Category Archives: Art

The Last Post

I have a small suitcase of letters from years gone by that I’ve dragged from one house to the next. They’re almost relics, these letters, written by hand and posted, in a letterbox! How quaint. One day I decided to put sentences from the various letters together, just out of curiosity, to see if the people who had written to me would make up a ‘composite friend’.

The resulting letter had its own strange and beautiful logic and although I knew who had written each line, the letter now seemed to have been written by the universe, to itself and to everyone who lived there. So it is with good stories and good art. They seem to have always belonged with you.

A year has passed to the day since I decided to join the world of online scribblers. It’s also the day that I call it a day. I could tizzy up my reasons for stopping but the reality is I’m getting too lazy to want to write it anymore. I figure it’s better to call time rather than post every six months or so like a stalker with chronic fatigue.

Strangely, the year of blogging ended with exactly the same weather conditions as it began. The rain started as I began writing my last post as if it was just popping in for a quick cuppa. Before I knew it, that rain had settled in with its feet up on the sofa and proceeded to turn on the TV. Then it just stayed the night. Unlike last year when the rain was this relentless, this year I was not doggedly (and dumbly) determined to get to a muddy bog of a music festival. Maybe I’ve learned something. But probably not…

Given this is The Last Post, I’m going to do a recap of some ‘Travels in my mind’ posts. It may be nostalgic indulgence but when was it anything else?

I wrote my first post about my annoying and unwelcome habit of needing to go to events that are sold out and difficult. ‘Travels in my mind’ began  with ‘Shine On, you crazy diamond’ in November 2010, when I shared the fab experience of driving to the inaccurately-named ‘Shine On’ festival in driving rain with my friend K. (who thankfully came to her senses and decided we should leave within minutes of our arrival). On the way home, we were attacked by birds.

The weather also played a significant role in ‘Man on plane, I am sorry’, December 2010,  in which I was returning from a visit to my Dad who lives in another state (physically, not metaphorically). I was on a plane which had been delayed due to storms and it was unsurprisingly, a rough flight. At some point during my visit Dad and I had had a conversation about what kind of funerals we would want – we like to keep the conversation light.  That conversation combined with the bumpy flight had made me quite skittish. I got into a weird and awkward conversation with a salesman sitting next to me, causing me to conclude that (a) sometimes I would rather eat my own arms than talk about work and (b) you shouldn’t talk to strangers if you can’t get away from them.

In February I visited Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, better known as MONA, and embraced its underground architecture and Scorpionic themes of sex and death. I loved the intensity and fun, and intense fun of it. But on a second visit not long ago I realised you never get that giddy first date feeling twice. While there were works I didn’t see the first time, some of which I found confronting and some moving, there was little from my first visit that I found compelling on second view. And on a rare sunny day in Hobart, with a wedding party on the grounds and a new admission fee generating the same old gallery demographic, MONA seemed already bereft of its rock ‘n’ roll patina. Possibly I just wasn’t in the mood. I preferred my friend G.‘s exhibition I went to on Saturday. She had made the most delicate drawings of her old Mum and Dad sleeping, drawings that were softly loving and made you ache with the inevitability of old age and its cousin, death.

For Valentine’s Day, I told a love story – a story of my longest first date. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was one of the most popular posts. Everyone loves a love story. (Or was it the KISS video? I admit, I watched that video a few more times than was healthy and had to get ‘I was made for loving you’ surgically removed.)

A friend asked me the other night what had been the most popular post. Right up there was the one about my visit to the Tutenkhamun exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. But as I explained to L., my blog must appear in search results when people are looking for information about the exhibition. My Tutenkhamun post continued to attract hits long past the date I posted it – and as I said to my friend, I feel a bit bad because my post about ‘What I’d learned from the Tutenkhamun exhibition’ was fairly glib. As King Tut’s family history featured some intensive interbreeding and he had a cleft palate and a club foot, I wrote that one thing I’d learned was not to horizontal folk-dance with the siblings. To all those students and foreign tourists searching for actual information, I can only apologise.

The dance films ‘Pina’ and ‘The Black Swan’  inspired curiosity about the history of the pointe shoe and ballet, in the case of ‘The Black Swan’ (‘Shall we dance? Or just pointe?’, January) and my return to dance class (‘Minding the pees and queues’, August). Going to a performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater was just a visual feast that reminded me of the variety of permutations possible within human movement and all that is good about watching people move through space (‘An assault on the senses’, July).

There was the post about my sensitivity to people’s voices, inspired by the Southern Gothic baritone of Tony Joe White (‘Tony Joe White’s Sonic Boom’, May), in which I pondered whether a person’s voice is merely a product of anatomy or whether a voice reflects a person’s inner being. A Cat Power gig inspired a conversation about the evolution of stage fright and what it must be like to make music (and a living) while being scrutinised under the spotlight (‘A year of the Cat’, January).

In June, I was preparing to head to Bali and Cambodia.  A simple Google search: ‘music in Cambodia’ led to hours of reading about that country’s music scene now and in its 60s heyday. The contrast between the energetic spirit of contemporary bands in Cambodia with the silencing of musicians under the Khmer Rouge was so compelling that I decided to make a radio documentary while I was on holiday. Returning to Melbourne, I wrote another post about the trip, mostly about the first night of the Kampot River Music Festival and a motorbike ride through the hectic streets of Phnom Penh with Jan, German music producer and ex-soapie star (‘Holiday in Cambodia’, July).

A post about the differing recollections that my friend and I had about how an ex-housemate’s life was saved touched on the elusive nature of memory itself (‘Two of these things are true and one is a lie’, September). Yet the best things about writing ‘Travels in my mind’ has been the triggering of memories, however truthful they may be, and the perennial challenge we all share: trying to communicate something of our experience to someone else.

Thanks for reading; thanks to those who talked back. Your comments and encouragement have been so very welcome.

Yep, that’s all there is.

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H-appy H-ouse concert

Having been the recipient of the Freebie Fairy’s benevolence last week (see previous post), it seemed fair this week to hand over some time, cash and goodwill to good people and good causes. This included buying an artwork at a fundraiser for Synergy, a local community gallery which is struggling to survive the gentrification of the suburb in which I live.  In my suburb, in a lovely little bar called Open Studio, I sometimes do short story readings  with music played by accordionist and pianist Dave Evans. One of the stories we presented last season was ‘Bohemians’ by local writer Wayne Macauley. It’s about a man who rents out artists to real estate agents, to add colour to a suburb that has become so attractive because of its ‘bohemians’ that artists can no longer afford to live there. As one gallery has recently closed down and another was holding a fundraiser to meet a 40 per cent rent increase, the ‘Bohemians’ story no longer seemed quite so fictional.

At the fundraiser, one of the endangered bohemians was doing palm readings, as a side-line to selling hand-made fairy wings, hastily-sewn purses and batches of gluten-free scones.  Each batch of scones was more dubious-looking than the last, with the final batch being so un-scone-like that even the palm-reader had nominated them as ‘Experimental’ on a hand-written sign. Of course, the erratic sewing and scone-baking enhanced my assessment of her palm-reading ability no end. (Who thinks Martha Stewart can read palms?) So I sat down at her table. The palm-reader had tiny, tiny hands (with fingernails painted alternately red and pink), and a tiny, tiny voice. In fact, in retrospect, she may have been seven.  But really, who cares? After considering my palm, she was impressed by how ‘protected’ I was. Obviously this was good news but only today did it occur to me to ask the little girl what she meant by it. Did she mean that there are large, square-jawed, no-necked, wired-up men in dark suits and sunglasses lurking in my psychic field, scanning for signs of danger to my person?

After the palm reading, a friend introduced me to a young Spanish woman who had recently arrived in Melbourne from Madrid. She was looking to move off the lounge-room floor of her friend of a friend. I said ‘I’m going to a party later. Why don’t you come? You’ll probably meet someone who needs a housemate and I think it’ll be a great party.’ (And I’ll get to enjoy your crazy Spanish accent, where it sounds like every second word starts with a capital ‘H’.) She said ‘H-okay. H-I’ll come.’

When I was doing the extended trip overseas that is an almost obligatory rite of passage for every young Australian, I benefitted from the generosity of people who took it upon themselves to show kindness to a stranger. One time, my then-boyfriend, F., and I had been picking grapes near Orange in the south-east of France and afterwards had headed to a highway, planning to hitch-hike to wherever our next lift took us. As the highway forked to both Italy and Spain, it was full of hitch-hikers, some of whom had been there for a day or two. We got chatting to a couple who shared some wine with us, as dark clouds began to appear in the late afternoon sky. Just as large plops of rain started to fall, a BMW cruised the line of hitch-hikers and stopped by F. and I. “Hey,” the driver called to us. “Where are you going?” “Wherever you’re going,” we smiled, hauling our packs and apologizing to our new friends. Our benefactors were two long-term mates, possibly in their late 30s, who would periodically leave their wives at home and have a drunken, garrulous weekend away together. They’d probably chosen us because my boyfriend had dreadlocks. People always assumed he either had drugs or knew how to get them. The French guys were going to the port city of Marseilles; ergot, so were we. When we arrived, we checked in to the same hotel and then went to a bar, where we exchanged terrible French and terrible English for hours and all got happily drunk. The next day, F. and I went to leave and knocked softly on our friends’ door – they were still sleeping. At reception we were told by the management that ‘Ze men in room 14 ‘ave already paid for you’. ‘Tell them merci, merci beaucoup; au revoir et bonne chance from the Australians.’

At any given time, we should all be able to run away to a foreign land, with just a passport and the clothes on our back, and know that there is someone kind at the other side of the world, someone who doesn’t know you from a bar of soap, who will treat you like a best friend. They will take you to a bar or a party where you will know no-one but everyone seems strangely familiar. You will not only feel safe, you will know that this is precisely where you are meant to be.  Perhaps this is what the small palm-reader with red and pink fingernails meant by ‘protected’.

The party that I went to with my new amiga M. and friend O. was a combined birthday celebration and house concert. If you’re unfamiliar with the house concert idea, it goes like this: the host books a band or a musician to play at their home and sends out invitations. Guests pay to come along. They get to enjoy seeing and hearing music up close, hopefully without annoying  experiences like having a giant stand right in their line of vision, or having someone just behind their right ear talking to a friend in a very loud voice about something really dull. The band plays unplugged or with a small PA/ amp – and generally receives all of the door charge money. Apparently, the house concert is more of a phenomenon among the folk fraternity in the States but it’s catching on here. On this occasion, the band was jazz quintet Clari and Bari, members of which also play in other Melbourne bands-about-town, such as The Band Who Knew Too Much, Skazz and Afro Mandinko. To cut this down to its essence: great party; great music. M. from Madrid had an H-excellent time. I’m thinking if Clari and Bari aren’t available, I’m going to invite David Bowie to play at my house concert. I’ll let you know when to come. I might get the tiny palm-reader in as well.

Who are you going to book to play at your house?

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MONA

Sexy. Subterranean. Stunning. Subconscious. Stimulating. This week’s travel, to the Museum of Old and New Art, (MONA for short), in Hobart, is brought to you by the letter ‘S’.

1. Having a gallery built deep into the ground is a stroke of genius, setting up an architectural mirror to MONA’s curatorial favouring of a subconscious approach to the artwork on display. And David Walsh’s collection very much favours the subconscious realm. Freud and Jung would have had a field day at MONA. For those who understand astrological archetypes, MONA is very Scorpio, very ‘eighth house.’ It’s the gallery of a man who has made millions from gambling and spent most of it on a collection of antiquities and contemporary art and a gallery in which to display them, built deep into the earth. It is The Underworld. Among the ‘Old’ of the MONA moniker are Egyptian artefacts, themselves dug from the earth from ancient burial sites. Bright blue scarab beetles, mummies, Anubis figures. Displayed side by side with contemporary art in which death, regeneration, power and the body are prominent themes. Continue reading

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She’s a femme fatale

This week I went to an exhibition of Gustave Moreau’s work on the theme of the femme fatale. ‘Here she comes, you’d better watch your step…’  Yes it’s nigh impossible to shrug off that Velvet Underground song whenever the words ‘femme fatale’ come into your orbit, and the sound of that haunting yet faintly comic German accent of Nico’s.…’She’s-going-to-break-your-heart-in-two. It’s true’. Let’s get it out of your system so we can move on.

Gustave was painting ‘fatal women’ during the 19th Century when the idea of the dangerous seductress was wedded to the term ‘femme fatale’. Fast forward to the ‘40s film noir era, and duplicitous women with toxic allure were turning up everywhere, accompanied by men rendered powerless by their charms. In the 1947 film ‘Dead Reckoning’, Humphrey Bogart as Rip Murdock, tries to save his buddy Johnny from lounge singer Coral ‘Dusty’ Chandler with this line: ‘Johnny, why don’t you get rid of the grief you’ve got for that blonde, whoever she is? Every mile we go, you sweat worse with the same pain. Didn’t I tell you all females are the same with their faces washed?’ Read that last line again and again. I promise it’ll keep making you laugh. Continue reading

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