Thursday, 14 August 2014

5 Questions With... Peter & Susan O'Doherty

Susan O'Doherty, Earlwood Kitchen, mixed media assemblage, 120 x 130 x 20cm. Courtesy of the artists.

You worked in the same studio for more than 20 years and yet this is your first show exhibiting together, why do you think it's taken so long?

Susan: We have been involved in group shows together in the past but have never thought about having a dual exhibition. It's always seemed better for us to be as autonomous as possible. Our work is very different in style and medium, but with Peter's figurative paintings of houses, interiors, landscapes etc and with my assemblages dealing with domestic themes, female identity and gender issues, we saw there was a common thread in that we were dealing with the two sides of the domestic coin personified in the house, depicted in our respective work with the male 'external' and female 'internal'.

You were both moved around a lot as children, do you feel that Moving House is a chance to rebuild an identity and a sense of place that perhaps wasn't there growing up? 

Moving continually as a child can be difficult in respect to forming long term relationships with people and places. You learn to adjust quickly to fit in in a superficial way but if you are on the move again you don't tend to invest in long term friendships. The constant upheaval of changing schools, settling into new neighbourhoods and towns can be exhausting and daunting to a child. I don't know if we're trying to rebuild an identity with our work in Moving House but you could say we're engaging with childhood memories, positive and negative.

On first glance there is something quite idealistic about both of your works. A very '1950s suburbia' feel but with a sinister edge. In particular Susan your work has an almost clinical feel - like a persons life is being put under the microscope. Why did you choose to portray the domestic space in this way?

Susan: My assemblages are set out with a deliberate sense of composition, colour and structure. I've tried to convey the sense of order, discipline and routine in the houses I lived in. When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's the family home for so many mothers was a full time domestic job. The showcasing of a shiny, clean, ordered facade often masked a dissatisfied, depressed and frustrated woman. 
Peter O'Doherty, Corner House Curl Curl, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 136cm.

Peter, a lot of your images are muted and unclear, almost like a memory of home more than the reality. The exteriors are devoid of life and fairly uninviting - what influenced you to portray 'the home' in this way?

Peter: Even though my paintings are representational, with the blurred edges and reduction of detail I've tried to distill the images to an almost abstract rendition of reality. You're right in saying they are something like a memory though they are not meant to be purely nostalgic or sentimental in any way. These houses may have been built in the 40's, 50's and 60's but are still contemporary in that people live in them today. Whilst the houses are built by and for humans, I'm trying to convey a feeling, a sense that these dwellings exist apart from the transitory movements in and out of their guardian occupants.

While collaboratively you present the internal and external there is still a degree of anonymity with the work. There is no human element and while steeped in nostalgia, there is something eerie in the compositions. What message are you trying to convey to an audience? What do you want them to see?

In both of our works, though they may appear to have a sense of distance conveyed by their stillness and order, there is a very human component to them - from the well used kitchen utensils or the toilet roll holder in the bathroom to the cotton thread and lace in the sewing room and to the familiar external facades of the houses. What is interesting is that while so many of the objects in the assemblages are familiar and beautifully designed, many of these items are now obsolete so there is a sadness in response to the ephemeral nature of things.

Moving House is on until the 24 August at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.
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Monday, 11 August 2014

The Magic Flute at Riverside Theatres

The Magic Flute, Anna Dowsley as Papagena and Christopher Hillier as Papageno. Photo credit Albert Comper.
Opera Australia are really rather clever. They are embarking on a substantial tour of Australia with Mozart's The Magic Flute, 'bringing opera to all Australians regardless of where they live'. Enhancing this sense of community they are joining forces with the children's choir through their regional schools touring program. Each performance will include singers from the children's choir in that town or city, simultaneously supporting the potential opera singers of tomorrow and guaranteeing them an audience of mum, dad, extended family etc. Like I said, clever.

I saw the performance at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre, a venue that arguably is not built for opera - and here is their first hurdle. While the sound was great (from my position near the front) the stage itself never changed. While the set that was erected was clever and well utilised, with it's hidden doors, the fact that every dramatic scene occurred in the same room felt a bit stale. The scene was set in 1930s Egypt and our heroic lead Tamino (Sam Roberts-Smith) finds himself charged with a mission to rescue the Queen of the Night's daughter who has been kidnapped. With the help of his comical sidekick Papageno (Christopher Hillier)they are guided by child spirits (enter the children's choir) and go in search of Pamina (Emma Castelli).

When they do find her it transpires that the man who has kidnapped her is in fact her father Sarastro (Steven Gallop) who is a philosopher who encourages the two explorers to seek enlightenment and join his group (felt like a cult), only then will he allow Pamina to marry Tamino. So they do. The Queen of the Night (Regina Daniel) gets quite annoyed, tries to manipulate her daughter but strangely in the end appears to reconcile with Sarastro. It feels as if The Magic Flute is a battle for custody between two divorced parents. 

The singing is faultless. Each performer is exceptional at what they do, however it is Christopher Hillier as the loveable 'anti-hero' Papageno that really steals the show. He, more than the others manages to sing beautifully and act. Hillier walks the fine line between acting and over acting and manages to nail it. The children's choir, naturally, cannot act, so that was a little painful to watch - however their singing is stunning. There was one scene in which each child brought a stuffed toy animal and placed it on the stage in front of Tamino as he waved the magic flute around. Anyone familiar with the story would recognise this as the moment all the animals become entranced by the flutes music but it didn't really translate well and the children's awkwardness only added to the confusion.         
The Magic Flute, Hannah Dahlenburg as Queen of the Night. Photo credit Albert Comper.
Entertaining and humorous, The Magic Flute is not the best thing I've ever seen Opera Australia produce, however that does not mean it wasn't worth seeing. With one night only performances happening across Australia until September, dates and locations can be found on the website
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Friday, 8 August 2014

GUEST POST: Kristian Pellissier enjoys some nudity in France as he comes to the end of his Parisian adventures

Nudity on stage makes me a little uncomfortable. While far from being a nation of nudists, the French have a certain ease with the naked body that results in a more open artistic exploration of the human form. To my eye accustomed to a more commoditised attitude towards the naked body, this can be a little jarring.

My first foray into artistic nudity for this trip came in the form of Olivier Dubois’ Tragédie (Tragedy), which I attended as part of the World Dance Alliance Global Summit events in Angers.  The work explores the concept of humanity; the individual versus the collective. The dancers are completely naked and commence the work pacing up and down the stage, appearing and disappearing through a fringed back curtain. The lack of clothing drew the eye into the physique and physicality of each performer: one holding tension in an elbow, another flicking a hand slightly whenever they changed direction. Deceptive in its initial simplicity, pauses and sudden changes of direction resulted in intricate patterning and a complex ebb and flow of performers. As the work progressed, the hypnotic group dynamic branched into individual, sculptural moments, gendered groupings and occasionally sexually suggestive dynamics. The result was a sea of humanity – initially as waves that lap at the shore, then as an aggressive crashing and fragmentation that eventually recedes.

One train trip later, I watched a very different work: the cabaret show Désirs (Desires) at Le Crazy Horse Paris. While there is a lot of flesh on show, the performers are hidden behind their alter egos. The website cast list is filled with names like ‘Dekka Dance’ and ‘Lava Strastosphere’, both adding to the performers’ mystique and protecting them from fans less focused on their dance technique and facility. Considering that management has felt the need for a plaque next to the stage announcing that binoculars are forbidden in the first row, this is probably a wise move.

The show is broken down into vignettes that run the gamut of sexual fantasy in more or less subtle ways. For me, there were two pieces that were particularly beautiful. The first was a group piece to Yael Naim’s other worldly cover of the song Toxic. Limbs unfolded over the top of a tilted mirror, producing a kaleidoscope of bodies bathed in an orange glow. The other is a solo performed under a changing light that appears to be controlled by the performer, to the song Man is the Baby by Antony and the Johnsons. Executed on a modified chaise lounge, the piece felt like a final, passionate kiss to an already departed lover. Both works are sexually charged, but tease the eye away to focus on lights, shapes and unexpected forms. 

The performance drew to a close and I ended the evening standing under the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower, which popped and fizzed like a fresh glass of champagne. Watching the lights dance, I considered the French temperament: their passion for art and learning that infuses everything they create. Through the artistic, romantic French heart, the body becomes art and sexuality becomes sensuality. It softens the edges and eases the mind. The two performances have left indelible images that, in capable French hands, are more to do with art than the presence of nudity.

Kristian currently works as a dancer, dance teacher, adjudicator and Program Officer for the Australia Council for the Arts. All images taken by the author.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Superdry and other panoramas by Penelope Cain

Penelope Cain, Panorama at the base of the Cherry Blossom mountain, 2014. Courtesy of MOP.
Penelope Cain
Superdry and other panoramas 
MOP: 23 July - 17 August, 2014

Have you ever had a meal and you just can't seem to put your finger on a certain flavour. It's right there, on the tip of your tongue - you know you know it but you just can't seem to verbalise it. In a sense, that is what Penelope Cain's exhibition Superdry and other panoramas was for me. I irrefutably loved it and yet I have sat here for two days trying to find the words to explain why. Still not sure I've got it but here goes, bare with me. 
Penelope Cain, Superdry, 2014. Courtesy of MOP.
Navigating that age-old rocky terrain between the beauty of the landscape and the structure of the constructed, built environment, Cain delivers delicate works that incorporate drawing and incredibly fine cuttings. These two elements appear to present different sides of the spectrum - on the one hand are the prominent and stark drawings, on the other, the delicately cut paper depicting modern, consumer landscapes. This juxtaposition is perfectly played with the result being a quite homogenised balance between the two extremes.    
Penelope Cain, Sale Topshop, 2014. Courtesy of MOP.
In particular Sale Topshop is especially powerful. The cut out makes it appear like the London tube while the intricate drawing is a stunning panorama that oddly does not appear out of place against such a seemingly urbane setting. Perhaps Cain has mapped out the perfect balance between the sublime and the city scape. The sheer detail and simplicity of these works is what makes them truly stand out. They're not contrived or cliched views of the subject which so many fall into. It is evident Cain understands her subject and there is an honesty about the work - it doesn't need to hide behind convoluted justifications - it just is.    
Penelope Cain, Free Quotes! Taxi Training, 2014. Courtesy of MOP.

Penelope Cain, Surface Tension, 2012. Courtesy of MOP.

MOP installation shot.

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