FRINGE SPECIAL ISSUE 2018
A CREATIVE REWILDING
To increase positive impact and creative expansion with our hearts, minds and efforts.
Editor in Chief & Creative Director Cynthia Sciberras Deputy Editor Dominique Antarakis Proofreading The Copy Collective, Sydney Graphic Design Natalie Behjan Cover Illustration Miriam Castillo
Publisher This is a subscriber-supported, independentlyproduced, high-quality, eco-friendly print magazine. Published by YOKE ® PUBLICATIONS based in Redfern, Australia. Distributors & Stockists YOKE ® magazine s available through independent bookshops and yoga studios around the globe. For our list of stockists, visit our website. If you are interested in stocking YOKE ® , we offer special wholesale prices online, or email us. Partnering & Advertising YOKE ® does not accept advertising. We are a reader-supported publication, promoting creative and independent journalism and the collaboration of talented creatives to bring it to life. We survive on community support, subscriptions and our generous Creative Partners.
Follow Us Stay in touch and help us share this new publication facebook.com/yokemag twitter.com/yoke_me instagram.com/yokemag firstname.lastname@example.org yokemagazine.com © 2018 YOKE ® magazine and the authors and artists. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the publisher. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily the views of YOKE® or YOKE PUBLICATIONS. Submissions We are always keen to receive photo and story submissions. For guidelines visit our website. Ambassadors Becoming an agent of change is about taking small, sustainable steps to influence the world around you positively. And what better way to do that than joining the YOKE HOOD and becoming an ambassador. Check out our website for more information.
Eco Friendly For our Print magazine we have chosen quality paper made by a carbon-neutral manufacturing process and using CMYK soy-based inks and linseed vegetable oils. The paper is FSC COC certified and consists of 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper meaning emissions generated are low. As a result, we have saved trees, energy and greenhouse gases. YOKE ®, ISSUE 4, DUTY; ISSUE 3, GATHER; ISSUE 2 BALANCE; ISSUE 1, LOVE/LOSS ISSN: 2203-1472
100% Environmentally Friendly This publication is produced with environmental mindfulness.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, where this publication has been proudly developed and produced.
YOKE is an explosive mix of many things that delves deep into story telling. We celebrate beautiful ideas, people and art. We live joyfully in the small moments, the stories of difference and modern relevance of ancient ideas. As Creative Partner of this years Sydney Fringe we bring you this free special online edition, featuring our favorite Australian's doing amazing work in the world. We are however, much sexier in the flesh.
Levitating Lotus, Varanasi, 2009. Photograph by Michael O'Neill.
CONTENTS 5 Coming to Terms Photo series by Australian-born artist Abdul Abdullah
69 These Walls Can Talk Featured Australian Artist Fintan Magee 72 Competition with God by Augusta Supple
11 Remixing a Dersert in Bloom Feature interview wiht Australian artist Christian Thompson
73 Into the Void Danik Abishev, Kathryn Puie, Lilikoi Kaos, Mark Winmill (Captain Kidd), and Tara Gower
15 The Problem with the Sensuous Animal Interview with philosopher, author and academic John Armstrong
77 Rock Gods and Godesses Interview with multi-award-winning artists Paul Capsis and Tommy Bradson
21 The Ultimate Balancing Act
81 Nothing is Divisable Interview with Australian artist NELL
Four creative mothers on the notion of balance â€” Kerri Glasscock, Sibella Court, Sarah Goodes and Eloise King
39 Life's A Drag Interview with Cindy Pastel
85 The Petrified Flesh Interview with Australian artist Petrina Hicks 89 An Artists Journey
45 Learning by Letting Go
With recognised Sydney yogini Eileen Hall
51 Take Two Four creative couples on love, life, family and responsibility â€” Lulu and Mischka, Sharlee Gibb and Matt Wilkinson, Bec Matthews and Sarah Ward, Louise Whelan and John Ogden 63 Driven by Distraction Interview with Emma Beech
by Noula Diamontapoulas
91 The Examined Life Could you imagine a world without art and culture? 95 Getting Beyond Stuff Collaborative Supercyclers
97 The Stories that Bind Us Interview with film maker Jason Van Genderen
99 Wome's Work Photo series by Thai-Australian video artist Kawita Vatanajyankur 105 Welcoming the disenfranchised Featured interview with Jess Miller
111 Beauty in Mortality Photo sereis by Australian Artist Marien Drew
Coming to Terms â€” The wedding (Conspiracy to Commit), 2 015.
COMING TO TERMS BY AUSTRALIAN-BORN ARTIST ABDUL ABDULLAH
As the son of a sixth-generation Australian and a Malaysian Muslim, Abdul Abdullah offers a unique perspective into ideas about contemporary Australian culture and what it means to be a young Australian Muslim today. These self-portraits, entitled ‘Siege’, aim to examine our relationship with the natural world. The series also acts as a conclusion to the 2014 works of the same title. In a way, the human figure is coming to terms with his natural self. He sees his reflection in the monkey he holds and the monkey sees itself in the man. They are the same, but they are entirely different, each seeking comfort and solace in the other. It is an intimate space they share, but one is unspoiled and original and the other a monstrous imitation, each hoping for optimism in their camaraderie. In one way both figures have inherited a world littered with challenges in which they will need to adapt to survive the hostilities. ‘Coming to Terms’ draws on traditional wedding imagery and, by including subversive images like the balaclava, disrupts conventional readings of the work. The balaclava is used as a shortcut to the projection of criminality on marginalised elements in society. The motif of a wedding represents an almost universally understood ritual of optimism and unity. This vision is distorted in the hope of building empathic pathways for better shared understanding.
Coming to Terms â€” Bride I (Victoria), 2015
Coming to Terms â€” Groom I (Zofloya), 2015
Coming to Terms â€” The Lies We Tell Ourselves to Help us Sleep, 2015
Coming to Terms â€” Conciliation (Of Self), 2015
REMIXING A DESERT IN BLOOM CHRISTIAN THOMPSON BY LEAH RENYA GRYCEWICZ
The son of a military man who grew up in rural Australia, Christian Thompsonâ€™s art takes an unflinching look at issues of identity and history. Speaking from London, where he is currently working on his doctoral thesis, he talks to YOKE about his quest to belong.
onfessional, autobiographical self-portraiture, centre of the frame, time and time again. Close up with desert flowers. Close up with cone-head. Close up with feathers. Close up with eerie piercing lenses. Close up with smoke. It appears habitual, this close-up of a hedonistically adorned face in frame. And it wouldn’t be out of place on the catwalks of Paris, indeed it somehow belongs there. I taste a little off-the-shelf Galliano, fused with the scent of Leigh Bowery, riding on the coat tails of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Speaking from London, where he is currently finishing off his thesis – only 7,000 words to go – Christian Thompson muses with me on being the inaugural Charles Perkins Oxford Scholar recipient, the art of shape-shifting through self-portraiture, seasonal affective disorder and the nature of belonging. His artistic impetus has been to take “very traditional kinds of ideas and bring them into a contemporary context.” His interests have delved “beneath the surface of popular culture, and not the things that are.” He believes a culture moves forward by “questioning these perceived binaries, whether it’s male and female, black and white, gay and straight, or urban and regional.” As the son of a military man, Christian moved often. Born here, lived there, moved on and on and on. “I always say, growing up in the military, we had the great privilege of growing up in some of Australia’s premier backwater towns.” And while there is inevitably an element of trauma when constant change is enforced on a child, Christian considers “growing up in the military as great training for being an artist.” Reflecting on how he dialogues with his family around his work, he insists, “They are very, very supportive. You know it’s funny, if I say to them I want to make this artwork, there is never any question as to whether they will be involved or not. The family has always rallied around me.”
Ellipse, Polari 2014
When he would return to Barcaldine in central Queensland to see his family, his grandmother would always say to him, “Why don’t you take a walk through the scrub, because the desert flowers are out this year.” And he would. Take long walks. Looking for desert flowers. “And they were always in these muted tones, always sort of pale lavender, pink and yellow – these very soft tones against the arid sand dunes and red earth. Because you know where we are from the sand dunes meet the red earth and against that landscape those flowers were a really profound contrast for me.” Prior to the creation of his seminal work Australian Graffiti, Christian drew on family and friends to engage with traditional values and bring them into a contemporary framework. “That was always a huge motivation for me, to engage other aboriginal people in this kind of bourgeois process of making art, which wasn’t something that most aboriginal people had access to. I really liked the performance-like nature of that process.” Emotional Striptease (2003) serves up a dichotomy. Paying homage to the subjugation of his ancestors, men and women in traditional servant’s attire brandish a boomerang, a nulla nulla and a digging stick – London past with a native twist. A dark chant of geological antiquity, questions abound superseding the obvious. I know what I would have liked to do with those tools!
Australian Graffiti, 2008 Opposite page: Trinity I, Polari 2014
Three Sisters, 2012
Transcending thoughts of retribution, acts of creative intervention propose a space to re-consider that which has passed. Use of local vernacular and visual cues summon a love song cycle to his country. Christian’s methodology involves intimate exchanges, engaging indigenous Australian culture and providing a context to explore in contrast to customary values. These progressions celebrate the collective experience of a culture undergoing an enforced and often discompassionate transition. A black man powering in a white man’s world makes for a welcome change. Australian Graffiti, as it turned out, was the work that tipped the scales in Christian’s favour. Exploiting the self-portrait, Australian Graffiti (2007) presents (for the first time) Christian in the centre of the frame. Bejewelled in giant, almost wreath-like, native flora headwear, Christian’s Adonis-like presence infuses the setting with a confidence that embraces binaries. Aside from being highly decorative and really very pretty, Australian Graffiti poignantly rekindles his grandmother’s decree. Fast-forward to now, to London. His Oxford scholarship provided a stimulating opportunity to work with the Pitt Rivers Museum’s historic Australian photographic collection. Fuelled by an Australian Research Council Grant, the project focused on the repatriation of Australian indigenous photographs held in European collections. The series We Bury Our Own (2012) was a response to that collection. “Inspired by the performativity of those images, the sort of aesthetic value of those images and the kind of ritualistic process of reincarnating oneself as a kind of creator spirit,” the body of work contemporizes a colonial archive, conjuring a meditative space that proposes a place for spiritual repatriation.
Christian’s bent for the graphic, fantastical and dramatic has hit a high note in his most recent work, Polari (2014). The visual opulence of the series solidifies a menacing air. The white-wigged woman/goddess alternates with a cherub and centaur. Polari invests in the value of ceremony, ritualistic re-invention and metamorphosis. The idolised and measured ambiguity contributes to a suite of cultural re-configurations and the subterfuge runs deep. I ask Christian how he differentiates between his contemporary and ancestral interests and he says, “Actually I am really interested in that grey space. I deliberately put myself there and I deliberately exist in-between things.” The process of creating art (and the resulting bodies of work) can at times be mysterious and at times crystal clear, and it can also reside somewhere in-between. Woody Allen famously said that 80 percent of success is showing up and Christian Thompson is showing up trumps. Not only that, he thinks about his work a lot. He thinks and he thinks… “I think my work is about finding a sense of belonging. I think that’s a really universal desire of human beings – to find acceptance and to find a sense of belonging and a home (whatever that might mean) in a very metaphoric or literal way.” The beauty of art, lies in its capacity to navigate a far-ranging sphere of concerns that can ideally illuminate and propagate pertinent conversations. Christian Thompson is an artist who understands his context and is comfortable in an undefined transitory zone. He also revels in the prospect of unexpected combinations. Cue shape-shifting video Opera Diva. Christian’s got a whole lot more to come.
Images courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney Energy Matter, 2012
UNITING AUDIENCES AND ARTISTS FOR DEEPER CONVERSATIONS, DEEPER ART AND DEEPER LISTENING.
Breaking the mold, engaging on realms that embrace a sense of ritual, the rising feminine, courage, and creativity –– making more room to create and evolve. Full line-up of FRINGE UNYOKED
THE PROBLEM OF THE SENSUOUS ANIMAL JOHN ARMSTRONG BY MELITA ROWSTON PHOTO BY DAN CRIPPS
“The idea that art is confronting is a therapeutic move in answer to the problem of being stuck and complacent.”
The philosopher, author and academic John Armstrong takes
in the 19th century.’ There’s nothing wrong with finding out those
a deep breath. I’ve obviously hit a nerve. In quoting Paul Auster,
things. But they’re not playing a major role in answering the hard
‘Art is something useless and beautiful that makes us feel human,’
question, ‘Why is this important to me?’”
I’ve opened up a deliciously provocative can of worms.
John and Alain also suggest that art museums should be organised by emotional states. They include a plan of what London’s Tate
“People who say, “Oh art is useless, but I love it,” they don’t
Modern might look like if its galleries were themed around fear,
actually think art is useless,” says John. “‘Useful’ is something
compassion and suffering instead of chronologically displaying
that achieves a purpose that’s valuable to us. And art does exactly
their paintings. While this idea has conservative critics up in arms,
that. There isn’t an issue here. It’s just a linguistic confusion.
John sees this approach as neither avant-garde nor controversial,
It’s not a serious point of dispute.”
but completely mainstream.
We’re talking about John’s latest book Art as Therapy. Co-written
“Our starting point was Aristotle’s The Poetics, which is the first
with philosopher Alain de Botton, the book proposes that art
systematic discussion of the arts in Western culture,” says John.
has a clear function. Art is a therapeutic tool that helps us better
“Aristotle is very explicit about answering the question, ‘Why is
understand ourselves and lead more fulfilled lives. Art as Therapy
watching tragic drama (the art form the Greeks loved) good for
asks, ‘What is art for, why does it matter and, particularly, why
us?’ His answer is that it teaches us the right way to experience
should art matter to you?’
fear and pity. It’s an emotional education. Essentially, Alain and I are creating the same kind of project, but with visual art.”
“For many reasons people writing about art run away from that question, fudge it or get vague or mystical about it,” says John.
In 2014, John and Alain were invited by Amsterdam’s
“I’ve done plenty of it myself. I’m speaking from experience here.
Rijksmuseum to put their theories into practice. They chose 150
But in this particular book, we’ve made a very bold move to try
artworks from the collection and co-wrote narrative responses
and pin down a sensible and definite answer about how art makes
that sought to shed new light on old works. These were printed on
a difference to people and, through that, to society.”
distinctive yellow panels and placed next to the pictures.
Born in Glasgow and educated in Oxford and London, John
“Selecting those pictures was completely blissful,” says John “We
moved to Australia in 2001. Having written books with titles such
had a very easy task. Galleries like The Rijksmuseum really only
as Life Lessons from Nietzsche and Love, Life and Goethe – How
have great works in them. Quite quickly we said, ‘What do you
to be happy in an imperfect world, it’s clear he’s committed to
like? What do I like? Let’s write about those.’ It was really that
making old ideas relevant to today’s problems. While this is John’s
simple and a lot of fun.”
first public collaboration with Alain de Botton, they’ve been firm friends and intellectual sparring partners since their mid-20s.
One of my favourite examples of their interventions is their response to John Constable’s Cloud Studies. Painted in 1822, this
“Alain and I have worked together in the background for much of
delightfully impressionistic image depicts acrobatic clouds darting
our adult lives, talking through each other’s ideas in very intense
across a blue sky. They write: “Constable wished to intensify
ways,” says John. “We know each other’s thinking extremely well.
the emotional meaning of the soundless drama that unfolds
We’re both quite obsessed with art and for a long time we’ve been
daily above our heads by making it more available to us. We give
meaning to set down our thinking once and for all.”
our minds to the clouds and for a time are released from our preoccupations and the complaints of our egos.”
Art as Therapy has quickly become a best seller. Evidentially people are hungry for something that’s missing from the current
John emphasises that their responses are an attempt to capture
discourse around art. I wonder what it is that has struck a chord
one of the many ways a work can be interpreted. I’m intrigued as
with readers worldwide.
to how John and Alain collaborate on these written responses.
“The book is very upfront about the idea that most people might
“We ask each other, ‘What aspect of your inner life does this
be a bit confused about art,” says John. “I think that’s a very
address?’” says John. “We spur each other on, encouraging each
natural position for a lot of people to be in. It’s understandable
other to be more explicit about how we feel. One of us sits at the
to be interested in art, but not quite get it. It feels like a natural
keyboard and we talk it through sentence by sentence. You can
starting point for us. We’re starting where our readers are.”
hardly say who wrote what.”
Art as Therapy makes some provocative claims. It suggests we
In 2014, The Art Gallery of Ontario went one step further and
don’t need art history lessons about painting and that our art
asked John and Alain to create five salons organised around the
galleries are clinging to the intellectual ambitions of another age.
themes of love, politics, money, sex and nature. Interestingly,
Art as Therapy claims the problem isn’t art itself, it’s the frame
attendees were very accepting of their approach.
within which it’s been presented. “At least 60 per cent of their audience come in the evening,” “There are many things we can learn from the history of art,”
says John. “They have drinks and there’s music. So it feels quite
says John. “But what we’re talking about is when people say, ‘You
natural for them that a room could be about your sex life because
need to know what date this picture was painted or you need to
they’re not attending expecting to have an academic encounter
know if this work shows the influence of Spanish culture in France
with the art of the past.”
I wonder what John thinks of Hobart’s infamous Museum of
is to be curious about people who are lethargic and selfish,
Old and New Art (MONA). MONA’s 2011 inaugural exhibition
people who don’t feel dutiful. The burning image I work with is
was organised around the themes of sex and death and when
that of the sensuous animal. We’re trying to get human beings
opened, literally hummed with new art devotees. Is MONA a
interested in difficult things. The world is inhabited by sensuous
good example of the Art as Therapy ethos?
beings who focus on things that are attractive and immediate and fun. I want to understand what it takes to entice them to
“MONA’s thesis is to shake people up,” says John. “The idea
take a larger view.”
that art is confronting is a therapeutic move in answer to the problem of being stuck and complacent. If the only problem
In exploring how to get people to think more expansively, John
people have is being stuck and complacent then the only art
points to Suger, the 12th century French abbot who created
therapy they’d need would be to be shaken up. But if they’ve got
what we know as the Gothic cathedral.
other problems like they’re unnecessarily frightened or they’re resentful, the solution may be to calm people down or to remind
“Suger is the second central image I work with,” says John.
people of the sweeter aspects of their personality. MONA has
“Suger lived in France in a time when kings, barons and
certainly located the territory we need to engage with. It’s made
powerful people were selfish, brutal and very much into status
a fabulous start.”
and ostentation. Suger believed in Plato and Jesus. He believed in abstract beauty, universal love, humility and the importance
So the inevitable question is, will John and Alain pick up where
of suffering as a way of atoning for one’s wrongs. He believed
MONA has left off? “It’s such a heart-rending question,” says
in stuff that was very alien to powerful people in his society.”
John. “It’s a reminder of the limitations of life. I would love
Suger set out to answer the question, ‘How can I persuade
to try to develop an art gallery on the basis of the ideas in the
these people to care about what I care about?’
book, but that’s a time consuming, risky and expensive project. Alain and
“He hit on the idea of using art,” says John. “He saw art as
I have other things we’re trying to do first.”
a highway between the sensuous and the spiritual. He built churches that were more magnificent than kings’ castles. These
John and Alain describe themselves as being problem focused.
powerful people were seduced into entering his grand churches
They’re interested in how art, philosophy, history and literature
and, once there, he created a space where they felt safe in
can help humans deal better with love and work. They’re
their heart of hearts to think, ‘It’s terrible the way I humiliated
exploring this through The School of Life, which, by means of
that person’ or ‘I’m so ashamed of some of the things I’ve
publications, workshops and events, is devoted to developing
done’. Their experience carried them towards something more
emotional intelligence through the help of culture.
profound, more beautiful and more serious. Suger used art to give prestige to the states of mind he wanted people to arrive at,
“Art is very important in addressing those questions,” says John
and in turn created profound inner change. So when it comes to
“But the immediate focus isn’t ‘Can we change an art gallery?’
art and duty, Taylor Swift’s legs and Suger’s cathedrals are very
It’s ‘How can we use art to make it easier for people to have an
important to me.”
okay relationship?’ So what does John see as the essential duty of art? “My instinct
THE ULTIMATE BALANCING ACT KERRI GLASSCOCK, SIBELLA COURT, SARAH GOODES, ELOISE KING INTERVIEWS AND PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA SCIBERRAS
Remember when all women had to worry about was ‘having it all’? Well, assuming you’ve managed to hone yourself into an ageless embodiment of beauty, with an adoring husband, a clutch of cherubic children and a glassceiling busting career, it’s no longer enough. Now, it seems, you can only be deemed a success if you manage to maintain all of these aspects of your life in perfect harmony – giving rise to that elusive concept, ‘work-life balance’. Obviously finding some kind of middle ground between the demands of your job, the demands of your family and your own physical and spiritual needs is not only desirable, it’s essential. But doing so is an endless juggling act requiring constant modification, adjustment and compromise. The problem with terms such as work-life balance is that they suggest an achievable end point, the Holy Grail of womanhood, which only serves to make most women feel as though they are falling short or lacking in something. There’s no system by which you can check how you’re doing (eating tuna out of the can for lunch, deduct two points; not running over your to-do list for the entire duration of your yoga class, plus three points), just a nagging fear that you’re not as balanced as you should be. We talked to four busy, successful, creative mothers about their take on work-life balance to find out if they think it is achievable and how they measure it.
ON THE FRINGES Kerri Glasscock DIRECTOR, SYDNEY FRINGE FESTIVAL
erri Glasscock left home at just 15 to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. In 2004, after a successful career on both stage and screen, she co-founded the underground performance space 505 in Sydney’s Surry Hills with her husband Cameron Undy. Under their direction 505 grew from a one night a week venue to a full-time professional performance space presenting six nights a week, with a second venue, the Old 505 Theatre, opening in 2011. This year she has also taken on the role of Director of the Sydney Fringe Festival. She’s also raising a young family. You might think that having so many hats to wear has made Kerri something of an expert on the subject of balance, but according to her she’s no good at it all. What gets her through her week, she says, is a combination of energy and intensity. “I am not very good at stopping and resting and balancing. I guess because I work on a really fast intense level, I only need a really small spurt of that stuff to feel OK. I have to do Pilates once a week, that’s my thing. If I don’t get to do that, I get really angry. If I have that one intense 45-minute session, me and my teacher, I am OK for the week. I have to have at least one day with the family and a couple of nights with the girls.” Of course, if you are going to even attempt to juggle the demands of your relationship, yourself, your career and motherhood, it helps if you like to be busy. It’s also a good idea to keep things moving, rather than getting bogged down in extraneous detail. Luckily for Kerri, these are characteristics she has honed through her creative endeavours. “I just like to be busy. From when I was really little, I’ve always had this sense of needing to make things and become things. That is what first drew me to acting; it was always about being someone else and creating things. I have a very short attention span for details. Once a project is almost there, I’m already moving on to the next thing. Obviously I want to see things through, but I have much more interest in creating things than I do in seeing results.” Kerri also credits her childhood with establishing a pattern of independence and self-sufficiency that has carried through her entire life. She grew up with her twin sister Jules in the country before her own career aspirations forced her to leave for the city at a very young age. “We had a funny little family, Jules and I. Our parents worked a lot and then when they divorced we were just left to our own devices. Now that I have children of my own, I can’t believe that we were left alone all day to amuse ourselves. Of course things were different 20 or 30 years ago, but also because we were twins there was always this assumption that we had each other and that we would look after each other. Then when I was 15, I
moved to the city and had to look after myself. I think a lot of my ability to make stuff happen, and my belief that ‘I can do that’ has come from that.” For Kerri, so much of her life has been born out of necessity – from her decision to go into acting, to moving to the city to make it happen – and she would be the first to admit that in her case, it has been the mother of invention. “I feel like a lot of things in my life came out of necessity. It’s like my love of cooking – everyone goes on about it and that came from necessity. My mum was such a terrible cook that I had to do it. I was cooking our family meals from the age of 10. I remember this moment when I was standing in the kitchen complaining about our school lunches and my mum just saying that if I didn’t like it to make it myself. So I did.” When it comes to raising a young family, however, all the grit and determination in the world will only get you so far. If you’re lucky you’ll find someone to share the load at home, but if you’re really lucky you’ll find someone who supports you across every aspect of your life. Kerri is one of the extremely fortunate ones. “I couldn’t do anything that I do without Cam, full stop. I certainly couldn’t have the type of family that I want to have. I find it a real challenge to be present, and I think it’s even harder when you are busy as you have so much going on and you don’t shut your mind off.” With a job like Kerri’s, it’s not only being mentally present that can pose a challenge. At certain times of the year, finding time to be there at all can be tricky. “Sometimes a little bit of me would like to stay home and bake and hang out with them and it’s nice when you get to do that. At the same time, I want the girls to see a role model of a mum who works and is creatively fulfilled and can do all of that. That is the challenge. They get big so quickly and then they are at school and you don’t ever get to do it. I had blocked out Wednesdays to spend with Daisy, which was amazing, but that has gone out of the window in the last three months with the festival.” Even before they started a family, Kerri and Cameron were used to merging their individual talents to create a greater whole. The two of them started 505 together as an outlet for their own creative ambitions, but it quickly grew into something much more vital and community-focused. “Really it all started because, selfishly, we wanted our own space to work in. When I met Cameron, he described playing music the exact same way that I described acting. There was just this connection about craft. When I met him it opened up this whole new world of musicians that I had never known. It occurred to me how separate the music and theatre worlds
"IT IS NO GOOD IF YOUR LITTLE WORLD IS CHURNING ON OKAY BUT EVERYONE ELSE’S IS GOING SHIT. WHAT IS THE POINT IN THAT?”
were. So we started talking about how actors and musicians could work together and do things and the common theme that kept coming up was that none of us had a space to do that in. There just weren’t any spaces in Sydney.” Through the establishing of 505, the two of them became unofficial ambassadors of Sydney’s independent arts scene; although Kerri is keen not to pigeon-hole herself, her work or her fellow artists. “I would love a world where there is no distinction between mainstream and independent. I would love it if there was just art in the city. I think Sydney in particular is just so focused on harbour-side, main-stage events that there is a stigma attached to independent that it’s of lesser quality, but that is not true. For one, the same body of artists working in the mainstream also work in the independent scene.” Kerri sees the fringe arts scene as indistinguishable from the community. It simply offers an outlet through which the community can develop its own cultural identity, find its own voice, express itself. “I think that is what is great about the Fringe Festival. It is as interested in the dude making pickles in his backyard as it is in
a main stage arts show. It’s about everything we stand for as a city and it’s only through the ability to participate in art that you can encourage that to happen. It is for everyone, not just artists. The more we can encourage people to express themselves in that way the more we open ourselves up as a city to explore really great things and be able to talk to each other and be a community.” This notion of community is also at the heart of Kerri’s understanding of balance. It’s not just about giving the various aspects of your own life the time and energy they deserve, it’s also about finding a balance between the public and the private, between giving to yourself and giving to others, between your family and the world you live in. “I don’t think you can really be balanced without an awareness of what else is going on around you. I think that is probably the biggest challenge when you do a lot of things and you are busy. It is easy to get wrapped up in your own stuff, when really you want to have a nice balance between caring about the people close to you and caring for the greater world around you. It is no good if your little world is churning on okay but everyone else’s is going shit. What is the point in that?”
COURT LIFE Sibella Court STYLIST, THE SOCIETY INC.
eeling off Sibella Court’s CV, even the abridged version, would take up half this article. Suffice to say she’s an interior stylist, product designer, author, creative director, feature writer, television presenter, business owner, blogger and self-confessed globetrotter. This year alone, she has visited South East Asia, India, Europe, the Middle East, the States and Central America and still found the time to launch her new web site The Stylist’s Guide to the Globe. “I think that even though there is a long list of things that I do, I see it all as the same platform. It involves different ways of expressing it, but it’s all the same thoughts. It’s like having a library and just lending out different parts of it. People often ask me how I manage to do all this stuff, but because I see it as all the same, I don’t feel stretched by it. Every one thing links in to another.” Of course, it helps when you have a styling career that reaches back for more than 20 years, including a 10-year stint in New York. “We’ve got very good at using our own resources, so rather than doing something new every time, we try and look back at what we’ve already got that can support it. For example, we’ve built up an incredible photo library that can be used to support any part of the business. Even with commercial design, you look back to see if there’s anything there that can be presented.” Sibella recently moved into retail with the opening of her Sydney-based store The Society Inc., home to a carefully curated collection of hardware, haberdashery, oddities and curiosities gathered from around the globe. Sibella sees the shop as a way of taking a step back from the relentless demands of styling and hopes that in the future it will give her a greater amount of freedom. “Styling is very hard on your body. It’s a really tough gig and when you’re shooting every day and you’re on location all the time, it’s like being part of a travelling circus. Even though you’re using your imagination, you’re always following someone else’s brief. It’s nice to actually step off that and stop doing the trapeze and riding the horses. I wanted to do something where I didn’t have to be so available, and a shop can physically run without you having to be there all the time. With styling, people want to see your face, they want you to be present all the time, so the idea was to shift it. I’m still doing
exactly the same thing; it’s just a slightly different outlet.” Sibella’s childhood played a huge role in developing her talents and she credits her parents with much of her early inspiration. “My mother always encouraged me, and embraced anything that I did. So from a young age I was encouraged to collect things and to display them. I had two very detail-orientated parents, who didn’t think of themselves as artists, or even as particularly creative, but they both were. When I fell into styling, I had a huge knowledge of the names of flowers, of textiles, of colours and all these things that I had picked up over time.” Sibella’s mother also gave her first lesson in balance. She helped her to realize that it wasn’t simply a matter of ratios, but of the amount of energy and importance you grant to each aspect of your life. “My mum had four degrees and she had four kids. She had all these things. She looked after the grandkids, she travelled the world and she was an expert on Central Asian Islamic textiles, but I was always impressed by the way she placed equal importance on how well the washing was folded. Making a cake for us was as important to her as her Russian literature degree, or as important as taking people on decorative arts tours in Central Asia. They were all equal.” Those lessons have stopped Sibella from attempting to divide her life into a series of unnecessary categories. “My lines between work and play are often quite blurred. If you marked my time on a graph, you’d have this huge chunk that looks like work, but often it’s so enjoyable that it’s play as well. My travel gets really blurred too. I don’t travel without working now, because I don’t like to be doing just one thing. I suppose if I’m healthy and happy, that’s balance.” Travel has played a huge role in Sibella’s life. It’s not just about seeing new places, it’s also about shaking up your routine to give you a different perspective. “Different sights, different sounds, different colours, different seasons, they all help you let go of all the crap, all the petty stuff, the annoying emails. Travel shifts your priorities a bit. It helps you say I’m not going to worry about that, because there’s no point, because there are other things happening that are much more exciting, or different, or important. I think kids do that as well.”
“MY LINES BETWEEN WORK AND PLAY ARE OFTEN QUITE BLURRED. I SUPPOSE IF I’M HEALTHY AND HAPPY, THAT’S BALANCE.”
Certainly, having children can be a huge game changer, particularly when they are unplanned as Sibella’s daughter Silver was. “Kids weren’t part of my agenda. Not that I wasn’t open to it, they just weren’t part of the track that I was on. It’s been a nice addition to what I do. It’s like this cool club that I didn’t know about.” Not that having a child doesn’t throw up its fair share of challenges. For Sibella, that includes having to do the lion’s share of the childcare as her boyfriend lives in Byron Bay. “I do look after her on my own most of the time. I admire all women who have children and manage to juggle whatever they’re juggling, because it’s quite a different equation. There were times just after giving birth, when I thought how am I ever going to have a creative thought ever again? Is my brain always going to be like this? But it does all work itself out, and quite quickly too.” Silver now attends daycare on a Monday and Tuesday after Sibella’s attempts to bring her with her to work on those days failed, but the biggest struggle was in learning to accept that sometimes you just have to let yourself off the hook and take the easy route. “When Silver was around four-months old, I was talking to my sister-in-law and I was saying that I really didn’t know how I was going to get around the whole food thing. It was just killing me. I love cooking, but doing the whole mother thing is tricky. She told me to give myself a break. She said the organic baby foods are so good now, and they’ve got everything they need in them, and there’s such a variety of things, I should just buy the packets. As soon as she said that, I was like, okay, cool. I feel much better now. It’s just one less thing to worry about.” But that doesn’t mean the pressure is off completely.
“We were at a friend’s property in Victoria yesterday and everything they make for their children is handmade. They’re stewing fruit and flattening oats and Silver is just sucking out one of those packets. I felt like such a city slicker.” But then that’s the other thing about finding a work-life balance. It’s entirely personal. What works for one person might not for another and the trick is to discover what suits you. Of course, if your circumstances change you then need to rethink the whole thing all over again, as Sibella found after becoming a mother. “I used to exercise every day, but now since having a baby I don’t any more. It took me a while to work out how not to get stressed because obviously exercise is such a good stress reliever and it makes your mind tick in a better way. I can’t do it at the moment though, so I’ve had to find different ways of dealing with things. I’m really quite diligent most of the time about having at least two days off a week. I know I need to not be at work for that time. That’s when I go for a walk with Silver, or just do something. I do try to be outside a lot, because that helps.” In terms of the greatest gift she got from her own mother, Sibella says it all comes down to acceptance. “Her and dad were amazing at thinking that we were all great, and that instilled us with an incredible amount of confidence. There was always this unconditional love.”
STAGE FRIGHT Sarah Goodes CO-RESIDENT DIRECTOR, SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY
heatre director Sarah Goodes sees balance as a positive thing. For her, a balanced life means one that is varied and diverse, rather than one characterised by the kind of one-eyed focus that has swallowed some of her fellow directors. “I remember being at the Victorian College of the Arts doing the directing course. Halfway through it, I cornered Richard, who ran the course, and said ‘I can’t do this, I think I’m going to pull out’. When he asked why, I said that it was because of some of the people I saw around me. To them theatre was everything and I didn’t want it ever to be everything to me. He pointed out that those people just didn’t have anything else in their life and that was why theatre was everything to them. I remember thinking I don’t ever want it to be the only thing in my life.” Sarah’s notion of balance is no static vision of perfection; rather it’s an ongoing process of attempting to meet the demands of a busy life and incorporate into it everything she wants to achieve. “In terms of motherhood, or in my relationship, or my work, balance is everything. I don’t always have it in balance – they’re two very different things. The swinging of balance is what you constantly have to have in motion.” An important part of that involves cutting yourself some slack. “The major thing to do as a mother is to keep lowering the bench. You can be your own worst enemy. You keep setting the benchmark up here and then falling short – just bring it down. It’s shocking with work and motherhood. Are they alive? Are they healthy? Are you all present and accounted for? I don’t know who we’re trying to impress.” The idea that these things are constantly in motion is key for Sarah. Rather than establishing a fixed set of priorities, she keeps things fluid enough to respond to the changing needs of her work and family. “You’ve got to prioritise your family sometimes, and other times you’ve got to prioritise your work. You’ve got to keep it moving. I don’t think prioritising one over the other all the time is the right thing for me. Your family are always more important. That’s a given. If something happened, of course they would take priority. But your work is really important in terms of thinking about other things, and having a life of the mind. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy your work, it’s a good lesson for your kids to see you be fed by it, and exhilarated by
it. It’s one of the main things I say to my kids. It’s not about education. If you can find work that you love, then it will never feel like work and your life will be fulfilling and enjoyable.” For Sarah, happiness is an important measure of balance – as is your health. “If you’re too stressed and it’s making you sick, then it’s not right. I think we tend to try and keep ourselves busy as a way of distracting ourselves from the big things. Having the courage to just be still, and be in the moment is an all-important part of balance. If you’re never able to be in the moment, then you’re probably chasing your tail a bit.” That’s where having a life that includes a family and children can put you at a distinct advantage. “Kids are good at making you be in the moment. I make sure I put my phone away and sit down and go, right, I’m just going to be with them and focus on them and what they want to do and how they’re going to do it.” Not that she’s immune to the chaos that inevitably accompanies a young family, but Sarah’s way of responding combines a sense of gratitude for everything that she has with the discipline necessary to fully appreciate it. “It’s a pretty manic stage in terms of washing and cooking and cleaning and coming home, and picking them up, and all that kind of stuff. I try every day to appreciate what I have. That we’re healthy and we’re happy and we live somewhere really lovely. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t acknowledge that to myself. I try to turn the phones off and leave them alone. I think they’re really dangerous.” Of course, phones are not just a danger for the adults in the house. Every parent knows the perils of the iPad, but Sarah is pretty disciplined about restricting her children’s access to it and any other potential distractions. “They like to watch the Pink Panther on You Tube, a lot. Otherwise we don’t spend a lot of time on the computer, and we don’t have television during the week. They watch it on the weekends. It’s just addictive. [My husband] David got an iPad from work. We couldn’t find the kids one day, and they were in the corner of the cupboard in the darkness like two little junkies. We sent it back.” A lot of the inspiration for Sarah’s career came from her mother, although not directly. Rather than showing her the glittering potential of combining a career and family,
"HAVING THE COURAGE TO JUST BE STILL, AND BE IN THE MOMENT IS AN ALL-IMPORTANT PART OF BALANCE.”
her mother revealed the flip side – the frustration that can accompany the lack of those kinds of opportunities. “My mum was from a family of eight. She was the eldest and hardly any of them finished school. She never had the opportunity to go to uni. She always worked part time and in shops, but her work was never prioritised. She ended up studying social work and doing more work as she got older, but she was brought up that her job was to stay at home and look after the family. I think she found that very frustrating and I remember actively going, ‘I don’t want that’.” But sadly the chores don’t do themselves, and all too often it still falls to the woman to complete most of them, regardless of her career status. “There are some things that just naturally fall to women, and it’s hard not to be resentful about it. Every mother I know talks about it – most of the housework falls to you and you can become very resentful towards your partner for it. Quite often, they’re simply not around to do it. I wish I could just get on with it more. One of my favourite aunties is really smart and she has this fabulous energy. She always takes great pride in getting the food ready and having the house look nice. I wish I could stop thinking of it as shit work and take some pride in it. I think that’s a real challenge.” In terms of maintaining a balance at home, it helps to
work in a creative profession. In her job, Sarah has grown used to merging different voices and creating an inclusive environment in which everyone has a say. “I’m a big collaborator. That’s why I work in theatre. By nature, I’m open to other people’s ideas and I find real joy in bringing it all together. The really fabulous shows that you work on are the ones that have a room full of people going, ‘what about this, what about that?’ Obviously there comes a point when you have to distil it down, but by then everyone has a sense of ownership. That’s what I aim for, because if everyone is invested in it, they take pride in it and they don’t feel shut out of the creative process.” It’s not just this sense of collaboration that infuses every part of Sarah’s life. She was also drawn to the theatre through a love of storytelling, which has an equally large impact on her parenting style. “I think we are who we are because of the stories that we tell ourselves – as a culture and also as a human race. I try and make that an important part of my parenting style. I like reading to them and making up stories and trying to teach them things through stories. I’m very interested in how we interact with each other as humans. How what we do and say makes us who we are. I’m a big believer in the frailty of humankind, and we do make mistakes. It’s what we do next that counts.”
INSTANT DHARMA Eloise King JOURNALIST AND FOUNDER OF SOUL SESSIONS
hen Eloise King started Soul Sessions, a series of monthly wine and dine event held in Sydney’s Surry Hills, her aim was to inform and inspire. Her own inspiration had come from a 15-year career as a journalist in which she was privileged enough to meet and interview a host of people who quite literally helped change her life. “One person who had the biggest impact on my life was the neuroscientist Dr Joe Dispenza. The day that he said to me, ‘emotions are addictive’ was the day that I realised we are completely in control and empowered to change our current state. He said that an actual true emotion is just a chemical reaction and a chemical reaction only lasts in the body for two to three minutes – it’s no longer than that. “So, if you’re having a negative experience that’s any longer than two to three minutes you know it’s because you’re replaying the experience yourself – through your thoughts, through the way you’re actually dealing with what’s just happened. “When he said that to me, I was actually going through a fairly stressful time and I made a decision there and then that I was going to go to bed that night happy and I was going to wake up happy every day from that day on. I try to honour that responsibility as much as possible.” Eloise has continued that sense of being mindful and keeping a handle on what she can and can’t control throughout her life and it feeds directly into her sense of what leading a balanced life entails. “Balance is a really tricky one. When it comes to balance it’s actually about recognising how difficult it is, it’s about having an awareness of the fact that it needs our attention. We have to be constantly mindful about keeping the balance. I don’t think balance is a state that we can reach and hold onto forever – it’s on a continuum and sometimes the balance kind of shifts this way and that. As long as we’re living mindfully we can recognise that we’re slightly out of balance – and maybe we need to be for a period of time to serve our passion, or live our dharma.” For Eloise this sense of feeding your passions is the key to how she measures her own sense of balance. There is no checklist she refers to, or routine she follows, just an intuitive sense of whether or not she has dedicated enough energy to the things she cares most about. “A good day for me is when I’ve given quality time to my work, I’ve given quality time to my son, I’ve given quality time to my partner and I’ve given quality time to myself. Above all it’s my sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with my day that tells me
if I got the balance right. “If you can be present with someone for five minutes it can be better than being distracted with someone for three hours.” Eloise admits that perhaps the biggest struggle she has is in balancing the time she gives to her work and the time she dedicates to her beloved son Max. “Max, my son, is the most important thing in the world to me and I take my job as his mother really seriously. It’s really important to me that he feels and hears that he’s very loved – and they’re two very different things – every single day. Yeah, it’s really important for him to be able to speak honestly to me about his world, and for me to spend time with him – which doesn’t happen every day. “There are some days when life can just take over. But, again it’s making a decision to be really mindful of when it’s important to swing out of balance a little bit and to spend a little bit more time on Soul Sessions – maybe to be away from Max a little while longer than normal. And, then also to be able to swing the other way and decide it’s really important to take a few days off and go to his athletics carnival or be there for whatever he needs.” Rather than focusing on the intricacies of her busy schedule, Eloise prefers to locate her sense of balance in four basic principles. “I try to move every single day, I work on what I’m passionate about every single day, I pick up my son from school every day because that’s important to me and I try to speak from my heart every day. If I can do those four things, then I feel pretty balanced at the end of the day.” The pressures of modern life do, of course, make sustaining any sense of balance difficult and for Eloise that includes finding time away from technology. She counted 17 screens in her house, from the home office, to the games consoles, to the iPads. “We try and make meal times a real ritual – no computers, no phones, no iPads anywhere near the dinner table. We all sit down and spend time together. We have certain topics that we discuss every night. I want us to speak from our hearts every day and so we have very specific sets of questions that we turn to if it’s just not happening. Like, ‘What went well today?’; ‘What was a great struggle today?’; ‘What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?’ We’re just trying to get into the experience of the day and be able to cultivate some emotional intelligence in the process.
“WHEN IT COMES TO BALANCE IT’S ACTUALLY ABOUT RECOGNISING HOW DIFFICULT IT IS, IT’S ABOUT HAVING AN AWARENESS OF THE FACT THAT IT NEEDS OUR ATTENTION.”
Emotional intelligence lies at the heart what Eloise is trying to achieve, from her aims as a mother and a partner, to her professional aspirations with Soul Sessions. Enabling herself and other people to formulate a series of core values and to live by them has been her life’s work and that in itself is a kind of balancing act, between the scientific and the spiritual, the practical and the ideal.
a humanitarian in that we’re souls or spiritual beings having a human experience and so for us to shut off from our humanity in any way shape or form and to want to just live up in the spiritual realms all the time is not helpful. A big part of our focus is how can we have all of that and then ground it in more human experiences of love, connection, self-expression, freedom and good life abundance?”
“I think for me a really fundamental moment was when I got clear about what my core values are as a human being. And they are the core values that we operate from at Soul Sessions – love, connection, freedom, self-expression and good life abundance.
These core values are of far more importance to Eloise than finding a sense of balance. If she could replace the striving for an elusive sense of harmony with anything, it would be a sense of connectedness, a sense of being present in the moment.
“I just think life is meant to be juicy. Life is meant to feel amazing. Soul Sessions is about having a more soulful experience of your life and knowing your soul and being able to bring more of that into the world. But, fundamentally I’m
“If I’m feeling connected to what I’m doing, that’s when I’m getting a sense of flow and I lose track of time because you’re in the moment and connected to what you’re doing.”
UNITING AUDIENCES AND ARTISTS FOR DEEPER CONVERSATIONS, DEEPER ART AND DEEPER LISTENING.
Breaking the mold, engaging on realms that embrace a sense of ritual, the rising feminine, courage, and creativity –– making more room to create and evolve. Full line-up of FRINGE UNYOKED
LIFE’S A DRAG CINDY PASTEL The larger-than-life inspiration behind Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Cindy Pastel was born Ritchie Finger in suburban Melbourne. Cindy looks back at the people and events that helped shape her extraordinary life and the sense of community that helped Sydney through the worst of the AIDS epidemic
INTERVIEW BY CYNTHIA SCIBERRAS WORDS BY ANDREA O’DRISCOLL
Nothing about Cindy Pastel’s life is conventional. One of the
get in her Valiant and drive from Sydney to Melbourne once a
original drag queens, she found fame (if not fortune) as the
week with her crinoline tied to the top of the car. She looked like
inspiration for Hugo Weaving’s character in The Adventures of
Cher, but an albino Cher, with beautiful long blonde hair,” she
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. She survived the AIDS-ravaged
Sydney of the eighties, a cerebral haemorrhage, Hepatitis C
Cindy made her debut at Sydney’s Patches talent show alongside
and alcohol addiction, all with her wry smile and a slick of red
her close friend Miss 3D. “My first stage name was Barbara
Mattel, or Barbie. One day I had this revelation that I was too
“So much of how we live is about putting people in boxes. I like
young to be Barbie, so I changed my name to Cindy, her baby
to break out like a loony freak. Why does everything have to
sister. I was also trying to be different to Miss 3D. She was
have a label? So long as you’re not hurting anyone, just do it.
wearing all these acid colours, so I was like, right, I’ll wear
That’s what I say,” she says over a coffee in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
pastels. That’s where the name Pastel comes from.”
Her own parents couldn’t keep up with her sexuality. “All those
Sometimes she would perform alone, sometimes with a team
years I waited to come out to my parents, then 10 years later I go
of backup dancers, but always with verve and the sharpest of
back and tell them that I’m married and having a baby. They just
wit. “There was always a theme and I would just feed off that. In
said, ‘Listen, live your life however you want, I’m sure it’s going
one of my favourites I came out of a big dustpan to Locomotion
to be okay, but don’t keep coming and telling us these things,
– nobody had done Kylie yet and everyone went berserk,” she
because we can’t keep up with you. One minute you’re this, the
next you’re that.’ I think that’s so beautiful,” says Cindy.
Through her performances, Cindy became part of a tight-knit
In fact, she was always bi-sexual. Growing up as Ritchie Finger
group of drag queens which collected around Darlinghurst and
in Melbourne she dated both men and women before moving to
Newtown – glittering jewels of the burgeoning gay community.
“SO MUCH OF HOW WE LIVE IS ABOUT PUTTING PEOPLE IN BOXES. I LIKE TO BREAK OUT LIKE A LOONY FREAK. WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO HAVE A LABEL? SO LONG AS YOU’RE NOT HURTING ANYONE, JUST DO IT.”
Sydney in 1979 to launch her drag act. “It was mostly boys in
“I used to call it West Side Story. There was always a bit of
Melbourne. I had girls too, but I never really talked about it. The
rivalry about who did what, but we loved each other,” she says.
girls were like a thing on the side. Then I came to Sydney and
The eighties were a hedonistic time, and while everyone knew
I started doing drag and I thought, that’s it, no more boys. I’m
the fun couldn’t last forever, no one could have predicted the
going to fall in love with a woman and I’m going to have a baby.
horrors of the AIDS epidemic that tore through Sydney and
And that’s what I did,” Cindy says.
brought Cindy’s world crashing down. “When I first heard about
Cindy never performed drag in Melbourne (“If I was dreadful, I
it, I had the same reaction as when I saw the plane hit the twin
didn’t want my family to know”), but it was there that she got her
towers on 9/11. That’s what AIDS did to me. My life was just
first taste of its potential and met some of the biggest influences
going to funeral after funeral. It was like Oxford Street had
on her own act. “My brother took me to Les Girls, because he
tumbleweed blowing down it,” she says.
must have had an inkling. This seven-foot drag queen came on
It’s impossible to overstate its impact on the gay community,
stage doing this mime tap routine and I was just in love. I didn’t
but it was people like Cindy who helped them to get through it.
know what it was, but I knew that it was what I wanted to be.”
“There were so many wonderful people that went so quickly,
For some drag queens, it’s all about the cross-dressing; for
so sadly. I always felt that one part of them, just a little part of
others it’s a step on their path to transition into women. For
them, came into me to make me stronger to go on and fight, to
Cindy, it has always been about the performance. “You have
say look at me, I’m still standing. We’ve been through all of that
the seahorses in Perth who meet every Monday in the billiard
and we’re still here, were still very proud – we’re a little bit jaded,
room, and they are mostly married men in dresses with hardly
but we’re still beautiful.”
any make up on and really hideous wigs – I was never into that.
Cindy’s contribution was so great that when she found herself
I do remember at one stage saying I wanted to be a girl, but the
homeless the AIDS charity ACON housed her for a time. “They
whole thing was just to get some attention really.”
were like, ‘Love, you’ve done so much for the community, don’t
Cindy’s biggest inspirations have always been the girls
you think we can give you something back?’.”
themselves. “I did meet some fabulous drag queens in
The show had to go on, but Cindy still lives with the pain of
Melbourne growing up that were the first stepping stones to
those days and the aftermath of the drink and drugs she took to
making me what I am. There was one called Donna Douche Bag
numb it. “Every show I’d be like, this has to be good, I have to
from Dubbo. She had a contortionist strip act and she used to
do it for them, they’re my sisters and they’re gone, and they’re
looking down on me saying go for it girl, we can’t do it any more, so
anymore now I was sober. So we came up with this idea of videoing
you have to do it for us.
me during the day and showing it at night. It was great. It was called
“I lost 27 friends in one year. You can’t tell me I could have been
flying around the room with a smile on my face if I’d been clean and
The show slowly pulled her back into performing and that drew her
back to Sydney, but the scene had changed beyond recognition.
She recently returned to Sydney after a 10-year stint in Perth where
“It’s all very corporate now – you pack up a briefcase and head to
she managed to get sober and spend seven precious years with
your next gig, maybe you do a bit of bingo – and we don’t want to
her mother before her death. “I went and dried out there because
go there. Even though you can make heaps of money, I don’t want
I couldn’t do it here. My mum rang me up from Melbourne saying
Cindy to become too regimented.”
she’d won $25,000 on the pokies and was moving to Perth. She
So, ironically, the inspiration behind one of Australia’s highest-
bought a house and me and my brothers (who’d both got married
grossing films and musicals now lives in public housing on a modest
and divorced) moved in with her. It was so beautiful and we spent
state pension. “We got a little bit of money from it, but not much,
her last years with her before she died,” says Cindy.
no royalties. I didn’t read the fine print,” she says.
It also gave Cindy a chance to show herself off. “She’d never seen
The film does owe her a large debt. It was not only inspired by her
me in drag, so after she arrived in Perth I went into the bedroom
act, but her relationship with her son provided its emotional core.
and came back out as Cindy. She was really startled because she
“When the director said he wanted to come round and visit me, I
couldn’t believe how much I looked like my Aunt Shirley. She was
didn’t realise that me answering the door with my son in my arms
my dad’s sister and a real party animal. It was so funny,” says
was going to become such a big thing. He saw the kid and went
straight back and rewrote the script.”
While her time on the West coast could well have saved her life,
The film earned her a place at the 2000 Olympic closing ceremony
it did little for her act. “Cindy had been renowned for being really
and undoubtedly put her in the running for other jobs, including
fabulous on the microphone, usually when she was half pissed.
an appearance in Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Sydney Opera
Without the drink she just wasn’t funny, so I decided to put her to
House. “It made me,” admits Cindy. “It’s like, there’s your stamp,
there’s your mark.”
And asleep she stayed for close to 10 years before a long-time
But when asked what she really hopes to get out of it all, her answer
fan pulled her out of retirement to appear at his newly-acquired
is simple. “I just want to be understood.”
restaurant. “I just couldn’t imagine myself on stage – it wasn’t in me
UNITING AUDIENCES AND ARTISTS FOR DEEPER CONVERSATIONS, DEEPER ART AND DEEPER LISTENING.
Breaking the mold, engaging on realms that embrace a sense of ritual, the rising feminine, courage, and creativity –– making more room to create and evolve. Full line-up of FRINGE UNYOKED
LEARNING BY LETTING GO The yoga of relationships is the hardest practice of all EILEEN HALL
“I remember that sense of euphoria running through my spine. That’s what kept me going back – it was like having a taste of a sweeter dessert – I wanted to go back for more. And of course, going back for more, you just keep topping up and that sensation is fulfilled and then there’s another sensation coming through and another one and another one. You start to appreciate the sense of balance and harmony when there’s a little bit of a wave in life. But my most profound experience was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, then realising that my yoga practice was about supporting me. In life there’s always a crisis coming; if we don’t have a crisis then certainly death comes for us and for most people that’s a terrifying experience.”
Yoga means different things to different people, what does it mean to you?
The first word that came to my mind was balance, balance in many areas – balance in the emotional body, the physical body, mental, spiritual, financial, family, relationship. And through balance you get that sense of harmony and you get a sense of contentedness – there’s no striving and there’s no lethargy – it’s just a nice easy path. I think at the end of the day we’re all looking for that in all areas of our life; not just in a physical area but spiritual area and emotional area, family area. The imbalance that can be in families stems out into communities, into society; so if we can find that balance in ourselves then there’s a possibility we can find it outside, and the circle keeps expanding as to how far you can use that harmony and that balance. Do you recall your first yoga experience?
My first yoga experience was at the YMCA. I signed up for a six week beginner’s course in the city. The teacher’s name was Ursula Trumbold, she was a Iyengar teacher. I was 21 and the rest of the group was about 15 women in their 50s wearing black leotards and fishnet stockings. How did yoga become an integral part of your life, in the way of your own daily practice?
It’s like anything – you can’t force it, and over-enthusiasm is short-lived, so it’s something that has to slowly integrate into your life. Firstly it becomes a daily practice, and then you realise that what you eat and how you sleep has an effect on that practice so you start to tweak those things. Then comes social engagements and how long you choose to stay out so you can rise the next morning and feel integrated again in your practice. It also reflects on the people that you hang around with and the visuals that you choose and the books that you read. How important are they in that journey of the practice of your yoga? Before you know it you’re surrounding yourself with yogi things; my house and my environment is very yogi – I have lots of statues, lots of books – I have yoga magazines, but I wouldn’t have any magazine that didn’t support me. So, you surround yourself with things that support you on your journey. But first you have to empty yourself of things before you can start putting new things in. That’s where the difficulty comes for a lot of people; they keep adding things and then before you know it you’ve got too much and then you start to beat yourself up because you haven’t got enough time to do practice or to read. So, emptying out for me meant giving up running, which I loved, and I found that I had to let go of the weekend papers in order to read the books that I wanted to read. And social engagements – I slowly started to not eat at night; I haven’t eaten at night for 15 years, so people don’t invite me out at night. Are you in a relationship?
No. Relationships, again – that’s another big one – it’s like people who start the yoga path begin to question all those other aspects of their life and one of them is, of course, the people that you connect with. Are they of the same mindset? Yoga is about relationships – and the yoga of relationships is a very hard practice.
come to yoga, it’s a new learning curve for change. I think a lot of people come to yoga because they have a bad back or they need to quieten their mind. But once they start, they appreciate the fact that there’s so many other areas that it reaches out to. When a new student comes, they’re just like putty. How we mould them and how we work with them has to be a valuable and important part for every teacher. Because you can start them out on this incredible gifted practice or you can turn them away from it. Number one thing is compassion and empathy; and the teacher has to go back to that very first day when they started and remember what it was like. It’s very confronting for a student to walk into a room and say, “Okay, here I am, what do I do?” So, you’ve got to bring yourself down to their level, and their energy and nervousness and laughter – of course, laughter really allows them to let go and surrender a little bit more. I encourage every student to just take time – you know, it’s not going to happen overnight and if they can just begin with a consistency and make your yoga practice where you write it in your diary like an appointment with your dentist or an appointment with your hairdresser – have an appointment with your yoga teacher and that’s a fixed day and that might be Monday at 7 o’clock. And you’ll find that when they start doing that for three or four months it becomes integrated and easy; so never try too much too hard – over-enthusiasm’s short-lived, so certainly take it slowly. What intrigues and excites you most about teaching?
Beginners and therapy – I love that. People who come in with a problem – a physical or emotional problem, I love seeing them transform. It just keeps me coming back when you see the transformation in people. That’s why I keep going – that’s why I’ve done it for 30-plus years because you see change in people and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. As you said, most people start yoga with asana, learning postures and exercising the body and after regular ongoing practice other changes happen. I guess you’ve seen this magic?
Yeah, you see it all the time and you get those who are incredibly enthusiastic and what I love seeing mostly with those students is that they embrace the practice, they change their diet, they start to change their lifestyle and then the next magical thing to happen is they say, “Tell me about Mysore? Tell me about India?” And you know when they start enquiring about that that’s it – they’re done, they’re on the yoga path. And, it doesn’t matter if they change whatever practice of yoga they’re doing, they’re embracing a journey of self-investigation, self-awareness and if they let go of the asana practice and just do meditation or they practice pranayama, it doesn’t matter because they’ve already started that process. And, going to India is a big one because they’re prepared to just take a big step into where this practice began – you’re at the motherland, you’re going into the foundation of it. And, you see it in India like you don’t see it in the West – in the West you see a yoga room and you step out and it’s life – but in India yoga is in the street, it’s in the houses, people are engaging with you in such a spiritual way of compassion and caring that you just don’t get in the West. In the West it’s a very hurried environment and there’s not enough time given, so I love it when people go to India – I love that.
There is an ancient saying that the teacher and the taught produce the teaching – that it’s a two-way process and it comes
Can you share how your commitment to yoga has impacted
out of the person that is empty and spacious enough for the
your life and how yoga has enlightened and supported you
learning to come through. Is there a particular philosophy or
through the highs and lows?
approach you have to help people start on their yoga journey?
Having been diagnosed with breast cancer you just never know if you’re going to make it or not and I was confronted with that. And, there were incredible amounts of highs and lows
Students, they’re just such great beings. They choose to come to yoga to change – that’s the main reason people
in that – that aspect of desperation, “Am I going to live, am I going to die, have I done everything that I thought I would do in this life?” And, now being seven years clear it’s the greatest gift you could ever have, and yes, the yoga has supported me through that because it kept me emotionally centred and the crises only just takes you to a higher level of understanding of your identity and what really matters and the myth of our immortality – we all think we’re going to live forever. That’s what we’re told in the West anyway. Equilibrium brings equanimity, an asana practice should not be balanced but should balance us - what are thoughts on this as a teacher, and how do you help your students balance?
The ancient sages said the key to life is a sense of balance. Balance does not mean merely balancing the body; however, balance in the body is the foundation for balance in life. A sense of balance is also being in the present moment; our memory will take us to the past, our imagination to the future. The present moment is here and now, the breath relaxes, the mind stays steady and this is a very deep sense of internal balance. Having the student penetrate their inner body through various asanas will bring a student into balance. You can easily see if a student’s body/mind is too heavy, tamasic, or too unsteady, rajasic, and through the practice of yoga they eventually come to understand what a satvic body, a body and nervous system that is steady and alert at the same time starts to feel like. This is then the balance of the three gunas, the forever fluctuations of nature. So I would assist to find their internal balance via asana, pranayama and or mediation practice.
for tickets sydneyfringe.com/unyoked
Do you think it’s harder to stay focussed and dedicated to yoga living in a fast-paced city?
Yes, absolutely. Living in the city is just really hard for the yogis – really hard because there are distractions. And, they’re very tempting and we engage with people who don’t always live a yogi life and it’s nice to be around people like that too – you know, they support us in so many areas. It’s incredibly distracting here but that’s part of the work that we do – you know, it’s too easy to go and live in India, it’s fun and I love it and I would keep saying to myself, “Maybe I’ll just go to India for a few more years.” It certainly does give me a sense of my practice and my path – takes me deeper. But, now I just appreciate the fact that I need to go to India for like a sabbatical – it’s like university, I’ve got to have time out and go. And, that’s where it gets hard because I have to drop everything and living in this environment you drop everything which means you drop the house that you live in, you have to let go of that and then you’ve got to come back and you’ve got to start all over again. So, I try and keep everything to a minimum – I’m actually amazed, I look around my apartment now and I think, “God, when did I start accumulating all this?” It took me about 10 years to buy a washing machine because I couldn’t take it to India. It was like, “What do I need a washing machine for?” So, I just used to wash things in the bath or go down the laundromat. And, of course the latest one was I bought a dog, Shanti, and I love that dog so much and that’s a real bind for me because I can’t go to India now. I couldn’t leave her for a year. I couldn’t. So, I’m here for 10 years – I reckon that’s about her [Shanti’s] lifespan, so another 10 years.
UNITING AUDIENCES AND ARTISTS FOR DEEPER CONVERSATIONS, DEEPER ART AND DEEPER LISTENING.
TAKE TWO Four creative couples on love, life, family and responsibility LULU AND MISCHKA, SHARLEE GIBB AND MATT WILKINSON, BEC MATTHEWS AND SARAH WARD, LOUISE WHELAN AND JOHN OGDEN INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA SCIBERRAS WORDS BY ANDREA Oâ€™DRISCOLL AND DOMINIQUE ANTARAKIS
People often think that a meaningful profession must come at the price of a meaningful relationship, or vice versa, but it is possible for the two to come together in surprising and creative ways. Working alongside your soulmate can bind two people closer together and expand the potential of their creative expression. For some couples the sense of duty they have towards each other merges into a mutual desire to express that sense of duty in the wider world. Whether it be through music, art, food, photography or family, each of the couples we spoke to are working together in their own unique way to make the world around them a better place. Expressing the love you have for your partner through music or art, or nurturing them to be the best they can be, can transform a job into a passion, and infuse the wider world with the same caring commitment that the best couples bring to each other. We spoke to four inspiring creative couples to find out what first drew them to each other and how they have blended their individual passions to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
Soul Music MUSIC IS WHAT BROUGHT LULU AND MISCHKA TOGETHER AND IT REMAINS AN IMPORTANT EXPRESSION OF THEMSELVES, THEIR LOVE AND THEIR HOPES FOR A BETTER WORLD
When Lulu and Mischka first set eyes on each other the attraction
it’s to bring ourselves down to receive the fruits of these songs
was instant. “We met at a festival called the Rainbow Gathering
ourselves. Or playing a new melody and seeing what comes out.
in the Blue Mountains back in 2010,” says Lulu. “Mischka was sharing some chants and I could just feel this incredible soul and I
“Besides that, we make sure we spend time in nature because
knew I just had to meet this person.”
that always helps our creative process; carrying one or the other instrument along and seeing what happens, waiting to
Fittingly for a couple of kirtan musicians whose music is derived
be inspired. Sometimes it’s the traditional mantras that come
from ancient mantras, it was through music that they first
through; sometimes it’s the spirit of the land that wants to bring
recognised each other as soul mates. “We met in a cave. It was
a message through.”
only lit by a few candles so you couldn’t really see each other. I shared some songs, then Mischka shared some songs. We heard
Adds Lulu: “We just spent a beautiful day out in nature and I had
each other before we’d met or set eyes on each other,” says Lulu.
a melody come through. Then Mischka had something come up for him and he’d add to it and we’d just keep singing, organically
“Looking back, it was a soul recognition,” says Mischka. “Just
refining, and new melodies come through and then it starts to
hearing her sing…I was absolutely attracted to it. An energetic,
grow from there. If it’s something really prominent then we want to
emotional feeling that was not crazy overwhelming, but a big ‘yes’.”
share it straight away; sometimes it’ll rest and come back up later.”
But he was travelling around Australia at that time, and was doing his best “not to put my foot into any big city. And I had to dissolve
Says Mischka, “sometimes they take five years or so until they
a few things that were going on with me before I was ready.”
want to be shared, be birthed, in an intimate circle of friends,” before they can be introduced to a wider audience.
Lulu, meanwhile, had just returned from six months in India and was heading to Sydney to start work. The pair exchanged contact
Travel has proven to be a major influence on their life and music.
details, but weren’t sure if their paths would cross again. “It was
“We’re both travel lovers and lovers of the world,” says Mischka.
in that moment of like ‘wow I’ve just met you, I’ve got to go to the
“We’re very open to the various traditions and in love with the
city, here’s my number, bye’,” says Lulu. “I just remember leaving
Indigenous peoples of the world and that’s often our focus in the
and I gave the biggest sob ever like ‘I don’t know if I’m going to
places that we go – it might be a taste, a song, an instrument or
see him again, waaaahh’.
just a breath of the stories that show how these Indigenous people understand life.”
“We hadn’t kissed or anything, but there was just this really powerful connection. My friend I was in the car with said to me
He adds that ‘spirit’ has always been an inspiration in both
‘Lulu, if it’s meant to be, it will be, you just have to trust’. And that
of their lives for personal development, personal growth and
word ‘trust’ was so strong, you know?”
health. “As it spreads throughout the western world we’ve been fortunate to put our foot into it, and learned and experienced
Given this early encounter, it seems inevitable that they would
and grown with that. People from the land can tell us stories
eventually reconnect and they did, in Sydney. From that moment
and give us an understanding of what that was like – a taste, a
they knew that making music would continue to be a central part
song, an instrument or just a breath of the stories of the way
of their lives together. “After the cave experience, music, that was
these Indigenous people understand life. That can have a direct
our main focus together. Just to be in our bubble and to play and
translation into a song or it can just rest with us for however long
to sing together,” says Mischka.
it needs to integrate within us.”
Their shared passion has resulted in two albums, Stillness in
They pick up various instruments along the way, too: different
Motion and Hearts Wide Open. The duo now spends much
flutes, different percussive instruments. “On our latest journey to
of their time touring the world performing at festivals, health
South America, we found the Andean as well as the Amazonian
resorts, retreats and as part of larger chant concerts.
traditions and their incredible knowledge of the earth, the realm, the planet, of what is happening. They had a connection
Despite their success, Lulu and Mischka still place a great
with the mountains, with the jungle, with the animals as well
emphasis on living in the moment and striving towards
as a connection to the spirit worlds and other dimensions – it’s
authenticity in everything they do. “I notice that every time we
incredible. Sometimes it’s just being immersed in two different
share our music, people come up to us and say ‘I have a festival
cultures and letting that integrate into our bodies. It might sooner
in Finland I’d love you to play at’ or ‘I have a retreat somewhere’.
or later translate into something that we can offer.”
And each time we play it creates another opening,” says Lulu. “It’s really important that we work with people that have experienced
Being open to influence and humanity isn’t just an idea; for Lulu
us because that’s the thread, the authenticity,
and Mischka it’s a duty that informs every aspect of their life and
work. “Supporting humanity and the awakening of humanity feels like our duty,” Lulu says. “What we’ve observed through other
It’s an approach that has characterised most of their adult lives, in
traditions is that all these aspects are within everyone, and are
fact. Says Mischka: “I’ve tried a few times to fit into the mainstream
part of the journey of removing the shadow, removing the layers.
expectations of chasing a career, getting a university degree, and
What is left is nothing but pure consciousness and love.”
it’s never really worked out. But I’ve always run into people who inspired me to live the life that just comes from the moment.” It’s also the way they work: “Before we go to bed we’ll play some music or we’ll sit and go over a song, just for the sake of our own practice, or sometimes it’s a rehearsal for a show. But often
The Food of Love SHARLEE GIBB AND MATT WILKINSONâ€™S LOVE OF FOOD INFUSES EVERY PART OF THEIR LIVES TOGETHER, FROM THEIR BUSINESSES TO THEIR FAMILY AND PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Sharlee Gibb and Matt Wilkinson’s paths had almost crossed at
“But it’s so often the females who are making the decisions –
least once before they finally met at the Melbourne Food and Wine
female festival organisers, female magazine editors, female
Festival. Sharlee started a job at Vue de Monde in the week after
newspaper editors, they’re all females making those decisions yet
Matt had stormed out on Valentine’s Day in a blaze of expletives.
they’re just; not, supporting other females.
“The chefs weren’t even allowed to speak to me,” Matt recalls. “Fully Booked brings together chefs, restaurant workers, the Even when they did meet, it wasn’t exactly a culinary meeting of
wine industry, retail, tourism, artists, they’re all involved in the
minds. “Sharlee is very opinionated and she came up to my table
food industry in some way. What makes it so great is there’s the
at the Food and Wine Festival, tasted one of my dishes and hated
marketing, and the PR and the communication side as well so
it. Sharlee is one of those people where you can tell straight away
there are links for people.”
if she likes or doesn’t like something,” says Matt. Sharlee sees herself as a connector within the industry, making They spent a year working together before their mutual attraction
sure that if women have questions they know there’s someone
grew too obvious to ignore. “I had a partner at the time. I was just
they can talk to.
flirting and Sharlee was flirting back, then I broke it off with my partner and asked Sharlee if she’d be with me the very next day.
Events are generally held monthly and Sharlee invites speakers
We’ve been together ever since.”
from various industries to address the audience. “I find that women don’t spend enough time trying to improve and advance
Matt now co-owns Pope Joan in Melbourne and Sharlee runs
themselves and get the tools they need to take them to the next
Fully Booked, a social community for women in the food industry,
level because they’re giving to their families or their work or
but their most committed project remains bringing up their
they’re just too busy and they just don’t find the time to have that
two young sons. Family has become something of a consuming
personal time to do those things.”
passion, despite both having grown up with divorced parents, but its connection to food is never lost on them. “When I’m cooking,
In terms of the future, Matt is also looking beyond the confines
on the farm, in the garden or family meal times is when I’m
of the kitchen for the first time. “For 10 years now, I’ve been
happiest,” Matt says.
saying that I want to buy my own farm but it just hasn’t happened, so now I’m thinking why don’t I just live it? My good friend
Mealtimes are an important ritual that Matt believes play a
has a farm and once a week I drive there early in the morning
key role in holding the family together. “The thing that’s most
and learn about all the things that go on – animal husbandry,
important to me now is the family lunch or dinner. It’s not so
animal welfare, pasture management, pasture clearing, water
much about the food as it is about the sharing of it, the coming
management and fencing. I’m trying to find out what to do next.”
together as a family to talk. No mobile phones allowed, just family time.”
Their family is and will always be the main focus, but out of that has grown a sense of duty towards the greater good that
Yet having a family wasn’t always on the agenda for the pair. Matt
has affected Sharlee as well as Matt. “My take on duty is being
was working crazy hours and Sharlee was also pretty focused on
responsible for my actions and making sure I teach my kids to be
her career when, she says, “I just had an epiphany that I was sick
responsible adults, and that we’re all going to do the best we can
of the stuff that kind of goes around with the food events and that
to leave the earth in a good place for the next people to come
industry and thought having a family was more important.”
along,” she says. “I think duty is about not being so hung up about yourself, but thinking more about the greater good.”
As it turned out, Matt was so busy that their first son was conceived in a half hour break before heading to the airport for
Food is a big part of that and it galls Matt that we just don’t look
a cooking gig. “It was a surprise for us when we found out I was
after the earth the way we should. “The earth is what feeds us
pregnant,” says Sharlee, “four or five weeks later.”
but we’re fucking it up in such a non-caring, greedy way. I’m not saying we need to see everything being killed, but in a modern
“I have a friend who is also a business partner, who said to me,
society you need to know where your produce comes from and
‘Your life will change. You’ll not know why. But you’ll also have to
ask the question ‘is it okay?’
provide’, says Matt. “I’d never worked to provide. I’ve always been like at a whim, and all of a sudden, for the first time in my life
“It started for me around 12 years ago, questioning why we were
it’s about sourcing, and providing money and family is the most
buying meat from Sydney and driving it all the way down to
important thing for me.”
Melbourne. I started a conversation with producers – I wanted to know where produce was coming from, how it was killed. I
When baby number two came along, Sharlee decided to make
realised that food that comes from a producer who cares for their
the transition to full-time mothering. More recently she’s begun
animal and for the land that they farm it on tastes better.
her new venture, Fully Booked, helping to support and nurture other women in the industry. “It’s definitely about having a
“When strawberries are in season and they’re freshly picked
support network and a community for women working in the
and I know where they’ve come from and it’s a good farm, they
industry because it is very male-dominated, it’s tough and it’s a
taste better. And as a chef or a home cooker, a professional
hard environment to work in. The number one thing I wanted to
cook, surely then you’re winning. If you’re using the tastiest
provide was opportunities for women to raise their profile and get
produce you’ve just got to marry the flavours well, cook it well
their name out there because all the events, festivals, the master
and hey presto.”
classes, the TV shows, the majority are males, and females aren’t given the opportunities.
Baring All BEC MATTHEWS AND SARAH WARD FELL IN LOVE AT THE CIRCUS AND PERFORMANCE REMAINS A CENTRAL PART OF THEIR LIVES TOGETHER
Bec Matthews and Sarah Ward met almost a decade ago
shows featuring Yana and Tha Paranas and, she says, they’re
when both worked on a show for the Women’s Circus. That
“becoming more confident that we know how to do this”.
same year also saw the birth of Sarah’s alter ego Yana Alana, a drag-inspired cabaret queen prone to raging against social
Overall, it seems the two have come up with a winning formula,
and political norms who occupies a very special place in the
but the ease of their collaboration at one time had Bec wondering
lives of both women.
if it wasn’t all ‘too easy’.
Sarah describes Bec’s role in their professional lives as being
“Now I’ve gone, well if it’s easy don’t fight it! So at the moment it’s
something of a ‘diva carer’, but her steadfast presence also proved
good, there has been a good mix of working on other projects and
the perfect foil to Yana’s more animated flights of fancy in shows
working together, but why wouldn’t we work together if it works?”
such as the duo’s performance piece Tears before Bedtime. “The show was actually created at home in our bed. I remember sitting
For Sarah, the key is working with Bec’s skills to bring a new
in bed at 2am playing the ukulele with Sarah singing because that
dimension to the shows. “Bec’s excellent at looking at the overall
was when the idea had come to us,” says Bec.
picture with patterns, she’s great at logic and practicality and all of those skills are used so much in Yana, in the conceptualising
But performing as Yana can take its toll. The soul-baring honesty
of something. I’m really great at sitting at a computer and putting
and energy needed to perform some of her shows asks a lot of
it in a blurb going, what is this show?
Sarah, especially in the light of her recent cancer diagnosis and ongoing bouts of anxiety. “I had kidney cancer. It was detected
“I can write a media release, get it out to media; once I set my
very early, which was incredibly lucky. One of the effects of that
mind to something I’m really good at exciting a team and going
was that it made me realise that I deserve a rest, that I don’t have
let’s do this and believing in it. I’m also really great at asking for
to say yes to everything. I just wanted to have some fun so we
help and that’s part of getting a great team together.
created a show for Yana that I would enjoy performing.” “When it comes to the show, I’ve got great instincts, because The result was Yana Covered, which sees her dressing up as she
I want to keep Yana and be true to the character because she
covers songs by artists such as Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson and
is an extension of me, a heightened version of me and I don’t
Nina Simone (supported, of course by Bec and the other members
want to break her.”
of her all-female band Tha Paranas). Bec alludes to hardships in their personal and professional lives Interestingly, Sarah admits that while the character has evolved
which have taken their toll, not least the lack of performance
a great deal over time, Yana’s origins stem from her feelings of
opportunities for women. She stresses, however, that these
anger towards the world: “I was writing all this angry poetry
challenges have made them stronger individually and as a couple.
about the Young Liberal Party, about ticket inspectors, basically
“It might sound like a big old cliché, but our relationship and
capitalism and patriarchy, because I didn’t feel like me or my
our creative relationship is getting stronger because we’ve gone
friends had a place in that world. It was like we were invisible.”
through, and are still facing, real hardship. We have to be really versatile as artists to survive in an industry where there’s just not
Did she want a place in that world? “I actually didn’t, and I still
enough work for everybody.”
don’t, but Yana’s angry, I’m angry and there were lots of things happening in my life that I was really angry about. It was a big
“So we’re not just performers anymore,” says Sarah. “Bec is
transitional time for me personally and creatively so it was great
stepping into sound design and teaching, I’m stepping into
to get up on stage and find that so many people felt the same.”
acting and teaching. We’re diversifying professionally and we’re supporting each other in that growth as well.”
In fact, she soon found the show resonating with mainstream audiences as well. “When I took Yana outside of the queer world
When asked how they feel about marriage their reactions are
and I put her on stage at comedy nights or jazz festivals or music
similarly unenthusiastic. “Both of us feel personally repelled
nights, people were in hysterics. They really related so it was fun.
by the idea of marriage,” says Sarah. “But other people are
She’s grown since then, become more three dimensional.”
redefining what marriage is and I think that’s wonderful. I have no judgment of people who want to get married and I see that the
Bec, meanwhile, was drawn to the physicality of circus
complexities around the fight for gay marriage aren’t even about
performing. She did a clowning workshop while trying to get
gay marriage, they’re about human rights and about choice.
over a previous breakup as a ‘sort of side thing’. Her drumming performance at a Yana show caught the attention of Circus Oz,
“But for me, I can’t marry because it’s about ownership. I don’t
who invited her to join them. She stayed with them for four years
belong to anybody and it’s about patriarchy and church and
and loved every minute of it.
institution and I can’t love that…”
“It was really weird to make the decision to leave because it suited
“ …. and meeting other people’s expectations on what your
me so well. But I had all these other things I wanted to do like the
relationship should be,” Bec adds. “I just feel like it’s another
shows with Sarah, with Yana.” In the end it was her need for more
thing to buy into.”
variety that made her take the plunge to go completely freelance after years of relatively secure work.
“We’re completely committed; we’d like to grow old together
It turned out to be the right decision; while teaching percussion
and we’re not going to have a baby, so for us art is our baby.”
if our health allows us to,” Sarah says. “We don’t own a house, to primary school kids pays the bills, Bec works with Sarah on
Still Lives A SHARED APPROACH TO LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHY MAY NOT BE THE REASON LOUISE WHELAN AND JOHN ‘OGGY’ OGDEN GOT TOGETHER INITIALLY, BUT IT CERTAINLY CHARACTERIZES THEIR LIVES NOW 58
Award-winning photographers Louise Whelan and John ‘Oggy’
something you chose to do and in some ways even an art form.
Ogden share such a passionate interest in visually documenting
It was a big influence at an age when I was most impressionable,
Australian life and the diverse populations that comprise it, that
from about 10, when I started immersing myself in surf culture.
it seems strange that it wasn’t this that first drew them together. Yet they met – like so many people – in a bar in Sydney that
“I didn’t like team sports, I didn’t like cricket or football. But when
neither of them usually frequent.
I found surfing it was like this light bulb went off, it was just you with nature and riding freeform and things changed all the time.
“I got dragged into town because I was nursing a few wounds
I became much more aware of how nature worked, like reefs and
and my friend Richard was determined to snap me out of it.
sand bottoms and winds and the whole lot.”
It was my first night out in a long time and that was when we collided,” says John.
Instead of fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, he ended up in Laos as a photojournalist and eventually moved into filmmaking. John
Louise was a single mother of four boys at the time, while John
suspects he may have some Indigenous blood mixed in with his
shared custody of his two sons, so they were forced to take things
Irish convict heritage, but hasn’t been able to confirm it. As a film
fairly slowly. It was six weeks before Louise accepted an invitation
student in London, however, he was ashamed to realise how little
to join John’s orphan Christmas day gathering and another
he knew about the history of Aborigines in Australia.
couple of years before they moved in together. In the decade that has passed since then the two families have become well and truly
“I got accused by some irate Poms about being involved in the
blended, though all but one of their boys have now flown the nest.
genocide of Aboriginal Australians and I was like what? I mean, I’d never even met an Aboriginal. But I really felt dumb. I wanted
It might not be how they met, but their shared love of
to find out more. So I studied anthropology and a lot of that
photography has clearly helped bind them together. Their work
course was learning about traditional cultures and mythologies
occupies a space somewhere between the roles of artist, historian
and a lot of it was also about post-contact legislation and that
and activist. To see how these boundaries might be blurred you
made me really angry.”
need only to look at the pictures each of them took at the Sorry Day at Parliament House in Canberra.
He’s now involved in an Indigenous men’s healing group, Gamerata, and previously worked on a program which aimed to
“There was one of three women from the stolen generation
get Aboriginal fathers more involved in their children’s education
holding photographs of their parents with tears coming down
and upbringing. “At school a lot of the time if there was a problem
their face while Kevin Rudd was reading out his speech,” says
the fathers would be called in, so we set up a program where we
Louise. “That was displayed in Parliament House and is now in
got the dads to come in and show some of their knowledge. There
Year 10 history books. It gives those people a visual voice.”
was intergenerational distrust of education and what their kids were being taught and all sorts of other issues. By getting them
Allowing people to tell their own stories and in sufficient detail
in there and them talking about what they really knew and doing
to give them weight is important to Louise and her approach is
art projects together, it really changed the connection between
to get to know the people and communities whose stories she
fathers and schools.”
is documenting over a period of time. For example, she has documented the lives of Sudanese refugees living in Orange,
He says he doesn’t have any big missions or agendas and likes to
visiting over many years and recording hundreds of hours of
work on a relatively small scale. “The Saltwater People is just a
interviews. She went there, she says, with all sorts of expectations
local history book. The Portraits book was an acknowledgement
about what she would find – only to discover that she needed to
of Aboriginal culture. There was a national and international
ditch her preconceptions and dig a little deeper.
release but it was only 3,000 copies. I like to keep things on that scale, keep them human,” he says. Like Louise, John’s work
“It’s been five years since I’ve been shooting that and I’m still
delves beneath that surface and the superficiality of photography-
adding to the collection. To work with communities, gain trust
as-fashion and aims to tell a story within a story.
and respect and all that kind of stuff, it takes a long time. Even the oral histories can take a while to get. I did one with an Iranian
Over the years he has worked extensively with Aboriginal
asylum seeker that was eight hours.”
communities both as a photographer and a documentarian and more recently through the healing group. It’s something that
She is, she says, ‘intrigued’ by other cultures and sub-cultures and
feeds into his sense of duty to improve the lives of the people
considers it a privilege to be able to become part of their world,
around him. “The work I do might be something that looks like
even if it’s only temporarily. “I spent five years documenting
a coffee table book on beach culture, but actually has a very
the young skaters in their little place up here on the northern
strong acknowledgement to first people. Most stories talk about
beaches. That’s how I work. I tend to become part of who I am
how they looked after the land for thousands of years, tens of
that I am photographing. I don’t know if that’s the intention, but
thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans and they
that is kind of what happens.”
maintained the land and they maintained the population numbers and it would’ve been a beautiful place to live.
John grew up in a period of massive upheaval and was called up to fight in Vietnam. He became a conscientious objector and
“I’ve tried to point that out to people and see what we’ve done
was relieved when Whitlam came to power and stopped the draft
in the last 200 years, where we were headed sort of kind of
in 1972. He had been enormously influenced by surfing culture
looking into the future, but with the rear vision mirror as well
which has played a big role in his life. “In the sixties, surfing was
by looking at history to see where we’ve come from and to see
a cultural import from California and Hawaii. It was a lifestyle,
where we’re going.”
DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION INTERVIEW BY VERONICA BOLZON
Actor and stand-up documentarian Emma Beech is having an ongoing conversation – with, about and through community. A keen observer and deep questioner, her curiosity feeds her live art to make us think and tell us the story of what we know. By “stand-up documentarian” Emma means she uses her curiosity to research a theme, and then performs it. “And often when I am performing, I am standing up and talking to people. So that is what I say I do.” Take her show Homage to Uncertainty – winner of the Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Award at the Adelaide Fringe – which played in Melbourne in September. In it she distills gestures she has observed and stories she has been told about uncertainty into a “stand-up theatre piece, which is sometimes funny”, as she describes it. Yet she insists that she did not create the show. “Stories happen in my life, or they are told to me, or I experience them, and they have significance – there are a series of those stories matched with suggestions, matched with a little bit of writing,” she says. “I put them together, then did a show, and then thought `what is this show, what is it about?’ From that process it looks like I created a show, but I didn’t. The show created itself.” Unusually for someone who likes to make connections, in this case Emma is proud that she did not consciously link the stories. “I don’t have to link them. They are linked already. I just need to put those things out there, and people do that themselves.” This is something she gleaned from her work in Denmark, creating non-speaking theatre in installation spaces. “You place a series of objects in a particular type of room, and pop someone in there that has got a particular type of attitude – that experience will be something different to absolutely everybody and it could be worlds-apart different. Someone can put all their thoughts and memories and experiences into that, and take away something which is theirs, and unique.” Emma’s collaboration with The Australian Bureau of Worthiness comes at the idea from the opposite angle, where people put forward their thoughts and memories and experiences, and through her performance Emma shows them what is theirs and unique, yet linked. The Australian Bureau of Worthiness is a collaboration between three artists – Emma, James Dodd and Tessa Leong. “The Bureau – that is what we always call it – is linked already. It is already contextualised through the question we ask everybody. The whole premise is that the Australian Bureau of Worthiness goes into a place, and they ask the people of that place, ‘What makes your day worth it?’.” Previous communities to get the Bureau treatment include Goolwa in South Australia, Viborg in Denmark and Geelong in Victoria. The most recent is Hindley St, Adelaide’s party strip. The results make up the show I Met Hindley Street. For Emma, the jury is still out on whether the show, which is funded through an Unexpected City grant supported by Arts SA, makes a difference to the community, or whether that is something that can even be measured. What she finds curious is who turns up to see it.
“I thought that the people we spoke to would want to come and see the show – that is only true of 10 per cent of the people we speak to. They have already had their experience once they have spoken to you. Whether they go back to their homes and say ‘this woman came up to me on the street today’ or ‘I was sitting down and she came up and asked me what made my day worth it’, maybe that happens, which would be fantastic. “The second part of the process is that everybody else that didn’t get asked the question, but is curious about that place will ask ‘so what is that place, what do they think?’ Some of the community will want to come back and find out what other people said, ‘What does my community think? What makes their day worth it?’.” Of her need to connect and express, Emma says: “I have been on a lifelong exploration to find out just what is everybody’s experience as a person – what are they doing, what are they feeling, what are they thinking? Are we really that different? Are we the same?” Part of that exploration is her keen observation of others. “I started watching.other people and monitoring what they were doing in every five minutes of their life, and the connection we had, I was like ‘Oh!’. I was thinking I was a freak, but after watching everyone down to that detail, they were doing the same things as I was. They were moving in the same way. We were doing the same gestures, repeatedly. We were doing the same things, just at different times, in slightly different ways.” The number one thing people were doing in common was using mobile phones, followed by eating and drinking and, well, waiting – for something to happen, for a person, a coffee. “We were playing with our hair, rubbing our faces, looking off into the distance, sighing …” This extraordinary presence in the moment and with others Emma labels her “distraction” because she feels it might be seen as unproductive. And yet it is that very distraction that allows Emma to be a conduit. “I am happy to go and do those things and then come back and tell you because you guys are probably concentrating on something else, where I am constantly distracted so maybe that is what I am meant to be – distracted.” Emma’s distraction started as a child growing up in the country. As the youngest of nine children, she found herself “sitting in the corner all the time, just watching what everyone was doing”. What she discovered was that there was no right or wrong, just different opinions – and a lot of pretence. So her creative expression is the by-product of what she is interested in: “How different would the world be if we really said what was on our minds, in our hearts, and what we really wanted to do? “I really think it is kind of insane, crazy, that we are unable to express ourselves to each other … It keeps us all back, so far away from each other, ourselves, our families from loving, from giving a shit, building communities, all those things, because we are pretending. “Creativity is the only way I can think of to express what it is that I feel.”
Moon Girl, by Sarah John
THESE WALLS CAN TALK BY AUSTRALIAN ARTIST FINTAN MAGEE
Werchter, Belgium â€“ Moving the Pointless Monument
Moscow, Russia â€“ The giants
Mixing surreal and figurative imagery, my paintings are deeply integrated with the urban environment and explore themes of waste, consumption, loss and transition and contain a sentimentality and softness influenced by childrenâ€™s books. My large-scale murals often inhabit the isolated, abandoned and broken corners of a city. And those cities are far and wide, including outdoor projects in Sydney, Melbourne, London, Vienna, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Moscow, New York, Oslo and Dublin, among others.
Sydney, Australia â€“ The giants
Dunedin, New Zealand â€“ Chasing the thin white cloud
Sydney, Australia â€“ Support
THE EXAMINED LIFE WESLEY ENOCH, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, SYDNEY FESTIVAL RACHEL HEALY, CO-ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, ADELAIDE FESTIVAL OF ARTS KERRI GLASSCOCK, FESTIVAL DIRECTOR AND CEO, THE SYDNEY FRINGE LEE LEWIS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY RACHAEL MAZA, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, ILBIJERRI THEATRE COMPANY INTERVIEWS AND WORDS BY JO LITSON ILLUSTRATION BY AURELIE GARNIER
Try, if you can, to imagine a world without art and culture. No theatres or concert halls or art galleries. No dance, opera, classical music, plays, musicals, cabaret or circus. The little bar in your suburb that hosts live bands would be gone, along with your child’s dance school. Say goodbye to novels, cinema, television dramas, radio, pop music, video games, graphic design and fashion. It’s hard to get your head around just how many things that we take for granted would no longer be there. In fact, you probably need an artist to help you imagine what such a world would be like. But artists do more than make art. They entertain and uplift us. They tell us about ourselves and the world we live in. They allow us to understand and empathise with others. They help our imagination take flight and our spirits soar.
As society has become more secular, people are looking
and culture. When people see a piece of graphic design or hear
beyond religion for spiritual experiences. Music can express the
a song on the radio or take their children to a ballet or violin
ineffable. With dance “you are connecting the mind, body and
lesson, they don’t necessarily join the dots back to a vibrant and
spirit at once,” as Stephen Page, Artistic Director of Bangarra
rich cultural ecology, but of course all those things do join back.
Dance Theatre has put it.
One would hope that the political leadership would understand that those interconnections are crucial.”
“To be honest, a society doesn’t exist unless it has arts and culture,” says Wesley Enoch, the new Artistic Director of Sydney
In today’s digital age we are more connected than ever before.
Festival. “Societies need stories that bind them together.
But ironically, since so much of it happens online, many people
It happens naturally because it’s inherently human to do it.”
So whose duty is it to ensure that Australia has a rich cultural
“The connection that arts bring to a community is even more
life? Does the government have a responsibility to fund the
valuable,” says Kerri Glasscock, Festival Director and CEO of
arts and creative industries? Should corporations and wealthy
the Sydney Fringe. “It gives you a voice and a commentary on
individuals lend support through sponsorship and philanthropy?
what’s going on in the world, but even more importantly it offers
audiences an opportunity to gather and to share an experience
of the artists themselves? Do they have a duty to society and to
each other? From 2011 to 2015, Healy was Executive Manager of Culture for Enoch is a Noonuccal Nuugi man from Stradbroke Island. An
the City of Sydney where she spearheaded a ground-breaking
actor, writer and director whose productions include Black
draft Cultural Policy and Action Plan for the City of Sydney,
Diggers and the original stage version of The Sapphires, he was
which looked at how culture and creativity can animate urban
Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company before joining
spaces and help make high density environments exciting places
to be rather than stifling urban jungles.
“When you talk about ‘duty’, I hadn’t thought about it as society’s
A raft of around 80 initiatives addressed numerous issues
duty to the artist, but that the artist needs to articulate their
including accessibility, public transport and the venue crisis
duty to society. If we are not doing that job properly then we
facing artists due to gentrification and escalating rents,
distract people from their lives rather than enhance their lives,”
particularly new and emerging artists and those wanting to
“We are surrounded by arts and culture but it’s so ubiquitous we
As a result of the policy work, a high-rise development currently
don’t see it. We think of it in the same way that we give time to
being built in the Sydney CBD was allowed to include five floors
analysing the air that we breathe. And it’s not everyone’s job to
of above-ground parking in return for which the developer has
live the examined life. But it is the job of the artist and all creative
included custom-designed artist spaces around the perimeter
thinkers, be they scientists or innovators in business, to ask the
which will be available for a peppercorn rent. “That kind of
questions that others don’t have time to ask.
lateral thinking was incredibly fulfilling,” says Healy.
“I go back to an Aboriginal reference point, that the tribe
Glasscock, who owns and operates two underground Sydney
always needed someone to explain the past, the future and the
spaces, 505 in Surry Hills and the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown,
present… how we got to where we are now, but also to explain
and who has activated pop-up spaces for Sydney Fringe, was one
innovation and changes in society. Someone had to paint
of the many people consulted.
it, someone had to dance it, someone had to sing it. Though everyone has that spark of creativity, it’s the ability [of the artist]
“That was the first time in my career, after working for 20
to give time and resources to it,” says Enoch.
years in the independent sector in Sydney, where we were even brought to the table, acknowledged and asked our opinion of
“Participating in stories about ourselves is something that is as
what we needed. So there is a shift,” she says.
primal as the camp fire,” agrees Rachel Healy, a respected arts administrator, policy maker and the new co-Artistic Director
“Rachel Healy looked at the entire (creative) sector and the issues
(with Neil Armfield) of the Adelaide Festival of Arts.
facing us all. The mainstage and the big festivals are important. Independent festivals and the small spaces are equally important.
“If you think about going into a packed auditorium, whether it’s
It’s a really delicate ecosystem. Our duty as artists and citizens
to hear Richard Dawkins talk, see Sylvie Guillem dance or hear
is to ensure there is a diverse offering. It should complement
Paul Kelly sing, the sense of excitement is second to none. If the
everyone and it should be for everyone. One shouldn’t come at
same group of people were going into a packed environment like
the cost of the other.”
a railway station you’d think it would be their version of hell,” says Healy.
That is exactly what happened on May 13 this year – a day that has been dubbed Black Friday by arts commentators – when
“I could watch Sylvie Guillem or Paul Kelly or Richard Dawkins
62 established small to medium arts organisations who had
tonight at home in bed on my laptop, but people want to come
re-applied to the Australia Council’s four-year grant program
together. Engagement is kind of who we are as a species. I think
everyone does it, they don’t necessarily identify it as part of arts
The cuts go back to George Brandis’s decision last year to
taxpayers $10 million for each medal won,” wrote Berthold.
remove $105 million over four years from the Australia Council
A 2015 Australia Council report called Arts Nation estimated
to establish a ministerial fund for project-based work called the
that the creative industries contribute $50 billion annually to
National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).
the economy from a $7 billion investment. Of that, the Australia
In the face of considerable outrage, the Turnbull Government’s
Council receives a little under $200 million – loose change from
new Arts Minister Mitch Fifield subsequently renamed the fund
an overall Federal budget of $470 billion.
Catalyst and returned $32 million over four years to the Australia Council; that still left a shortfall of $73 million.
One of the silver linings of the Australia Council grant announcement in May was that an unprecedented 17 Indigenous
Since Tony Abbott was elected in 2013, $300 million has been
companies received funding.
stripped from the arts portfolio, while recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show a decline of 16,000 jobs in the sector.
“It’s very much a fantastic step forward and all credit to the Australia Council, but at what cost?” asks Rachael Maza, Artistic
While many (though not all) major arts organisations remained
Director of Ilbijerri Theatre Company in Melbourne, Australia’s
silent when Brandis syphoned off Australia Council funds last
leading and longest-running Indigenous theatre company.
year, presumably fearful at biting the hand that feeds, there was a united response to the Black Friday cuts from all sectors of
“It’s very hard to celebrate when you have to rob Peter to pay Paul.
This is something that is long overdue, so no one is doing anyone any favours here, but I can’t help but be absolutely devastated for
In a statement, the Confederation of Australian State Theatre
the overall impact that it’s had on colleagues and really deserving,
Companies (CAST) noted: “Small to medium companies are the
amazing arts organisations that got defunded. It was quite
lifeblood of the theatre sector across Australia and where most
significant for my company that we got over the line but there was
of the new Australian work is generated and developed.”
no feeling of celebration in the office at all. We are all one colour when it comes to the impact of these devastating cuts.”
“If any good comes out of this, it’s that companies are learning to talk to each other in ways that they hadn’t really had to before
For Maza, it is vital that Indigenous artists tell their own stories
about things that matter to us,” says Lee Lewis, Artistic Director
and are in a position to do so. “We are at a time where our stories
of Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney, which is dedicated to the
on the whole have been told by others, not by us. We have had
presentation of Australian work.
such a long history of being misrepresented, stereotyped and romanticised. So it is absolutely critical to the national discourse
“We haven’t really had to lobby as an industry before. We haven’t
for the integrity of the stories that are being told that we are in
had to agree on anything. Now we do. Now it’s crunch time.
creative control and have authority over our stories.”
We are taking baby steps in how to do that, but we will get there.” Maza cites Ilbijerri’s production of Jack Charles V The Crown Griffin has just collaborated with Bell Shakespeare on Justin
in which the renowned Indigenous actor tells his own story in
Fleming’s The Literati, a rollicking Australianised adaptation of
a theatrical form dictated by his life experience, using pottery,
Molière’s satire Les Femmes Savantes, which delighted audiences.
music and film as well as direct narrative as a piece of Indigenous theatre that really connected with audiences.
“I think we are going to see some really interesting work coming out of bigger companies collaborating with smaller companies in
Lewis believes that government has a duty to fund new Australian
order to encourage artists. We have actually got to build our own
work and that with limited arts funding this should take priority.
infrastructure independent of the Australia Council,” says Lewis.
“Australian originality is what I think the government should be investing in,” she says. “The arts community needs to be looking
The independent sector survives without State and Federal
at all the things we do and say, ‘which do we value most and which
funding. Sydney Fringe relies on support from local councils as
should we never let go of?’ I think that questions about where we
well as the artists themselves. “In spite of all [the challenges] we
are headed as a country are huge and the only people who can
have a really vibrant sector and I think that’s because we have
speak to us about that are Australian writers.”
had to band together,” says Glasscock, adding that “it’s the small spaces that make your suburb vibrant.”
“Without a vibrant culture, we won’t keep our leading creative minds here or our best scientific or business brains either,”
Funding of the arts has always been a vexed issue. Demand
adds Lewis. “I think the brain drain starts with an artist drain.”
outstrips funds available, while some question the very nature of arts funding, seeing it as a hand-out rather than an investment
Artists enrich a society in so many ways, from entertaining us to
in our cultural life and wellbeing.
enlightening us. If they have a duty to society, then clearly society reaps the benefit and has a duty to make it possible for them to
But as David Berthold, artistic director of Brisbane Festival,
work. But artists need to be able to explain what it is they do.
pointed out in an excellent piece on his blog Carving in Snow, there are very few areas of our society that are not subsidised.
“We’ve got to get better at working together as an industry and we’ve got to get better at how to talk about the importance of
“Mining receives about $4 billion a year in government subsidy.
the arts,” says Maza.
Government subsidises the big four banks to the tune of $6 billion a year. Health, education, agriculture and manufacturing
Asking people to stop and think what life would be like without
are all heavily subsidised. So too sport. The Australian Institute
a vibrant culture might be a good place to start.
of Sport spent a record $310 million of public money on the London Olympics campaign, its worst result in 20 years. That cost
Competition with God BY AUGUSTA SUPPLE "With art we are individually brought together ... in a conversation about living."
Living: it’s a tough gig.
They taste the flavours and the textures, the spice and the sweetness, they choke, spit out great gobs of passionate thinking
Mess. Confusion. Misunderstanding. Secrets. Clutter. The world.
in response. Some artists are more refined than others – some,
Difference. Kindness. Intrigue. Nostalgia. Revenge. Ambition.
with years of practice, years of reflection, create a palatable
Betrayal. Noise. Choice. Death. Anger. Regret. Power. Loyalty.
morsel for us to digest. Others crudely fling their facts via their
Love. Lust. Desire. Infatuation. Momentary infatuation. Memory.
chosen form and wait for conversation to flair up again.
Imagination. And why? Why on earth would anyone be an artist? The pay is Imagining the person who distracted you for a large part of your
dreadful. You can never have a holiday – everything informs your
teenage life – un-kissed and unfulfilled. The one that got away.
next contribution. There is no sick leave. You’re competing with
The niggling suspicion that perhaps everything has got away
an army of elite, dead thinkers/makers who have established their
from you; that panic that comes from consciousness, from both
careers on the corpses of others. In the words of Patti Smith “To
action and inaction. The advertised insistence that perhaps the
be an artist is to enter into competition with god.”
grass is greener and you are kept – by your own fear, or your own doing (or not-doing) – on your side of the fence, haunted by the
idea that perhaps you could be happier, or healthier, or quirkier or something, if only you’d for once take the advice you’ve been
And living is tough. Making art is tough. Being an artist is tough
given and actually follow through.
and yet neither living nor being an artist seems to be going out of style.
Tough. But what if being an artist did go out of style? What if it was And despite living feeling so specific and so personal – none of it
deemed all too hard to compete with the army of zombie artists
or with god? What if architecture was deemed a frivolity and sandstone pillars, wrought iron, glass panels were ground into
All civilisations, all cultures, since the beginning of time and in all
grit? What if the world was drained of music and we had no
corners of the world have tried to process the toughness of living
marker of emotional time or place – no song to trigger childhood
into some form of sense.
nostalgia or to force an involuntary wince at the memory of who we were? What if there was no form of narrative – TV, film,
theatre, novel – for us to vicariously live through, learn from, be reassured by or empathise with? What if there was no design,
Art is the catalyst for reflection, for observation, for rumination,
nor dance, nor performance, nor poetry, nor paint to soften the
revelation. An object or an image, a sound or a sentence offered
edges of our thinking, to bring beauty and joy to enliven and
to an unknown public for interrogation and/or appreciation. Art
enrich our days?
is humanity’s way of communicating across time and space and culture to say “Hey, it’s alright. You’re alright. You’re not alone.
Art is the means by which humanity attempts to capture a time,
Living – it’s a tough gig.”
a feeling, a thought, a memory, a moment.
Art is the conversation humanity has always had. It is long,
Without art, we are individually adrift.
at times laboured, often disruptive, frequently confronting, sometimes surprising and occasionally devastating. To be an
With art we are individually brought together – others experiencing
artist is to contribute to this conversation. To be brave enough
the art and the artist join us – in a conversation about living.
to understand how one’s voice fits into the wild, undulating, polyphonic riff in order to somehow perpetuate an ultimate
Our conversations about ‘living’ inform our lives, showing us the
reassurance to those we walk amongst and perhaps, maybe, those
horror and the beauty, the conflict and the confusion of morality,
we’ll never know.
of love or ambition. It is this community service that is invaluable. Art provides a reflection on living that helps us live, and in turn
There is no such thing as an independent artist. Every artist
living inspires all art: a beautiful, endless feedback loop, evolving
owes their existence to another – their father or mother. To
and informing – seamless and endless.
their audience. To their community and support network. To the baker that employs them three times a week. Or to their greatest
It is my belief that it is our duty to take care of our artists – those
influence – their catalyst, their antagonist, their nemesis or their
who show the world as it is and how it could be, who inspire
muse. Standing on the shoulders of giants, artists dare to wonder
reflection, encourage our imaginations, who dare to enter into
“what if?” They dare to start a staring competition with the abyss
competition with god.
and try to make sense of breathing. We must take care of our artists, as they take care of us, in this Artists inhale the world and chew.
long and winding conversation through time and space to make sense of what it means to be living.
INTO THE VOID
How stillness and energy come together to create performance DANIK ABISHEV, KATHRYN PUIE, LILIKOI KAOS, MARK WINMILL (CAPTAIN KIDD), TARA GOWER IN CONVERSATION WITH VERONICA BOLZON PHOTOS COURTESY OF ARTISTS
f the body is a temple, to be treated with respect and care, then how do performers maintain balance physically, spiritually and emotionally whilst meeting the demands of physically exhausting tour schedules, and continue to push boundaries within their art form? Producer, Veronica Bolzon spoke to five physical performers who make a living out of performing in circus, burlesque, dance and physical theatre shows internationally about their approach to their art, and their relationship to their bodies. Who are you and what you do?
Danik: I'm an acrobat. I’m well-versed in most circus skills, but my main discipline is hand-balancing. I’m currently touring the world in the show Limbo. Kathryn: I’m a physical performer. I have dedicated my life to training and working with my body across multiple disciplines, from yoga, martial arts, dance, and circus skills. Once I discovered the thrill of being upside down, suspended in space, and hanging, climbing and swinging off things, I trained as an aerialist on apparatus like silks, trapeze, aerial ring, bungees and other harnessbased equipment. Stilt acrobatics has also been a large component of my professional performing arts career and movement exploration. Lilikoi: Like most performers I have a whole gamut of skills I've developed over the years. I'm often seen spinning 50 hula-hoops around my waist, escaping from a medical grade strait jacket, MCing or swinging from a trapeze. Often doing two or more of these at once…in high heels. I'm also a director and producer, I've produced shows around the world, a highlight was an 'art/circus' show in London’s Roundhouse. I grew up touring the internationally with my Hawaiian circus performer mum Kim Kaos, who was a female pioneer in contemporary circus. Having grown up in the industry made me interested in exploring various other facets of performance such as sideshow, vaudeville, burlesque, physical theatre, cabaret and comedy. Currently I’m touring in Circus Oz’s new show But Wait…There’s More Mark: I’m Mark Winmill, aka Captain Kidd. Co-founder of the cult hit variety show Briefs, a leading Boylesque Circus hybrid, major international brat boy, second generation carney and Las Vegas King of Burlesque 2011 in the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Tara: I'm a Yawuru woman from Broome in the Kimberley
region of Northern Western Australia. I also have Filipino, Spanish, Irish and English backgrounds. I believe growing up on Yawuru country has given me the strength of identity to pursue my dreams. I'm a professional dancer with Bangarra Dance Theatre, Australia's leading Indigenous dance company. We combine traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance with contemporary movements. What led you to where you are now?
Danik: I was born into a traditional Russian circus family. My two older sisters attended Moscow Circus Academy but we were touring by the time I was born, so I was trained by my father. He was my parent, coach, and best friend. He started to coach me when I turned two, and by the age of five I was performing a solo hand-balancing act and in my family's perch balancing act – myself, my mother and sister standing on a pole balanced on my father’s forehead. He would then climb a Chinese pole with us all still balanced there. Getting to where I am now did come at a price. I sacrificed most of my childhood for this life. Kathryn: My family had been dancing and performing way before I was born. My grandma was a dancer and her father was an acrobat. My parents were ballroom dancing partners and then my brother and I were partnered up when I was four and he was six. I competed in ballroom dancing from five to 10 years of age. I would also improvise and choreograph small dance performances for my classmates to music by Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Kylie Minogue. Lilikoi: I have been travelling and performing since I was a child, traveling internationally with my pioneer circus/ street performer Hawaiian mother. I have performed all around the world in hundreds of different shows – La Clique, The League of Sideshow Superstars and Glory Box. Having grown up in the industry, I’ve always been around performers, so it was a pretty inspirational upbringing. It really shaped who I am. Mark: As a kid I had some tumbling training from my father who was a performer in the 60s. I didn't actually take up circus until I was in my late 20s, when I started flying trapeze. Tara: I believe I was always a natural performer – but only for my family! It wasn't until I was inspired by my best friend Debbie’s dance performance at eight years old, outside our local store in Chinatown, Broome, that I decided to get into performing. I thought about my life
as a pie and how the biggest slice would be equivalent to the amount of my life spent working, so I figured I'd make my vocation my vacation. From then on, I focused on everything to do with dance and aspired to a career with Bangarra Dance Theatre. Do you follow any particular training regime – is diet and spiritual exercise (like meditation or yoga) part of it?
Danik: From the age of four to 16, I had a very intense training regime. It started when I woke up around 8am and would go on for two hours – an hour of stretching, then an hour of hand balancing. After breakfast and some study, we'd pick up training at about 1pm for another three hours with more stretching and hand balancing, some hand-tohand adagio with my father, and body conditioning. Go home for dinner, and then perform an actual show at 8:30. After a two-hour show, we would train again at 11pm for a couple more hours. These days I will just do a two-hour warm up around 10am and make sure to rest before my
hooping for at least an hour and then depending on what theatre or town we are in, I do some acrobatics, Chinese pole or flying trapeze. I incorporate some Pilates moves in my conditioning and a couple of yoga stretches but to be honest once you have done three hours of circus training, two hours of pre-show prep and a two and a half hour show…I don’t feel any motivation to do any more exercise. During summer I swim a lot… Not great for the red hair dye but I feel like Ariel. Mark: I stay 'show fit’ due to our touring most of the year, but stretching and yoga is essential for me to keep on top of my physical and mental condition. Tara: I try to keep as fit and active as I can outside the studio. I ride 50 minutes from my home in Maroubra to Circular Quay in Sydney every day. My partner and I also bring our bikes on tour nationally. When I'm not either swimming a kilometre in the pool or doing extra Hatha yoga or Pilates classes I'm enjoying downtime in my
Tara Gower; Mark Winmill; Lilikoi Kaos
evening performance. It's hard to follow any diets travelling so much, but I always take care of my body by being wellrested before shows. Kathryn: Growing up in a family of sporty types, diet and exercise has always been of great importance. I was an athlete and played basketball for years until I chose to dedicate my time and energy solely to dance. I was introduced to yoga at 13, and it has definitely been a constant foundation and stabilising tool to help condition my mind and body in preparation for my dance practice, aerial practice and life practice over the years. Meditation and focus on the breath have helped to give space to my practices. As my physical body and its demands change over time and my interests shift my practice has changed from Ashtanga to Iyengar yoga. Lilikoi: When you’re touring in a cabaret or on your own, it can be quite hard to get a consistent and healthy routine. At the moment I’m training a couple of hours a day, five days a week. This involves stretching, core strengthening exercises, shoulder strengthening drills,
apartment. Rest is just as important as maintaining your fitness when you’re a full-time dancer. I like to keep my spirit and mind strong by doing open-eyed meditation and resonating with the thought and feeling of "I am a soul". Also living by the sea gives me peace of mind. I'm from a saltwater clan so seeing the horizon line and smelling the fresh ocean air reminds me of my hometown and helps me maintain a healthy perspective. How would you describe your relationship with your body?
Danik: I think I have a great relationship with my body, we listen to each other. If I'm feeling tired, I nap. Whatever it's craving, I won't refuse it. I get Thai massages once a week (although never on a show day), and take relaxing Epsom salt baths frequently to make up for how much I push myself with my training. Kathryn: My relationship to my body is now one of gratitude. I have asked so much of it over the years, quite often forgetting to give thanks for continually participating and keeping up with the demands.
Lilikoi: My relationship with my body is like any other woman’s. Every act I do is in some way a satirical jab at sex and sexual expectations placed on women particularity women in performance. One of the main things I think about when I’m performing is the voyeurism involved and how you can have no control over what people think of you, so why not try to manipulate that in the context of performance? I like to build expectations then break them. So a lot of time I’m in bizarre and small costumes. If I was asked every day of the year how I felt about myself it would be a sliding and colourful scale from pure goddess to Michelin man, and honestly I think every woman feels that, no matter how confident or fit they are? I’m half-Hawaiian I will always have hips and tits and curves and bumps no matter what. My body is the reason I get to tour the world performing in amazing theatres, meeting brilliant people and it can do incredible things, so I love my body. Mark: I am pretty in tune with my body. Although partying occurs regularly, I eat well and drink lots of water and when I can I lie in the sunshine! Tara: I am constantly reminding myself that I am simply a soul, a beautiful energy, a pinpoint of light. My body is the costume I wear on the stage of life. Therefore I can control with my thoughts how I interpret my interactions with others and how I see myself and my body. My emotional body is constantly grounded with thoughts and memories of my life growing up in Broome. My family gives me strength in times of struggle or confusion. On a physical level I always aim for balance by being aware of what I eat. Lately I'm into alkalising my diet by eating a lot of fresh greens and hot lemon drinks daily. Describe the most difficult thing you do on stage, and how you prepare for it physically and mentally?
Danik: The most difficult thing I do on stage would probably be climbing a 3-metre high, free standing ladder and doing a handstand on top, while it's on fire. This is the only feat I do that has a possibility of endangering other people. This takes complete focus; being confident but grounded. Kathryn: Quite often the work I do has a level of risk and danger involved. Whether its hanging from a piece of cable 30 metres in the air, walking in two-and-a-half metre stilts, or dodging BMX bikes and skateboarders in a skate park whilst wearing golden stilettos. A lot of the physical and mental preparation is done during the creative development and research period whether it is understanding a new aerial system or getting comfortable with a new height or calculating the speed and force of a new trick. If the investigation is thorough then the physical and mental preparation is done in this time. But before I go on stage I spend my time connecting with my breath. I’ll do yoga to focus and do a dance improvisation to get the heart pumping – to have some fun and get my imagination going.
Lilikoi: Mental preparation is necessary for anything on stage whether I’m MC-ing or doing a flying trapeze act, you have to nail it and it can be quite scary. I warm up before every show, practice my skills and routine. It’s not only a matter of getting your tricks right but also performing it to the audience. In the flying trapeze routine I’m a clown that comes in and ruins the routine. My tricks involve jumping on a swinging bar while someone else is on it and then somersaulting off the trap, everything is timed to a split second and if it isn’t spot on you are endangering your and other people’s lives. Hooping has less ‘life-threatening’ risks but the potential of losing a hoop into the audience, dropping one, or not getting a trick is always high, so practicing is really important. And remaining calm. Mark: The most difficult thing that I do onstage usually involves six-inch stripper heels. Tara: This is my ninth year in the company and I've finally found a process for performing that works for me every time. Every production we do is so different depending on what story we are trying to convey through movement. So to find a consistent place within myself to be able to perform with variety I like to empower my mind. I always go into a deep squat with my head down and my hands spread into the ground. I picture my sacred block where I grew up on Yawuru country and always feel instant peace. This is always visualised as the colour red for me. I always project this colour and feeling of peaceful content when I perform. What’s it like being in the ‘zone’, where nothing else exists but you, when you are performing?
Danik: There is a very strong continuous focus, concentration and awareness of my body when I'm on my hands. I may not even appear to be in the zone as I'm running around on my hands, jumping, posing, even holding conversations, but there is always a part of my brain completely aware of my balance and each muscle working. Kathryn: This moment is truly fascinating. We spend so much of our time training perfecting our physical and mental bodies, every little detail, skill and technique finely tuned. Each moment is calculated and choreographed from the successes to the potential failures. But this moment of ‘being in the zone’ opens up when you are completely immersed in that moment and are fully present without force or effort. I remember an experience I had when I was younger, in a work called Here Now. There’s a huge dance number and I’m somewhere in the middle of the ensemble. The music is rocking, the singing is strong and powerful, all the elements were doing what they were supposed to be doing; but in a split second it hit this other level. I’m dancing away hitting all the right movements and I can see everyone is perfectly in unison. And for a split second it’s as if I’m in a bubble, out of my body observing the entire experience. It felt like time slowed down or was extended somehow and I could see and
feel every tiny little detail of each movement as it passed by me and through me. And then snap, in an instant, I land back into real time and the next step and the next piece of music and the next moment. I knew then that I was in the right place, doing what I was meant to be doing. Lilikoi: It’s a wild feeling. Time changes when you’re in it; everything seems like it’s in slow motion, you’re concentrating on every single move, what your body is doing, and trying to connect with the audience. Then afterwards it feels like it all happened in a split second.
Mark: Being in the zone as an entertainer is a crazy thing. My zone is a mixed bag. I like to shock, seduce and entertain the crowd. I challenge the audience with masculinity and femininity. The mood and the vibe of the audience will determine a lot. Tara: Being in the 'zone', where nothing else exists when I'm performing is something I crave constantly. It’s indescribable, but I will try: it's like being in a silent void where all your worries dissipate into feelings of love and nothing else matters except what you are doing right in that very moment.
Over the years of honing your craft, what do you think you’ve learnt about yourself that now frames your practice or preparation for performance?
Danik: Having such an intense upbringing, I realised that it's only the mind that can limit what the body can do. I never tell myself that I can't do something. I've pushed myself hard, and I may be more comfortable on my hands than my feet, but I'm not easily satisfied, so I'm always working. Kathryn: The valuable lessons feeds directly into life experiences and how I am in the world. Being motivated and disciplined, being ready to respond, listening, allowing space and stillness, having a curiosity, searching and discovery. Lilikoi: I am what I do; this career is so all-encompassing that I don’t separate myself from my work. Everything I learn, do, read, wear, think, is part of my preparation as a performer. Mark: I feel it has taken many years to hone my performance style. I enjoy transforming on stage, going in and out of personas and hopefully the audience can escape into my world and leave inspired. Tara: I think the main thing I've learnt is to enjoy myself. I like to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. I enjoy laughing aloud a lot and keeping a light, child-like perspective on everything.
Above, Danik Abishev Opp Page, Kathryn Puie
ROCK GODS & GODDESSES Multi-award-winning artists Paul Capsis and Tommy Bradson INTERVIEW BY VERONICA BOLZON
“The strongest people in my life have been women. The ones that I loved the most extraordinarily have always been women. And as an actor, what was most challenging to play were female characters.” Tommy Bradson
One wanted to be a writer, the other a rockstar. But somehow both Tommy Bradson and Paul Capsis found their way into cabaret, as an avenue to express their art and music, to embrace the feminine, and as a conduit for their amazing talents, slipping between identities and genres. Singer, actor and theatre-maker Paul – known for his role as a Greek-Australian transvestite in Ana Kokkinos’s 1998 film Head On, as well as his searing solo music shows in which he appears to channel divas from Janis Joplin to Billie Holiday – was shocked at how narrow the Australian music industry was. And yet he managed to perform in his own way. “I started out really wanting to be in rock and roll and by way of discovery and through a long, very slow process, have found myself doing rock and roll regardless,” Paul says. That career path has taken the form of three CDs – Everybody Wants To Touch Me; Paul Capsis Live; and Boulevard Delirium from his show of the same name, directed by Barrie Kosky – along with countless stage roles from Rocky Horror to All About My Mother, an adaptation of the Pedro Almodovar film. Along the way he has won five Helpmann Awards. More recently, Paul has shed the fantasy characters and that unbelievable voice, to perform a deeply personal story about his relationship to his Maltese grandmother in Angela’s Kitchen. Poet, provocateur and cabaret artist Tommy, too, reached a point where he could drop the make-up and the outrageous characters to portray a personal story in The Men My Mother Loved, about his mother, who was a groupie, and the 1980s musos who became his surrogate fathers. He, too, found his way there through cabaret. After studying music and philosophy at university, Tommy started writing roles for himself because of a lack of good roles for girls and boys, and a lack of transgender roles. “Mostly I wanted to be a writer and I found myself writing a show for someone I didn’t know, and it turned out that that person was actually me,’’ he says. “And I’ve been doing that sort of thing for about four or five years now.” He describes his performances as narrative shows with live music, in which he plays several characters, male and female. His shows, which have garnered several awards, have included Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre, a homage to his domestic upbringing; Pirate Rhapsody, Mermaid Requiem, a radical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid; and When the Sex is Gone, a portrait of a hermaphrodite living a dual existence as a failed stripper and a failed boxer. But it was in Angela’s Kitchen, and The Men My Mother Loved that both Paul and Tommy laid themselves bare, allowing themselves to be vulnerable on stage. Of the process, they use words such as “painful”, “cathartic”, “overwhelming” and “rewarding”. Performing arts producer Veronica Bolzon has produced both men in past perfomances. Veronica – currently associate producer with independent company Seesault – is passionate about bringing artists’ visions to life across cabaret, theatre, comedy and dance. Here, both artists share with Veronica their love for portraying female roles, along with their thoughts on typecasting, leg shaving and creative inspiration. I’ve worked with you both on a number of shows over the
years, and it’s actually a real privilege to have you both together. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Tommy Bradson: I am a young man (laughs) who spent most of my life in Sydney. I started writing shows for myself because I was disgruntled by the lack of good roles out there and the lack of transgender roles in particular and roles for boys and girls to play boys and girls. I wanted to do a lot of exploring with that sort of thing. Paul Capsis: I started out really wanting to be in rock and roll … but obviously, the world has changed since I started out and what I realised is that the music industry in Australia is very narrow and I guess that was a bit of a shock. Over the years I discovered theatre. And then, after my youth theatre days, I got involved in the drag scene. And I got into that scene mainly because I was desperate to perform, but I didn’t quite know how to go about it and that’s where I found myself and ended up starting my repertoire and building up my songs, and then working on my characters. And then I don’t know what happened – something happened and the theatre world discovered me. Yeah, Barrie Kosky is a big fan of yours?
Paul: Yeah and then you know I started getting theatre work and I got Head On and pretty much everything for me started. So I kind of think I have this multi-faceted interesting work life. You know, I occasionally do theatre and occasionally I do concerts and occasionally I do cabaret. I don’t feel comfortable putting myself in any particular box or arena because I don’t fit in any of them, to be honest. Would you say the same, Tommy? I mean I think the performer is always experimenting with an idea or a song or a character in a format, like a club night, or doing musicals?
Tommy: I could only ever hope for that, I think, and to do as Paul has done, and continues to do – what I desire to do, and never do things that fit a mould intentionally for marketability or anything of that nature. I could only hope to have a career as broad as Paul’s one day. Loved ones feature heavily in the work that each of you have created. For you, Tommy, it’s the work The Men My Mother Loved; and for you, Paul, it’s Angela’s Kitchen, which is about your Maltese grandmother. What compelled each of you to write this love letter to these women?
Paul: It wasn’t really my idea to do the play about my grandmother. I was approached by the director, Julian Meyrick, who I have a history with, and he noticed that I’d become successful as a cabaret performer but he always recalled me as an actor. And so when he approached me to do this play about my grandmother, we met with the idea that he would write it and … put into a theatrical context and not sing. Initially I resisted it, I really didn’t want to. I was happy singing and just doing what I do and exploring music and performance and theatre. I didn’t want to do personal stuff, but it was a beautiful thing to see people respond to it. I guess it takes a lot of courage to step outside the things you normally play and extend beyond them. For you Tommy, in The Men My Mother Loved, you weren’t playing a female role. Was that a challenge?
Tommy: I wasn’t playing a character at all. I mean – like for Paul – it was something very, very real and very honest. I
had been comfortable in a world of absurd fiction and character playing but when you get out there and you’re actually telling a real sort of story and you are writing something that’s very close to the bone, it’s a hell of lot harder to write and a hell of a lot harder to play because you haven’t got things to hide behind. So how was the experience for you of making that show?
Tommy: Ohhh painful (laughs). But actually the most rewarding thus far for my audiences and for me. I’m interested in the vulnerability that you have to explore when you are telling a personal story.
Tommy: I’ve always performed in sort of a full face of makeup and in various states of undress, behind various accents and singing sort of odd songs. Now I wanted to do a show about my mother and about my family and I wanted it to be something that was very directly about my childhood and those things that had made the person I am now. And so the painful part of it was about being vulnerable and actually speaking very honestly about my relationship with my mother and how I feel about her and the woman she is and her way in the world, and how it’s affected me and made me who I am. So, therein, getting up and wearing jeans and a T-shirt and speaking very honestly to people and looking them in the eyes when you do it, that was difficult for me because I was vulnerable up there doing it and I’ve not done that before. Paul: Pretty cathartic. I felt very light after the week of performing Angela’s Kitchen. But then there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t want in the play. But then the director was fighting for stuff to be in the play to give it some sort of element of drama based on truth – some truth. It was a very different style for me to be on stage in this way doing monologues around a kitchen table. It was challenging because it’s words and it’s drawn on character, you know. For me, I feel more comfortable with music and singing it. So that’s where the vulnerability was in there, having to express yourself in a different way?
Paul: Oh yeah, without question. I mean, there were nights when I just broke down and had to get through it. And there were nights when I didn’t feel like I wanted to share my story with the audience because I didn’t feel they got it. But what was interesting was the comments I would get from people after the show. It was pretty overwhelming. I want to explore a little bit more with both of you, about your attraction to creating and performing female characters. How do you connect in to these female characters and bring them to life?
Tommy: I think I was very easily one of those boys who wore his mother’s shoes or wore his aunty’s shoes and dresses and did that quite a lot as a kid, just for kicks in the house with my older brother. But my great interest in playing female characters and in writing female characters was strangely born of musicals when I was a teenager in my early teens, and singing their songs. I guess because of the style of my voice as well, and because it didn’t break until quite late. So that really affected how I would creatively think about the music and my first show I was writing I didn’t really think it was for me. It became something for me to do. I thought I was writing a show about a young man and it turned out to be a show about a hermaphrodite … Paul: (Laughs) Tommy: (laughs) … who was a stripper (laughs). Yeah, so that’s what it evolved into, so it was influenced by the spirit of the transgender and not boxing things quite so easily.
“When I was very young I sensed something about women that was very playful and kind and soft and loving and that was something I connected with as a very young person.” Paul Capsis
Paul: You better watch that you’re not playing hermaphrodites for the rest of your life.
hope an understanding of. So when you guys are creating a female character, are
Do you ever want to play a bloke Paul?
classically female things like sticking on a pair of heels,
Paul: Well see, I don’t know because I don’t get to play men very often. I mean I play with them, but I don’t play …
putting on a bit of red lipstick or shaving your legs, things
Veronica / Tommy: (laughs) Sure, men and women are different. So how do you, as men, find that essence of a woman?
Paul: I could go as far as saying I can identify as trans. You know, because I have a very natural feminine side that I have never really tried to suppress. I don’t know why I didn’t try and suppress it because it only ever got me into trouble. I’ve just allowed the natural thing to be. Tommy: For me, it turned out I think because the most important people in my life have always been women. The strongest people in my life have been women. The ones that I loved the most extraordinarily have always been women. And as an actor, what was most challenging to play were female characters. They just seemed for me as a kid much more complex and as I said most of this is influenced by the women in my life. So, what is it particularly about women that you love expressing?
Paul: Well I think for me, it was first of all an admiration of the women closest to me – like Tommy – my grandmother, family members and their strengths, their kindness, their fun, the freedom. When I was very young I sensed something about women that was very playful and kind and soft and loving and that was something I connected with as a very young person. And then when I was told that I was indeed male, I didn’t like that at all, because I just thought that men were just horrible things. Tommy: I think it’s easier to find the sex in your character as a woman. And I mean their sexiness, their sexuality, their chemistry. I think I can see that in terms of writing in plays. I just find that it’s something I have an interest in and maybe I
that you do to kind of get into a feminine identity?
Tommy: Shoes are definitely paramount for me. There’s something about a good pair of heels that does things to your spine, to your posture, to your spirit. I used to write wearing them, actually. But I don’t need to do that anymore (laughs). Paul: Yeah, you’re right, Tommy, shoes are the thing and I mean once I did all of that, I couldn’t wait to not wear them ever again. What about putting on makeup? Does it change things like heels do?
Paul: Oh God, yeah. That’s the magic of makeup. I love the transformation of makeup if you want to transform. The thing is when you get older, women’s makeup on your old, wrinkled skin doesn’t look so good. Tommy: (laughs). Paul: Eyeliner’s shit. I read somewhere Paul once, when you were doing All About My Mother, that part of your preparation was shaving your legs?
Paul: Yeah, I didn’t want to but I had to because they required it for the character. So I didn’t really love having to do it but when I did do it, it helped with the character. And once I’m on stage and I’m in the full outfit, then it’s great. You know what I mean? What about you, Tommy, did you shave your legs?
Tommy: Yes. I wanted to look nice. It all informs that character – your choice of colour you put on your nails. But the same thing if, say, you’re playing a soldier and the way your collar sits, it should all be part of it and what influences you.
NOTHING IS DIVISIBLE/ONE PRACTICE, ONE LIFE, ONE MOMENT NELL A conversation between two artists WORDS & INTERVIEW BY LIONEL BAWDEN
For Sydney artist Nell, her vitality in the studio runs parallel to Zen meditation and yoga – three strands of knowing oneself. Nell’s major themes of sex, Zen and rock’n’roll (or birth, life and death), are continually re-explored while mining new materials for qualities and sensations. Nell, who often speaks of life’s essential dualities, is playful and monastic, embraces the whimsical and the epic, and evokes sadness and joy. Nell brings the entire spectrum of life into her work, allowing momentary gestures equal space beside works that have consumed hundreds of hours. Her lexicon is universal and everyday, her subjects (egg, tree, mountain and lightning bolt) dynamic, each appearing anew, across many years of creation. The meditating figure is core to Nell’s practice, literally and as an image for self-awareness and discovery within each moment. This practice of observing every sound, sensation and view, provides Nell abundant material for endless inquiry. Nell has shared with me, repeatedly, over a decade of friendship, the knowledge that within any action sits an opportunity to bring one’s attention to the present,
whether doing the washing up, meditating, dancing, creating or destroying. The video self portrait, Summer, like much of Nell’s work, has a playfulness that belies its complexity. An enormous blowfly has emerged from the pages of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginnner’s Mind and, emblematic of the Australian summer, is swatted by the artist with a cricket bat. Nell bows to the fly, recognising their shared life and transience and then beats the hell out of it. This video recycled the fly sculpture that Nell created years earlier for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. The violence and frustration played out in the work formed a practical solution to the question of what to do with a large sculpture that has been in expensive storage for too long. This inventive repurposing is typical of the alchemy that takes place within Nell’s studio. Nell is honest about her feelings. Thoughts and emotions feed the work through open experience. Whether that experience seeds a new concept, innovates expression through a new material, or refines a long repeated process, the experience of daily studio practice moves from Nell into her work.
everyday happiness, 2010 Chrome plated bronze
“The ‘one and the many’ is shorthand for the wholly interchangeable and magic dance between the universal and the personal.”
SUMMER, 2012 (still) single channel digital video, 16:9, colour. Videography: Tina Havelock Stevens Sound: Ingrid Rowell
I have been fascinated by your recent embrace of Theodore
Music and dancing seem so embedded in your work. Share
Roosevelt’s quote: “Do what you can, with what you have,
with us some of your history doing swing dancing and the
where you are.” How has this infiltrated your practice?
role music plays in your creative process.
Ha! You know I came across this quote on a magnet on your fridge? It pretty much sums up the whole matter of the difference between what we think we want and the reality of where we are. I adopted it as a daily mantra and painted several versions of it on old record sleeves. One watercolour version, Do watcha can where you are with whatcha got, appeared in a recent exhibition, Made in the Dark at KalimanRawlins in Melbourne.
I spent most of my early 20s going to dance lessons or going out dancing about five nights a week. I was obsessed by all forms of dance, clothes and music from the 1920s to the 1950s – Swing, Jitterbug, the Charleston, Lindy Hop, Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly, et cetera. Dancing was the only thing that ever tempted me away from making art and I got good at it but I was never going to be very good so the decision was made. And then I spent most of my late 20s and early 30s compulsively going to see live music and wishing I was a rock star. On one hand, I possess this desire to be a rock star and on the other hand, feel a calling to monastic life. So making art is just perfect for my nature as it expresses both these poles – the introspective and reflective work of a dedicated studio practice juxtaposed with the external celebration of the artwork in public through exhibitions.
You often speak of the Zen concept of “the one and the many”. Tell me how this concept informs your work.
With any kind of practice, Zen, yoga, art, et cetera, you find out pretty quickly that concepts and ideas are huge stumbling blocks in the way of the direct experience of what is actually happening. When you sit still for long periods, you start to feel really connected to everything – you realise the whole world shares the same air you are breathing. And yet “every person breathes through their own nose”, as the Zen saying goes. The “one and the many” is shorthand for the wholly interchangeable and magic dance between the universal and the personal. In terms of my work, when it is flowing, who can even say it is mine? The smiley face has become central to your personal language and the emblem for a whole series of significant works. How is this significant and can you discuss the role that joy plays in the studio and as subject?
Everything has a face and everything is happy ! There is a part of my practice devoted to keeping things preposterously simple and almost childlike. I also like putting smiley faces on things you wouldn’t at first associate with happiness, like a gravestone and a poo. When the meaning of a work is direct and simple, it effortlessly connects with others and that makes me happy. You are known for surprising us (the viewer) with new techniques and materials. Can you share some thoughts on
Song lyrics have long made it into the titles of your artworks and exhibitions, connecting to the contemporary poetry of the masses. Can you pick a recent work and a key older work and provide us some insight into the genesis of the titles from a song line and how that creates meaning for you?
The oldest work I remember giving a song title to was Groove is in the Heart from 1997. It was a massive wall piece made of red felt with red hearts fractalling out from the centre of the wall up on to the ceiling. Each heart had three humps and, therefore, two grooves so the title fit like a glove! The work was about loving two people, a man and a woman, at once. The pieces in Made in the Dark that I mentioned earlier were all black or white so a title referring to the act of making and to darkness was ideal. I’d also previously flipped the title to Made in Light for a seven-floor neon installation. Made in Light refers to the conditions of working with light but, by implication, it must also be concerned with darkness. In the same way, all sound exists only in relation to silence. The lighter the light, the darker the dark, no exceptions.
the dynamism of different matter for transmitting ideas?
AC/DC have become one of the key elements in the dictionary
I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the way my practice has led me. Sometimes it’s the same theme expressed in a different material, sometimes new materials breed new ideas, sometimes the material holds all the meaning, and sometimes I just don’t even know how it works, and often I surprise myself. I really enjoy working with people who are highly experienced with a particular material … I like to tap into their passion and I go to great lengths to understand that material and its place in life and art history. When I work with a new medium, it’s like having a new lover. But I never lose my love for all the other materials I’ve used in the past.
of Nell. What the hell is it with AC/DC?
I hardly know where to start. I love the font, I love the music, I love the fans, I love the merchandise, the paraphernalia, the whole phenomenon that is AC/DC. Sunday school was my first aesthetic. Seeing boys walk down the main street in Maitland, NSW, wearing ripped jeans and AC/DC T-shirts was my second aesthetic. And I’m still making work about the harmony and collision of those two worlds. I have also always loved that the word “AC/DC” is used as a colloquial synonym for bisexuality and, by extension, for in-between places, and
it’s for this reason that I use the lightning bolt as a recurring motif.
We have had our hearts broken a few times and the world keeps changing around us. How do you think one’s thinking about the world deepens as we get older?
We often speak of mind, body, heart and spirit, which you seem to have pretty well covered. You have your focused art practice, a longstanding yoga practice, a loving relationship core to your life and a focused Zen meditation
Short answer is life gets both easier and harder. Experience gives a whisper of wisdom yet entrenched patterns become harder to see and undo.
practice. Can you tell us about how this balance grounds
If there was one artwork from the entire history of humanity
your studio practice and consciousness as an artist?
that you could have, in your home or studio to marvel at
We do often speak about the different parts of our being or about different kinds of practice. And it is true that our different parts serve various functions and that all forms of practice have specific directives. These differences can be celebrated endlessly and, in terms of language, such distinctions are indispensable to communicate effectively to one another. But what is also true is that nothing is divisible nor exists in isolation. We can talk about a birdsong, a bird’s beak, its feathers or wings but the whole bird flies. So it is not so much a case of external practices informing my studio practice but of breaking down the walls to see there is only one practice, one life, one moment et cetera.
forever, which work would you choose today?
I’d take a lottery dip on any of the 38 egg-shaped canvases by Lucio Fontana. Each canvas has been punctured and perforated in a manner that literally and metaphorically pushes through the illusionistic skin of painting into real space. Simultaneously violent and serene, standing in front of this series called La fine di Dio (The end of God) is like watching a painting give birth to a sculpture. Wrap it up and deliver ASAP, please.
Your work is often really charged with sexual energy and that is something that you really own, as a human being and as a woman. Sexual vitality runs through the work in imagery of the egg, sperm, the biblical temptation by the snake and his forbidden fruit, as well as different kinds of physical penetration of one object into another. How essential is this openness about sexual energy within your work?
The biological purpose of sex is to procreate so it makes sense that sexual energy is highly creative. Life creates. And death is so near to life, maybe just a breath away. So I just try to realise I’m alive – like really alive – and remember that I, and every person I know and love, will die. It is the certainty of death that fuels the creative urgency to make art and love. Of course, after a while I forget these things and I have strategies in my life and practice to remind me. Funerals are sharp, sharp reminders. Show Me The Way of Birth and Death, 2008 Gouache on canvas Images courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
THE PETRIFIED FLESH Welcome to the quiet control of Petrina Hicks BY LEAH RENYA GRYCEWICZ
Ubiquity. It’s not only images and their overdrive (or is that overkill?) in the 21st century that we are swallowing. At our fingertips is the x,y,z of virtually anything that may perk our interest, spark our imagination, fuel our fascinations. Yes, the daily uptake of information, image or otherwise is unparalleled, yet the question begs: How do we digest this excess of data? Do we partake of the overabundant platter and, embarrassed, chew on the data bone? Or do we accept delight, boldly even, in the delectable data array before our eyes? When we look at Petrina Hicks’ images: What are we looking at? How do we feel? Why do we see what we see? What does it leave us with? The artist seems determined to deny any fixed meanings. The realms of her investigation are not uncommon – the examination of the sexualised female body and the interrogation of a commercially styled and sanitised photographic image. So what is it that makes her images so compelling? Is it their quiet perversity? Is it their familiarity? Is it that the images hold a tension in which the world is thrown delicately off-centre and strange object relations are set into high focus? Regardless, we are subject to an unsettling sensorium, in which the world we see every day is a cold and highly controlled two-dimensional dystopia disguised in the clinical beauty of a sci-fi utopia. Hicks provides a series of specimens awaiting consultation in a doctor’s surgery, for the contemporary ailments of a society in mortal panic. In the flesh, Petrina Hicks is not dissimilar to the willfulness she creates in her fine art constructions. On an initial glance and immediate communication, she is familiar, accessible. Yet as time passes, a controlled austerity emerges, and you realise you’re likely asking all the wrong questions. The air imperceptibly presents a fissure. Can’t touch this. The impetus to scratch away at the space, visual, aural or otherwise, is an act of reduction. It feels like a quiet dichotomy. Hicks framed and over-referenced. Yet the atmospheric rendering in her work defies ambivalence. Figures abound in Hick's work. The figures typically feel as though their pulse has slowed. They are not dead but pallid and silent, articulating inaction, not vitality. The bodies are
often deliberately cropped to mimic sculptural busts. Her early work of an albino girl, Lauren, 2003, one of multiple images exploring perceived flaws in beauty, seems to have informed the artist’s palette for flesh. It is as if the blood has been drained out of her figures over centuries through a penetrating, interrogating gaze and the thing left under that gaze is more object than human. Hicks’ gaze, her mind, thinks through a social culture in which the world is paradox, the world is full of noise and the world offers emancipation as the golden promise. As demanding as the world we live in, Hicks’ research method is insistent, along with a concentrated effort to reduce the clamour, racket and clatter in our super-noisy sphere. As Hicks states: “It is a very image-oversaturated world. It is hard, I think, for artists who are working with photography to distinguish themselves among all the imagery.” Hicks’ process to distil and reframe particular aspects of our culture at this point in time requires a substantial amount of her time. Her methodology relies heavily upon the systematic scouring and digestion of thousands of pictures sourced from online image portals. She intuitively navigates and consciously interrogates the quietude and brilliance of past masters. Take, for example, the coolly composed glamour rendered in her latest body of work, The Shadows. Informed by Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Hicks confidently and with a healthy dose of subtlety explores “reduction of the feminine” in the aptly titled works The Venus and New Age. While the fair-skinned, nubile femme is present in The Venus, she is barely perceivable, for a conch shell claims the place of her face, obstructing her eyes, lips, nose and cheek. Botticelli’s exquisitely beautiful and super-iconic original is skillfully reworked – a reboot of classical imagery whereby Hicks seems to create a two-dimensional wax museum. Hicks muses, “Obviously the conch shell is symbolic in many religions and cultures of the female reproductive organs … she is holding the shell up in front of her face in a kind of way to say, ‘Is this all I am reduced to?’ or ‘Is this how I am?’ ” Similarly, in the delicately composed work New Age, a light
Venus from the series The Shadows, 2013 Opposite Page - New Age from the series The Shadows, 2013
Image from the series The Performance, Untitled #1, 2011 Images courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney.
white, jagged, crystal lies in place of the pubis. The classic site of penetration becomes a crystal palace of sensual potential the eye cannot penetrate. In my first draft of this article, my favourite sentences were the ones that didn’t quite make sense, perhaps mirroring the shade that emerges throughout communication with Hicks. She boasts a kind of surety in uncertainty. After a sweaty dose of musing, I found only one authentic way forward. Forgive me, reader, you may have already noticed that not every sentence I write will at first achieve sense, or indeed make any sense at all. But sense is inevitably an enigma, a puzzling continuum that we can only attempt to elucidate. Here we see the practice of yoga as a necessary grounding force in a potentially, achingly, soulless world. Yoga as antidote provides Hicks with an additional pulse; something definitive that initiates breath and grounds it, causing a surge of blood that may have been drained through the assault of the gaze. Hicks speaks of yoga as a force that centres and aligns: “It definitely makes me feel more content when I do yoga, and that is a good feeling, as well, to work with.” Yoga is an assertion that the body and the mind can find strength, self-awareness and clarity in an otherwise frenetic world where data, image or otherwise drains our authentic imagination and character.
Hicks does not speak of the perverse, which surprises me. The closest we get to some sense of perversity is a discussion of how horror in film has desensitised us to gore. Her body of work is an eerie response, perhaps, as the body is no longer visceral and electric. Even in the work, The Performance, where a teenage finger touches an open wound, drawing on the penetration of the wounds of Christ quoted from Caravaggio’s 1602 masterpiece The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (or Doubting Thomas), it feels as if this flesh does not bleed. Hicks’ reinvention presents a copy in which life has long been drained from the image. It is refreshingly reassuring in an age of art-speak for a dialogue with an artist to not essentially add anything to the work. Hicks speaks delicately about not knowing and allowing instinct and the subconscious to flow through a play of objects, not tightly buttoned up into a dress shirt of language. The questions and the power of the images are housed in the works themselves, not some corpus of required reading that will elucidate mysteries. Hicks embodies confidence that the meaning of the work will become resolved in the mind of the viewer, or for herself, over the course of time. She seeds an idea, investigates her elements, assembles motifs and shoots them with a kind of sparing control. And it is up to us to fill in the spaces.
AN ARTISTâ€™S JOURNEY A visual artist talks us through the internal gathering of resources that sparks her creativity, from the freeing of her soul, to the quieting of her mind BY NOULA DIAMANTOPOULOS
Art can mesmerize us, provoke us, make us feel safe, or it can
Now everything changes again. The light broke through the
antagonise us and create paradox. All with the sweep of a paint
darkness and now it has split into an infinite array of colours. I
brush, the click of a camera, the sound of a pen running across
am getting excited.
paper, or the feel of clay oozing itself into form.
This is dangerous ground for me, because typically this is where
The creation of art holds a fascination for both the maker
my mind steps in and says, “Okay, you’ve got it. I’ll take over and
and the observer. We want to know what the artist’s thought
finish this for you now. I can fix this.” It’s the point where my
processes and methods are, while they want to know what the
mind steps in and wants to start making sure the work is pretty,
viewer’s experience is and what they have to say about it. This is
making sure that it is acceptable to outside observers and my
very hard to do at a meta level, but I will try.
own internal critic. Forgetting that I am following the calling
Why do we make art and what is the role it plays in our lives? I
of my soul, the mind introduces an audience that wasn’t there
have been exploring these questions and I see a curious trend
that stretches from art in the early ages to the art of today. The
And so I write a letter to my mind.
bones of some of today’s art look like the scratchings of cave
My dear spirited mind,
drawings, others are like sophisticated children’s works. All are
You work so hard to make me happy. I recognise and
very beautiful and I would even say divine. I feel that there has
been a return to soul. A move away from realistic reproduction
I hear you in the background asking questions like, “What are
and a move towards inventiveness that calls for the imagination
you making?” and wondering whether it is good enough. Your
to wake up and share its vision, its experience, of all the sights
curiosity makes me question my ability to make art, causing
this outer world has to offer.
me to retreat into ‘research’, to buy another book, or do
The artist’s journey calls on our ability to make inner sense of
another online course, or watch another ‘how to’ video. I just
outer objects. It takes courage to be so subjective and to dare to
want to say thanks, and as a sign of my appreciation I would
explore our interior world without the kind of training that might
like to offer you a promotion.
My dear spirited mind, I would like to appoint you as chief
These are the thoughts I carry with me as I begin to record my
creative appreciator of all my expressive efforts on this planet.
own creative process. This is something I have done many times
Be it sculpting or painting, drawing or teaching, writing or
over the last two decades, but I have only just realized how much
speaking, or simply being. If you feel you do not have the right
the creative process changes over time. The changes are subtle,
skills base for this position, I am willing to offer you a lifelong
but I can feel the key turning, opening the door a little wider,
training program to help you realise your potential.
pushing me beyond the boundaries that have been set by my
I am offering you this position because I feel that we both
want the same thing, except that we are coming at it from
There is a kind of inner collaboration involved in the creation of
opposite ends of the spectrum. I am coming from a place of
my art between my hand, my eye and my mind. My hand follows
exploration, discovery, love, acceptance and reflection and
the rhythm of my heart; my eye follows my interior vision; while
you are, well, basically you are scared that I may be judged as
my mind critiques the hell out of them both. I’m laughing as I
foolish. Which may in fact be the case.
write this. It’s one thing to know that this is what happens, but
I just want you, my dear spirited mind, to know that I can
quite another to see it written down, challenging me, daring
handle the opinions of others. Good or otherwise. I am okay.
me, to find a way through it. I’m smiling because I know each of
Really. I won’t collapse in a heap, I won’t freeze and say I will
these elements plays a vital role in the making of my art.
never make art again. There is only one voice with the power
I honour my hand when I allow her to pursue the calling of
to do that to me. And that voice belongs to you.
my heart, my heart being the voice of my body’s knowing. My
How about we meet for coffee and talk about how we can
normally muted heart comes alive and guides my hand as it
gather our thoughts together more productively?
crawls and sprawls across the page as the beginning of a process
of exploration – for all drawing is exploring.
I am exploring space, nothingness, emptiness. The darkness
It is indeed a daring act to create. To work with your soul, to
where everything and everyone comes from, awaiting the light.
gather your inner resources and to appreciate (not depreciate)
When the light arrives it slices through the darkness and lands
your creative efforts so that you might give birth to that which
somewhere – it must land somewhere. The light finally collides
you are destined to give birth to. For we are all unique human
into a form, one I haven’t seen before. That’s when the mind
beings, brought here to create: to create art, to create life, to
kicks in and tries to appreciate the work but usually ends up
create relationships, to create communities, and more. Each
making some silly comment instead. Something like, “It looks
instance is an act of creation, and an act of daring.
like a goat. Are you making a goat?” I ignore it and continue to
But we are not alone, and we have the gifts necessary to achieve
our goals. We have all been gifted with imagination, the art of
My eye, my inner vision, awakens and activates my imagination.
the mind, and intuition, the art of the soul. This is my gathering
She encourages my hand to keep exploring. I’m exploring the
– bringing them all together, hand, eye and mind.
naked surface of the canvas now as I have moved into colour.
The idea of duty is not generally something that you would associate with contemporary art or artists. Typically, some may think of artists as unfettered creative beings, coming and going from their studios at all hours, producing works on a whim that deal with whatever might have taken their fancy on that particular day. Yet underlying the thought process and conceptual practice of most contemporary artists is an inherent urge or desire to express something of value and importance – a duty or a calling to create work which is meaningful and grounded in artistic integrity. This sense of duty manifests itself in a myriad of ways, from the intricate paper-based installations and paintings of Korean-Australian artist Hyun-Hee Lee which explore the intersection between religious, cultural and spiritual beliefs to the hauntingly beautiful black and white photographs of Ben Ali Ong, who is driven by a desire to capture the emotional truths that underlie the human experience, from Louise Zhang’s hyper-coloured, alluring and yet slightly grotesque paintings
ANSWERING THE CALL Four emerging Sydney artists share their take on duty LOUISE ZHANG, BEN ALI ONG, STEVIE FIELDSEND AND HYUN-HEE LEE INTERVIEW AND WORDS BY RHIANNA WALCOTT
and sculptures which challenge the fine line between the seductive and the monstrous to Stevie Fieldsend’s wood and glass sculptural installations which investigate her Samoan cultural heritage and the importance of cultural identity in constructing an understanding of self. From the point of view of the creator, art can be seen as a medium through which cultural duty can be performed – and yet as consumers of art and culture we too have a duty to support and engage with the production of contemporary art. This engagement can be as varied as taking the time to visit galleries, supporting contemporary art publications or using your voice to demand more public support for the visual arts via the integration of public art commissions into public spaces and funding of not-for-profit arts institutions. Art is a calling. And as a society, of both creators and appreciators, we have a responsibility to answer that call.
Can you tell us about one instance in which someone showed
Your work explores the fine line between things that we find
support for your artistic practice in a way that impacted you
cute or appealing and the grotesque. As an artist, do you feel
and which you will never forget?
a sense of duty to reveal the paradoxical hidden beauty of
There are so many significant times I’ve been shown support.
things often overlooked as disgusting or monstrous?
And for that I am so grateful! But I think one of the most
Duty is a strong word. I don’t find myself feeling like I have
significant times that someone has shown me explicit support
a sense of duty, but rather an insistent desire to interrogate
would be back in high school, in a moment which paved the way
borders and classifications in relation to the monstrous and the
for me to begin pursuing art as a legitimate career – and which
helped me to see that art really is important and valuable.
I grew up in a strictly religious environment with the perception
I didn’t quite fit in during high school. Many of my peers faced
that anything imperfect or of a dark nature was essentially wrong
ridiculous, severe bullying and I felt like a bit of a loner. But my
or harmful, even in some instances evil, and so I silenced my
art teachers Diane Emmans and Angela Vercoe made the whole
macabre curiosities. I guess my artwork is a response to this.
experience worth going through. They provided me with the
It focuses on things deemed ugly or overlooked, things that are
materials, shared advice, skills and resources to learn about
feared: the alienated, the dirty and the freakish. I try to deny
art and to create my work. They let me use the art classrooms
these systems of classification and judgment in my work by
and storerooms during lunch and after school. They provided
re-presenting them as things which are attractive or seductive
support even after I had finished studying. And their persistent
and which tempt curiosity. It challenges me to question why I
encouragement, strength and ‘you’ve got this’ attitude really
am attracted to things that are not conventionally considered
fuelled my desire to direct my life towards one that’s filled with
creativity. And I am so glad I did.
A few years ago I went to my grandmother’s funeral in China.
BEN ALI ONG
Since then I have wanted to reconnect with my Chinese heritage
As an artist who often works within the realm of old-school
and find a way to bring it into my art practice. I have always
analogue and film-based photography, your work seems very
had a great enthusiasm for horror movies and it’s been sad to
process driven. Do you feel a sense of duty to the materials
discover the almost non-existent history of Mainland Chinese
and processes that you use?
horror cinema due to censorship by a restrictive government that
I am really excited to be asked this question because basically,
fears losing its grasp on its people. China is a country with a rich
no, I don’t. My work is very much a hybrid approach. I don’t even
history of folklore and mythology, so the fact that there has been
use a dark room. I use film and I scan it, but I often get people
no opportunity for Chinese artists and filmmakers to explore
seeing me as some kind of martyr for old-school photography.
the horror genre and all the lost creative potential that this
So no, I don’t feel a sense of duty to materials or process.
represents really frustrates me. This is perhaps one of the more extreme examples of how society sometimes tries to turn a blind
I mean you’ve got to understand, I didn’t go to Art School. My
eye on things that are deemed bad or undesirable. The more I see
TAFE course was hard-core film photography. I used to fail
this, the more I feel the need to explore and address this in my
almost every assignment because I would create blurry, out-of-
practice by highlighting the value of horror as a place of creative
focus photographs. And this was like an industrial commercial
wealth and possibility.
photography course. We would make film. We would study light and optics. It was as dry and scientific as you can get. Everyone
Opposite: Louise Zhang, Monstrous Masses – Pinky, acr ylic, 2015.
that went there (to Ultimo TAFE) graduated and went on to become commercial photographers, forensic photographers and scientific photographers. So yeah, for me coming from that
Below: background and wanting to be an artist… I never really cared Louise Zhang, Stickypop, acr ylic, oil and plastics on plywood, 2015. about process. I have all that technical ability completely down Photo by Brett East.
pat. It’s like breathing for me, so I feel like I don’t have to prove that to people… So if you were to rephrase the idea of ‘duty’ and think instead about the idea of a ‘calling’, do you feel there is a calling underlying the work you make as an artist?
I would probably say that I have a calling to make art because I see it as an emotional outlet. I go crazy if I don’t create! That is one thing I’ve learnt. I need to be constantly dedicating time to making something… My art is purely a selfish, self-therapeutic outlet. So I guess I have a calling to make work that is honest. I think there is beauty in honesty and simplicity and I am interested in capturing the human condition. As Rothko said, all he was interested in was communicating basic human emotions: love, hate, death, depression and happiness. And it is the same for me. I believe that when you view an artwork you can truly feel the emotion that has been poured into it by the artist.
And that emotion is what makes the work honest and real. After all the controversy, which blew up around my work in 2012, I found it very challenging to continue making art. It was really hard for a while there… People don’t understand that before that time, my art was my life. I dedicated everything to my art. While everyone else my age was going to Europe on Contiki tours, I would say no, I need that money for an exhibition next year… And to a certain extent there is a saint-like or monk-like existence that you need to maintain to be a really successful artist. You need to be willing to dedicate all your time, energy and money to your practice. And I lived that life for ages, so when the debate over my work erupted, I felt like it was all taken away from me – like that! (Snaps fingers). So it was really hard. I was like ‘Who the fuck am I?’ It was crushing at the time. But gradually I began making work again, even though it was the last thing I felt like doing. And so my 2015 solo exhibition, Nyctophilia, was a huge moment for me. Now I feel like I am making work that I can be proud of again. Work that I am excited about – because it is real and uncompromising and honest. It fuelled my desire to direct my life towards one that’s filled with creativity. And I am so glad I did.
STEVIE FIELDSEND Can you talk about the role cultural duty plays in the creation of your work and the messages that you wish to convey?
As an artist born in New Zealand to a mother of European descent and a Samoan/Chinese father brought up in Australia, I often feel as though I am in-between all these different cultures. A few years ago I completed a Masters of Fine Arts exploring my Samoan heritage at Sydney College of the Arts. This was a really important journey for me; on the one hand I felt a deep instinctual longing to connect with a heritage that I was largely disconnected from and on the other I felt like a fraud who didn’t belong, couldn’t speak the language, didn’t know any Samoans and shouldn’t be making art about a culture that I wasn’t a part of. As part of my Masters research I began researching the malu, the customary Samoan full body tattoo for women. This research eventually led to a trip to Samoa, which allowed me to reconnect with relatives and attain the malu myself. This led me to start questioning my duties as a woman wearing the malu in a Western urban context, and to a conversation with Leo Tanoi, a friend and Sydney-based Samoan curator, who explained that my responsibility was to be an honourable person, a good mother, a good daughter and to create work that responds to Samoan themes and to wear the malu with dignity. I now feel that my duty to my differing cultures is to embrace them all in a curious manner. And to try to learn as much as I can and completely immerse myself in whatever it is that I happen to be expressing creatively. This contributes to my personal meaning and understanding of myself and to Australian contemporary art. A lot of your work explores identity, love and connection within the context of mother/daughter relationships.
This is something I’ve explored in sculptural works such as Love-Stretch, which explores the complex nature of the maternal relationship in a series of foetal-like blown glass forms suspended within black skin-thin sheer pantyhose from inverted metal hooks.
I was thinking about the difficulties of being a single mother
and intellectual and which allows me to create true connections
– alongside love and connection there is also an unwavering
through my art.
pressure for the woman to provide both emotionally and financially for her child, which can make one weary…. it is the
In my artworks I often look at certain rituals such as prayer
ultimate duty of love. The tensions that play between mother
rituals and ceremonies related to ancestors and the observance
and child, love, connectedness and separation are the essence
of certain rites of passage. There are a couple of examples of my
of this installation.
works related to those practices, such as my Confessions series, where I wrote my own personal confessions in black ink on strips
of hanji paper before folding them and stitching them onto the
How have a sense of religious duty and your personal belief
canvas. So by drawing on memory and family rituals I create
systems informed your work as an artist?
emotional and spiritual connections in my work that link back
Well, that is actually a question I have been thinking about for
to my personal experiences of Korean culture and religion.
a long time and which I address constantly in my work… Can you tell us about one instance in which someone showed
I first migrated from Korea to Australia over 10 years ago and at
support for your artistic practice in a way that impacted you
the time I often experienced feelings of cultural and emotional
and which you will never forget?
displacement. Those feelings and experiences have encouraged
Since I migrated to Australia, I have always wanted to go to art
me to investigate and reconnect to the culture that shaped my life
school. There are many small moments that prompted me to do
before I migrated to Australia.
that… For example when I first went to Ku-ring-gai Art Centre to study we had a group exhibition at the end of the year and one
When I was growing up in Korea, my role was always to
lady in the class said to me: “Are you coming back next year?”
participate in family and cultural rituals and those rituals have
And I said: “I might…” And she said to me: “Why don’t you go
had a strong emotional and cultural impact on my art practice.
to TAFE and do some formal study? It will change your life…”
So my work is very much inspired by traditional Korean rituals
At first I took that advice very casually, but what she had said to
and spiritual practices as well as my own experiences and
me stuck in my head for quite a while and eventually I started
to think about it more seriously. So I talked to my daughter and she really encouraged me… She was still very young at the time
The culture in Korea has been influenced over centuries by three
and was only in her first year at high school. But she said to me
main religions, Confucianism, Buddhism and Shamanism. Those
“Mum, I’m ok.” Of course I thought that she still needed me…
three religions have been fundamental in creating the culture
But she encouraged me and said “Mum, you always wanted to go
and many rituals and traditions that now infiltrate all aspects of
to Art School. This is the time…” So I did.
contemporary Korean life. These religions have had an amazing impact on the social character and psyche of Koreans and Korean
I went to TAFE and I really enjoyed it. And at the end of that
year at TAFE I had excellent marks, so one of the teachers strongly encouraged me to go to the National Art School. This
How has this influenced my art practice? With my art I focus on
was a fundamental moment in my art career as it set me on the
the rituals and traditions that take place in the family as that is
path to become a professional artist. Eventually I applied for a
where most of my experiences and memories lie. I try to do this
scholarship that later allowed me to also undertake Honours,
by recreating the traditional rituals and practices that I have
something that further encouraged me to continue my studies,
experienced and re-contextualising them, through the lens of my
without which I would not be where I am today. So it was all
own experiences, in a contemporary art context whilst retaining
these small moments of encouragement that have helped me
their Korean sensibility. So I have attempted to create an ongoing
working process which is both meditative and ritualistic, spiritual
Hyun-Hee Lee, Spring 1996, acr ylic on canvas, 2011. Opposite from top: Ben Ali Ong, Nyctophilia, 2015. Stevie Fieldsend, Un-becoming, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberley.
GETTING BEYOND STUFF As the world consumes more and more for the sake of consumption, one design collective is prompting us to look at ‘stuff’ in a new and more sustainable way BY NICKY LOBO PHOTO BY ANDY LEWIS
The word ‘duty’ implies responsibility. And for Sarah K, of design
hungry vacuum cleaner. It’s the kind of design that encourages
collaborative Supercyclers, this responsibility comes naturally.
behavioural change as part of the move towards sustainability.
“I feel strongly about Supercyclers. Whether I name it or not, it
Many of the Supercyclers products are experimental, particularly
influences everything I do. I just feel now that there’s no point
in the development of new materials. Marine Debris Bakelite, a
in doing that other stuff,” she says. ‘Other stuff’ refers to design
current project by Andrew Simpson and Sarah K, is one example.
for the sake of it, design that doesn’t consider a purpose beyond
Made of washed up plastic collected from Australian beaches,
looking good, or a benefit that doesn’t go beyond personal desire.
the material looks to emulate the integrity of early plastics like Bakelite, but manufactured efficiently with waste product. As a
As a designer and curator, Sarah K has seen her fair share of
material, it has almost unlimited capacity to be used to make any
‘other stuff’. What interests her now is the kind of design that
number of things, from bento boxes (in the For School collection,
responds to the more important questions. “I have always thought
which was first exhibited at Tokyo Design Week, now available
that as designers are trained as problem solvers, we have a duty to
through several Australian retailers) to wearable accessories that
help solve the big issues that face us.”
are currently in development for a high profile retail store.
And one of the biggest is the environment, which is the issue that
More than just being ‘things’, or even ideas, the products that fall
Supercyclers aims to address. The collaboration is wide-ranging
under the Supercyclers umbrella prompt conversation – and that
but always underwritten by a simple ethos: equal emphasis on
is their real power. Kirstie Van Noort’s 6:1 project takes a simple
sustainability, an interesting approach, well-resolved aesthetic
fact and communicates it beautifully and effectively. A ceramic
and integrity in materiality and finish. For Sarah, ‘recycled’
artist/designer, Kirstie discovered that for every kilogram of white
products often did not stack up in other areas of design – beauty,
porcelain product made, there are six kilograms of waste. She
form, consistent resolution. So Supercyclers was born, to reflect
uses the waste material from this process to create a range of
a more cohesive approach to designing sustainably.
seven pieces, one pure white and six in various shades coloured by the manufacturing process. Together, the pieces form a
“I really didn’t want it to be just about recycling, or recycled
cohesive story and send a compelling message.
products,” she says. Instead, the aim is to ‘elevate sustainable ideas in design’ – and in order to elevate, the products need to
With such an important issue and so many ways to approach
be beautiful and well-designed in their own right, as well as
talking about it through design, part of the duty, Sarah says, is
having the appeal of being sustainable in some way.
to do so responsibly. “When you start with the premise that we already have too much stuff, it’s an irony to want to be creating
The first project under the Supercyclers banner was by
new things,” she says. “So there has to be a balance between the
Sarah K and Liane Rossler (formerly of Dinosaur Designs),
creative urge and the sensible creation of things”, which has led
who experimented with making simple forms from plastic
to a number of principles by which the Supercyclers abide.
bags. The resulting containers, titled Plastic Fantastic, teased out a surprising elegance from the ubiquitous waste material,
In the five years since it was founded, Supercyclers has been part
in a palette of pretty colours.
of many conversations about sustainability through participation in exhibitions as well as media coverage. But there is still much
Following their launch as part of The Other Hemisphere
to do. “We can stop talking about it when the problem has been
exhibition at Ventura Lambrate during Salone Internazionale
solved or gone away,” Sarah says. “Sadly, this isn’t the case, so
del Mobile in Milan in 2011, the range attracted interest from
until it is I believe it needs to be included in all design thinking.”
international publications, was included in a sourcebook of new design, and travelled to Amsterdam, Brussels, Sydney and
Sarah is excited about all the design initiatives that are working
London as part of further exhibitions.
towards the environmental problems we face, but while it’s brilliant that someone invents a floating device to collect debris
The ‘Supercyclers’, as anyone who is invited into the fold is
in the ocean, in her opinion, it doesn’t mean we can rest on our
affectionately termed, all demonstrate a sustainable approach,
laurels. “We need to keep solving it, keep talking about it. There
but in very different ways. The Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek has
is room for a thousand more ideas to contribute.”
made old paint on recycled timber a covetable aesthetic through his furniture items. Sydney designer Henry Wilson ‘hacks’ design classics in his Things Revisited series, bringing elegant improvement to iconic pieces such as the Wassily chair and Anglepoise lamp. As Sarah K notes, however, “Waste materials are only one aspect of the supercyclers approach – it’s a wider idea that also focusses on the conceptual, for example, taking into consideration how we use things. [Because] how we use objects can also contribute to a sustainable approach.” She references fellow Supercyclers and exhibitors at Milan, the Swiss-based Postfossil, who designed a beautiful timber broom, with the intention that it could be featured in your kitchen or living space rather than hidden away
Supercyclers works: Quilt Template Light — Tamara Maynes A3 Joint Side Table — Henr y Wilson Plastic Fantastic/Ghostware Vessels — Sarah K and Liane Rossler Unexpanded Polystyrene Box and Silver/Crayon Shot Cup — Mark Vaar werk
in a cupboard, and thus used more frequently than a power-
THE STORIES THAT BIND US JASON VAN GENDEREN INTERVIEW BY ANG VOGT PHOTO COURTESY JASON VAN GENDEREN
‘Mankind Is No Island’, was the first film shot on a smartphone to take out an award at a major international film festival. Here, the filmmaker talks about the freeing power of technology and its potential to build and represent community.
Technology has changed the way most of us think about
he realised he had the perfect tool on hand for telling their
community by broadening its horizons and breaking down so
stories. Filming on his phone gave him the immediacy and the
many of the barriers to relating that have traditionally kept
intimacy he needed to convey a sense of what their lives were
people apart. It has also changed the way we tell stories – both
really like. This was filming from the inside out – from within a
our own and other people’s – through the proliferation of social
community, instead of observing it from the outside.
media, and by placing a film camera in everyone’s back pocket
Jason’s films break down so many barriers. Not just those
courtesy of their smartphone.
between countries, communities, and traditions, but also those
Dutch-Australian filmmaker Jason van Genderen was among
between what people have always thought possible and what
the first to realise the potential of his mobile phone. Walking
stories should be told. He’s shown us that anyone can make a
through the streets of New York and Sydney, he was struck by
film, at any time and in any place and that these stories can help
the plight of the homeless in each city. Reaching into his pocket,
people find a place in the world.
“WE’RE ALL DIGITAL BOWERBIRDS THESE DAYS. WE ALL COLLECT OUR EVERYDAY EXPERIENCES, WHETHER IT’S SNAPPING INFORMATION FOR SOCIAL MEDIA, TAKING SELFIES, DOCUMENTING OUR TRAVELS.”
Your film ‘Mankind Is No Island’ won ‘Best Short Film’ and
significance and try to make it personal.
the prestigious ‘People’s Choice’ awards at the 2008 Tropfest
What do you think has changed about telling stories through
New York. Was that the first time a short made on a mobile
film over the last decade?
phone won an award at a major international film festival?
The biggest thing that has changed is that the perceived barriers
Yes, it was the first time a smartphone film was selected for an
to entry have completely dissolved. Filmmaking ten years ago
international film festival. Back then it was unheard of. These
was a very elusive craft. You needed a lot of things going for you
days it’s commonplace, which is great.
to be able to start a storytelling process. The technology was
So, what inspired you to create a film on the cultural
very expensive and the process itself was very convoluted. With
similarities of homelessness from two different parts of the
the advent of smartphones and GoPro cameras, we’ve seen this
liberation of the lens. Now everybody has the ability to start
I think it was one of those beautiful opportunities where a
telling a story, and it can be as professional or as amateur as you
story sort of serendipitously evolved through everyday life.
want, depending on how much energy you want to put into it
I was just walking through the city, and I was moved by that
and how much you want to play with the medium.
sense of disconnect with homeless communities. I don’t think
Do you agree that technological advances have had a massive
I would have been able to make that story come alive with a
impact on how we can connect with communities and cultures
conventional film camera. We needed something that was
around the world?
accessible and instant and in the moment.
Absolutely. I guess that’s the job of storytelling, to connect us
What was your creative voice saying before you made this
and to give us all relevance, and a place in our community. The
film I made for Sundance in London, ‘Red Earth Hip Hop’, we
My creative voice was saying: you’re an idiot, don’t do it, it won’t
filmed on three smartphones over a three-day weekend. We
work, no one is going to have the patience to sit through three of
would not have been able to immerse ourselves as deeply within
four minutes of words stitched together on a screen. But I think
that community, or find the heart of the story as quickly as
that was the very thing that drove me to at least try. There’s a
we needed to, if we had turned up with a full film crew. I think
vulnerability with every creative idea you come up with and the
that’s where we see wonderful things happen. Not only are we
more vulnerable it seems, the more I’m drawn to it, because it
seeing new storytellers emerge; but we also see completely new
seems to have a more pressing need to be made real.
subjects in our documentaries, in our stories.
It’s clear that you’re not just a filmmaker, but also a
How is technology impacting on the very concept of
For me, filmmaking offers infinite possibilities for capturing
Technology is giving us new ways to build community and
story. I think we’re all digital Bowerbirds these days. We
different kinds of community, and I think that’s important
all collect our everyday experiences, whether it’s snapping
as well. I think that technology allows us to have layers of
information for social media, taking selfies, documenting our
community that we can have access to at all hours of the day
travels. Pocket filmmaking is a fantastic way for us to start
and night. We’ve always got people we can relate to and people
stitching that together and provide some commentary to it, to
we can tap into around us, and I think that’s the beautiful thing
create a narrative that describes our world and our sense of
place within that world.
You called your 2011 TED talk ‘Dreaming Big, With Little
You tell universal, heartfelt stories that global audiences
Resources’. What did you mean by that?
can all relate to. Is that what drives you and is that how you
We are our biggest enemy in a lot of what we do. We put up a
choose your stories?
lot of barriers to advancing ourselves in our creative capacity,
I never realise the universal significance of my stories until I
in our relationships, in lots of areas in life. There is no story
have shared them with audiences. Ironically, all of my stories
you can’t tell; there is nothing out there that you can’t start
have come from a deeply personal place, documenting the
capturing and documenting right now. You can create very big,
processes of change in my life and the life around me. I’ve
hearty stories with very limited means. That’s the lesson I’ve
never thought that they cover universal themes until after I’ve
learned in my pocket filmmaking journey.
made the film and exposed it to an audience. It’s very difficult to reverse engineer it and start with a story you feel has a global
WOMENâ€™S WORK BY THAI-AUSTRALIAN VIDEO ARTIST KAWITA VATANA JYANKUR IMAGES COURTESY OF STILLS GALLERY
The Ice Shaver, 2013
It is telling that Vatanajyankur’s performances are comprised of ‘meditation postures’, when the resilience and fear she alludes to are quite the opposite of what we might think of as Zen. This extreme physical endurance offers a way to free herself from her mind. It’s a mechanism to lose her sense of being, a deliberate objectification that turns her body into sculpture. These video series, Work and Tools, suggest that greater value be attributed to the everyday labours of women across the globe. It’s worth remembering that for many, daily chores aren’t performed by electronic contraptions or white goods, but are time-consuming, physically exhausting and primarily the province of women. In Work, Vatanajyankur intersects the long histories of ritual, craft and performance. This seeks to redress how ‘women’s work’ has traditionally been considered a lesser form of creativity than the fine arts, which, until recently, have been epitomised by (literally) man-made representations of the female body.
The Lift, 2015 from Work
The Sale, 2015 from Work
WELCOMING THE DISENFRANCHISED TO THE TABLE Food as a vehicle for social change JESS MILLER BY MELITA ROWSTON PHOTO BY CYNTHIA SCIBERRAS
Jess Miller isn’t a foodie. By her own admission she’s not even a
“Surprisingly, the general reaction is not overwhelmingly
very good cook, but she’s interested in growing things.
positive! Most people say ‘Nah, too hard.’ But offering a bribe
I first encounter Jess Miller when she takes to the stage at
like a nice dinner and making it easy for people to participate
TEDxSydney’s 2015 launch to present her curated food menu –
creates the opposite reaction.”
Rebel Food. Impassioned and spunky, Jess grabs the mike and
Growers were encouraged to donate a bag of their home-grown
informs the crowd that she’s sick of society’s obsessive rules
produce in return for a dinner invitation. The chefs at Three Blue
around food. As if rallying an army to war, she declares she
Ducks were then faced with the challenge of creating a feast for
wants to break the cultural, economic and social rules we’ve
300 people out of what was offered.
imposed on ourselves when it comes to food and have some fun.
“We weren’t expecting people to contribute kilograms of
“We will eat things that are considered pests, that have
produce, although some people did. It was ok just to have a go.
outrageously been thrown away, overlooked and unloved. We
If all you could muster was a little bit of basil and rosemary, that
will push the boundaries and celebrate the ugly and unexpected
was fine. It was more about bringing people together.”
foods that dwell on the periphery of our cultural consciousness!”
In a video of the event, local growers arrived at Bondi markets
The crowd cheered – and then gasped when they learnt what
with their food offerings. There’s something quite touching
would be on the menu…
about the way they describe what they’ve grown before carefully
A few weeks later I called Jess to chat about food, fun and
handing their produce over.
“The moment when people part with their produce is pretty
Jess creates projects that engage her community in behavioural
special. You can tell how much care and love has gone into
change for sustainability. She likes to describe herself as “using
growing it. It’s a very unselfish act to grow tomatoes, water
the Internet to get people off the Internet”.
them every day, then trust the chef to treat them well and share
Cutting her teeth in grassroots campaigning for Friends of
them with everyone else. It’s really nice. It also gives everyone
the Earth, Climate Camp and other anti-coal campaigns in
something to talk about on the day. Everyone’s like ‘Where did
Newcastle’s coal port, Jess learned to harness the power of the
my limes end up? What happened to my pumpkin?’”
Internet to stop bad things happening.
On the night of the feast, the caf pulsed with people of all ages,
“It wasn’t any great thinking or strategy on our part,” says Jess.
who’d come together to celebrate food and enjoy the fruits of
“We were working at a level where there was literally no money.
We simply noticed that there were some great online tools that
“Giving people an excuse to talk to each other is really
made organising and communicating a lot easier.”
underrated. Gardening and food offer that in equal measure. The
Jess also learned during those early activist days that when their
older people who had more experience in growing things were
campaigning was more feral and fun it was more effective in
connecting with younger people, who may be really enthusiastic
raising awareness and getting results.
but don’t have as much knowledge. There aren’t many
“We were focused on non-violent direct action. It was really
opportunities where you get to talk to people from different age
intense. We were locking ourselves to infrastructure and getting
groups. We were literally breaking bread together.”
arrested. There are a few special people who can maintain that
And so the stage was set. Jess decided to take the crowd farming
kind of energy for a long period of time, but after a while you get
movement to the next level. In partnership with TEDxSydney
disillusioned by it. I wanted to try other tactics.”
2013, she raised the stakes from 300 people to 2,300 people.
In 2012 Jess co-founded Grow It Local with Darryl Nichols in
“Oh, the ridiculously lofty ambition of it! I don’t think anyone
response to a Sydney Waverley Council commission to interpret
thought we were going to pull it off. Neither did I to be honest.”
what was a small line in their sustainability plan. The council
ARIA restaurant’s head chef Matt Moran took up the challenge
wanted five percent of the food consumed in their municipality
of catering for the masses with only food provided by local
to be grown within the local area. It was an ambitious target for
growers. Whether the produce was sourced from a planter box,
one of the most densely populated local government areas in
a backyard patch or his own family farm in Rocklea, Matt only
knew which ingredients he had at his disposal three days before
Described as “the most delicious kitchen-garden project there
is”, Grow It Local encourages backyard, community, window sill
“ARIA were brilliant. They took a pretty big punt incorporating
and balcony gardeners to grow, share and eat their produce.
all the foods we were able to find. We even had a whole Angus
“The idea was firstly to understand where people were at with
cow that was slow dried. That took a lot of care. Matt did a really
urban growing. By getting people to register their gardens online
good job of not only making sure everything was incorporated,
and put them on the virtual map, we could gather data as to what
but making sure everyone was fed.”
they were growing and where. We could really visualise what was
The other unexpected joy of the event was discovering the
happening in the community.”
unique spaces in which local producers were growing things.
Jess encouraged local Bondi cafes to distribute seeds, planted
“There was a guy using a balcony in Bondi to produce something
gardens at bus stops and talked to people on the street and at the
like 10 kilos of tomatoes. It was a pretty kooky hydro set-up. One
Bondi markets about where their food was coming from, how far
of my favourites was this family in Castle Hill who had a patch
it’s travelled to reach their table and how sustainable it was.
called The Fire Pit. They’d gone to great lengths to grow a whole
“It was a fun way of dealing with real issues of food security and
spectrum of chilli. Mild stuff right through to Trinidad Scorpion
sovereignty. We were empowering communities to transform
Chilli, which is the hottest chilli in the world. Their produce was
not only their backyard, but their relationship with the food they
Aside from the challenge of catering through crowd farming on
The highlight of the project was a crowd farming food event held
such a large scale, what else did the event teach people about
at local caf Three Blue Ducks.
“You can try and scare people into resilience,” says Jess.
“There’s this perception that it’s lovely to have local food and
“THE MOMENT WHEN PEOPLE PART WITH THEIR PRODUCE IS PRETTY SPECIAL. YOU CAN TELL HOW MUCH CARE AND LOVE HAS GONE INTO GROWING IT. IT’S A VERY UNSELFISH ACT TO GROW TOMATOES, WATER THEM EVERY DAY, THEN TRUST THE CHEF TO TREAT THEM WELL AND SHARE THEM WITH EVERYONE ELSE.
organic food, but it’s expensive and you can’t do it at scale. This
was the test as to whether or not it was doable. I think it set a
“We get used to seeing things that we accept as being normal,
precedent among the bigger catering companies. Catering on a
but 20 to 30 years ago they weren’t the norm. Some people have
large scale doesn’t have to be about crappy danishes and all the
never been to a butcher. They will never know there are six other
usual suspects. We can support local food in big quantities.”
cuts of meat. If we used all the cuts, that’s a more sustainable way
Grow It Local has gone on to create similar events around the
country. At the Melbourne Sustainable Living Festival, Jess
Jess refers to the whole Gundooee organic Wagyu cow they
activated a giant Town Hall veggie patch to promote sustainability
butchered at TEDxSydney 2013 to show attendees how much of
and health to office workers. Free lunchtime workshops included
the animal is wasted in our preference for prime cuts.
80s gardening aerobics, cooking with weeds, growing in small
“Eye fillet is only four kilos of a 28-kilo carcass – that’s how often
spaces and making butter from raw milk.
we should eat it. The way we’re going population-wise, we really
“The Trojan horse of fun theory really works. If you can create a
can’t afford to eat meat. We don’t have the land size to sustain
cultural gig that people can get involved in because it’s relevant
it. It’s worth thinking about alternative sources of protein and
and fun, you get people talking. You’re kind of tricking people
appreciating that other cultures have been doing it for hundreds
into doing what you want them to do without having to hammer
home the politics. It’s an approach that’s been a lot more
Rebel Food put those alternative protein sources front and centre
successful for me in terms of behaviour change outcomes.”
on the menu. Ant butter, bone marrow marmalade, cricket
With 1,384 gardeners now registered on the Grow It Local
sprinkles, feral goat pies, compost tea and possum sausages were
website and 11,346 square metres of garden under cultivation,
the order of that day. How did people react?
where to next?
“A lot of people hated it, which was great. It made them feel
“I’d love to enhance the website so we can facilitate more info
really uncomfortable. I think that’s good. It’s not meant to be
sharing about what people are growing and where they can find
it,” says Jess. “It would be great if people had the online tools
Jess also points out that at the same time people did try the ant
that allowed them to self-organise. I’d also like to see local caf
butter and may have unintentionally eaten the worm meal in the
s offering coffee credits in exchange for locally grown produce.
muesli bars or a feral goat pie.
Instead of ordering in mass-produced food, they could easily
“Sure, there’s the gross-out factor, but it was meant to be a
generate meals with what is available in their neighbourhood.”
conversation starter and we certainly succeeded in doing that! If
So back to Rebel Food, which divided and fascinated TEDxSydney
you’re looking down the barrel of scary stuff like climate change,
2015 attendees. Challenging people about their own food rules
climate adaptation and how we’re going to be sourcing food in the
was what Rebel Food was all about.
next 50 years, we really need to think about it more creatively.
“We wanted to create a hero of anything that couldn’t be found
Otherwise it’s going to get very serious.”
on a supermarket shelf. Beyond that we explored things that had
And that’s no fun.
been forgotten or aren’t popular or are a little bit too interesting to be mass-produced.” Jess admits it’s the perceived rules around food that she finds
DO YOU LIKE YOUR YOLKS SUNNY SIDE UP? CONSCIOUSNESS AND CREATIVITY FOR CHANGE
We're a bespoke indie, and much sexier in the flesh. We are not found in newsagencies so if you're having trouble finding us head to yokemagazine.com for current and back issues.
UNITING AUDIENCES AND ARTISTS FOR DEEPER CONVERSATIONS, DEEPER ART AND DEEPER LISTENING.
Marsupial with protea, 2003
BEAUTY IN MORTALITY AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTIST MARIAN DREW
This project, developed by Marian Drew from 2003-11, sought an aesthetic solution to explore her relationship with animals killed as a consequence of urban expansion, roads, pets, power lines and farming in Australia. Her community contributed, bringing native fauna into her studio, kitchen and living room to be photographed. The animals were frozen while using long exposures and various sources to light the arrangement, which was recorded onto film. The series reflects the European tradition of still life, a genre that has long stimulated the contemplation of our mortality and the futility of material wealth. Marian was consciously seeking beauty in authenticity to draw the viewer closer to the subject of death. The animalsâ€™ life and death in these pictures is closely entwined with our own.
Rose crowned fruit dove on fancy work, 2009
Penguin with enamel jug, 2008
Pelican with turnip. 2004
Magpie with paw paw, 2005
UNITING AUDIENCES AND ARTISTS FOR DEEPER CONVERSATIONS, DEEPER ART AND DEEPER LISTENING.
Proud Creative Partner
YOKE is an explosive mix of many things that delves deep into story telling. Its a celebration of beautiful ideas, people and art. Where we...
Published on Sep 14, 2018
YOKE is an explosive mix of many things that delves deep into story telling. Its a celebration of beautiful ideas, people and art. Where we...