Review of ‘Luminous Earth’ by Annika Romeyn (#canberra #arts)

On one side of Furneaux Street, people are bustling around the Canberra restaurants.  It’s about six o’clock in the evening, and people look like they are starting to unwind from the public servant grind.  What they don’t know is that on the other side of the road, just over the pedestrian crossing, there is a stunning exhibition of work produced by Canberran artist.  This seems to be par for course in Canberra: so many arts events going on right under the nose of people rushing somewhere else.

Which is a shame, because Annika Romeyn’s Luminous Earth exhibition is currently on show at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space and it is worth checking out.

For most of the pieces, Romeyn adapts geological ideas and structures through an extremely impressive display of skill.  A recurring idea of layers seems to emerge from these works.  There are the sedimentary layers of small rocks intricately detailed in drawings and watercolour stains.  There are the visual layers of mountains sketched as grand landscapes.  And, sitting somewhere between the extremes of the tiny and the massive, there are three stunningly beautiful pieces which could represent either and both.

These three pieces are worth going to see in their own right.  In one glance, they look like they could be the inside of uncut gems.  In the next, they look like they could be the inside of some glistening cave.  I had to check that they were just two-dimensional paintings — the use of light and colour makes them look and feel like they’re three-dimensional sculptures.  They are breathtaking.

The exhibition brings dead earth to life.  Cold rocks become warm and inviting as attention is drawn to the beautiful moments that we would perhaps just overlook in our rush to the restaurants on the other side of Furneaux Street.  Here are the beautiful things that could be beneath your feet.

For all of that, there’s a gap between the audience and the work that doesn’t seem to be overcome.  Each piece seems to reflect something that, in the untamed wild, captured Romeyn’s attention.  These feel like moments that she discovered at random, by chance, and now they’ve been captured in the individual pieces.  But that random, chance moment feels like it’s a private moment for the artist.

It’s something that seems to come about as a result of the pieces being in exhibition.  Although each individual piece works on its own, the impression of the works as a group makes you feel like you’re intruding on somebody’s alone time, like you’re invading somebody’s sanctum sanctorum.  The artist is alone with nature and you’re not respecting their privacy.  The space has become a shrine to the magnificence of introversion, and we’re parachuting in to gawp.

There’s also the problem that some of the pieces don’t seem to fit.  One in particular — a long strip of small pieces that includes some drawings of people — feels like it jumped in by mistake.  It doesn’t fit thematically with the others, focused more on the human than the mineral.  The way that some of the pieces are displayed also feels a bit sloppy; it’s a shame when the curatorial aspect of the exhibition isn’t as precise or detail-oriented as the pieces themselves.

But for those pieces that are transcendent — the pieces that seem to connect you directly with the grandiloquent private language of rocks — all of the little quibbles are immediately forgiven.  This is an exhibition worth seeing.

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Sun is cold and rain is hard… The neglected world of music criticism #arts

listen-out (1)

 

The terrifying image left was the still image advertisement for the Listen Out festival.  There has been a wave of cancellations and downsizing in the music festival world — perhaps not unreasonably given the ridiculous rate of growth we’d seen over the past decade.  Parklife was perhaps the largest festival for dance music in Australia but, in response to the realisation that we’d hit Peak Music Festival, it refashioned itself as the artistic, smaller, and ‘more intelligent’ Listen Out.

It was so artistic, small, and more intelligent that it even advertised itself in French.  French ballerinas.  Creepy, soul-eating, nightmare fuel, electro-tech French ballerinas.

It was so artistic, small, and more intelligent that police were able to seize $10k in drugs.

What is surprising is that the latter story continues to be the dominant lens through which most of the population interprets music festivals.  It’s a fun time in the blistering heat listening to a variety of different artists while being fenced in with Australia’s drug culture.

In other words, there seems to be tacit agreement that music festivals are not really art forms worth critiquing in any meaningful or intelligent sense.  There’s no discussion about their composition or construction.  There’s no analysis of the interaction between the shifting, nomadic audience, the transient performers, and the physical location of the entire ordeal.  There’s no interpretation of that which is being interpreted.

Which is weird.

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Have some sympathy, and some taste… Re-imagining the role of the critic (ping @childers_g) #arts #auspol

English: Canberra Centre City Walk entrance wi...

Despite having a fraction of the population, Canberrans consume art like a major city.  I’d heard the statistic before — Andrew Leigh uses it to make a fascinating argument about the value of community — but this time I was hearing it in a different context: Jack Waterford, editor-at-large of the Canberra Times, was framing a conversation about the role of the critic.  If Canberra has such an appetite for the arts, where are the critics?  What is their role?  How do they link artists to audiences?  And — perhaps most strangely — why does Canberra lose its critics to the larger cities, Melbourne and Sydney?

If you ever get the chance to hear Waterford talk, take up the opportunity.  Even when he’s dead wrong, he’s engaging and thought-provoking.  I’m still mulling over ideas and it’s now several hours since I saw him talk as part of a panel hosted by the Childers Forum here in Canberra: The Role of the Critic.

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Quick Post: Failure of the media to explore West Papua issue #auspol

I don’t have a position on the West Papua situation.

This is perhaps not that strange.  I am, by inclination, a person who tends not to have strong positions on things (except when it comes to abolishing of the States.  And bacon).  But I like to feel that I know enough of the various positions to ramble my way through my own indecisive thoughts.

It’s the role of opinion writers to provide this service to the broader public.  Their first duty is to give us the language so that we might discuss our own ideas and intuitions.

In the case of West Papua’s push for independence, the ideas aren’t being explored in a way which results in an informed debate.  Instead, it’s been explored through two important contexts.  First, news outlets like New Matilda have given a voice directly to the activists involved.  This gives a platform for the issue to be brought to broader attention, but doesn’t really give us any insight into how we should be thinking about the issue.  Second, the issue has been put through the lens of our asylum seeker debate.  A group of West Papuan activists fled to Australia seeking asylum but were redirected to Papua New Guinea as part of the asylum seeker arrangement we’ve got in place.  This resulted in further discussion of Australia’s asylum seeker policies but not of the West Papuan independence claims.

I once wrote about the privilege of not engaging with an issue.  We conservatives, as custodians of the status quo, can ‘win’ debates by simply refusing to engage.  ‘Good luck with your fringe debate, guys,’ we seem to say.  ‘We aren’t going to discuss the issue with you and, thus, starve your cause of oxygen.’

It feels like a similar thing is going on here.  Because our most influential opinion writers aren’t interested in broader issues, it’s almost as if the West Papuan question has vanished.  Starve it of oxygen.  Don’t let it become yet another problem between Indonesia and Australia.

Or it’s laziness.  The procedural history is complicated.  If you don’t discuss it, you don’t run the risk of saying something factually incorrect.

And yet there are important philosophical questions to be cracked here.  When should we support independence movements?  Each day on my cycle to work, I’d ride by the Tent Embassy here in Canberra which had a great big sign calling for an end to the colonial rule.  There are groups of activists who call for ‘Indigenous Australia’ to have independence from ‘White Australia’.  How do we evaluate these sorts of claims?

In political narrative, we like the idea of unity.  We federate.  We have unions.  We are a Commonwealth.  In popular culture, ‘separatist’ is usually synonymous with ‘terrorist’ or ‘that group of aliens who were working with Darth Sidious in the Star Wars prequels’.

To what extent should we see Indonesia through this lens?  Is a unified, strong Indonesia a good Indonesia?

Then there is the old chestnut about the link between Nation and Identity.  White societies tended to build strong nations because they had an almost uniform ethnic and cultural composition.  Nations which formed (or, perhaps more accurately, were formed) with various ethnicities and cultures have tended to struggle.  A dominant group got the organs of the State and then used them to purge the minorities.  To what extent should we view independence struggles through the idea that every cultural and ethnic group should have its own territory?

These are all thought bubbles into the ether.  I really don’t know.  But it does seem weird that these are questions that we’d expect our opinion writers to grapple and they appear to be dropping the ball.  What’s causing the apathy?

Trolling a city with @feed_the_chooks and @MylesPeterson #canberra #auspol

Linkbaaaaaaait.

I have now lived in Canberra for half a decade in several different houses.  Always northside.  Always northside.

A few months ago, notorious weirdo, Myles Peterson, wrote an article in the Courier Mail trolling Canberra.

Cashing in on the torrents of taxpayer cash flowing on to Canberra’s gold-paved streets, local retailers and supermarkets charge prices found only in South Yarra and Vaucluse. Low-paid Canberrans have been steadily priced out of the city. Students cannot afford to rent anywhere, often taking drastic measures just to put a roof over their head. Many visiting undergraduates flee long before completing first year.

Savvy former public servants have taken the exploitation to absurd, some would argue corrupt, levels. Government-owned land is selectively released to cartels of ex-bureaucrats, who then make out like bandits on-selling postage stamp-sized blocks to Canberra’s housing-desperate underclasses.

Links to the article swept around the Canberran networks along with the ‘corporate’ memory of who Myles Peterson was and why he was so notorious.  From the point of view of the Courier Mail, the article was a success: the page views must have skyrocketed.  People outside of Canberra would have read it and responded with outrage when it confirmed everything they secretly believed about Canberra.  People inside Canberra reacted with bemusement: several different people made quips about golden cocaine and cocaine gold, not having enough change on them for coffee due to all the hookers and blow, and being mindful of not scuffing the freshly gold-plated road.

Today’s trolling article in The Age by Martin McKenzie-Murray inspired a different response.  Without the absurdity of Peterson’s article, the response inside the circle has been hostility.  The article merely contends that Canberra is a bit less packed than Melbourne and Sydney.

On the day I moved to Canberra I was taken to the top of Mount Ainslie. From there you can view The Plan – the sight lines, the Parliamentary Triangle, the geometric symmetry. From there you could also see the empty boulevards and feel the crisp air. That cool wind didn’t just come from the Brindabella Ranges. There was a chilling vibe. Here was the ”unreality” of Canberra that Keating had described.

Nearly 100 years before, the city’s planner had wanted nothing less from his design than a revolution in our consciousness. Griffin described his plan for Canberra as ”[the best opportunity] so far afforded for an expression of the democratic civic ideal and for all that means in accessibility, freedom … and splendour”.

But what was splendid in the vision was sterile in the living. Griffin had designed a city that pre-empted the primacy of the car, which was both prophetic and pathetic. Instead of a tightly knit centre, six (now seven) small districts emerged, separated by vast space and ill-connected by public transport. Between these centres lies mandated green space, which is pretty for tourists but pushes locals apart, limits land availability and drives up property prices.

I use the word ‘hostility’, but it is less than that.  It’s more: ‘And what would you know?’

Canberra-bashing is easy and fun.  My younger sibling is a cabinet maker.  I am in awe of his ability to craft things.  It’s like an art and he’s good at it.  He lives in rural Victoria in a house he bought and is in the process of renovating.  He doesn’t understand the property market, but he thinks he can make some money through the renovations.  He gets his news from breakfast commercial television.  He struggles with reading, preferring to get audio books.

When I last saw him — and despite the family rule that people get into political conversations with me at their own peril — he decided to tell me that he thought the carbon tax was rubbish and that it would ruin the economy.  When I asked him to explain the carbon tax, he couldn’t.  When I walked him through the concept of externalities, he would agree that he shouldn’t have to pay for companies to pollute but then couldn’t link that idea to increasing the cost of pollution.

As a way out of the conversation, he bagged Canberra with the usual remark: ‘You guys just don’t understand what it’s like to live in the real world.’

Peterson’s and McKenzie-Murray’s articles use this same trope: Canberra is distant, unnatural, and a burden.  My brother was echoing this: he does a real job by building something but I don’t have a real job because it’s technical and theoretical.

Owen Dixon didn’t want to have a fixed location for the High Court in Canberra.  He felt that the Court should be as close to the people as possible (individual citizens being the primary unit of the legal system).  Parliament House was built in Canberra in order to separate it from individual States (States being the primary unit of the Commonwealth; not the people).  But the public service (and the swarm of people who shadow the public service) has always been the most distant.  Public servants are servants to the Minister.  Advisers are advisers to decision-makers.  Administrators are administering organisations.  The unreality arises from the abstraction, and Australians tend to distrust the thinkers.

The media is not interested in the hive of activity in Canberra, and so the public that it’s meant to serve never get to look in on the world.  Instead, they see it represented in satire, invective, and controversy.  For that reason, articles like those are troll-bait to confirm the prejudices of the Real World while trying to provoke some kind of reaction from the ivory city.

We built this city on rock and roll, but not television broadcasting

Mein Gott, I love my TiVo.

Back in the good old days of university, I was allowed to be an insomniac. It practically gave me an edge over the rest of you normal people who sleep. While you were snoozing away dreaming pleasant dreams, I was reading about mereological systems to replace set theory and why Carthage should be destroyed.

The other advantage was cult television. Egads, there was some terrible (but terribly fun) television on at ungodly o’clock. It was the lurking ground for poorly scripted SciFi — oh, and horrible (… no, just horrible) pr0n adverts. Sure, it was almost impossible to schedule your viewing pleasure because television stations got a bit lax in the wee hours. Farscape, for example, was usually scheduled for 2am. It rarely aired before 3. Not the Nine O’Clock News rather annoyingly cut to an episode of Keeping Up Appearances half way through an episode at 1am.

But now I have a real job. I can’t go for little naps in the afternoon. I can’t fall asleep at 7 and sleep to noon. I can’t do my work at 4 in the morning when I’m maximally productive.

Enter TiVo.

TiVo is like the nerdy, unemployed, insomniac, obsessive compulsive sibling you wish you had. You say: ‘I feel guilty for watching such utter dreck. If only I could watch the dreck when it suits me instead of when it suits the television station.’ And so it tapes it for you. Better yet, it works out all of your guilty little pleasures and tapes things that are sort of like them.

Admittedly, it falls down in this respect quite a lot with me. I watch documentaries and SciFi/Fantasy. TiVo thought that this meant I would like to watch Today Tonight and some weird ABC kids cartoon about a space dog… or something. On the other hand, it taped a lot of Babar without me telling it to. Yay, Babar. Keeping it vaguely right wing with its fables about dictatorial elephants (the symbol of the GOP).

But in this brave new world of multi-channel digital broadcasting, most of those cult shows are finding new homes in the waking hours. Stargate Atlantis (the show which finally shrugged off the ‘Americaaaaaaaaans iiiiiiiiiiin Spaaaaaaaaaace’ theme of Stargate: SG1) is screening on the brand spanking new 7TWO. 7TWO will also be home to Count Duckula and Dangermouse.

Or, at least, 7TWO would be airing these wonderful, high quality, and not-at-all-B-grade television programmes if they could be bothered to broadcast in Canberra. Yup, it’s the nation’s capital when it comes to politics, pr0n, and phireworks, but when it comes to getting the same sort of television as we get in Sydney or Melbourne… nope. For some batshit reason, Canberra is a ‘regional’ area. What cheek. We get fewer senators than the rest of Australia. We get less public transport than the rest of Australia. We have no foreign language bookshops. And how we miss out on B-grade science fiction.

So, yes. While the rest of Australia will be enjoying repeats of nobody’s favourite shows, Canberra will have to wait until January of next year.