Thursday, March 31, 2011

Benedict Hardie- INTERVIEWS

Benedict Hardie
Written by Paul Andrew   
Friday, 01 April 2011 12:14

Benedict Hardie is an actor, writer and director with award-winning theatre company The Hayloft Project. We first spoke to Benedict last year as he prepared for his role in Daniel Keene's Life Without Me as part of the 2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival. This year he returns as both writer and director of the latest work for The Hayloft Project – Delectable Shelter.

Benedict spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Delectable ShelterTell me about your studies/theatre background background pre-Hayloft?
When I was in school I was part of a NSW Public Schools Drama Company, which gave me training and performance experience (including a tour to the UK). I studied Economic Theory and Psychology at Sydney University, amidst a life of acting, comedy and theatremaking in Sydney. Then I studied Acting at the VCA.

Tell me about how you came up with both the name and the ensemble?
The name comes from a line in the first production with which Simon Stone started the company. In Spring Awakening a mother asks a doctor what to do about her wayward (pregnant) child - "Keep your daughter out of Haylofts" is his reply. 

The Hayloft Project is a group of theatremakers who have joined the company started by Simon Stone in 2007. There are core artists, as well as a range of designers and performers that join the company depending on the needs of each production.

Tell me a little about Delectable Shelter?
The play is set in an underground shelter at the end of the world. We watch an affluent family and one aloof scientist adjust to their confinement, engage in reproduction, and plan for a future utopia. We then flash forward three hundred and fifty years. The actors now play several of their own descendents (all drawn from a very small gene pool), as they nervously prepare to return to the surface of the earth. So all the action occurs within one cramped room in a scientifically designed shelter, complete with ergonomic kneeling chairs. All the action except for a mysterious choir, who sing bach-style arrangments of 1980s love ballads in an unknown world...

Tell me about the process of writing the play from seed to finished product, what happened?
It's been unnaturally fast. The whole process has occurred in less than six months from idea to full production, but I think that lends a certain manic energy to the piece – which I like. I worked with Tom Healey as dramaturge in the writing process, and tried to flesh out the logical and dramatic elements of the story as richly as possible.

Also, I approached Benny Davis from The Axis of Awesome to see if we could come up with some music which fit into my satirical mindset, but still treat it very seriously (his classical music expertise was critical in the making of the show). Then rehearsal started and we've basically tried to rip it apart and make it as silly as we can. I try to be meticulous as a writer, but ruthless as a director.

Together with the cast we have cut and changed large chunks of the play, and inserted entirely new scenes. I think we found out very early that I was being too didactic with the satire and it wasn't really playable for the actors, so we tried as an ensemble to ensure the action came from the characters and their reality, and to try and hide the politics of the writing between the lines. The number one goal is to entertain.

Tell me about some of the playwrights who continue to enchant you?
I often return to Chekhov and Howard Barker. Chekhov writes bottomless characters in situations that are forensically normal and emotionally impossible (like life). Howard Barker writes theatre that is hard, but rewarding.

Melbourne indie theatre scene right now, what are you absolutely loving about it?
Theatre doesn't exist in a vacuum. It needs both artists and audiences. There seems to be a higher number of both at the moment because people are opening up to it. Artists want to push themselves, and audiences want new experiences. I love that I'm a part of the independent theatre engine, and sometimes I get to drive the thing.

Delectable Shelter by Benedict Hardie plays at Theatreworks, St Kilda, until April 17, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Benedict Hardie and Tim Stitz- INTERVIEWS

A Theatre Renaissance

Paul Andrew reckons Melbourne's going through an independent theatre renaissance, and with the amount of stellar shows on offer it's hard to disagree. Here he talks to Hayloft Project's Benedict Hardie and actor/ playwright Tim Stitz.

“Bach, Apocalypse, Albatross, Roxette, Sci-Fi, Reproduction, Satire”. Hardie is quick to précis the Hayloft Project's latest drama, Delectable Shelter. The group are hot right now, contributing to Melbourne's lo-fi, high-impact DIY-theatre renaissance.

Self-professed ‘theatre renegades’ The Hayloft Project embody the spirit of DIY indie theatre now, with 11 nominations at the 2011 Green Rooms, it is safe to say this self- directed crew riding the current wave of indie theatre production is making an impression.

Benedict Hardie, one creative in the many-voiced Hayloft stable, has an early theatre memory of the Bard that suggests the tenor behind their cache of hard-hitting award-winning theatre hits:“It was in school when I saw a production of As You Like It which climaxed with a wrestling scene. It was the first time I'd ever seen a live body slam. Subconsciously, I lost my shit.”

Hardie's proud to be a part of the 2011 Theatreworks program, one of Melbourne’s established stages of independent theatre, he explains the attitude behind the renegade veneer: “We value our independence. There may be economic constraints, but there also great creative freedoms for a company like ours. The process is: secure a performance space, move in and do whatever we want, then, ride off into the sunset. Its fun, and we've never repeated ourselves. We all have big appetites for theatre and are always looking to sink our teeth into the next big challenge.”

“The Hayloft Project was founded in 2007. Our work – including Spring Awakening, The Soldier’s Tale, Platonov, 3xSisters, The Only Child, B.C., Yuri Wells, The Suicide, Thyestes and The Nest – has garnered critical acclaim, a Sydney Theatre Award, Green Room awards, Melbourne Fringe awards and sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney. We are an ensemble committed to shaping an Australian theatre culture that reflects and engages with our changing society, collaborative theatre-making practice committed to new forms, voices, narratives. Our aim is to create intelligent, passionate, visceral theatre that lives long in the memory.”

“What I set out to write was a comedy about personal values and prejudices, in light of the changing global distribution of power. I figured the best way to write a play in which the dramatic action comes from what people think and feel about the world, was to kill every other human being on earth. When there are only five people left alive, planning a new civilisation, suddenly the beliefs and values of those individuals carries monumental significance. And from the most serious subject matter, we draw out the best comedy.

I also wanted to make something that was funny with cool music.”

Like The Hayloft Project, the Green Room award -winning playwright/ actor Tim Stitz is another familiar indie theatre face about town, his autobiographical play Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper devised with collaborator Kelly Somes, premiered at La Mama in February 2010, recently securing a coveted place on the VCE drama syllabus to be included at La Mama in May as part of it’s school education program.

“I'm not sure it’s a groundswell per se. I believe Melbourne's had a remarkably sustainable and energized independent theatre scene for some time now, at least in the past 10 years I've been watching and participating in it. The sector is such that artists and companies tend to come and go somewhat and there are of course 'the stayers' - stalwarts such as La Mama, Theatreworks, fortyfivedownstairs - as well as the companies and individuals that use the indie scene as a stepping stone to work on larger Melbourne, interstate and international stages.”

“The recent speight of indie companies such as Hayloft, Mutation, Grit Theatre, Four Larks, Groundswell Division, Winterfall, The Rabble- the list goes on- have all been bubbling away in their own way for a few years and they aren't just full of 'emerging' or 'fringe' artists. It did feel that 2010 was a watershed year in the way that these newer companies rose to prominence and there are a number of other companies bubbling away presently that will feature more largely in the coming months and years. “

“That said, small companies such as Ranters, Eleventh Hour, Red Stitch, Store Room, Stork, Outcast Theatre, Born in a Taxi, and to a certain extent Melbourne Works and Ilbijerri have been part of the landscape for much longer, with and without ongoing funding. I feel that the city could in fact use a few more indie venues, perhaps even a transfer house that accommodates the very best of indie theatre in Melbourne. “

“Malthouse's Tower program is able to provide opportunity to a select group of companies and individuals – a mouth-watering residency model and simple remounts - but I think that the city could do with more opportunities, venues and support structures.”

During the years La Mama Artistic Director Liz Jones has witnessed talents like The Hayloft Project and Tim Stitz enchant and captivate with imaginative scripts, engaging storytelling, compelling acting and go from strength to strength. Perhaps it was 1967 when the spirit first sparked, a time of revolution and countercultural politics when Betty Burstall had the vision to found a home for independent theatre in Carlton, being mindful and alert to the difficulties and ‘economic constraints’ still felt decades later by latter-day  indie’s like Stitz, Hardie and ensembles like the Hayloft crew” It been a joy” Jones says proudly from 'the home of independent theatre', “and the exciting thing about working at La Mama is that after my 38 years here life is still as exciting, from day to day, as it has ever been. In fact in 2011 our artists are buzzing and our audiences are cheering! I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

WHAT: Delectable Shelter ( image top- Hayloft 'ensemble') / Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper ( image above- Actor, Tim Stitz)

WHERE & WHEN: Theatreworks 31 March to 17 April/La Mama 27 April to 15 May

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Balletlab - INTERVIEWS

 The Zen of Car-Crashing

Paul Andrew speaks to Balletlab mainstay, dancer Brooke Stamp about the reprise of 1999's runaway success AMPLIFICATION a major work that established the Melbourne dance company as a force to be reckoned with and something about that zen moment between life and death at the heart of the story.

Brooke Stamp likes the English author JG Ballard’s erotic turn of phrase. Recently while watching an old television interview with the novelist, Stamp was struck by his curious use of metaphor used to describe the tumult of a horrific car accident: “it was a carnival of limbs and torsos.”

While Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash explores the car crash for its fetishistic possibilities, symphorophilia or 'car-crash sexual-fetishism' to employ those terms once rattled by old-school psychology, Amplification is contemporary dance at its most visceral; an oblique multi-narrative pivoting around the site of a car crash, which according to Stamp is less about fetishism: “it’s about the crash as a metaphor for mental or physical disassociation.”

Stamp performed in the original 1999 production of Ampflication and is ‘stoked’ that Adam’s has reprised the work today.

“The work stems from the idea that at the exact moment of a car crash, the human body experiences 1.6 seconds of mental ‘disassociation’ time freeze time, the endless frozen fragment of time between the horrible realisation that you are about to crash and the actual impact. 

Using the car accident as a metaphor for mental and physical disassociation,”Phillip intends the work to deconstruct and reconstruct the site of this impact, continues the dancer enthusiastically, “leaving the body in a state of chaos [rather than ecstasy]," Stamp says.

"Phillip visited hospital wards to interview accident victims and study bodies while making this work. It’s intense and poetic.”

“A carnival of limbs and torsos”, such a great image isn’t it?,” repeats Stamp with a grim smile, “In the interview Ballard was describing scenes in the 1996 film made by David Cronenberg inspired by various adaptations of Ballard’s work.  I am currently reading The Crystal World, and it’s really my first foray into the actual writing of Ballard. People do often query if he was on acid when he was writing, and this excites me as it’s an appropriate analogy for Phillip Adam’s own creative choreographic process. “

Stamp like her Balletlab director and colleague Phillip Adams, often draws choreographic inspiration from both technology and film.

“In my performances I personally draw mostly from sci-fi writers like Jack Vance, who our composer Lynton Carr introduced me to, he has a slightly more theatrical tone of the apocalyptic- monsters and demons and the like- and images from David Lynch’s films too - Lost Highway for example  versus early classical choreographies for the ballerina Ana Pavlova- all swim throughout my mind. “

So despite the metaphor use for Balletlab being quite different to Ballard, the work, like many of Phillip Adam’s creative works, also appears to be intoxicating in a strange way, as Stamp hints, perhaps even a meditation on eros and death.

“Yes it’s sex and death that ultimately drive Phillip in his work, or should I clarify this further, his fear of death. He suggests that he creates work to deal with the fear of dying, and therefore the dancer is the vehicle for his own obsession. It’s perfect that our body is the true physical instrument in this world, and Phillip has chosen to manipulate this very medium as an expression of living and dying. “

Stamp hints at a scene she is particularly fond of dancing.

“There is a specific section in this work that explores Phillip’s research at the Alfred Hospital morgue. The work looks at the body after death, and the ritual of mummification. The stark orange sheets against the white floor, and the two bodies naked under fluorescent high-bays, allow us to see the flesh and musculature in the bodies. This is a favourite part of the work for me, why, because it’s the zen moment.”

Merlyn Theatre until March 26

See this site for info about the dance company:

Balletlab- Amplification- INTERVIEWS

Dancing with Amplification

Paul Andrew speaks to dancer Brooke Stamp about her role in the hotly anticipated reprise of Ballet Lab’s 1999 opus, Amplification.

What do you love the most about dance as an art form?

It’s an amazing and exciting mystery. When you think back to the first true dance artists, I think it clearly has it’s origins in rebellion and a desire to look towards the future. I love that it’s a form that lingers in the collective conscious of the audience – you can’t keep it, you can’t hang it your wall and you can’t download it as an MP3.

Tell me about your earliest recollection of an enthusiasm for dance?

I’m the perfect cliché when it comes to the early days of my dance life. It was my mother’s vinyl copy of Off the Wall that started it all. I left home at 15 to study at a classical ballet focused school, though I always knew I was not so interested in the convention and tradition of ballet. I’m too inquisitive for that kind of structure and regimen.

What do you do as a dancer – health diet, exercise and so on – to keep your body ‘prepped’ for dance?
I’m not typically concerned with traditional training anymore, I eat well and I practice yoga. I’m somewhat solitary when I enter performance season, it’s about energy conservation so meditation is important.

Amplification returns this month after debuting over a decade ago – tell me a little about the journey of Amplification since it first opened – has this season been updated or altered?

The Malthouse will be the perfectl setting for Amplification. It was performed at the Athenaeum in 1999, and with a few cast changes over the years, the current cast have been working together since 2004. Such is the nature of a work that spans a twelve year history. The most memorable experience of this work for me was a performance in Mongolia in which people arrived from the mountains on horseback to see us. We hooked turntables up to the engine of a bus as a generator, put on our costumes and danced on the side of a mountain.

From the UK and Europe, Asia and to the USA, it’s amazing that the work has been part of our lives for this long; it’s rare in the contemporary dance world to have the opportunity to revisit work in such a way. Amplification is a completely different work to the piece it was in 1999 and it is absolutely illuminating for us all to perform it every time.

How would you describe the choreography to someone who has never experienced contemporary dance before?

I recently watched an interview with Ballard, and loved the purity of his British accent saying “it was a carnival of limbs and torsos” when describing scenes in film inspired adaptations of his work. This is like Amplification. Dancers manipulate one another, it’s the thrashing, throwing, whipping, and manifest adrenalin that is frequently described in this work. It’s a wonderful microscopic look at this history of dance in this country.

Describe Amplification in seven words.
Intense, furious, modernist-sci-fi, epic, sublime, loud, timeless.

TICKETS: $21 – $49 + MIN BOOKING FEE $1.50
BOOKING INFO: / 9685 5111

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Brooke Stamp- INTERVIEWS

Brooke Stamp
Written by Paul Andrew   
Thursday, 17 March 2011 06:59

More than a decade after its premiere, BalletLab will this month revive Phillip Adam's acclaimed dance work Amplification as part of the 2011 Dance Massive. Using the car accident as metaphor for mental/physical disassociation, Amplification has a reputation for being provocative, chilling and confronting.

Multi award winning dancer and choreographer Brooke Stamp performed in the original 1999 production and again performs in this new version at the Malthouse Theatre. She talks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Brooke StampWe still use the expression 'train wreck' to discuss human havoc – yet it's cars that continue to kill and confound us. Your thoughts about this Brooke?
I personally have little connection to car culture beyond maybe questioning the ethical and environmental implications of our contemporary world in general, but I do think it’s strange. I tend to walk a lot, I like to hear, see, touch, smell and engage with the natural world as much as possible. Interestingly your question makes me think of times I’ve driven around Los Angeles, and how this experience epitomises the paradox of our time and environment. I recall the deeply psychedelic energy of the Californian landscape, the valleys, the ocean, the mystical desert surrounds, but it’s this paradise with its tone of heat and its pollution so thick you can’t breathe, it’s the horrific accidents and breakdowns, it’s speed and aggression that’s both as beautifully poignant as it is painfully absurd.

Actually cars to me are like science fiction entities that we cheat death in daily, we function with them on these giant man-made grids of rules and structures, lights, lines and tunnels, we demonstrate remarkable compliance to systems and order, yet a kink in the chain of concentration can mean imminent catastrophe. I’m not sure that Amplification so much comments on the ‘foolishness’ surrounding car culture, but it certainly points towards the potential chaos inherent in the psyche of human endeavour.

In the case of Amplification what resonates for me is the human body versus the fetishized nature of the car as object. The rawness and handsomeness of a menacing aluminium structure, the restless bass note of the engine, the feverish whirling of the wheels and the heat driven shrieks and squeals generated by burning rubber as they spin. It’s incredibly sexy. There’s perhaps a visceral fear response to loud engines and such, and somehow I draw this with me into the performance of this work. While I might cower at the invasiveness of the machine, the spirit of abandon and violence in the psychology of speed as it interrupts my private own utopia, I too perversely enjoy this phenomenon of invasion. Like the work Amplification invites us to, I find I want to be closer to the noise, I want to slow down and look at the shocking aftermath of the accident, feel horrified, be blinded by the flashing lights, experience the thrill of my own vulnerability. Being closer to the ‘train wreck’ or potential havoc is a perversion that is definitely harnessed in the work.

A car crash is also a powerful metaphor and not just for JG Ballard?
The crash, the breakdown, the apocalypse or even the unbridled speed at which the planet is rotating, all forge toward the sense of adrenaline in this work. It’s through life itself that human beings test what we don’t know, we tempt catastrophe, we’re always experimenting, curious to experience the limits of our control.

We might consider the crash of the mind or spirit, but it’s the physical body as it nears death, the ending before the beginning or the rebirth that I choose to examine in the psychology of the performance. Phillip talks about the microscopic look at the 1.6 seconds of impact slowed down, and in some ways for me I can assimilate this idea to the performance, and consider the impact or crash as a metaphor for existence itself. The universe, the burning out of a giant star, the possibility of a meteor hurtling toward us and demolishing the planet, and the hopeful glow of the aftermath before a new cycle is birthed. I have little interest in just dancing the beautiful design of choreography, it’s the question of how to ‘dance existence’ that drives me.

Lynton Carr’s use of Holst’s The Planets and of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring equally summons such grandiose notions. I think as dancers in the work we experience the poetic duality of our strength versus our limitation, and as human beings too, we live only within our known potential. Thankfully we can harness the gift of our subconscious to experience our unknown potential. I think It’s somewhat devastating that we can’t fly, breathe underwater, or become invisible etc. So, I think we make art, it’s all a giant metaphor.

The dancers simulate what type of car crash scenarios, feelings, emotions and human responses?
I’d have to say that true to Phillip’s choreographic language and the evolution of our practice over these years, Amplification doesn’t so much call for exploration or simulation of response, the action and the material manifests an authentic physical response, an inescapable charge if you will, and if emotion or intensity is observed by the audience then it’s because it’s actually happening in the dancer as they perform. It’s the sight of their bodies under actual duress that is both painful and mesmerizing.

AMPLIFICATIONI think there’s more a kind of sensory revelation of emotion, which feels just like aspects of the industrial noise records Lynton pulls into his turntable score sound. Bodies collide smash and press against each other, are tossed around and manipulated as though under the pressure of the full throttle, the speed and pump of the accelerator pedal and the hard core breaking before impact. I’d also add too that in Phillip’s fantasy, the foot at the accelerator would be immaculately encased in a brilliant Louboutin pump. Somewhere in the work’s subconscious there’s a Lynchian image of a beautiful long thigh wrapped in a classic Dior pencil skirt pressed against a black vinyl seat. Beyond the fantasy it’s the dancers manipulating each other, it’s the thrashing, throwing, whipping, and manifest adrenalin that is frequently described in this work. Phillip talks to us about the wild cheetah and its prey, the slow motion image of the beast as it captures, shreds, tares and nurtures its find.

The question is how much can the body take before it too crashes? Honestly in my experience with this piece it’s not uncommon that to come off stage in tears or in a physical state of shock after a solid performance. This is when the body has been exorcised, so that the emotional state inherently arises. We are literally experiencing the Crash.

The choreographic rigor and detail in this piece is of a time and of a genre that I believe Phillip harnessed in 1998/99, at the zeitgeist of a new cycle in Melbourne Dance making. He occasionally queries whether he really knew what he was doing during the creation of this work after his arrival back from a career in New York, but I feel that beyond his research at the Alfred Hospital Morgue, or of TAC Crash Test Dummy videos for example, Phillip works somewhat like Pollock at the canvas, he works very much from intuition and his own personal mythology. With Phillip, imagination and instinct reign supreme.

BalletLab's production of Amplification (choreography by Phillip Adams) plays at the CUB Malthouse, March 22- 26, 2011, as part of the 2011 Dance Massive.

Image credits:-
Top Right - Brooke Stamp
Bottom Right - Amplification. Photo - Jeff Busby

NEWer- Manufacturing Paradise- Trocadero Artspace- INTERVIEWS

Manufacturing Paradise

Matsuri Yamana- The Cloud- NEWer, Trocadero January 2011

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art launches it's NEW11 exhibition, showcasing what the gallery deems to be the best in Contemporary Art. Paul Andrew explores what exactly 'NEW' means.

It’s hard work constructing ‘Paradise’. Artist Dan Moynihan is juggling saws, hammers, nails, spotlights, fake palm trees and a skeleton right now while producing his latest install: The Warm Memorial: The Dan Moynihan Experience.

If you get the feeling the title of his work sounds something like the title for a seventies concept album you’re vaguely on track, Moynihan adores pop culture, film in particular. According to NEW11 Curator Hannah Mathews, Moynihan’s most vital artistic influences are largely cinematic: “heist films are his favourite.”

Mathews is clearly a fan of Moynihan’s brand of heist schlock, she enthusiastically recounts two of his most recent installations.

“ It’s all good clean fun with Dan, outdated humour, grand-dad style humour, a terrific Groucho Marx mask on a grand scale, and at the Hell Gallery in Richmond last year, a supermarket heist titled, In and Out, No Funny Business , a bunch of robbers sitting around in the supermarket drinking strawberry milk, rough sculptures made from crumpled newspaper and polystyrene foam dressed in heist gear, a parody of all those Pink Panther and Ocean Eleven films, the familiar phrase- get in, do the robbery, get out quick -for Dan, drinking strawberry milk during a heist is just plain common sense.”

Mathews has completed a number of successful residencies overseas since completing her curatorial studies at University of Melbourne in 2002 and was invited by ACCA mainstay and long-serving artistic director Juliana Engberg to curate NEW11 after contributing to ‘the curatorium’ for NEW10. On a serious note, careful not to mention actual figures, Mathews hints at just how lucrative these annual artist commissions are.

“The Balnaves Foundation fund these annual commissions, they are long- term supporters of the arts. Their commitment to the NEW exhibition series has enabled ambitious and exciting work to be made by some of Australia's most interesting artists. Based on the German kunsthalle model, ACCA has a strong commitment to commissioning new works. This partnership for NEW exhibtions is a good fit, some of the artists have themselves received grants from Arts Victoria, City of Melbourne, the Australia Council and WA's Department of Culture and the Arts. ACCA is also able to draw on support from its corporate sponsors too.”

For Moynihan, being selected to exhibit in NEW11 is simply an “extraordinary and stressful opportunity “, a rare chance to flex the imagination with a decent budget. Opportunity like this is not without its shortcomings, Moynihan is barely able to string words together while attempting a Herculean feat, fashioning a mountain of sand into his designated gallery recess while perfecting bright hot pink coloured paint just so for the walls.

When asked about an older work, a work recently acquired by a major collection; After the Laughter Comes the Tears, by the Museum for Old and New Art in Tasmania it was easier to chat.” It was a pair of movie seats sinking into a floating soiled carpet”, he says, “with a big popcorn container on its side spilling what’s left and exposing a hole in the bottom.”

We laugh. Relishing the pathos contained by this recent acquisition provides a cue for the curator about Moynihan’s latest install. “The colours are intense, psychedelic, like the packaging of that suntan lotion made from coconut oil that people used to splash all over- Reef Oil. Combine that image with bad movies, think Castaway, the atrocious Tom Hanks flick. He played a Fed Ex agent stranded on a tropical island after a plane crash. He fumbles for ways to survive. It’s a take on an old story, Robinson Crusoe [that] was written back in the 18th century.”

Opus opportunities aside, New exhibitions at ACCA have their share of critics- venting spleens about unnecessary celebrity, about excessive funding, about artists-as-spectacle, the dated modernist “newness” concept and the institutional chestnut- “ NEW, says who?”

In January, Trocadero –a popular ARI [ Artist Run initiative] in Footscray presents its own annual awards exhibition, NEWer highlighting recent visual arts graduates including artists like Matsuri Yamana who produce art by more humble means. Artist and Trocadero organiser, Anne Kucera explains, “ACCA's NEW series is certainly a reference point for these things and the gallery committee played on the idea of ‘new’ in its context of ‘unknown/known’. Being practicing artists ourselves we found that ACCA’s new shows tended to exhibit artists we already knew; artists we have seen exhibiting for years. It baffled us as to why the show was called ‘new’.

"To us, they weren’t new at all- great artists yes, but they weren’t ‘new on the scene’. Our sense of ‘newer’ was not necessarily artists who already fit the familiar Gertrude Contemporary Art Space curatorial styling or those who have already shown extensively in contemporary art spaces, no, we wanted to show ‘new’ work, unseen work, maybe even work that will be seen in ACCA’s NEW show in a few years time.”

Kucera adds that like Moynihan, RMIT Graduate sculptor Matsuri Yamana also creates ‘good clean fun’, immersive environments with a feel for paradise. “The sensibility of her work is beautiful. She made these amazing billowing clouds from cotton balls, wadding and chicken wire. She had a ladder which you could climb and then engulf your torso completely inside a cloud.”

While art debates continue, artists like Yamana and Moynihan get on with making installs that enthrall. Moynihan sums it up as such: “ Humour for me is the process of amusing myself, extending that to an audience via the installation can be tricky, being laughed with or laughed at doesn’t really bother me, a laugh is a laugh is a laugh.

‘How does Moses make his coffee; Hebrews it.’ That’s the stuff that inspires me. “

Dan Moynihan gets all 'Groucho Marx' in 2010 before creating 'Paradise'.

For more information about Trocadero including their annual NEWer Awards exhibition for recent art graduates;

NEW11- ON now
ACCA 12 March- 15 May




Sally Goldner, Sally's Story

With the Melbourne Queer Film Festival celebrating it's 21st anniversary this year, Paul Andrew explores its role on both the film festival circuit and in the wider community too.

In Laos and Thailand the term kaothey is used, for cultures living on the Indian sub continent the Hindi term is hijra, in the United States and Canada First Nation people use the word two –spirit, in Mexico, muxe. Polynesian cultures use terms like fa’asamoa or fa’afafini, indigenous communities in Australia embrace a slang word sistagirl, in the universal western idiom however, it’s transgender or trans.
It’s against this backdrop where some of the most fascinating films in this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival are set. Trans-gender activist Sally Goldner, is an eloquent speaker on politics and social change on the world stage and is herself, a compelling subject in one of this festival’s groundbreaking documentaries.
“Although I’ve been strongly involved in activism since 1998,” reveals Goldner, “it wasn’t abundantly clear until 2009, it [that activism] was my calling. I believe there was- to quote the title of Anthony Venn-Brown’s book; A Life of Unlearning- a lot of unlearning to do to clear away the barriers, to achieve a fuller connection between my soul and my daily activity. “

“In 2008, I worked with a person using the techniques known as the “cutting of the ties.” This involved clearing negative ties to family- with no harm done to them- no sticking pins in voodoo dolls. It helped break ties with values, especially security and financial safety belonging to my family- but not me. In 2009, being clear that some sort of “corporate career” was not the answer, I wasn’t sure what “was” me .  A conversation with a wise person in the polyamorous community - polyamory being multiple ethical relationships -was the clincher. He said what you do isn’t so much the key, so long as it’s in line with your values, [it was a ]light bulb moment. “
Last June Goldner was feted with the 2010 Activist of the Year award by the ALSO Foundation, Victoria’s peak body for recognizing human rights achievements for lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and intersex communities. And since her light bulb moment Goldner has devoted more energy to activism, continuing the pioneering work provided by Transgender Victoria since it formed in 1999.
Her role as radio presenter for Out Of The Pan on Community Radio Station 3CR is one  platform for her work.  “Out of the Pan is one of my favourite parts of the week.”, she says.”  I just love radio – the spontaneity. From a community perspective, the show has saved at least one trans person from a horrible fate, which is very humbling.  The show offers a voice to parts of the queer and similar communities who sometimes get ignored – trans, bisexual, polyamorous, BDSM ,those working in the sex industry who may be shunned because they don’t fit the “easily assimilated into mainstream” school of thought that has dominated supposedly queer thinking for the last 30-40 years.”
Conversation turns to history, to trans milestones. Goldner cites the August 1966  Compton Diner Riot in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco as the most vivid transgender activism flashpoint, “this was three summers before Stonewall, the so-called beginning of same sex social justice.” Goldner is frustrated and angered that transgender events are swept aside by the self-appointed history-keepers,” not to mention 1984-[in] South Australia -thank you Premier Don Dunstan- the first Australian jurisdiction to offer some form anti-discrimination protection for trans folk and in 2000,  Victoria, comprehensive trans protection.
It was at a series of national forums including TransDestinations 2008 and Health in Difference 2010 where Goldner met Crystal, another documentary subject in this year’s festival. Sistagirls by filmmakers Donna McCrumm and Andy Canny is a revealing portrait of a sistagirl community on the Tiwi islands seen through the eyes of award-winning indigenous photographer Bindi Cole.  Goldner describes Crystal and  Outblack activist Ron Johnson who died recently as “stalwarts, the embodiment of community, working with indigenous people from ground up, dealing with everything, basic survival skills to health care to social skills to suicide prevention. “
Festival Director Lisa Daniel is pleased by the groundswell of well-produced trans films being made.“ The MQFF has been relieved over the past few years to see a much greater variety of trans films like these doing the festival rounds,” she says.” The quality has vastly improved with the quantity, and rather than exclusively educational films that existed a few years ago, we're seeing a wide cross section of genres and story lines being explored. Fantastic documentaries, as well as excellent narratives that just happen to feature trans characters. These films are in their infancy in film industry terms, the trans community has to continue to get behind trans screenings much like their gay brothers did years ago. Putting your bum on festival seats is a really important way of letting the film industry know that there's an audience for quality transgender material.”

This year the Melbourne Queer Film Festival comes of age, 21 years and still screening films, “not bad for three part time staff and lots of volunteers”, jests Daniel in a moment of mirth. “Queer film festivals are still a very important part of our community,” maintains Daniel.” There is a sense of concern in the film festival community about illegal downloading, pay per view websites, video on demand and so forth, but I firmly believe that audiences still want to see good quality film in a festival environment, together.”
“Films like Transamerica, Brokeback Mountain, MILK and The Kids Are Alright are still few and far between, and whilst television is a more adventurous medium, film lags behind in depicting queer lives on the screen, queer film festivals are as important as they have ever been.”

Crystal, Sistagirl
Melbourne Queer Film Festival
Opens today 17 March 2011


Dir: Mark Andersson, Australia, 2011, video, 25min

Genre: Documentary
Identity: Trans
Self-proclaimed bi-sexual transgender Jewish cowgirl, Sally Goldner tells her story of self-discovery, as she navigates the gender path on the way to her 45th birthday. A coming-of-age tale and personal portrait of inspiring Melbourne transgendered woman Sally Goldner: activist, drummer, singer/songwriter, stand-up comic and radio DJ.

Dir: Donna McCrum & Andy Canny, Australia, 2010, video, 55min
Genre: Documentary
Identity: Trans

Award-winning Indigenous photographer Bindi Cole travels from her Melbourne home to the far north of Australia to document the beautiful transgender ‘Sistagirls’ of the Tiwi Islands. Sistagirl is a journey that defies existing stereotypes of what it means to be an indigenous Australian today. It’s also the story of Cole’s next attempt to artistically question what constitutes an Aboriginal identity.
Presented by The {also} Foundation

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine - INTERVIEWS

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine

Moreau the final weeks - NGV Curator International Art Laurie Benson speaks to Paul Andrew about the art and philosophy of Gustav Moreau before these delicious works are returned to Europe.

Laurie what was going through your mind as you unpacked these beautiful paintings and witnessed Moreau's works en masse?

For a curator this is undoubtedly the most thrilling part of any exhibition. I’ve seen grown curators and even directors moved to tears as rare and wonderful works are unpacked and placed on the walls of their own museums, especially if they have worked for four or five years to get them here.

There is also an element of terror as in the back of your mind is the lingering doubt whether the right choices of have been made and will the whole thing actually work as an exhibition. It’s the scary difference between theories, ideas and physical reality. Fortunately, as soon as you could see these wonderful things by Moreau, those doubts disappeared in a heartbeat.

Were there certain "aspects" contained in these works that astonished you ?

Even in the Moreau Museum, some of the pairings and groupings seen on the walls at the NGV can’t be made, so only here can you see firsthand clear examples illustrating his mind at work as he works towards his final painting. It is very rare that the artistic process can be seen so clearly as few artists kept their preliminary sketches and studies. You can see where in one drawing he is formulating the composition, in another he is refining details, and in some breathtaking paintings he is seeing how colours work.

The Sirens- tell me about this particular work, the mythology behind it, sirens along the rocks beckoning sailors to their death?

This is a really interesting group of works by Moreau. You are right, the Sirens were monsters written about in ancient Greek mythological who lived near the cliffs on an island called Sirenum. They were nymphs who through their beautiful and melodious singing would attract unwary sailors towards the rocky reefs of their island, to their ultimate doom.

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew are sailing past the Sirens during one of their quests and Odysseus wants to hear their song so he has his crew block their ears with wax while he is tied to mast. A rich blend of sexual torture, frustration and bondage. Luckily his plan worked and he survived the Siren’s song. For Moreau though he was more drawn to the power of these femmes fatale than the plight of Odysseus and they are usually the focus of his attention. He is also very interested in the notion of the beautiful monster.

What types of images of the feminine fascinated him?

He seemed drawn to powerful and dangerous women.

The combination of drama and sex fascinated him. So we see him treat biblical heroines and villains and other figures from history. But, he often had tremendous insight and understanding of their psyche and could express a degree of empathy or even sympathy with them. A great example is his treatment of the legendary beauty Helen of Troy.

She is usually demonised by artists and writers for causing the Trojan wars, but Moreau paints her as a victim who deeply mourns what has happened after Try has fallen and the Trojans massacred. Moreau has painted her as she realises the gravity of these events. However, she was actually unwittingly manipulated by the Gods who really sought and achieved the destruction of Troy.

They used the obsession the Trojan Prince Paris had for Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta, Menelaus to cause the war.

Did Moreau consider his work a collective paean, of sorts, a celebration of the classical, the mytholgical, or did he see his oeuvre as something else again, more mystical and esoteric?

Moreau deliberately set out to reinvigorate History painting, which was on the wane during his lifetime. He felt that artists were lacking a deep understanding of these traditional subjects and it was their inadequate and banal treatments of these stories that was at the root of their growing irrelevance to artists and society.

He felt there was still much to be learned from ancient narratives and the bible. As a teacher, he tried to drum into his students a respect for the old hierarchies of subject matter. Above all though, he wanted artists to express their own interpretation of the old stories in a way that would make them relevant to contemporary audiences.

That required a high degree of learning and comprehension, and it is that level of complexity and individuality lends itself to the interpretation of his work as “mystical”. I guess that this endeavour could seem to some people as esoteric, but he was above all a consummate communicator through his artistry.

That is why in his day he was admired by the establishment and the avant-garde artists who were railing against traditional art practice.

Do you feel Moreau was an artist interested in self-inquiry, his own inner feminine?
This sounds a bit Freudian. Most artists invest part of themselves in their work, and Moreau was no exception. But I doubt I’m qualified to judge whether through his admiration and fascination with women he was tapping into some innate feminine side.

Were his mythological references mainly Greco roman in motivation- or eastern too, Japanese, Indian/Persian and so on?

A key part of his endeavour to bring history painting back in vogue was to make it appear exotic though the adoption and interpretation of non western motifs and artistic styles.

He blew audiences away with the sumptuousness of his painting and his apparently limitless imagination. At one stage he was criticised for being a bit bland, so for a few years he hid away from public view, studied, worked hard and to a degree reinvented himself.

He made a triumphant return to public life with an extremely exotic painting using a wild combination of Classical, Indian and Persian motifs and decoration.

Moreau, his 'symbolism'- what did he want audiences to imagine in matters mystical and numinous?

I think above all he wanted people to understand what he was painting and be as moved as he was by the subjects he treated, and to think and reflect on what he created. He was sensitive to criticism and was upset when critics did not “get” what he was trying to do. He did not set out to be a “Symbolist” as such, but the literary and psychological depths in his work, combined with the sumptuousness of his style has led people to characterise him as a symbolist.

In reality he and his art defy such pigeon-holing, but later writers and artists latched on to these qualities in his work.


Moreau and Mythology- Free Floor Talks NGV

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine

Speakers Laurie Benson, Curator, International Art (Fri 18 Mar) & Sophie Mattiesson, Curator, International Art (25 Mar) 

Exhibtion closes April 10, 2011 


Gustave Moreau
French 1826–1898
The unicorns
oil on canvas
115.0 x 90.0 cm
Musée Gustave Moreau (Cat. 213)
© Photo RMN – René-Gabriel Ojéda

Gustave Moreau
French 1826–1898
The sirens
oil on canvas
89.0 x 118.0 cm
Musée Gustave Moreau (Inv. 13957)
© Photo RMN – Christian Jean

Friday, March 11, 2011

Paul Capsis - INTERVIEWS

Make Me A King | Paul Capsis
Written by Paul Andrew   
Friday, 11 March 2011 18:42

Make Me A King | Paul Capsis

After recording and releasing his latest torch-song collection last July Make Me a King, Paul Capsis did something unusual, rather than setting out to laud his talents, he “ignored” the new album completely.

Capsis’ confession unfolds two songs into the bluesy haze of this Famous Spiegeltent concert: “I went straight into the theatre instead, here in Melbourne, All About My Mother and Three Penny Opera“, the singer genuinely chuffed, relieved to be catching up with himself, crooning and contemplating his jazz-blues-gospel-rock repertoire, channeling a muse or three, paying homage to his own dearly departed, beguiling us with a song list that forms part of his biography.

Capsis is a talented raconteur, interlacing song with personal episodes, ditties nuanced with wit, polished self-deprecatory humour that his audiences adore. Shimmying, shuffling, circling the jazz trio, unable to find the narrative thread of stage musical memoir, confiding he is “drawing blanks a lot lately”, still possessed by the sojourn into mysticism that so recently enchanted him, “I’m still there, in India, the zone.”

With a bit of prompting from the crowd he is awakened from his eastern reverie into the here and now of smoky blue din on St Kilda Road, a warm autumnal night, a crowded attentive audience, reminded of the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas, who inspired both the mood and title for the album release and this, his belated series of concerts.

A gritty gospel rendition of Ruler of My Heart hints at Janis Joplin vibrato which is given full flight later in the evening, Move Over, an uplifting choice of cover to close a night of melodic, cascading introspections. In between opening and closing, Capsis dances and riffs effortlessly along the octave range.

For this writer the night was a Spiegel highlight, rhythms emanating from the jazz trio led by Alistair Spence and Capsis recollecting theatre, Spiegel- speakeasy style: “This song like the others on the album are from shows I have performed in over the years, this one is from a role I performed in the nineties, I was a young Turkish boy in a play called Playgrounds by Nick Enright,“ Capsis pausing, touched by a deep sadness, “this boy had an obsession with Barbara Streisand.” Capsis’ announcing his version of Cry Me A River causes sighs of sentiment from the audience, raptures post song. His enervating Feeling Good, exorcised darkness away, illuminating the waxing moon within and affirmed Capsis as a covers impresario.

Capsis in between bookends selected from his Make Me A King album, unpacking, mimicking, transmogrifying forebears, his tongue medium-like, an octave angel streaming the dead, Janis Joplin, Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone. Superb.

Make Me a King
Paul Capsis

Venue: The Famous Spiegeltent | the Arts Centre, Melbourne
Dates: 8 - 13 March, 2011
Time: 8:30pm
Tickets: $49, Conc $45
Bookings: 1300 182 183


Diva's Choice with Paul Capsis
Thursday 17 March, 10:30pm