Monday, July 30, 2012

John Waller - Visible Horizon - INTERVIEWS

John you have a new work for the Library Artspace and Airy show Visible Horizon, tell me about the work?

The new work is a short video piece, about a minute and a half long, titled Wall. The work was a response to the brief for the Visible Horizon exhibition which is an exchange exhibition between AIRY (Artist in Residence Yamanashi) and Fusetsu Gallery in Kofu, Japan, and the Library Artspace in Melbourne, Australia.

The curators, Kate Hill and Zoe Evershed had given us all a brief:

“A Visible Horizon is a place where the earth and sky meet. It is a universal concept that signifies the point at which time and space connect. Thinking about time can lead us to thinking about the future, and imagining what it may hold. Thinking about space can lead us to thinking about a far off land, and imagining this reality.

In this exhibition, we ask; what do Japanese contemporary artists imagine a far off place, Australia, to be like? What do Australian contemporary artists imagine Japan to be like? And collectively, what do Japanese and Australian Artists imagine the future to be like?”

I had recently visited the town in Scotland where my grandmother was born and had taken video footage of a wall around a church cemetery there. While ruminating on what to do for the exchange project I had been putting together a short video of a drive-through of the town to show my relatives at Christmas, when I came across the video footage of the wall. It struck me as the perfect start for a work for the exhibition. It responded to the brief, in terms of time and space and thinking about a far off land, but resisted it at the same time.

The sound track is constructed from some chanting sounds inspired by Gyuto monks, some silly sounds by me and some tinkly percussion sounds by Nat Grant, which she had given me on a previous occasion.

Perfect really.

How do you think this work relates to and fits into your recent video art practice?

I think the work relates to almost all of my past work. It is very similar to The River (2010), another video piece in which nothing really happens, and to Propeller (2009), a computer animation, again in which nothing much also happens. Though in Wall perhaps the “nothing really happens” is more accentuated. In the previous two works at least there was something moving to watch. Here the only saving grace is the sound track.

Visible Horizon is the line where the earth and the sky meet - tell me a little more about the intent behind this exhibition?

I think Kate was doing an artist in residency at AIRY, and the Library Artspace was keen on the idea of exchange exhibitions generally — and the rest followed from there.

Both exhibitions open on Friday 17 Feb. The Library Artspace exhibition continues until 10 March. At AIRY the show runs from 16 to 26 Feb, and at Fusetsu gallery it runs from 17 to 26 Feb.

Tell me about the installation space?

My work will be shown, along with another video work by Curtis Moyes, in a tea house adjoining Fusetsu Gallery. One other video work, by Zoe Eveshed, will be shown in another part of the Fusetsu Gallery. All other works will be show in the AIRY gallery.

On the Australian end, all the Japanese work will be shown at the Library Artspace, Melbourne.

Your observations of the exhibition at The LIbrary Artspace?

Curtis’ video piece involved video footage of lights shining on a wall (from passing traffic?) in darkened room in his house. The sound-track was ambient noise from passing traffic. The work was a lot like mine in a way, in that nothing really happens. However, his work was much more subtle than mine and really rather beautiful, where mine was more raw and perhaps a little obnoxious.

Zoe Evershed contributed a video consisting of what looked like negative video footage of hands in a shallow tub of water — hands touching or almost touching, talking about communication I think — really quite lyrical.

Anna Maria Pescia contributed a work made from cloth and paper and stitching, something about a ship afloat on a sea of paper — I only saw it half out of it’s packaging — continuing her ongoing romance with materials. That was all of the works I have seen from the Australian end.

In the Library are the works from Japan. Except for two video works all the works are supposed to be no bigger than A3 and no thicker than 1cm — works on paper, photographic works, a couple with hand or machine stitching, and etching/collage, a couple of artist books, a pair of works made from what looked like MDF or similar, etc. etc. One of the video works deals with a kind of popular exercise that is promoted by the government in Japan and the other is footage taken while walking down the street. Two cameras were used (maybe iPhones), one pointing forward, the other facing the rear so you can see where the artist had been. The final was mixed onto a split screen, so that you could see the forward shot and the backward shot at the same time.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Propaganda? - GOMA Curator Reuben Keehan - INTERVIEWS

Don't Believe The Hype

Politically motivated art gets an airing in GOMA exhibition Propaganda?. Curator Reuben Keehan discusses the medium and the message with Paul Andrew.

Gallery Of Modern Art curator Reuben Keehan is fondly recalling a childhood memory – “propaganda” broadcasting before him in lieu of regular children’s television programming.

“[It was] cartoons, strangely enough,” he reveals. “As a kid in the early ‘80s I remember Channel 9 screening some ‘50s or ‘60s Cold War-era odes to capitalism, how private control of industry led to wealth for everyone. Maybe they’d gotten mixed up with the Tom & Jerry and Wacky Races tapes, or maybe it was because the Cold War wasn’t quite over yet. I thought they were supposed to be educational until my dad walked in and said, ‘What the hell is this?’ Later I became a big fan of political caricatures in the news – if cartoons could be used for propaganda, they could also be used for satire.”

One of the centrepieces in the survey show of propaganda art is a set of banners by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi. “They are outstanding,” says Keehan. “Taring Padi having been working in Yogyakarta since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. They were quite important organisers during that period.

“The collective is very much focussed on grassroots activities with various minority groups, such as farmers and the rural poor, and they produce some really vibrant projects in vernacular forms such as street posters, comic books and T-shirts. We’re showing four huge banners that have been produced very cheaply as woodblock prints – a bit of an activist tradition – but they’re also extremely well accomplished, graphically sophisticated and visually captivating.”

So, how do we define “propaganda”?

“It’s a tricky question, actually, as my example of the Cold War cartoons perhaps demonstrates,” Keehan says. “It’s worth noting that the word ‘propaganda’ hasn’t always had negative connotations, that it simply meant spreading a message as far as possible, propagating it. In that sense it’s no different from what we now call public relations and publicity.”

The exhibition shifts from the most widely accepted definition of propaganda, which is that associated with totalitarian regimes – in this case the Socialist Realist-derived art of North Korea and cultural revolution-era China – to more contemporary takes on the idea. Work featured comes from artists such as the Luo Brothers, who show connections between traditional communist propaganda and the advertising culture of contemporary China, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, who shows cola ads, communist posters and wild-style graffiti jostling for attention in the streets of Vietnam.
You could argue that propaganda is as old as language itself, particularly when words or images are associated with communicating the value of one form of social organisation or another.  

In that sense, courtly or religious art and even mythical texts could be considered propagandist, at least to some degree. Its use in contemporary politics probably extends back to the European Enlightenment, when ideas of press freedom found various political factions starting their own newspapers and even commissioning artists to design and stage-manage mass spectacles. But just about every form of hegemony has sought legitimacy through art, music, literature and even sport.

“One of the key attributes of propaganda is its tendency to brush over some of the more monstrous aspects of an ideology. Its purpose is to sell the idea, not to unsettle people.“

Propaganda? runs until 21 October, Gallery Of Modern Art.
Paul Andrew
Time Off (Jul 18, 2012)


Where and how will these Taring Padi banner works hang in the exhibition and in what geographic or historical context ?
Formally they hang in a part of the exhibition concerned with print traditions in political art, which allow for easy reproducibility and mass exposure of various messages. Taring Padi’s work shows the clear influence of Socialist Realism, the official visual culture of Stalinism, with heroic figures paused in mid-action. But their composition is dense and non-linear, with an energy that is quite alien to totalitarian art, and their message is one of empowerment and mutual respect, rather than obedience of state ideology.

What is Propaganda exactly- and who decides if something is propaganda- how and when and where do they decide this, perhaps by way of reference citing two or three references from the exhibition?
It’s a tricky question, actually, as my example of the cold war cartoons perhaps demonstrates. It’s worth noting that the word “propaganda” hasn’t always had negative connotations, that it simply meant spreading a message as far as possible, propagating it. In that sense it’s no different from what we now call “public relations” and “publicity”. The exhibition shifts from the most widely accepted definition of propaganda, which is that associated with totalitarian regimes, in this case the Socialist Realist-derived art of North Korea and cultural revolution-era China, to more contemporary takes on the idea, such as the work of the Luo Brothers’, who show connections between traditional communist propaganda and the advertising culture of contemporary China, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, who shows cola ads, communist posters and wild-style graffiti jostling for attention in the streets of Vietnam. We’ve also looked at visual representations of Australian nationalism, through the critical work of artists like Dianne Jones, and Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont. Sometimes, propaganda can just be the work of passionate individuals expressing their frustration, as in Alfredo Jaar’s ‘Rwanda’ (2004) and Gordon Hookey’s ‘Defy’ (2010).

And what are some recent examples of propaganda, North Korea for example- tell me about the way artists represent the ideal/s?

State-sanctioned art in the DPRK is generally directed toward promoting the ideal of “juche” or the self-reliance of the North Korean state, which is primarily expressed through images of hard work and cooperation. Stylistically, the work draws on Soviet Socialist Realism, but it is inflected with local traditions, such as ink brush techniques and academic painting traditions left over from the Japanese occupation of Korea prior to World War II. The artists are particularly skilful and innovative – they need to be to make the work and its ideas attractive.

What are some of the most monstrous ideals portrayed in the exhibition?

One of the attributes of propaganda is its tendency to brush over some the more monstrous aspects of an ideology. Its purpose is to sell the idea, not to unsettle people. Sometimes it’s behind images of the greatest celebration that you find mass starvation and systematic abuses of human rights. Monstrous acts are usually only depicted critically, as in the example of John Heartfield’s brilliant anti-Nazi montages. One thing I love about Heartfield is that his images were so effective that he was just about the only major avant-garde artist in Germany not included in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition of  1937, which was itself a propaganda act by the Nazi’s intended to denigrate modernist art as brutal and inhuman. Heartfield’s work was just too powerful – they couldn’t dilute its message that they were the ones who were brutal and inhuman.

Tell me about the historical setting for this propaganda and what the image tries to convey and indeed waht you understand about the way the work was received interpreted and followed or of influence?

It’s really the social documentary work that is most interesting in this regard. The photographs of Li Zhensheng, for instance, documented his experiences of the cultural revolution in Harbin in China’s north-east. At the time, they were largely published in his local newspaper, for which he was a journalist. We’re included images of public rallies and performances in the exhibition, but there are also shots of denunciations, humiliations and executions. Yet these were considered in a positive light by the Chinese government of the time. It’s only with the passage of time that they begin to reveal the daily horror that period must have held for people. This is an instance of a propaganda becoming an important historical document. We can learn a lot from propaganda – it reveals so much about standards of social discourse in given societies at various times. Studying it can show those without a voice ways to be heard by broader publics. And it can make us think twice about the images and political messages we take for granted in our own lives.

Queensland went through a very long period of extreme right wing government in recent history- are there propaganda works from this dark period?

There are some terrific works critical of the Bjelke-Petersen era that we wanted to include but couldn’t for lack of space. But the posters produced by the Queensland Film and Dance Centre (now Griffith Artworks) were especially good, as was a lot of what 4ZZZ was doing at the time. 

Indonesia  est. 1998
Buruh bersatu (The workers unite) 2003
Woodcut print on canvas, open edition
242 x 122cm
Purchased 2010. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

TARING PADIIndonesia  est. 1998
Petani (The farmer) 2003
Woodcut print on canvas open edition
242 x 122cm
Purchased 2010. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Conor McPherson - INTERVIEWS

Written by Paul Andrew   (Archive Copy)
Tuesday, 05 June 2007 12:40
Conor McPhersonPhoto - Fionnuala McPherson

Dublin-born Conor McPherson is regarded as one of the UK’s leading playwrights. He exploded onto the world theatre scene in 1997 with the Royal Court premiere of The Weir, described by the Daily Telegraph as 'so good, you walk away feeling positively shaky'. For that production, he was awarded Most Promising Playwright from both London Critics Circle and London Evening Standard and in 1998 won an Olivier Award for Best New Play.

At the premiere of his 2004 play Shining City, the London Telegraph hailed him 'the finest dramatist of his generation' and the subsequent Broadway production in 2006 earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Play.

Last week the Australian premiere of Shining City opened in Melbourne presented by local company Hoy Polloy Theatre. In July Perth Theatre Company will present one of his earlier works, St Nicholas.

Paul Andrew interviewed Conor McPherson for Australian Stage and asked him about his inspiration as a playwright.

Conor way back whenever, who or what was a key catalyst for your plunge into playwriting?

When I read Death of a Salesman at the age of fifteen or sixteen, I knew there was something about playwriting that attracted me very much. I liked that it had to be concise enough to do its work in a limited time span, but had to quickly go very deep emotionally to have any effect. This appealed to me for some reason. Then when I was seventeen I read Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet and became fascinated by the use of every day language to create a poetic and visceral piece of art. I can trace the beginnings of my own decision to write a play to these two works.

Has Irish mythology inspired you as a writer?

My last play, The Seafarer is based on an old Irish story of the Devil arriving to play cards with a group of ne’er do wells on a stormy evening. I am more interested in folk tales rather than ‘myths’. I like the personal aspect of folk tales which seem to happen to real people as opposed to myths which seem to happen to super human ‘heroes’.

Is there a particular tale that lingers in your thoughts?

I am more interested in historical monuments like Newgrange, a 5,000 year old structure in County Meath in Ireland – older than the pyramids, older than Stonehenge. It is a burial chamber with an opening where the sun shines directly into the structure once a year - at dawn on the morning of the Winter solstice. This is so spiritual and mysterious, the sunlight entering the tomb after the darkest night of the year, and it’s mind boggling how the people who built it had such an understanding of astronomy and time.

You have studied philosophy. Do you feel you have a particular philosophical or moral take on our contemporary way of being?

Philosophy taught me to accept my own ignorance. Being ignorant means you are always learning – or at least trying to. My plays are simply pictures of the world as I encounter it. I try to generate the feeling of what it is like to be alive and knowing you will die – how confusing it is, how interesting, how painful, how beautiful, how funny, how tragic… there is no one message or feeling I am trying to convey.

Is that demonstrated in Shining City perhaps?

Shining City is about what it means to be haunted. By the past, by our regrets, by our wishes for the future, by the stupid things we do, by our own unfinished business.

Monologue has been one of your great joys, why?

I always enjoyed the speed at which a monologue can take you deep into the heart of somebody and its efficiency in bringing an audience somewhere special in the most simple way.

Who are the playwrights you admire most - and for which contribution's that they have made?

I find many playwrights interesting - as writers - because they work in such a constrained way. Everything they do has to be capable of being performed. I like playwrights who seem to struggle with the constraints, where the writer seems to wrestle with the form – Chekhov, Beckett, Tom Murphy.

What fascinates you about the phantasmic and metaphysical worlds?

The unknown is always more beautiful and intriguing than the known. Mystery gets the mind and heart racing.

Dublin is the backdrop - what is the nature and culture of the Dublin that you reveal to us?

Ireland is a young independent democracy, still coming to terms with its freedom. Freedom from poverty, oppression, darkness. It’s hard to be free because freedom entails responsibility. Responsibility requires strength. Strength requires confidence. Confidence requires security. Security requires freedom, and so on… Dublin is a place struggling to know itself, struggling to love itself.

Shining City is a departure from your monologue approach into the two hander. By way of some insight into backstory and method to the actual writing of this play, was this a conscious decision in writing the play - as a two hander - or did the characters reveal themselves to you through monologues at first, that you eventually interwove?

I don’t consciously choose a form. Stories dictate their form. The structure of Shining City reflects the story it is trying to tell, that’s all. The whole monologue thing was never a choice for me. I always just told the story in the simplest way I could. I don’t feel the urge to write any more monologues at the moment. I’m listening to more voices - I hope.

Who inspired the John character?
I don’t really know where the inspiration for John came from. There’s a lot of guilt there. So maybe from feelings of guilt…

And Ian - the therapist character?

Ian, for me, is a picture of the human condition as I saw it at that time. He doesn’t know where he has come from. He doesn’t know where he is going. He doesn’t know how to belong. He is trying to be a good person. He is searching for happiness. But he finds pain everywhere. He may be the bleakest character I’ve ever drawn. He gives so little away. I feel sorry for him. He is absolutely paralysed, but still searches to move on.

Theatre can bring the ceremony and ritual back into our lives, what do you feel?

I completely agree. The ritual of theatre is beautiful. You arrive at the theatre. You get a buzz from being in a crowd. The lights go down, everything goes quiet. The audience have to concentrate to follow the story. They communicate with each other by laughing. They laugh at ordinary things to show recognition. They laugh at extraordinary things to show delight. If the play is really good, and really well performed, they become absorbed into the world of the play. At the end of the play, they clap to physically wake themselves up from the dream-state of the play. It’s a very ancient and perhaps underestimated experience.

Which contemporary playwrights do you keep an eye on today?

I suppose I keep an eye on anything that’s new and interesting. Enda Walsh is an interesting contemporary Irish playwright. Joe Penhall is an interesting contemporary British playwright. There are loads of others. I usually have some idea of what’s going on.

What are you writing right now?

Right now I am working on a low-budget movie that will be shot in Ireland in Spring ’08. I’m also trying to write a new play, but don’t know where it will be performed (or if it will be good enough!) I’m also preparing to direct my play The Seafarer on Broadway. We did it last year at London’s National Theatre and it went really well. So hopefully I can put it back together in a half-decent fashion.

Hoy Polloy presents Shining City by Conor McPherson - until 16 June 2007.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Maeliosa Stafford - The Seafarer - INTERVIEWS

Hope & Redemption

Actor/director Maeliosa Stafford is considered an expert in the work of celebrated "Irish" playwright Martin McDonough. However this month it’s compatriot Conor McPherson who receives Stafford’s distinctive ‘Blarney Stone’ touch. Paul Andrew speaks with Stafford about all things Anglo-Celtic and the darkest side of the male psyche.

“My parents were involved in the theatre so I had been introduced to its spell from as far back as I can remember,” reveals Maeliosa Stafford. “They took me to see a touring production by Scotland’s 784 Theatre Company when they came to Galway in the early 1970s. The show was called The Cheviot, The Stag, & The Black Black Oil, a lightning tour of the history of Scotland from the decimation resulting from the Highland clearances to the [then] current exploitation of the country’s wealth and natural resources.”

Stafford’s own theatre career began at a very young age due largely to his parent’s involvement with ‘An Taibhdhearc’ (pronounced-ON TYVE YARK), a small Gaelic-speaking company in Galway. “I acted in my university drama soc and from there I was seen by a few of the members of the fledgling Druid Company, who asked me to join them in 1977. Under the inspirational Garry Hynes it just went on from there and the link has never been broken. It was a Druid tour in 1987 that first brought me here to Australia.”

In Australia, Stafford is well-known for his collaborations with John O‘Hare and Patrick Dickson in O’Punksky’s Theatre, a company versed in presenting the darker side of the heroic male. “Yes, it was on 1990 I directed Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme, a searing anti-war play that seemed to touch the Australian psyche. A group of young actors – all male twenty-thirtysomethings – who decided to stick together and keep going. We produced Little Malcolm & His Struggle Against The Eunuchs. As ex-pat Irish, English and Scottish we were drawn to plays that reflected our existence in an environment that was either striving to forge an Australian theatrical identity or doing second best representing European/British/Irish cultures; that is, our stories. At least that’s what we felt at the time.”

It was this passion for stories of ‘The Old Country’ that saw Stafford invited to play Richard in the hugely successful Abbey production of The Seafarer in 2008 and again in its revivals in 2009 and 2010. “It was directed by Conor McPherson and I had a hell of an experience and a bit of an epiphany. It was, however, a really satisfying journey and I sought for three years to get the rights for O’Punksky’s for the Australian premiere. I was drawn by so many aspects of Conor’s creative mind, particularly his raw honesty. His characters are so brutal and so vulnerable. They have deep insecurities about most things in life and seem to lash out at the world when unable to cope or face its pressures.

“Buried deep is a sense of care and compassion for each other when they’re really tested. McPherson’s writing is superbly insightful, and truly understands despair, violence, addiction and fear in the world of the male-in-crisis. He offers humour as part of the solution, but above all, he offers hope and redemption.”

The Seafarer runs from Wednesday 18 July until 12 August, Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

Paul Andrew
Drum (Jul 10, 2012)

Q & A - Maeliosa Stafford..more..

For the benefit of younger readers can you expand on this potted history of O'Punksky’s Theatre?

In 1990 I directed ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme’ a searing anti war play that seemed to touch the Australian psyche.  A group of young actors who happened to be all male 20-30 somethings decided to stick together and keep going.  We produced ‘Little Malcolm and his Struggle against the Eunuchs’. We were all ex pat Irish, English and Scottish and were drawn to plays that reflected our existence in an environment that was either striving to forge an Australian theatrical identity or doing second best representing European/British/Irish OUR  stories.

At least thats what we felt.There was a flurry of activity in the early nineties with founder members John O Hare and Patrick Dickson keeping the dream alive while I went back to run Druid for 4 years. This resulted in ‘Slab Boys’, ‘Blue remembered Hills’ ( with a very young Richard Roxburgh and an even younger David Wenham) and ‘Carthaginians. The older original members re-united for ‘ Faith Healer’ and ‘The Gigli Concert’ in the late nineties. There were other productions of course and many wonderful women joined the ranks and ‘Bailegangaire’ was produced in 2000 at the Seymour. This suggests that our ‘all male’ history is really a bit of a myth. But here we are again with an all male cast and three of its founding members on board again.

The underbelly of the male psyche seems to a recurring theme for O'Punksky's-?

It was never a conscious decision, but on reflection we were undoubtedly drawn to this kind of material. .....Young men at war and the question of sacrifice. The Myth of Heroism examined in the harsh light of needless sacrifice in the trenches of WW1 had a direct and immediate connection with the entire cast. Each and every one of us had a direct family connection with this horrific conflict. It was an enormous learning curve in terms of issues we never really reflected on. We became obsessed and I think we discovered another side to the mantra...’Lest We Forget’. I think it brought a new level of understanding to us as young men who never had to go to war. 

Then in ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ we got the opportunity to go back to childhood again and re examine the things that shape us and mark us forever. ‘Faith Healer’ examined the breakdown of faith in oneself which is a common existential crisis. We probed this further in ‘The Gigli Concert’. Finally ‘The Seafarer’ is bringing us together in our present stage of growth as 50 something’s and examining the fallout of lives going to seed in a harsh and lonely environment

The 2008 Broadway production of the play made both the public and theatre pundits notice both McPherson's direction and playwriting- do you think this represented a big turning point in McPherson's career- if so how so?

The Weir had forged the way and shown what a great talent he was as both a writer and storyteller. I saw it in London and on Broadway back in 1997/1999. I was performing in the Martin McDonagh trilogy and by co-incidence both productions played in London and NY at the same time. I think ‘The Seafarer’ is a better and more mature play all round; and shows what he could do a decade later.

Tell me about your understanding/ story of how the playwright Conor McPherson adapted the old poem into a play? 

He didn’t adapt the poem into a play as such, but used the essence of the poem “The Seafarer” as a metaphor for his own image of hell, which was a cold one. “The Seafarer” was written circa 755 AD. It therefore preceded Dante and Milton as an epic poem which deals with themes of loss and redemption. The hell described here however is dark and icy cold, rather than the accepted metaphor of Fire and Pain.I think that the metaphor in “Seafarer” is more apt because the loss of one’s soul is far more believable through isolation and cold loneliness than an instant turning to ashes in the fires of hell.

Yes, The Seafarer has both a mythological and contemporary feel?

Today we suffer far more from isolation, loneliness and self doubt in a world that constantly moves forward at a pace that most of our middle generation can’t  keep up with. Maybe they are not actually equipped to do so.

 We mostly don’t twitter or even have a Facebook page for example, and are therefore already over the hill and past it according to some. We are already subtly on the outer......we age another ten years overnight. We smiled at our parents ‘eccentricites’  but we are already being laughed at.

Tell me a little about the stranger in the play?

He is all of us. He is our inner demon. He is human and Demonic at the same time. To say anymore would give away much of the play.

What does this play tell us about the darkest side of men ?

We all have light and shade. We all have potential. Sometimes when we don’t realise that potential and we can succumb to a protective/defensive way of survival or we can lash out. I am not a scientist but Darwin did show us that in the Animal world, brute force brought about not only survival of the strongest but reward in the food and procreation chain. There are a few links in the DNA chain that still remain in modern Man unfortunately.

Do the characters inhabit their inner feminine?

I think the characters do not inhabit their inner feminine at all. They are bound by the rules of their world, which is all male and mostly bravado. But then the play is a search......and it is Christmas Eve.....

Ever since Taoism there are many who say that the underbelly of the male psyche is the feminine- what are your thoughts about this?

Ying and Yang, Beauty and the Beast etc......of course!  Of course there are some less enlightened Women around today who can’t figure why we men need to go to the pub sometimes and just get drunk for the sake of it......or get rowdy at a football match.

The funniest thing that has happened during rehearsals- tell me about this in some detail?

I am playing the blind character Richard and a lot of laughs have ensued from my attempt to remain true to that state of awareness as I am also the director and am supposed to SEE everything. Someone might hold a glass of whiskey in front of me and expect me to grab it, but as I can’t SEE it, I tend to ignore it until the actor grabs my hand and wraps it around the glass. This can be very funny in the working out stage both for the ‘sighted’ and the ‘blind’ with ad lib lines added to make the point. Here Richard!...... Where?!..... Here!.... Where?!... Oh ya sorry...The payback comes of course when I try to make a Director’s observation such as... ‘I can see you trying to make contact in that beat....’ ‘How could you ya bastard I thought you were blind....’ etc.

It lightens the load. Stage management and actors alike have all tuned into these moments when light relief is necessary.

Ron White - "Not So Lazy" US Comedian here in August - INTERVIEWS

Ron White doesn’t do “topical or political humour”, but he does do whiskey. Paul Andrew speaks to the Stateside funnyman famously known as “Tater Salad”.

When US Comedian Ron White was a kid growing up in Fritch, Texas, learning difficulties like ADHD and dyslexia weren’t being diagnosed and managed as they are today. Doctors and specialists dismissed children like White as “profoundly lazy and stupid.”

“Yes, I was very frustrated as a child,” he admits, “but I got by. I was lucky enough to be a good storyteller and could make a story about a car wreck funny. My brain just processes information differently. It functions at a high level – just not all of the time. Sometimes the synapses don’t connect.”

The subject of early childhood and brain synapses came up during the conversation as we delved the origins of White’s comedy writing some 35 years ago. White was 20 at the time and a recovering alcoholic. “I’d been in the Navy for a few years and ended up with a pretty respectable drug problem,” he admits. “When I left the Navy I went along to a drug and alcohol rehab program and got a gig touring high schools talking about my problems and about my road to recovery."

“I always found it very easy to speak in front of people, to groups – as a kid too – and I also found it really easy to talk about how I got off-centre in my life. These talks were funny for the high school students; every incident I recounted about my own life made kids all across the country belly raw. In fact my talks were so funny they asked me to leave the education program forever. I began drinking again.”

It was a close friend and colleague of White’s at a window-making business who pointed out the obvious. “My friend told me politely that there was an open-mic night each week at a local Comedy Club, The Funny Bone Comedy Club in Arlington Texas, and that I should go along. He told me my stories were much funnier than anyone he had ever seen there. So I went along, told my stories and am still telling stories almost thirty-six years and 10,000 live shows later.”

Later White “discovered” that self-medicating with pot helped his brain synapses to function better “to make connections were there were none before... Living in Southern California where pot is legalised makes this an easy remedy. It’s when you tour to the other states that it becomes a problem. Pot is a federal issue and raids happen in states where pot is still illegal. There is a serious drug problem in our country, stuff like Meth. Pot is an entirely different drug.

“Whiskey also helps. Whiskey gets the electrodes that don’t fire right to make the synapses fire. My wife Margo, a classically-trained opera singer – who has more talent in her little finger than I do in my entire body – has suggested yoga will help me too. ‘You can touch your toes can’t you Ron? Then you can do yoga,’ she advises me. I keep telling Margo the only way I can touch my toes is if someone cuts them off and hands them too me on a plate.”

You can see Ron White in action on Saturday 18 August at the Metro Theatre.

Paul Andrew
Drum (Jul 10, 2012)

The Batman Follies of 1929 - INTERVIEWS

Inside The Joker

Expecting an encounter with Russall Beattie of The Batman Follies, Paul Andrew instead is heckled by a man who bears a striking resemblance to The Joker.

Imagine it’s 1929 and you’re sitting in a plush and very crowded Art Deco club. You notice the glow of the incandescent footlights, the red velvet curtains on stage. The air is charged with anticipation, there is chinking of glasses; whisky sours, martinis and manhattans. “Who will it be up next?” asks the tall blonde sporting a satin flapper dress and a five o’clock shadow, “Cat Woman, Bat Girl and Two-Face. No, look at the fine bow-tie, and my, what a very big grin he has; yes, yes,” he/she sighs, “it’s The Joker.”

The Joker and his signature wide circus grin are sitting in a booth at The Vanguard chatting about The Batman Follies Of 1929 and that adrenalin-charged moment just before the red velvet curtain goes up. It’s a variety show with all the Batman regulars he tells me. The Joker snickers, there is a long devilish pause. “Imagine,” he continues while flourishing both hands, “that in 1929 Batman is not fighting crime but producing Follies-style extravaganzas, stage shows of extraordinary music, song and dance, a la Star Wars Burlesque. 
We adore popular culture.”

While relaying exact details about the musical styles of the follies from the theatrical direction to details about costumery, including the detailed leather masks made in Russia, the great bat wings that are hand-sewn, the Dandy suits and the heavy silent movie-style make-up, he intersperses the details with random asides. He calls loudly, emphatically, “NO spoilers.” So I veer clear of recounting the details he’s mentioned just now for the Drum column and continue with a different line of questioning, maybe, an exclusive inside story of The Joker.

It must be stressful being an archenemy? I enquire.

He doesn’t budge. Drat. His painted smile turns upwards at the corners. “Next question?” he cackles.

What’s your star sign?

“Fatty Arbuckle,” he winks.

Are you single? 

“Isn’t ever-yyy-one under the right cir-cum-stances?” The Joker snarls in an awful, nightmarish manner.

What do you look for in a love interest?

“Mmm, let me see,” he considers the question and runs his fingers through greasy black oiled hair. “Yes, someone with a unique flair for abuse and who owns at least one or more rubber chickens.”

How would you describe yourself on a dating site?

“Easy,” he replies earnestly. “Fun, outgoing, likes to laa-aaa-aaauuugh. That is, laugh.”

Do you have a good sense of humour?

“Well humour is like sex; as long as you’re having fun, no one else matters.”

What do you have to offer that special someone?

“The security that lies in the unpredictable and the excitement that lies in fear.”

The interview is going so terribly well that I decide to ask the most difficult Joker question of all. I compose myself. Okay. What do you admire in Batman?

He doesn’t even bat a painted eyelid.

“His height, I have always looked up to him.”

What do you loathe about Batman? 

“His height,” he growls low in his belly. “Batman has always looked down on me.”

Wednesday 13-Sunday 17 June, The Vanguard, Newtown.

Paul Andrew
Drum (Jun 12, 2012)

Pat Brassington - À Rebours - INTERVIEWS

Australian Artist Pat Brassington hails from a printmaking and photography background at the University of Tasmania. The artist is considered the foremost Australian practitioner in photomedia and is the subject of a large survey show opening this August as part of ACCA’s Influential Artist’s series.

“The 80s were heady times – ideologies were under the microscope and theories linked to the politics of representation were all pervasive. Perhaps I was revving up then in attempts to get off the ground”, reflects Brassington at a time when Postmodernism was the prevailing trend in cultural sphere and the idea that nothing was original anymore permeated western thought. She continues. “The notion that nothing is original any more is a conceit and that makes me melancholy! It’s still a very big world and there are vast terrains yet to be negotiated.”

We talk about the cusp of analogue and digital during the late 1980’s and how it felt at the time, the challenges at the brink of a new imaging age. “I felt Resistance for a time. The tide of digital imagery did not lap at my consciousness until the 90’s. Art practice often includes a good deal of musing, of untied thoughts and fanciful mental image concepts that are mostly little rehearsals that which will never reach the stage. Making requires thinking in material, a heuristic process of discovery and lots of dead ends. The evidence of a steam of thought is there to be pushed about in the hope of redemption until you click it off.”

“I was not particularly attracted to colour photography, I preferred working in black and white. But I recall vividly experimenting with hand-colouring black and white silver gelatine prints. Interestingly enough I found food colouring quite effective and relatively stable. And yes the artificiality or quirkiness of those hand tinted studio portrait photographs seduce me. I frequently continue to call on my archive of black and white negatives. These are scanned to a computer then via Photoshop I introduce colour. Yes, it’s akin to tinting and I do have a predilection for shades of redness. ‘Blood in the veins.”

Is there an early and influential memory of art or art making that continues to inform your work?

I’ve not forgotten coveting my friend’s huge box of Derwent colour pencils. I must have been around 7 or 8 years old. I was always hanging out waiting to be invited next-door. We would spend ages copying fashion sketches from women’s magazines.

I also remember playing with dirt. I mean modelling things from mud.

I was attracted to art from an early age but visceral interaction was generally limited to reproductions of paintings that occasionally popped up in popular magazines lying around the house, or the odd one or two printed reproductions of paintings that appeared on the walls of primary schools.

Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring was an image I remember well. There were only a couple of images gracing the walls at home and I recall being particularly disturbed by both of them. One was a post-card size reproduction of Holman-Hunt’s, The Light of the World- the Christ figure terrified me. A bogey-man I thought! The other was a large black and white print depicting a scene from ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ - the wounded and dead soldiers and horses alarmed me.

An early photographic memory?

My parents didn’t own a camera. But they did subscribe to the norm at that time which was to have family photographs taken at a commercial photographer’s studio or in the home. Most families valued photographs as a record of the years, a bit like the marks on the door-jam depicting their kids growth.

I think my awareness of ‘the photographic’ was mostly derived from the moving image. I was a Saturday matinee movie junky.

I have to say that I didn’t begin to appreciate still photography as an art form until I went to Art School.

I think it was Australian Arts writer Ashley Crawford dubbed you the foremost surrealist working with photomedia- what are your thoughts about this observation?

Commentary on my work invariably references Surrealism I think because collage is a dominant force in my work, and yes I’m oft quoted as having expressed interest in some of Freud’s concepts. And, yes I am interested in Surrealism amongst the pantheon of international contemporary art.

Your sense of belonging?

I’m here in Tasmania - I could say via force of circumstance - and ‘grounded’ but having said that belonging somewhere seems somewhat arbitrary to me.

Pat Brassington: À Rebours

As part of its Influential Australian Artist series, ACCA will present a survey of works by leading Australian photo-based artist Pat Brassington from August 11.

Pat Brassington was one of the first artists to recognize the potential of the digital format, and has used it to create an enormous body of work – images that are hauntingly beautiful, deeply psychological, and sometimes disturbing.

À Rebours brings together works from Brassington’s exceptional 30 year career, presented over a series of small rooms aimed to emphasise the unsettling domesticity and claustrophobic atmosphere in her images.  The exhibition title is inspired by the banned 1884 French novel of the same name, which in English translates as ‘against nature’ or ‘against the grain’. 

Brassington was born in 1942 in Tasmania, and studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art in the early eighties She has exhibited in a number of group exhibitions including Feminism never happened, IMA, Brisbane (2010), On Reason and Emotion, Biennale of Sydney (2004) and in solo exhibitions at Art One Gallery, Melbourne, Monash University Museum of Art and Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne.

Pat Brassington:  À Rebours
August 11 to 23 September 2012

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 111 Sturt Street, Southbank.
Gallery hours:  Tuesday-Friday 10am–5pm.  Weekends 11am-6pm.  Mondays by appointment.  Tel: 03 9697 9999.  Admission: Free.

IMAGE ABOVE: from Memory Au Rebours, 1989

First Published- INPRESS July 4