Monday, 24 February 2014

5 Questions With... artist Meredith Birrell

Artist Meredith Birrell

Are the old photographs you use in Grandmother series and Archive (both on show at the 2013 NAS grad show) of your own family? If so, why is this family connection important? If not, where do they come from?

Yes, they are photos from the life of my mother’s mother from childhood to young adulthood, so they date from c.1920s – 1950s. The idea of family history has become increasingly important to me over the last few years – I suppose it comes from a desire to know more about where I come from and what makes me who I am now. My grandmother also died when I was very young, so I never really knew her. My mother actually collected all these pictures from other members of the family and when I was given them it inspired me to think about making a project based around them, especially as it allowed me to work through my maternal history. It is really about three generations of women. 
Meredith Birrell, Grandmother Series - Home. Courtesy of the artist.
In Grandmother series you produce large scale canvas reproductions of old photographs that are unclear and obscured, why do you create this effect?


I was exploring the dual nature of memory and nostalgia, that it is at once comforting and safe and yet also distant, lost, forever-out-of-reach. I was deliberately trying to show this paradox and the difficulty of reaching the past. Figures from the past are ghosts, spectres that haunt us in the present, so I tried to show this by making them insubstantial and out-of-focus. It was also about bringing attention to the surface of the picture – the fact I couldn’t reach through it to get at the past. The paintings show this struggle and my subjective response to history, not factual history itself. 
Meredith Birrell, Grandmother Series - Matrix, oil and beeswax on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Your work is heavily steeped in nostalgia and memory - what inspired you to head down this path?

Yes, for all the reasons above. The family photograph carries this narrative of pleasure and pain, life and death, something Roland Barthes talks about in Camera Obscura, which incidentally was inspired by a photo he discovered of his mother as a child. As much as I was interested in discovering some ‘truth’ about myself though an exploration of my past, I knew this would be an impossible task, I could only paint my own subjectivity, not the past itself. 

Do you see yourself continuing with this theme and how do you see it developing?

Yes I do, this is only a beginning for me. I have just begun working with an album of my own family photos, so we’ll see where this goes. There is a lot of painting and writing out there at the moment that talks about photography and memory, so I see my work as fitting into this conversation somehow, but with my own personal bent. I would like to keep exploring the opposing drives within the photograph and our strange attachment to it, as well as keep testing the limits of representational painting. I want to make pictures that people respond to viscerally, that shift between the light and the dark.  

Describe you work in five words.  

Figurative, conflicted, personal, painterly, introspective. 

Meredith Birrell, Grandmother Series - Untitled 1. Courtesy of the artist.

Meredith Birrell, Grandmother Series - Untitled 2. Courtesy of the artist.
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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Opera Australia: The Turk in Italy

Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo & The Opera Australia ChorusPhoto credit Lisa Tomasetti. Courtesy Opera Australia.
If you view Opera as a stuffy, traditionalist form of entertainment where overly made up men and women swan around on stage and sing with bravado prepare to have some of your (dated and generalised) illusions shattered. The Turk in Italy, written by Gioachino Rossini and presented by Opera Australia is hilarious - there's one illusion down the drain. While I don't believe that what appeared on the surtitles was a direct translation, you got the general idea, and with things such as 'What the f**k' appearing it was evident content has been updated for a contemporary audience.

Conal Coad as Geronio, Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo & Luciano Botelho as Narciso.
Photo credit Lisa Tomasetti. Courtesy Opera Australia.

The Turk in Italy is set in a seaside town near Naples in the 1950's where a young poet, Prosdocimo is desperately in search of inspiration for a new story. He finds it in the love life of married couple Geronio and Fiorilla and the gypsy Zaida. Geronio is at his wits end as his wife flirts and has her way with every young man who crosses her path. Zaida is heartbroken at the loss of her love Selim who believed her to be untrue and she was forced to flee Turkey. Things become interesting when Selim arrives in Naples and meets the vivacious Fiorilla and immediately falls for her, much to Geronio's dismay. But when Selim reunites with Zaida things get complicated and he is torn. The women fight over him while poor Geronio attempts to defend his honour and pride. It all culminates in a fancy dress ball with delightful, if not predictable results, and the poet Prosdocimo has his story.

Paolo Bordogna as Selim & Anna Dowsley as Zaida.
Photo credit Lisa Tomasetti. Courtesy Opera Australia.
The costumes and set design are exceptional. I secretly coveted every outfit worn by the brilliant Emma Matthews as Fiorilla. The seaside bar seamlessly converted into the inside of Geronio's house and then into the ball at the opera's conclusion. It's simplicity was its strength. Paolo Bordogna as Selim was a standout as much for his cheeky theatrical performance as the suave Turk as for his outstanding singing ability. Perhaps that was the most surprising part - the cast could act. Was it overdone - yes - but not to the point where it felt ridiculous. Arguably this may have been easier to achieve given it was a comedic performance but that could have also been the danger. The Turk in Italy is immensely entertaining and engaging. The humour, the costumes, the sets, not to mention the remarkable vocal and theatrical performances left the audience gasping for more.  
Emma Matthews as Fiorilla, Paolo Bordogna as Selim & Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo. Photo credit Lisa Tomasett. Courtesy Opera Australia.

Paolo Bordogna as Selim, Emma Matthews as Fiorilla & Conal Coad as Geronio.
Photo credit Lisa Tomasetti. Courtesy Opera Australia.

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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sydney Theatre Company & the Australian Defense Force: The Long Way Home

James Duncan in the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defense Force's The Long Way Home. Credit Lisa Tomasetti. Courtesy of The Sydney Theatre Company.

The Long Way Home presents the deeply moving stories of Australian Defence Force servicemen and women who have served overseas, primarily in Afghanistan. The production is a collaboration between the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force and between the servicemen and women involved and the writer Daniel Keene and Director Stephen Rayne. Twelve of the performers on stage have served overseas and these are their stories. 

Read the full article on the AU review.
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Sunday, 9 February 2014

Short + Sweet Dance Gala

Girl Getting Bitter, Eva Crainean. Courtesy Short + Sweet.

If I had to sum up the Gala finals of Short + Sweet Dance in one word it would be, not surprisingly, diverse. Given this evenings performances were the result of several rounds of voting it became clear quite quickly that the public, and the judges, like their dance funny.

Read the full article on the AU review.
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