Monday, October 6, 2014

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

σκότος ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν

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

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

I went, as an invite to see an exhibit of photographs by Liam James passed across my facebook feed. The exhibit was called “Dole / Dolour: An Allegory for the Fifth Corner of the World.” I was instantly intrigued by the title, and normally I do not like photography as art. This is simply my hang-up and I apologise to photographers the world over. For me too often it is simple point and click, a mechanical reproduction of an object, allowing no understanding of the maker, of the ideas behind the work.

With this exhibit more was involved. Not simple happy snapping, not facile photoshopping. The photographs were all well thought out and the artist seemed to have something to say, and to know what that was.

These are the photographers of a maker, rather than a reporter, or a decorator.

Don’t be told what you want don’t be told what you need
There’s no future no future no future for you

Dole / Dolour, sorrow, emptiness, no future for you. There is a time, about the age of twenty five, when many us, (those of us that think and do not just follow) come to the conclusion that all the word worlds of teachers and parents -- that one can be what you want, that is just takes perseverance and commitment -- were no more than big fat lies.

Work will not save us, love will not save us, our future dream is a shopping scheme.

A future rolling forward of endless cycles of waking up, coffee, work, lunch, work, Friday nights drinks down the local, all leading to the goal of self imposed debt bondage. Marriage, house, children. And finally pointless, stupid, inexorable death.

Liam faces this future squarely, without flinching. His wonderful, well staged, well coloured, crafted photos bring these feelings of relentless boredom, of pointlessness to our gaze. His works shows how all this drabness is wrapped up with a system of objectification. And how it is that many of us desire, more than anything, our own slavery, fighting as passionately for slavery as for liberation.

The subjects of his photos aret mostly young men and women, and they avert their eyes from the gaze of the (assuredly elder, assuredly judgmental) viewers, looking up, down or off in the distance. Looking one thousand yards past the viewers into a doleful future.

When the subjects do look at the viewer, it is with irritation, with anger.

The artist, in his statement, wants to search for a new national identity, this is an important goal, as all around a reinvigorated national identity of spite and fear rises. This triumphalism gives birth to, and counters the art works, sets the scene, frames the works, and holds us in it's embrace as we step outside the gallery, back into a world of objects, processes, statistics, and prices.

This is an interesting and provocative exhibit. An exhibit which on first glance appears simple, but over the days and nights will slowly chew into your brain and make you question the world of objects.

Dole / Dolour: An Allegory for the Fifth Corner of the World is on display until the end of the month, until 30 October. You can visit a web site that Liam James maintains.

Monday, September 22, 2014

RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize

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

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

Due to the nature of portraiture it often behaves as a sort of aorist medium; an exploration of the past, the contemplation and mulling over of a life, of past achievements. To overcome this tendency the RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize conditions stipulate that the artist must be under thirty. As youth are inherently forward looking, this stipulation is fabulous, in that it provokes a disruptive alchemy. A work like this year's winner would not be allowed in the Archibald Prize, due to the condition that the painting, “Must be a portrait painted from life, with the subject known to the artist, aware of the artist’s intention and having at least one live sitting with the artist.”

A third aspect that to me makes the prize unique is the emphasis on submitting a short (300 word) artist statement, describing the reasons the portrait subject was chosen. This statement is an important part of the process, as it helps determine the intention of the artist, and if the finished work has accomplished that intention. It allows us to understand the inspirations that flow around and artist, and their works.

There is no point in trying to describe all the paintings in an exhibit of over thirty works. I will only mention the works that won awards on the night.

Jesse Hunniford won the inaugural Packer's Prize for the work “Am I a Man or a Puppet?” This work, described in the statement as “a visual and physical journey into childhood and paternity through textiles and the act of making”, is an example of how the artist statement and the work -- a photograph of a hand puppet -- combine to create a new form of portrait. It is also important to note that a work such as this may have not been allowed in many other Portraiture Prize competitions.

The Sponsors Choice award went to Tilly Cough of West Launceston for the work “Dad.” A beautifully rendered pastel drawing of the artist's father. A work that seeks, -- here I am paraphrasing from her statement -- and succeeds in finding the flaws and roughness of her subjects, the imperfections that make them perfect.

The 2014 runner-up prize was awarded to Shannon Terry from South Hobart, for her work “A small idol of mine.” A pencil drawing of her cousin Sarah. Shannon said, “The lens in which she views the world is one of which I admire immensely. She holds strong views in politics. Symbolically, the grey I create serves to remind us that there is neither a black nor white perspective in life”

The winning work this year was by Cameron McRae, of Hobart, with a work he called “David Foster enters the Burnie Betta Milk Wearable Paper Art Prize.” This was a cheeky, satirical, amusing look at recent events in Tasmanian political history through the medium of portraiture. Again, this sort of work would not be allowed in some other competitions. Which makes one wonder if a trip to next year's Archibald Awards is actually a good thing or not.

The paintings will be on display in Hobart at the Long Gallery until the 5th of October. It will then travel to the Sawtooth Gallery in Launceston, from Friday 31 October until Saturday 22 November. Finsihing the tour at the Burnie Regional Art Gallery, in Burnie from Friday 12 December until Saturday 31 January. This exhibit of young Tasmanian talent is definitely worth a look!

One could argue that the last 20 years of history have been an attempt to destroy our spirit of co-operation, our spirit of optimism. The youthful, daring, amusing, satirical, experimental nature of the works on display prize can act as an antidote, a pharmakon, a charm, to protect what can be protected from this world-historical fear.

I will leave the last word to the winner, “I said that if I win I would be able to insure my car, so this a win all around.”

I want to thank my pal Ian Milliss for helping me to clarify my thoughts (like turning butter into ghee)

To see some other media related to this exhibit: Tasmanian Times, The Hobart Mercury non-story, and an amusing example of victorian prudeity from The Advocate.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tell Tales

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

The sort of night that is the power of women.

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

Old, old, ancient the stage is, older than writing. And the sparse, black stage is a new universe, a unique self contained world. This evening we were expected to believe that we were on the beach, on the edge of a wild salt sea. A churning sea made of broken glass. Tossed and smashed by fierce waves the empty wine bottles shatter and shatter again, until they are ground into dust, into sand of the beach. And the sand can be melted, reformed into glass, endlessly rocking.

And like the poet who uses the flowing, alternating vowel to create emotions, or as the cunning raven who picks up objects to alert and inform the others, so too the performer uses flowing alternating gesture, motion, to grasp ideas, to create meaning.

Not quite mime, rather something more like to dance, to an art of motion. Not quite a narrative. Rather Tell Tales was like a strange utopian burlesque. Music and dance. Comedy, clowning, cabaret, chaos. Wine, sand, and popcorn.

House lights off, a spot light, and Bridget Nicklason-King starts off the show hiding under a red sheet. Strange, protean, shapes under the sheet. A cluttering noise and we see her, bound, trying to come out of, trying to free herself from, this tattered worn and well used gladstone bag. Like a child being born? Does she wobble around like a baby foal unsure on its feet? Or is this a ecstatic, drunken, dance? One review, not seeing the bag as a uterus, saw it as Pandora's box “releasing its torrent of horrors before collapsing into the last rays of hope.”

Both views I am sure are right in their own way, and at the same time wrong. Wrong in the sense of not being concrete, not being complete.

But here is the point where the work may cause a divide. If you want your art, if you want the theater experience, to be all wrapped up and tidy, if you want all the various strands to come together in a neat bowpackage -- this work is not for you. If, however, you do not mind having to add structure, to fill in the spaces, if you understand that art, like life, is not neat and tidy, but rather fraught with errors that extend and liberate us; if you think that the genius and the fulfillment of art is to play, than this is a work for you.

The supporting staff around Bridget did a very good job, the set design, lighting, and sound blended together to support the performance, and were always discrete.

The only negative I can find is more a problem with the space. Bridget ended the show swimming in the broken glass sea. However due to the line of sight, I was unable to see this very well. I could, however, hear -- which in many ways is not a negative at all, but further to the idea of having to add elements to the show.

To find out more about this performance piece and Bridget Nicklason-King you should click on this link.

Speaking of magical islands.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

hands up don't shoot

This being my response to Ferguson, and the over the top police response. the video at the end was filmed by Peter Charles Macpherson

My lumps my lumps my lovely baton lumps

After Los Angeles riots
After Rodney King
A commission investigating
The beating found that
Police were perceived
An occupying army.
Not community members.

I had no alternative
But to elevate the level
Of our response.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Recent high school graduate
Starting technical college,
Visiting his grandmother,
Shot at least six times,
Including twice in the head.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Walking home, unarmed, no record
Three minutes later
A hail of pistols shots

Few details have been released
It has been confirmed --
A police officer
Shot and killed
A male subject.

Lifeless on the street
Hours after the shooting -- uncovered.
A photographer captured
The street scene -- a dead boy
On his stomach, his right cheek
Hard against the asphalt.
A long trail of blood
Flowing his head.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

The situation was tense.
A large group gathered and
Confronted police
Obscenities and chants
Crips and Bloods arm in arm
United righteous anger.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

On the grizzled brick walls
On the concrete flyover pillars
Spray painted dissent
The only good cop
Is a dead cop.
No justice, No Peace!
Hey hey, Ho ho
Killer cops have to go!
And in reply Officer Boar
Grunts out “Bring it,
You fucking animals! Bring it!”
Several times-gunshots could be heard.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Unarmed no criminal record
How many times this same song?
It was at least six shots
As many as eleven
It was more than just a couple
More than just a couple
I don't think it was many more.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Yet there were two in his head.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Schools were closed down
As the tear gas cannisters
Banned as chemical weapons
In war time banned flew.
Activists from Gaza tweeted
Tactics against the gas.
Notorious hackers Anonymous
Shut down the city's website
For much of Monday.
A random shot in the air.
And the airport was closed
To provide a safe haven
For law enforcement activities.
Armoured trucks patrolled.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Fat white men middle aged
Born and bred in fear.
Gun shop owners gleefully
Reported a surge in sales --
And they are buying
Home defense shotguns
Personal defense handguns
For conceal carry

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Recent high school graduate
About to start college
Why y’all got my son out in the street?
His mother cried. Frightened
Cops, poorly trained,
Pawns in the game,
Out of their depth,
Restrained her. Officer Brute
Said -- You can’t see your son.
You need to calm yourself down.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Bottles and rocks.
Sound cannons
And clouds of tear gas,
To disperse the crowd.
No medical support on call.
Frightened poorly trained
Old time cop riot
Inflames -- Again & Again
Flames as the shop burns.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Reporters chased away,
Mocked, abused, roughed up,
Arrested. Get the fuck out of here
And get that light off,
Or you're getting shot with this.
Amnesty gassed,
Forced to kneel.
Your press pass
Officer Porker grunts
Don't mean shit.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Burning chemical smoke
Rises and billows Golden
Arches glowing. Casting weird
Shadows the rain slick streets
Glowing and smearing the lights
Crowds roll and surge
High tech cold red dot
Power demon eye points
Sniper rifle on his chest

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys

So being that sort of person, I first read about the new memoir by Viv Albertine, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys, in a Guardian review, shortly after it was published by Faber & Faber in May of this year. After reading a few reviews I decided to see if my local library had a copy. I was pleased and annoyed that I would have to wait several weeks for my turn to read the book.

But why would I want to read such a memoir? When I was a young thing making the scene I loved The Slits, I found them to be a very interesting and brave band. So there was some nostalgia in my desire to read this. Also it is interesting to watch the turn of history. Much has changed since 1976, I thought it would be interesting to see this turn of history from the eyes of another.

The memoir is broken up, like an old fashioned record, into side 1 and side 2. Side 1 being her childhood, and youth including her time with The Slits. In this part she brings to life the grim recession of the late 70's to life. I did not live in England at the time, but rather in New England, which was going through similar economic and political crises. Albertine captures the excitement of punk, the turbulent feeling that we can make a difference, that we can change the world. More importantly she does not shy away from discussing the many contradictions, and cul-de-sacs of punk.

The book contains many amusing and interesting sketches of people I have seen, have heard, have heard of, but have never met. In these sketches we are able to see the true Romantic character of the punk ethos. Punk was the sting of the Romantic tail, struggling to bring to life the idea that enthusiasm can be more powerful than technical prowess. The final scattering of punk taught us a most important lesson, that in the end both talent and enthusiasm can be defeated by money.

Side 2 narrates Viv Albertine's life after The Slits broke up. This is a longer and more powerful section. With the breakup of the band, the author was plunged into poverty and despair. An example of how the music industry uses young people and then throws them onto the scrap heap. From here she tries to rebuild herself. As if to mock her youthful success, life generated a series of challenges. The sort of challenges we all face at one time or another. The second section of this book becomes a tale of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, IVF, cancer, broken marriages. A series of waiting rooms and examinations, where dignity and control are stripped away.

There is a terrible beauty in a much of this. For example, the description of the death of her father was moving and made me well up thinking of the pathetic hopelessness of life. The terrible waste.

Viv Albertine maintained the punk DIY attitude over the decades, rejecting the idea of a ghost writer. This creates a fascinating, almost voyeuristic, look into another persons broken mirror. Many of the reviews I have read describe this memoir as honest, “utter honesty” from the SMH, while the Guardian prefers “searing honesty.” Raising questions of honesty opens up a myriad of philosophical questions as to the nature of truth, questions I do not feel I am capable of answering. I will say that her account feels very sincere and honest, but as I was not there I have no way of verifying her account.

Unlike some of the subject matter, her writing style is not very taxing. The book is written in a very smooth, simple style. Laurence Sterne, author of that strange work of genius, described writing as, “but a different name for conversation.” In this autobiography Viv Albertine seems to take this idea to heart. This book feels almost like chatting with an old friend over a bottle of red.

What did I learn from this book? Behind every great woman is a man trying to hold her back. This modern proverb was amply exposed in this book. Sexual violence, barely hidden contempt, emotional blackmail, domestic violence. Here we can see her honesty, this book did not shy away from showing the truth of women's lives. This constant struggle that women face has changed, but not lessoned since (let us say) 1976; more subtle, maybe, but still all-encompassing.

In the end this book seems to me to be about losing one's self, standing naked before the mirror, and then finding one's self again. Definitely worth a read. This dot point history of contemporary life, this tale of a journey through life is deceptively easy to read; yet on this simple stage Albertine allows a variety of thoughts and arguments to bubble up to the the surface.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


A friend of mine showed me a poem she wrote. She used the image of the oars in the water, churning the water to foam. Which reminded me of the end of book nine of the Odyssey. Our hero is fleeing after having blinded Polyphemus. The phrase Homer uses is πολιὴν ἅλα polien hala. Literally the grizzled salt, but obviously Homer is talking about the churning sea water. Odyssey 9.556ff

So then all the day, until the sun sank
We feasted, sharing ample flesh, sweet wine.
When the sun set and the shadows came,
Lulled by the breakers, we slept on the beach.

With the early rosy fingered light of dawn,
I roused my drowsy comrades, ordered them
To board the ship, to let slip the anchor.

And they at once boarded and on their benches sat
Crouching rows, the grizzled salt sea they struck with oars.

So we sailed away, grieving in our hearts,
Glad to have escaped death, our dear friends dead.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Dying Socrates.

The Socrates of Xenophon was more bourgeois than Plato's gadfly, more practical than the pale, barefoot, long-haired comic foil of Aristophanes. In many ways the Socrates of Xenophon is the most human. The Socrates of Xenophon does not see the taking of hemlock as a glorious attack on a corrupt, and fickle democracy, rather the taking of hemlock is the fitting end to a well lived life. This would also go a long way to explaining the willful mockery of the court that Socrates produced in place of a defense.

This is from The Memorabilia of Socrates 4.8.8. Maybe his death should be seen, similar to the trial and death of Jesus, as a sort of state sponsored euthanasia. For in the end can one be free if one is not able to say, as Roberto Durán said, no mas?

It is hard to make Xenophon sing, as he was a better soldier than he was an author, but he does have a simple, clear style which makes it easier for an intermediate amateur like myself to follow.

I have tried to capture the feel, and some of the imagery of Xenophon. I had fun, and hopefully you will too. If it does disappoint at least it is a short song.

And if I was to live on?
Another season or two...
Would not my life be like prison?
Unable to pay the debt of old age.
My sight and hearing lessened.
My thoughts reduced.
It would become,
Harder to learn
Easier to forget.
From the best
To the worst
I would fall.

And truly, even if I did not grasp
These changes, my life would be
Insufferable. But if I did notice,
Would not my life be constrained?
Would life itself not become
Distasteful, like poison?