Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 in review: the good, the bad & the down-right ugly

As 2013 comes to a close I decided to reflect on some of my favourite shows/ exhibitions from this year. So here is the good, in no particular order.

Swing Time with The Andrews Sisters

Anish Kapoor

Gin Mill Social

Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan

Hollywood Costume at ACMI

Monet's Garden at the NGV

Moonlight and Magnolias at the Pavilion Theatre

Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake

Hollywood Museum, Los Angeles

The Getty Centre, Los Angeles

Dandan Geng, San Francisco

Selling Dreams at the State Library of New South Wales

Australian Glamour at the State Library of New South Wales

Much Ado About Nothing at Bella Vista Farm

And here's the not-so-good

The unsociability of social media

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Friday, 27 December 2013

Thank you

As 2013 draws to a close it seems an appropriate time to say thank you to everyone who has supported the near & the elsewhere this year. The blog started as a means to amuse myself whilst unemployed in the UK so it never ceases to amaze me that people actually read it. For that I will always be thankful.

In particular a huge thank you to contributors Elizabeth Little, Todd Fuller and Kristian Pellissier for adding their unique and insightful opinions to the blog.

To the artists I've interviewed this year, Todd Fuller, Kaya Clarkson, Gabriella Hirst, Sarah Elizabeth Martin, Chanelle Collier, the Sculpture in the Vineyards Team and Yang-En Hume - thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, you're amazing!

I look forward to dedicating more time to developing the blog in 2014 with more interviews and artist/ designer/ gallery profiles.

If I've learnt anything from 2013 it's that it doesn't take much to say thank you but it can mean so much to hear. In 2014 I think people should practice gratitude and make sure the people who are important to you realise it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! 

Naomi x

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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

5 Questions With... artist Yang-En Hume

Yang-En Hume. Courtesy of the artist.

On first appearance your work, in particular the installation pieces with dolls heads, is quite unnerving - did you ever intend for your work to evoke a visceral response?

Yes, that was a deliberate decision. I’d been reading about Julia Kristeva’s writings on the abject. She argues that abjection defies divisions between the proper and improper, and between the clean and unclean. The abject is ambiguous; disturbing identity, order, and boundaries. I think that’s what makes it ideal imagery for critiquing notions of femininity and beauty.

I thought that making reference to bodily fluids (the yellow-brown liquid in the jars) in order to evoke a physical response of disgust in the viewer would be an interesting way to defy appropriate boundaries. I was also thinking of other artists who utilise abjection or dismemberment in order to transgress social norms. I think Jenny Saville’s work in particular, effectively critiques the cultural fixation on female thinness and the social preference for a tightly managed and sealed female body.

Your work focuses on preconceived notions of femininity - what interests you about this area?

The project started with the dolls. I knew I wanted to use dolls, but wasn't sure specifically how I would incorporate them into an artwork. As I began researching the historical and contemporary uses for dolls, their links to femininity and gender roles became clear, and my interest in the area grew through further research of the topic.

Historically, playing with dolls reiterated the values of modesty, maternity, obedience, submissiveness and chastity in young girls. Contemporary theorists have argued that dolls continue to play a role in teaching girls gender norms. They idealise the nuclear family and normalise certain physical traits, creating a limited concept of beauty. I think it’s interesting to analyse the social significance behind elements of popular culture, and to think about why, as a society and as individuals we hold certain preferences and inclinations.

Yang-En Hume, Polyps. Courtesy of the artist.

Yang-En Hume, Polyps (detail). Courtesy of the artist.

Why specifically do you use the dolls heads? What process do you go through when creating a work?

The faces seemed to be the most anthropomorphic aspect of the doll, giving the work a greater connection between the doll and the human body. There is also an eerie, unnerving aspect to facing hundreds of dolls heads staring at you. It places the viewer in the role of both voyeur and object of the gaze, fracturing the conventional relationship between artwork and audience.

However, I have also been making work, which also uses the dolls limbs and bodies. My work is about more than the gaze, or the face, so I felt it was important to use the whole doll. My installation Polyps features hundreds of heads, limbs and torsos, bound up in plastic bags.

My process changes for every project. I spend a lot of time reading about other artists and theorists in the hope that this will reveal a direction to take. I’m constantly brainstorming ideas, and often I will just start making things and see where that takes me.I also like to get feedback from others, as seeing my own work all the time means it can lose it’s impact on me. If a number of people seem to react strongly to certain strands of my work I may investigate that aspect further, or neglect it, depending on the nature of the responses. That’s how my installation Collector’s Addiction came about. I had a few decapitated dolls in jars sitting in my studio, which nearly everyone who came in gravitated towards.

Yang-En Hume, Collector's Addiction (detail). Courtesy of the artist.

Yang-En Hume, Collector's Addiction (detail). Courtesy of the artist.

You mention on your website that the doll as motif is significant in "shaping girls' experiences of being female" - can you elaborate? How do you feel it effects women's perceptions of being female?

Dolls are one of a number of factors, which teach girls how they should behave and to what they should aspire. They train girls to associate certain characteristics with being female. From the second half of the 18th century, they were used as a form of education to teach girls how to dress, and to foster maternal aspirations. Paintings of dolls from this period depict them as an aid in developing girls into docile women, probably indicative of underlying fears that women have innate unruly passions that could threaten the social order.

More recently, a number of writers and theorists have argued that dolls continue to teach girls’ gender norms and social expectations such as maternity, domesticity and beauty. Barbie reinforces a white-skinned, thin, fashionable beauty ideal, which when internalised has been shown by some studies to contribute to the development of body dissatisfaction in girls. Barbie and other dolls reinforce to girls that their primary social value is the attainment of beauty, encouraging insecure consumerism. Furthermore, Barbie represents a physical ideal, which extends the idea of beauty to characteristics such as skin colour, marginalising girls of non-Caucasian ethnicity. Even though they are not the only contributing factor, dolls, I think, act as a symbol of broader social and cultural expectations to which children are exposed from a very young age. They are a tool used to inculcate girls with certain ‘feminine’ values, and to train them to aspire to a narrow beauty ideal.

Describe your work in 5 words.

Anthropomorphic, Abject, collection, dismembered, taxonomic.

Yang-En Hume, Collector's Addiction. Courtesy of the artist.

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Saturday, 21 December 2013

How the Other Half Loves at The Pavilion Theatre

Annette Dix, Ben Freeman, Leigh Scanlon, Lauren Vincent and Christopher Bancroft in 'How the Other Half Loves'. Courtesy of The Pavilion Theatre.

How the Other Half Loves
Cast: Annette Dix, Leigh Scanlon, Christopher Bancroft, Larry Murphy, Ben Freeman and Lauren Vincent
Director: Dave Went
The Pavilion Theatre: November 22 - December 14, 2013

How the Other Half Loves
presents an insight into the lives, and loves, of two couples. We have Fiona and Frank Foster, a rich, well-to-do couple, whose concerns range from what to wear to the breakdown of an electronic toothbrush and Teresa and Bob Phillips, a middle class family with a small child who have turned bickering into an artform. You might ask how such different couples would have anything in common, you see Frank is Bob's boss and as you soon discover, Bob is having an affair with Fiona.

Lies and deception are everywhere as both Fiona and Bob attempt to explain to their spouses where they were so late on a week night. To cover their own indiscretions a story is fabricated implicating another co-worker of Bob's, William Featherstone, implying he is the one actually having an affair and that Fiona was comforting his wife Mary while Bob took him out drinking. Unbeknownst to Fiona, Frank has invited the Featherstone's over for dinner and it seems Teresa has done the same.

What proceeds is one of the cleverest and most entertaining dinner sequences I have ever seen enacted on stage. While the dinners occur on separate nights, they are performed simultaneously, with the Featherstones rotating on chairs to demonstrate which dinner they are engaged in at any one time. While they are with the Fosters, Teresa is silent and while they are listening to Teresa curse her husbands very existence the Foster's are quiet. This is done seamlessly and is by far the highlight of the play. It is a credit to the skill of the actors that this appears so effortless.      

Christopher Bancroft and Annette Dix in 'How the Other Half Loves'. Courtesy of The Pavilion Theatre.

The cast are outstanding and the dynamic between all the characters is believable and effortless, however a special mention must go to Christopher Bancroft as Frank Foster whose portrayal of the dottery and exasperating businessman is often a scene stealer. 

Almost as important as the actors is the set design. The stage is divided into two apartments where it is the set design and object arrangement, not physical boundaries, that differentiate between the two spaces. By designing the stage thus, it makes the play more dynamic, more comical and infinitely more engaging. Therefore praise must be given to set designer Maureen Cartledge whose concept elevates this production into something extraordinary.       

Larry Murphy in 'How the Other Half Loves'. Courtesy of The Pavilion Theatre.

Check out other reviews of Pavilion Theatre productions.

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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Sport for Jove present Much Ado About Nothing

Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing. Image courtesy of Sport for Jove.

Shakespeare in the Park
Presented by Sport for Jove Theatre, The Hills Shire Council & The National Trust
Much Ado About Nothing: Directed by Adam Cook
Bella Vista Farm: Saturday, December 7, 2013

I love Shakespeare and for my money no one does it better than Sport for Jove. I first saw their company perform this time last year during the Shakespeare Festival and beheld their Twelfth Night at Bella Vista Farm (you can read the review here). This time Much Ado About Nothing was on the menu and again, it did not disappoint, with Bella Vista Farm again presenting the perfect backdrop for this comedy of errors.

So, quick plot breakdown - you've got Claudio, right hand man of Don Pedro (The Prince) who falls in love with Hero, daughter of Leonato and cousin of Beatrice. Then there is Benedick, a proud bachelor and also one of the Prince's men who has a continuing feud with Beatrice that results from jilted love. In the guise of the villain is Don John, Don Pedro's brother, who kinda hates Claudio for having his brother's favour so, along with his partners in crime Conrad and Borachio, plots to break up the impending marriage of Claudio and Hero - a marriage which Don Pedro has arranged with Leonato.

Got it so far?
Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing. Image courtesy of Sport for Jove.

As this is all rolling out, Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato decide to influence Benedick and have him believe that Beatrice is in love with him so he will then realise he is in love with her. At the same time Hero and her mother Innogen play the same trickery on Beatrice. In both cases, it totally works. So, then we have Don John who pays Borachio to seduce Hero's maid Margaret but pretend it's Hero so that when Don John brings Claudio and his  brother The Prince to her chamber window they will think she is being unfaithful and shame her on the day of marriage. Of course, this all comes to pass, shame is brought on her house and in true Shakespeare fashion she fakes her own death. All the while Beatrice and Benedick confess their love for one another and she insists he avenge her cousins reputation by challenging Claudio. 

Still with me?

As it turns out, two watchmen over hear Borachio and Conrad discussing the deception and they are captured and tried. The truth comes out, Hero's name is cleared and Claudio is devastated that she's dead for no real reason. Inviting them to his home, Leonato reveals the truth - that Hero is in fact not dead - and her and Claudio finally get married. As do Benedick and Beatrice who, after a few rocky moments, realise they do really kinda dig each other and there's lots of dancing and revelry.
Much Ado About Nothing. Image courtesy of Sport for Jove.
Much Ado About Nothing. Image courtesy of Sport for Jove.

There are so many outstanding performances here that it's difficult to single any one out. Praise has to be given to Matilda Ridgway as Beatrice and Tim Walter as Benedick - they're ability to effortlessly bounce dialogue off one another is truly a joy to watch. Their fiery, witty and hilarious banter is as integral to the play as any member of the cast and and is the source of much of the comic relief. Scott Sheridan as the perpetually drunk Borachio is a lovable villain who presents perfect comic timing and witty asides and James Lugton as the verbally inept Dogberry is endearingly hapless. 

Particular highlights include Benedick hiding in the vines and under a wicker basket to overhear Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonato talk of Beatrices love for him, Beatrice sneaking through the audience to overhear her cousin and aunt talk of Benedick's love for her and the babbling Dogberry insisting on letting people know Conrad called him an ass. However, it was the incorporation of lyrics from Lionel Richie's Hello that had me crying with laughter. As Benedick attempts to write prose to Beatrice he says aloud the words to numerous Shakespeare sonnets, deeming them unworthy before he starts to say:           

I've been alone with you
Inside my mind
And in my dreams I've kissed your lips
A thousand times
I sometimes see you
Pass outside my door

It is at this moment that the maid Margaret interrupts him and he yells to her:

Is it me you're looking for?

Seamlessly slipped in, this hilarious addition demonstrates the skill of not only the actors but also the Director Adam Cook who has truly put together an outstanding adaptation of one of Shakespeare most humorous plays.


Barry FrenchFriar/ Verges
Christopher Stalley Claudio
Damien Strouthos Balthazar/ Watch
Francesca Savige Margaret
James Lugton Dogberry
John Turnbull Leonato
Julian Garner Don John
Lizzie Schebesta Conrad
Madeline Jones Hero
Matilda Ridgway Beatrice
Roberto Jago Don Pedro/ Watch
Scott Sheridan Borachio
Tim Walter Benedick
Vanessa Downing Innogen

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Breenspace to close its doors

Media release

Breenspace gallery will be closing on 21 December 2013.

After seven years of operations in Sydney the Breenspace gallery will close on 21 December, 2013.
It has been a tremendous seven years. Breenspace has held some extraordinary, thoughtful and often highly provocative exhibitions.

Breenspace has, and through its Director, Sally Breen will continue to be, a passionate advocate of young or fledgling artists and an equally impassioned proponent of more established artists.

Breenspace encouraged artists to be adventurous and take risks with their work so it was more fulfilling and challenging personally and would create new or renewed opportunities for engagement and dialogue with collectors and institutions. Breenspace succeeded admirably on both counts.

The decision to close is a difficult one for any gallery, particularly for its staff, and more especially for its artists and patrons. Such risk taking and innovation is not always well supported. It is particularly difficult to undertake in Australia. There are few government incentives for commercial galleries, which are among the smallest businesses in Australia, often only two or three person operations. This has a direct and deleterious effect upon artists who rely upon galleries to bring their work to the attention of collectors. The lack of depth and breadth of collecting practice and limited philanthropy compounds this difficulty, as does the expectation among a number of public and private collectors that art can be obtained at discounted prices and paid for over several months, or even years, putting tremendous commercial pressure on galleries and ultimately compromising artistic endeavour.

Despite this difficult environment Breenspace nevertheless was an artistic and cultural success that will live long in the memories of artists and collectors because it shifted perceptions of the role of commercial galleries and their interaction with artists, curators and collectors.

Breenspace wishes to thank its staff, Anthony Whelan and Clare Lewis, its artists and its collectors.

Sally Breen, Director Breenspace sally@breenspace.com 

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Monday, 9 December 2013

GUEST POST: Kristian Pellissier talks pigs blood with Carrie: the Musical

Carrie: the Musical. Image courtesy of Kabuku PR.

Carrie: the Musical
Seymour Centre: November 13 - 30

For me, the idea of Carrie as a musical conjured images of an intensely camp night out in the vein of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most are familiar with the 1976 film adaptation of the Stephen King novel, which explores the unraveling of Carrie White: a high school girl with a fragile spirit and telekinetic powers. By the time I entered the Seymour Centre, I had a wish-list of elements I hoped would be included in this Squabbalogic production: flying performers under the influence of Carrie's telekinesis; perhaps a song centered around the bucket of pig's blood; or (dare I say it) Carrie as interpreted by a drag queen.

In this staging, all the elements of the show are kept relatively simple. The set - a skeleton structure that doubles as Carrie's home and high school - is used effectively. While the choreography isn't innovative, it manages a few tongue-in-cheek moments, and the musicians are particularly lively in their accompaniment throughout. Plot, characterisations and tone stayed largely true to the film, with strong performances by Margi de Ferranti as Carrie's mother and Hilary Cole in the title role.  The entire cast presented generally well-rounded characters and played for emotional honesty.  

Carrie: the Musical. Image courtesy of Kabuku PR.

The show is evenly paced up to the Prom scene, building anticipation for those audience members in the know. From the beginning of the prom scene onwards however, the action suddenly quickens. While this could be to build momentum, it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity for Carrie and her mother to pull out the all the theatrical and vocal stops. For a production that is going for chills rather than chuckles, this also feels like it should be the moment to ramp up the fear factor. 

While this wasn't the show that I was expecting, Carrie: the Musical still offers a fun night out for the curious.

Kristian currently works as a dancer, dance teacher, adjudicator and Program Officer for the Australia Council for the Arts.

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Saturday, 7 December 2013

2013 COFA Annual Graduate Exhibition

Rod McRae Born Free, 2013.
At the end of each year all graduating students at the College of Fine Arts showcase their work in the COFA Annual. Like many graduate exhibitions it's a mixed bag of the very good and the not so good with the distance between scattered with the so-so.
This year the overall quality of work was good, but as usual there were some stand-outs.
Read the full article on the AU review.
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Monday, 2 December 2013

Another one bites the dust: goodbye COFA Magazine

On Friday night I went to the College of Fine Arts Annual exhibition of graduate work. I have a long standing relationship with COFA which began when I was 19 and enrolled in the Bachelor of Art Theory degree. I went on to study for 6 years and worked there for 4. This year was the first time the COFA Annual had been back on the Paddington campus for about 3 years as they had been redeveloping it. Gone is the 70s style courtyard with its trees and old benches, replaced by a concrete jungle. No trees, no shade, very little creativity. Anyway, I digress from my point....

My first writing experience was with the COFA Magazine, a free publication produced by COFA that highlighted the great things COFA students and graduates were doing in the industry. The writers were students or Alumni and for many it was our first taste of the world of publishing. My first ever interview was with artist Sandra Landolt for the COFA Magazine, later an interview I did with media artist Sam Smith would, years later, lead to a collaborative exhibition in Birmingham, UK while I was involved with an Artist Run Initiative there, I now work with an artist whom I first met though an interview for the magazine - it wasn't just a first step into the industry, it was a means of meeting people and connecting with others in the sector.

I tried to find out how long the COFA Magazine (later to be renamed Incubate) had been in circulation - it's been at least 10 years - but I couldn't find exact dates. Unfortunately the new powers that be at COFA have decided to cease publication of the magazine, despite the fact that a survey revealed over 90% of the student body thought it was valuable and actually influenced their decision to attend the university. I confess I don't know the reasoning behind the decision, however if it is down to funds (as is generally the case) they could easily move it online. But they're not moving the publication online, they're just killing it. 

I believe this is a monumental error and will drastically reduce enrollments and the general awareness of what the campus is doing. It's difficult for any writer starting out in the arts to catch a break, the COFA Magazine provided a means to get a foot in the door and start building a portfolio and get practical experience. It also gave artists, designers and arts practitioners a platform to show what they've been working on and the amazing work that comes out of the college.

It's disheartening to see that the opinions of the students count for so little and as an Alumni and an ex-employee this is the first time I've openly criticised COFA, but it's time that people with their own agendas perhaps consider the welfare of those who pay exorbitant fees to gain an education in the delightful concrete jungle that is now the COFA campus.      

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