal life which is central to their understanding of themselves.  In each story there is some particular moment of new awareness entirely personal to her, which I have experienced during the performance as an awakening of my own feelings – for the performer, and for myself on reflecting on my own life.

That moment in A Migrant’s Son is the accidental death of Michaela’s uncle: her father’s brother; her grandmother’s son.  Even though Michaela had never met her uncle, it was in her learning of that story in its awful detail that she understood the truth of her grandfather’s dictum: “family is everything”.  When, in the Live Chat, someone asked “Is family still everything?”, I knew the answer before Michaela spoke, saying “family is the meaning of identity”.

This is what theatre is for: what it is all about.


Michaela Burger
The daughter of A Migrant's Son