Yesterday, on my first ever trip to Collector, NSW, I saw Dreamer’s Gate. There are many mentions online about this eerie construction, asserting itself in the landscape, standing stark in the dusty golden light and in full view of the local pub, but I hadn’t read any of it. I was taken aback by the scale and intricacy, heartbroken by its loneliness and the bizarre folly of it all. My mind raced, thinking of people everywhere, doing things for reasons they can’t explain, working with passion to useless ends.
I thought – this is what real art feels like. It does not seek permission, it does not ask to be loved, it does not strive to be beautiful, or clean or neat. It is not made quickly, or to direction. It is not normal, or safe. It does not even make sense. It is an idea that grows so slowly no-one can pin-point where it came from. And as the slow growing goes it will never be complete. It is hard. It is difficult. It is thankless. It will send you broke and into debt. And none of that will matter because it’s just something that you do, sure as blinking and breathing, while everywhere people tell you no and ask you why.
It is, among many things, an unfinished testament to your father built of chicken wire and cement in a vacant lot of a tiny country town.
Ah Tony Phantastes, thanks for reminding me about art. I need that more often than ever, these days. I hope they don’t tear down your sculpture.
…apparently Tony studied sculpture at the ANU School of Art. Does anybody remember him / know what he does now?
This time last year, in preparation for the birth of our little one, my partner and I attended a weekend long childbirth workshop in some attempt to de-mystify what is one of life’s most inconceivable (ha) experiences. A great deal of that weekend was spent learning the fine art of relaxation, through breathing, meditation and visualisation, and as someone who has never really taken the time to practice these skills I was dumbstruck, rattled even, by their effect and the power I had unknowingly held over myself all these years previously.
As seems to be the norm in relaxation workshops, the facilitator invited us to conjure up the sensory experience of a ‘special place’, but not before we had shared with one another where that place was to us. Unsurprisingly, places in nature were high on the list. The beach took out top honours followed closely by cool forests and mountain tops. In my mind’s eye I could see the Shoalhaven River, where I have enjoyed swimming every Summer for as many years as have mattered.
I grasped onto the well-worn image. I thought of icy, tea-coloured water pulling at my limbs under a baking clear blue sky. I slowed my breathing, I shifted positions, but as the minutes passed I could feel that something was wrong. The river wasn’t correct. I couldn’t feel it – it was an image and only that. What I could feel was something gentler.
Out of that feeling, behind my closed eyes, came the unmistakable light of dusk. That luscious low light was all too familiar, as were the sounds of crickets, Currawongs, and dogs barking off in the distance. The air was crisp and sweetly smoky, and the grass felt cool underfoot. I frowned and tripped upon my breathing, unable to comprehend how I had possibly arrived to find myself here – a place I always was – in my own backyard at the end of the day. My ‘special place’ – the place I would be if I could choose to be anywhere – was a garden bench under a Hills Hoist in the twilight out the back of my Inner North Canberran home.
This is what was on my mind when I wrote about Canberra for the current edition of Meanjin.
Yesterday’s ANCA Now! Symposium was a great event, the likes of which I’d love to see more of. As an artistic community so accustomed to thinking about the local landscape as an overwhelming whole it was a rare and great opportunity to focus on one particular aspect – in this case of course the 21-year-old Australian National Capital Artists studios and gallery (ANCA). How excellent to be able to think clearly and talk constructively about artist run initiatives in a Canberra context, instead of having to represent the needs and wants every other arts organisation, institution and facility in town. And what a boon it was to have varying generations of artists and arts workers on hand to provide perspectives on ANCA and artist run projects in general – from members of ANCA’s founding board to future hopeful tenants. I realised how little I actually knew about ANCA – how it began, how it runs today – and was reminded how important it is for Canberra to pay heed to these kinds of success stories. Not everything here was magicked into being with the sweep of a government wand.
I was invited to speak about considerations for ANCA in the future. No easy task, but after some consideration I gave it a shot…
ANCA remains an excellent facility for the production and presentation of art. For me, one of the best parts about working in this industry is visiting artists at work in their studios, and more often than not these are studios at ANCA, both Dickson and Mitchell. On these occasions I’m struck by the comfort of the studios, their conductivity to work – a perfect mix of quiet seclusion with a sense of community and shared aims. There is also an excellent mix of artists. Exhibitions at ANCA are exciting but always approachable – presenting current practice in manageable portions. They’re welcoming and engaging, not overwhelming or pretentious. All this risks making the place sound like a bit community-arts n craft-class warm and fuzzy, but to be clear the gallery at ANCA is an indispensible resource in Canberra’s visual arts landscape and has a sound mission. I have seen some astonishing, challenging, powerful works on show at ANCA, and a whole lot of similarly affecting works from ANCA tenants throughout the year.
I think ANCA does what it does very well – it’s had enough time and investment (meaning, for the most part, that people have invested themselves in it) to find its place, make its mark and remain relevant and important to the function of the arts in the ACT. I think there is no question as to whether or not ANCA will continue to serve the community this way into the future, but what could help it stay one step ahead, avoid becoming stagnant and further secure its standing in the coming years? That’s something that I was asked to consider when preparing for today.
It seems an age ago now that I first came across the work of Julia Boyd – while I was trespassing in the halls of the photomedia department at the ANU School of Art – and included her work in my first ever curatorial undertaking Borderlife. In those four years Boyd has been everywhere, and seemingly hasn’t skipped a beat as far as her practice is concerned. Resettled in Canberra after travelling, this month she presented not only her first solo exhibition Fluidity, but released a crowdfunded artist book Fluidity and Photography.
Fluidity, at CCAS Manuka from 28 March to 7 April, showed three distinct aspects of Boyd’s current practice, with none considered your regular garden variety photography. Upon entry to the exhibition the audience was gently introduced to this notion by a series of sophisticated liquid emulsion prints. These works are beautiful, but quiet, and although the subjects are people and places of significance to the artist these timeless pieces could be placed at the hand of many esteemed photographers over the past decades.
Following on was a selection of ink-jet prints on found objects and surfaces, including a full height door and a tabletop. It was works like these that first grabbed my attention in 2009 – totally unexpected, unlike anything I’d seen previously and therefore damn exciting. Now Boyd has taken it further: applying this same technique to printing onto books – old, found books that is, beautiful hardcover objects – their emblazoned titles now thrown askance by way of a striking new visage and complete new purpose of being.
The many remaining works in the exhibition are for me the best Boyd has made to date, although I will remind the reader that I am a painter by training, and a hobbyist behind the camera (and no good at either). Drawing from a huge archive of photographic material, much of it taken during her time overseas, Boyd has taken paint to photograph and erased almost everything. In a uniform concrete grey gouache entire sections of images are decisively obscured, cutting in and saving only the main figure of our focus. Boyd typically favours brutal and banal architecture, sombre landscapes or city scenes and the dreariness of day to day life, and through the addition of sympathetic greywash these subjects emerge more stark than ever. The scene is sharpened, our eyes move along all the right lines. With superfluous surroundings removed we can finally get to the heart of these works, to see what Boyd saw all along. With Fludity Boyd demonstrates with masterful ease and simplicity the age old advice that what you don’t say is as important as what you do. What’s not there goes a long way to illuminating what is.
For an excellent overview of Julia Boyd’s work and news of upcoming projects I recommend stopping by her website.
You Are Here 2013 is done, my third and final turn as co-producer. Cue violins and hand me a tissue. I can’t even begin to tell you what an impact this festival has made on my life, professionally and otherwise, in no small part due to the huge number of incredible individuals I have had the honour of calling my colleagues and subsequently friends since undertaking the project with Finnigan in late 2010. Yes there will be a You Are Here in 2014. Right now I’m working with the incoming producers and rest of the YAH team to figure out which way is forward. Put in a good word for us, if you know someone who might listen. If you didn’t get to make it to the 2013 festival, or to not enough of it, then I highly recommend whiling away the hours over at the You Are Here Vimeo page, where you can pretty much re-live the entire thing. BYO violins and tissue box.
Elsewhere, I’m really chuffed to have a piece included in the current issue of Meanjin – the Canberra birthday edition spectacular. Editor Zora Sanders initially invited me to write about Canberra’s art scene, but as I tend to do that with some regularity (see: this blog) I annoyingly asked if I could instead throw caution to the wind and get a little more, well, personal and sappy. Thanks Zora for humouring me, and advance apologies to readers. You may again need that tissue box, or a bucket. But truly, writing about Canberra as a place of great meaning to me was surprisingly difficult, completely out of my comfort zone and therefore a great experience. The edition is on sale now at Paperchain bookstore in Manuka and of course online.
Also in the world of publishing, I’m looking forward to the May edition of Landscape Architecture Australia magazine, having contributed an article on some of Canberra’s young designers and design collectives currently shaping the way things are done around these parts. Thanks to guest editor Neil Hobbs for the invite, I look forward to sharing the piece here later on down the track.
A little later this month I’m excited to be helping ANCA celebrate their 21st anniversary – speaking at the ANCA Now! symposium on April 19th. The one-day symposium coincides with exhibitions at both ANCA and Canberra Museum and Gallery, looking back on the cast of artists who have been engaged with the studio facility over the years. Highly recommended for anyone interested in ARIs, and/or their past, present and future in Canberra - Come Along!
And finally, I’m about to get stuck in to a new role that I’m totally thrilled about. Exciting things are on the horizon. More to share soon.
My partner’s dad, my son’s grandfather, lived on Lonsdale Street as a child. His dad was a body builder (as in car bodies, not gym bodies) and Braddon being the industrial hub for all thing auto, he worked in garage there while the family lived upstairs.
Earlier this year I was working at a shop on Lonsdale Street and we got talking about it one night, discovering it was pretty much situated at the same address that was his former home. He hadn’t been there in years, decades perhaps, and I tried to explain what Braddon was like now. I explained that there were a lot of new apartment blocks going up and that even the building housing the shop I was working in was to be demolished shortly. He wondered out loud what was wrong with all the original buildings and his face soured with disappointment as he realised he wouldn’t recognise much of the street any more. We talked about something else.
In 2012 Braddon is the suburb that everyone is talking about. For some it’s because it somehow found its way onto a list of hippest suburbs in the country. For others it’s because there’s a truckload of real estate being flogged there, and for the rest it’s because of Lonsdale Street Traders.
For those reading from under a rock or elsewhere, Lonsdale Street Traders is the reincarnation of a former tyre store (a fitting nod to the street’s greaser heritage) into a sort of mini mall for independent boutiques and businesses. The greater warehouse of the original building has been sectioned into small spaces, capsule stores with a central spill-out area, each tenanted by a diverse array of creative Canberran entrepreneurs.
The place has only been officially open a week and already I love going there. But for one of the most interesting and promising inner-city developments in my living memory there’s so far not much of any substance being said about it. That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten attention. In brief, the Canberra Times has it covered with: ‘Braddon’s trendy traders open doors officially‘, and ‘Trasformation into a hipster hangout‘, while online Her Canberra writes ”The launch of the precinct only strengthens Braddon’s claim of being Canberra’s hippest suburb – this place is so cool it hurts.”
And that’s all very well and good. But what if the Traders isn’t simply the hip young cool young trendy young hipster hispter hipster youth fad that everyone is stating and is actually the first workable solution to the crush on creative industry and independent business in Canberra, regardless of anyone’s age, lifestyle or apparent subcultural leanings? What if this sort of model is Canberra’s answer to what Renew is to Newcastle, applicable to our unique challenges? Would it be possible to ditch the dorky headlines, take ourselves seriously for a moment and look at why this project is potentially so important for Canberra’s CBD? Creative, enterprising folk setting up their own businesses and opening up shops in the city shouldn’t be a novelty, trendy or hipster, shopping outside of the mall shouldn’t be seen as ‘quirky’. The fact that it has become so is something I think we should be talking more about.
“If it matters, it’ll get done. If it doesn’t get done, it didn’t matter enough.”
Author Chester Eagle (stolen from Rachel Power’s fantastic book The Divided Heart)
After what has been a long drought between posts I’m excited to report I have a new project to add to the menagerie, as though I wasn’t busy enough already. It’s The Side Project – a networking event for Canberra women with a passion for creative practice – and though so young it already holds a very close place to my heart.
The whole thing arose out of meeting artist and designer Skye Jefferys, recently relocated to Canberra and eager to get her hands dirty in the local arts scene. We discovered we both share a fascination with women who are juggling creative practice alongside other life commitments, such as family and/or the 9 to 5, and had both been dreaming up ways to indulge these interests. Skye is a woman of action whereas I am often all talk, and as is the way with all great collaborators she has brought me back from la la land into a space where vague ideas become tangible reality, and thus The Side Project is born. Hopefully these bi-mothly get-togethers will give back to the many inspirational women in the ACT arts community by providing an opportunity to create networks, gain inspiration, forge partnerships, share information, make friends or just take time out for themselves.
I found I was yearning for events like these when I first began working for myself two years ago, needing resources and desperately seeking guidance in the brave new world of freelancing. With a young baby, the need is even mores0; to stay engaged, motivated and to see that anything is possible if you’re willing to work hard enough.
Our first instalment of The Side Project is coming up soon – if you need to be spurred on then maybe this is for you!
- Shelley Dickerson goldsmith
- Jan Falsone video artist and ANCA Gallery Development Officer
- Rachael Freeman artist, designer and director of Milk & Masuki
- Melanie Tait ABC broadcaster and creator of storytelling project Now Hear This