Is Love All We Need?

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#TravelEverywhereWithLove and Dogman

At the beginning of the week, I had to go into the city and because it has been a while, I took the opportunity to stroll through some of the streets and arcades I don’t normally visit and chanced upon a sculpture that looked vaguely familiar yet I hadn’t seen it before.

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Travel with Love is a global public art project that’s re-uniting the world. In the face of closing borders, it stands for keeping minds open and love flowing.

Gillie and Marc are creating interactive bronze sculptures featuring their iconic characters for leading cities across the world. When people see the familiar and beloved Rabbitwoman and Dogman in a city, they’ll know that they’re welcome there.

When I read the blurb, I remembered where I’d seen similar public art – in December 2017, walking along the St Kilda foreshore with visitors from England after showing them the little fairy penguins.

 As unlikely animal kingdom companions, the Rabbit and the Dog represent diversity and togetherness. Without a definitive race, religion, or culture, they symbolize all people as one.

A Case of Love At First Sight?

The artists, Gillie and Marc met on a film shoot in Hong Kong. Apparently, their differences should have been incompatibilities, but ‘their hearts said something else’. Seven days later they were married on the foothills of Mt Everest and are best friends and soulmates,  collaborating for over 25 years as artists.

They appear to be living proof that indeed ‘love is all you need’ and they are spreading that love by ensuring their art makes a powerful statement as a motivating force for compassion and conversation.

Sydney-based they have created these iconic hybrid characters, which are definitely eye-catching and I believe they do what all good public art should do – they start discussions.

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Dogman as paparazzi?

Two of the sculptures in St Kilda paid homage to well-known women:

  • Inspired by Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian efforts with conservation, education and women’s rights. Angelina RabbitgirlStronger than ever – stands tall and strong showing she’ll never give up.
  • Marilyn Monroe may be the world’s most recognisable sex symbol, but behind her twinkling eyes and dazzling smile was a fragile and fearful rabbit-like woman struggling to cope with her own fame. She was also one of the first celebrities to be honoured by the paparazzi. Happy Birthday Mr President highlights society’s obsession with celebrities in a fun and accessible way.

( Marilyn Rabbitgirl strikes that famous pose I wrote about when Bendigo Art Gallery hosted a giant Marilyn statue and exhibition a couple of years ago)

The third sculpture is of coffee mates a beloved motif in Gillie and Marc’s art. These coffee drinker friends warmly remind viewers of their first-morning coffee. Early Morning Coffee shows Dogman and Rabbitwoman peacefully enjoying a morning coffee.

It was loaned to three separate locations in Melbourne: Melbourne Emporium, 500 Bourke Street and St Kilda Pier.

St Kilda Pier bought the sculpture after their three-month loan period because the sculpture was so successful in bringing together the local community.

I don’t know whether Travel With Love will remain on St Collins but considering the current debate engulfing our parliament in recent days concerning refugee policy, I really hope so, because unlike our Federal Government’s attitude this sculpture encourages unity rather than enmity.

In response to the worldwide plight of refugees and immigrants, and changing border control policies, Travel with Love has been created as a stand for global unity. Connected by the public art project, each visitor (traveller and resident alike) will feel like next door neighbours.

…Rabbitwoman and Dogman tell the autobiographical tale of two opposites coming together to become best friends and soulmates. The Rabbit and the Dog, as unlikely animal-kingdom companions, represent diversity and acceptance through love.

Rabbitwoman and Dogman have a dream that all creatures, regardless of race, religion, or orientation can feel accepted and never be judged.

Dogman holds a magnificent red apple. In Chinese, the word for apple is ping. Ping also happens to be the word for peace –  a critical facet to the sculpture’s design.

2018, the Year of the Dog was going to be a year of good fortune, and the artwork aimed to engage existing community residents, while also attracting new visitors to this vibrant hub of multi-culturalism in Melbourne.

In Chinese tradition, when a dog enters a home it symbolizes the coming of good fortune. Dogs are loyal, clever and brave. Best friends to humans, they are known for having harmonious relationships with people from all walks of life and don’t discriminate against socio-economic status, race, religion, or orientation.

 “In the face of last year’s unstable global landscape, an apple signifying peace holds particular importance by spreading the message of diversity and acceptance for all beings… Gillie and I feel deeply connected to this representation, as all of our art is built upon the foundation of love and togetherness.

We combined the powerful image of Dogman with an apple in the hopes of inspiring the public to be brave in the pursuit of a better world. ”

Gillie and Marc

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Writers & Love

Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.

Iris Murdoch 1919-99: ‘The Sublime and the Good‘ in  Chicago Review 13 (1959) 

Most people experience love, without noticing that there is anything remarkable about it.

Boris Pasternak 1890-1960: Doctor Zhivago (1958)

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.

Ursula K. Le Guin 1929 – 2018: The Lathe of Heaven (1971)

You know very well that love is, above all, the gift of oneself!

Jean Anouilh 1910-1987: Ardèle (1949)

Romantic love is one of the great and popular themes for art, especially literature and screen and in our society, we even set aside a special day to remind us of the fact!

Love The Day
Mairi Neil

Valentine’s Day, a day for lovers
Mr or Mrs Hallmark tell me so.
A day for lovers under covers
Valentine’s Day? A day for lovers!
A day when you forsake all others
A day that costs a lot of dough
Valentine’s Day, a day for lovers
Mr or Mrs Hallmark tell me so!

Remembering Mum
Mairi Neil

I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration
I know you’d rather read than cook
I can see you sitting reading a book
Into another world with such a contented look
Did Dad envy the Mills and Boon destination?
I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration

But there is also love of country, place, objects, family, food, music, hobbies, sport, film, books, politics, pets … the list extensive… all can add profound meaning to life, be the inspiration for getting up in the morning, the reason for decision-making, and for daily satisfaction.

LOVE

  • a word, a feeling, a concept, a theme… love can be small, specific, detailed, contained within a personal circle or there can be the bigger picture – a love for humanity.

However, you experience love, I hope it involves tenderness and caring, perhaps duty and responsibility, resilience and loyalty, commitment, maybe even fun if it is something rather than someone.

No matter the interpretation or experience, I agree with Gillie and Marc that life is better with love, and kindness, especially when it comes to treating neighbours, immigrants, refugees and others marginalised.

We are lucky to have talented artists who can confront us with ideas, and councils, philanthropists, and communities prepared to invest in public art – whether it be sculpture, murals or other installations.

When I was in Irkutsk, Russia there was a whole park full of installations, many the embodiment of well-known rhymes and fairytales or figures from mythology.

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I loved this one based on the three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see, evil, speak no evil. A cultural icon originally from the east (Japan) and well-known in the west.

I remember a small brass ornament that always sat on the mantlepiece during my childhood and I know many people in my age group (aged pensioners unite!) will remember something similar.

I wrote a prose poem years ago in class when I gave the students an exercise based on ‘an object of significance’ from their childhood.

Three Wise Monkeys
Mairi Neil

Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru sit on the mantlepiece:
seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and speaking no evil.
A Japanese pictorial maxim transplanted to Scotland.
Brought home by a great uncle, a ship’s captain,
these wise monkeys an added admonishment
to a childhood steeped in Presbyterian rules.
Yet, the shadow of evil an unseen cloak –
we live in the tatters of World War Two.
Crowded cemeteries, buildings awaiting demolition,
food rationing… crippling austerity,
shattered families struggle to find meaning,
shudder if ambulance and police sirens wail.
Speak no evil an achievable rule perhaps
but hearing no evil more difficult
and what of seeing evil or evil seen?
The brass monkeys a cold and chilly weight
in my child’s hand… etching a mystic message
of rules, to chant in the playground.

In Yekaterinburg, Siberia there was a delightful animal orchestra near the arts precinct. They brought a smile to my face and like the fairytale park in Irkutsk presented a different image of a country often represented in the media by military statues and huge murals of revolutionary figures.

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I also loved this one of folk musicians in a park renowned for festivals and open-air concerts. having lived through the 70s and adoring Dylan and Donovan as well as Baez and Mitchell, this couple melted any language barriers.

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But perhaps my favourite piece of public art when I travelled was Wincher’s Stance by John Clinch (an apt name). It was named by Susan Ritchie and commissioned by Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive. Of course, it’s in Glasgow.

(In Scotland, winch is to kiss and cuddle. It also means to go out regularly with someone.)

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The emotion this couple radiates is recognisable to anyone who arrives or departs from those they love – it can be the joy of reunion, or ensuring a lasting impression.

It can be easy to walk past public art or grow accustomed to it or take it for granted so I’m glad I came across Dogman and reading the artist’s statement helped me reflect on its message.

Love may not be ‘all we need’ but caring for each other and recognising similarities rather than differences is a good start.  A big thank you to the many public art installations that encourage reflection and conversation!

 

When counting blessings, friends must be high on your list!

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Coco Chanel apparently said, ‘Nature gives you the face you have at 20. Life shapes the face you have at 30, but at 50 you get the face you deserve.’

If we sulked or made a funny or unpleasant face, my Mum used to warn, ‘the wind will change and you’ll stay like that.’ Both my parents championed smiling and politeness and modelled being friendly and pleasant.

‘You use more muscles to frown than smile’ is always a good comeback when someone looks glum, but there is no scientific proof behind the old saying!

“Scientists have studied the muscles needed for both facial expressions, and to do a small smile generally uses 10 muscles; a small frown uses 6. On average, a smile uses 12 and a frown 11. However, since humans tend to smile a lot, these muscles are stronger. A frown may be slightly more effort to produce just because we aren’t as used to using these muscles.”

Science Made Simple 

However, scientific proof or not, I’m sticking with smiles, politeness and kindness to people because I feel better when I do and following another piece of Mum advice, ‘civility costs nothing.’

My face – wrinkles et al – reflects life hasn’t been easy but there are plenty of laughter lines and when I meet up with friends there are usually smiles and laughter aplenty and I try and catch up with as many as possible during term breaks.

Spring In Melbourne Town 2018
(A hybrid Haibun)
Mairi Neil

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outside where U3A meet

Today, I won’t be grey and miserable
and definitely ‘not over the hill’
I’m meeting a friend of many years
several hours we’ll happily fill.

On way to the train
U3A club gathering
‘Nice day for an outing!’

Dressed for mercurial Melbourne
sturdy shoes and light jackets,
sunglasses, lanyards with names,
backpacks and lunch in packets.

‘Join us?’ their chorus
prepared for fun and adventure
my kind of ageing…

On the train beside a Metro worker
who’s heading for Glenhuntly Station
we chat about insecure work and gender
driving a train once her inclination.

I’m on the bus now
Meet you under the clocks
C u soon’

A confirmation text received
we’ve embraced the digital age
but I open a book of poetry –
I prefer words written on the page.

Train stops Platform 10
30 steps to reach the street
ever mindful of heart health

Food court wafts hot chips, coffee and cake
September’s Showtime and school hols
Flinders station’s abuzz with children
plus seagull, sparrow and pigeon trolls.

Myki tapped lightly
eyes seek a waiting friend
welcome smiles and hug

Age hasn’t happened all at once
however, we stroll not stride, to NGV
with hours to enjoy art and beauty
top priorities a pee and a cup of tea!

A young girl walks by
her straw hat embroidered –
the word – ‘paradise

Indeed! Melbourne – the world’s most liveable city.

Old friends are gold

Uma and I go back forty years BC (before children) and have encountered storms and defeats; sunny days and triumphs. Recently, retired from full-time work Uma is recovering from a serious back operation. I’m a few years older, almost retired from part-time work – four months to go – but who is counting!

For a just celebrated 61st birthday, Uma received membership to the NGV and as we walked from Flinders Street Station, she extolled the advantages and virtues of access to talks, special events, behind the scene views, plus a membership lounge – our first stop for a complimentary cuppa.

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The famous glass ceiling at NGV

I love the NGV too – it is celebrating 50 years this year and I can remember it being built. In fact, I can remember the obligatory school excursion where you got to lie on the floor and stare up at the magnificent and unusual leadlight glass ceiling.

There are always several special exhibitions at the NGV, plus their permanent collection. Uma’s input and knowledge from attending member lectures added to the richness of the day as we wandered through galleries discussing exhibits.

A recent talk about Nick Cave’s work: Sound Suit made her think differently about the pieces and how we perceive each other.

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Nick Cave makes sculptures that you can wear. These outfits cover the body and remove all traces of the wearer’s identity. When you are wearing a Soundsuit, no one can tell whether you are rich or poor, black or white, male or female…he created his Soundsuit series in an attempt to process his trauma associated with the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

…wearable sculptures act as symbols of endurance and a form of protection by obscuring all signs of the wearer’s race, gender, age, sexual identification and class…

made from everyday materials sourced largely from flea markets, including dyed human hair, plastic buttons, beads and feathers…joyous and spectacular…rattle and resonate when worn in performance.

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Both Uma and I were busy mums in 1992, with our firstborns leaving Prep and our second children preparing for playgroup and three-year-old kindergarten. International events reported via radio or television and often delayed by hours but the 1992 LA riots unforgettable because at the same time Australia was facing the reality of the Stolen Generation stories and alarming statistics of Aboriginal deaths in custody.

I expressed my anger and fears at Readings By The Bay, the monthly poetry and story readings held by Mordialloc Writers’ Group:

Our Burning Shame
Mairi Neil 1992

Rodney King – who gave you that name?
A “king’ in a black skin…
some will see the irony
or is it okay as a surname.
Is your destiny entwined
with that other dreamer?

The world watched in horror
as they beat you to the ground…
on the ground
into the ground.
The gang of four with official batons
grasped tightly, wielded as if warriors
beating your head
beating your body
beating your legs

Pounding, pounding, pounding…
a steady funeral dirge
burying the myth racial equality is accepted

Middle-class liberals gasped
horrified at the naked truth
other victims sighed with relief
the truth at last revealed.
Those with the power to change
shrugged away the fuss

A picture is worth a thousand words
a video worth a thousand affidavits
television news beamed across the nation
worth a thousand protests
an opportune political decision
worth a thousand votes

Time dimmed the anger and horror
even brutes deserve a trial…
innocent until proven guilty
but will Nuremberg be revisited?
We waited for the sentence
believing we knew the judgement

A jury without black faces
proved society is controlled
by red necks preferring white liars
who can live with red faces

Now Los Angeles burns –
along with our shame
those with real power
remain unchanged
Cosmetics mask ugly faces
waspish capitalists sting
again and again and again…

Shocked Australians are horrified
yet reality reveals our guilt
smugness shattered
when black deaths in custody
inspire jokes

Our custodians of the law
don’t need lessons in brutality
we watched the scenes in LA
but closed minds
can be switched off
just like television sets

Will our cities burn
today…
tomorrow…
next week…

Now, of course, the time delay is only seconds. The 24Hour media cycle (circus?) barely gives us time to digest, never mind process, events. There are social media platforms and mobile devices offering no escape or relief, and ironically, the reality of ‘fake’ news.

After almost three decades I have to pause, reflect, and ask how much have attitudes and behaviour changed?

Will the wider dissemination of news and events via the Internet make people seek further knowledge, see a different perspective, consider a change in behaviour or attitude – or will it just cement their own truth and beliefs?

Across the room beside Sound Suits is Amelia Falling by Hank Willis Thomas, a most effective photographic image on a mirror and depicting Alabama 1965 – I remember that too almost three decades before the LA Riots! :

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Amelia Falling is derived from an archival photograph taken by photojournalist Spider Martin during the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama in 1965…

… civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson being carried by fellow marchers after having been gassed and beaten by State Troopers during what was intended to be a peaceful protest…

Willis Thomas states, ‘In a lot of my work I ask the viewer not to be passive but to actually think about active participation’.

 

What artwork will the Trump era produce – chronicle our despair, facilitate change or confront our shame?

Trumpeting Limericks To Let Off Steam

Mairi Neil, 2016

There once was a candidate Trump
elected by those who took hump
at moneyed elites
according to tweets
by Trump’s collective misogynist clump

He blew bigots up like a bicycle pump
‘deplorables’ swelled to a poisonous lump
forget about facts
diplomacy or tact
winning is all that matters to Trump

As the President-elect Donald Trump
sneered at women considered plump
his unleashed tongue
grotesque insults flung
Trump’s misogyny a cancerous lump

His presidency corrupt at the core
means the United States no more
anger and hate
an uncertain fate
Trump’s only about settling a score

He campaigned with deceit and lies
winning the penultimate prize
of course, he’s a fool
others actually rule
will the majority avert their eyes?

From Mexican artist Joaquin Segura we have Exercises on selective mutism, 2012:

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In this piece the artist has recovered a found object – a canvas banner discarded in the aftermath of a protest in Mexico City – and transformed it into a minimalist sculpture by applying layers of white paint to its surface. 

The attempt to cover up (literally ‘whitewash’) the banner’s political message is key to the work’s meaning… about efforts to silence, and render invisible, dissent – through omission, spreading misinformation and erasure – and a questioning of conceptual art’s potential to make political claims or to challenge authority.

I love writing Found Poetry and the last lesson for the term in my Writing Creatively class was exploring Found Poetry by reading a column in the local paper which collates local news snippets from a hundred years ago.

The exercise was challenging but productive and I hope the students polish the variety of poems they wrote.

Art can Confront, Challenge, move us from our Comfort Zone

Several other installations prompted discussions on a host of current media topics and various events we’d lived through.

Baby boomers have survived tumultuous, exciting times and have adapted to incredible change, especially the rise of the digital world. I’m glad there is still support for art you can touch, walk around, relate to and experience in real time, not just on screen.

Melbourne is rich with events to attend, particularly during holiday times and I never tire of the trip to the city – as a teacher of creative writing, particularly Life Stories & Legacies, cultural experiences and exhibitions offer a mine of information and material for lessons and ideas to write about, plus triggers for personal memories.

When we write about our past, it’s easy to look at memories as if through a fixed lens. Events and people, including self, coldly observed – especially childhood – embarrassments, failings, mistakes, sometimes enlarged or erased with hindsight, successes perhaps forgotten or if unrecognised at the time, now embellished. The telescope pointed at childhood fixed, and often others not consulted, so the memory, reliable or otherwise, is our own.

The immediate past and middle years, early adulthood onwards not so clear to categorise or to talk about – marriage, parenthood, working life – may still have ongoing repercussions – more likely family, friends and fellow travellers, still alive even if not active participants in your life.

The memories may be raw and traumatic and still needing some distance before reflection.

Our childhood distant, but not the experiences of our own children and their effect on our lives still being worked through, as are decisions that may have affected our health:

  • abandoning regular sport or dancing,
  • quitting smoking,
  • alcohol use,
  • prescription medication,
  • middle-aged spread,
  • promotion at work,
  • redundancies,
  • reducing to part-time
  • or casual work,
  • divorce,
  • widowhood,
  • estrangement,
  • de facto relationships,
  • weddings,
  • grandchildren,
  • retirement,
  • relocation…

… so many experiences and turning points to be written freely or honestly, or perhaps censored with ramifications fully understood.

Shared experiences, Interviewing friends, a Memoir Writer’s fodder

At the NGV, along with discussing the contents of the galleries, Uma and I chatted and remembered events of our forty years friendship. We both are the product of the first wave of feminism and both have daughters who we raised accordingly, hoping they would not go through some of the sexism and inequality we faced.

Uma, as a woman of colour, born in Malaysia, a country with a long history and acculturation from British colonialism, recognises she adapted to Australian society with relative ease compared to other migrants but we agree the conversations around #blacklivesmatter and #metoo are relevant to Australia and long overdue.

Proud to be Feminist

“You’ll love the Guerrilla Girls: Portfolio Compleat,” said Uma as she guided me to the next gallery.

Guerrilla Girls exhibition confronts gender inequality particularly in the creative fields, and because myself and both daughters (a filmmaker and a stop-motion animator) work in creative fields, Uma wanted me to see it.

We found ourselves sharing insights about subtle and not so subtle discrimination in a world that unfortunately still sees power wielded by the privileged, and in western society, the privileged are overwhelmingly white and male.

Uma confided that at work in the public service, even when she was in charge, as the manager or ‘boss’, she sat in the front row at conferences or prominent positions at meetings to be seen and she consciously spoke a little louder to be heard – a woman of colour, she had two hurdles to jump!

Guerrilla Girls is a group of anonymous feminist artists and activists who call themselves ‘the conscience of the art world’. Their posters, billboards, books, videos and live lectures use facts, humour and bold visuals to expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world and popular culture.

The collective formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission to bring gender and racial equality into focus within the greater arts community. The members protect their individual identities by wearing gorilla masks during public appearances and by adopting names of deceased female icons such as Edmonia Lewis, Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo.

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guerrilla girls and homeless

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Uma pointed to number four on the list of advantages of being a woman artist.

‘You have another 20 years,’ she said with a grin…

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Many of the observations were witty and shocking but in today’s depressing political climate ‘stating the bloody obvious.

On the way to visit another special exhibition, we paused at random objects that caught our eye.

From ‘in your face’ feminism, to the eighteenth century, known for its enlightened philosophes (you’ll be forgiven for only knowing the names of the male intellectuals – Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Diderot, Hume…) because women were literally and figuratively trapped – in clothes that limited mobility, a society that denied rights and access to education:

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The fashionable ideal for women in the eighteenth century comprised voluminous dresses, open at the front to reveal matching stomachers and petticoats, tall powdered clouds of hair and pointed buckled shoes. Skirts were widened with hoops or panniers to create an exaggerated hourglass silhouette that emphasised the natural waistline.

This work is known as a robe a la francaise (or sack-back gown), distinguishable by its sack-back of loose pleating and front robings trimmed with lace that conveys the luxury and ostentation of the period.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, fashionable women’s shoes for the upper and middle classes followed a common form. Straight and narrow with a pointed toe and thick-waisted heel, most were made of rich silk fabric and often had decorative trimmings known as passamaneria. This pair features exquisite metal thread bobbin lace made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread, further edged by strips of braid work. The shoes do not buckle but are worn with the latchets overlapping at the front.

How did they function?

I loved Georgette Heyer’s Regency and Georgian novels as a teenager and imagined floating around in muslin and silk dresses – a visit to a museum would have given me a reality check!

The research required for good historical fiction is painstaking and often clothes play a huge part in whether the story is believable, even more so for screenwriting.

I visited so many museums and galleries when I travelled and often looked at the displays and pondered the hours of labour to make the material, dress and shoes.

My aunt was a tailoress and my older sister an amazing seamstress too, she quilts, embroiders and does all manner of creative needlework. I know the effort and time hand sewing takes – mind-boggling!

However, the men and women hunched in candlelight, in rooms with little or no ventilation, sewing these glamorous gowns earned a pittance and history did not even record their names…

A Stitch in Time (a villanelle)
Mairi Neil

She sits sewing by dim lamplight
embroidered threads by her side
contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

In the stillness of evening light
needle and thread silently glide,
as she sits sewing by pale moonlight.

Cross-stitches, pattern small and tight
new techniques taken in her stride
contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

Her creativity in wondrous flight
imagination flows like the tide
as she sits sewing by candlelight.

Machines embraced despite Luddites
mass production becomes her guide
contentment gone, eyes no longer bright

History records seamstresses’ plight
workers stripped of all but pride
many still struggle in shadowed light
exploited, sad, eyes no longer bright.

A Day For All Things Domestic?

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Curry 2006 by Subodh Gupta

Uma was thrilled to come across an installation by an Indian born artist Subodh Gupta called Curry.

A wall displaying the various utensils used for cooking reminded Uma of growing up in Malaysia and observing her grandmother cooking. There were certain types of pots and pans, spoons and ladles found in every Indian household.

The tiffin boxes brought back memories for me too.

I first heard about tiffins and saw one when John and I became close friends with a workmate, Peter Cordeux who had been born and brought up in India as part of the British Army community.

Whenever we had parties, Peter and his wife Kathy brought a tiffin box filled with delicious curries and rice, which Peter always jokingly claimed he made.

Peter died in 2008, but his stories of growing up in India, holidaying in Pakistan and Afghanistan, being stationed in the Middle East, fighting in Malaya in 1948 during the “Insurgency,” and then the various jobs he had before migrating to Australia, including operating an ice cream van, introduced a whole new fascinating world.

His funny and serious tales reflected in those tiffin boxes! My girls loved their Uncle Peter and still miss him.

Cultural references resonate within the make-up of this artwork: the use of stainless steel in bowls, plates and cups is synonymous with the modernisation and economic development of India in the twentieth century.

Stainless steel replaced kansa (or bell metal, a brittle bronze featuring a high proportion of tin) in the 1950s and 1960s and came to transform the kitchen and eating utensils used in everyday life in India.

The nod to the multitudes of India is made in this work, where straightforward, comparatively small, individual elements are brought together at such a scale that they transcend their everyday nature.

A Writing Exercise

A common writing exercise for those writing family history or memoir is to look in cupboards and write about objects kept for sentimental reasons or as heirlooms. What is the story behind them? Why is it important to write their legacy?

Or write about and explain the value and attachment of everyday objects.

How were they acquired and is there a significant memory attached, like a birthday or anniversary, a travel story?

A trip to the NGV or the museum may help to trigger memories – this stainless steel display certainly did for me and Uma – as did the final special exhibition we walked through.

a stroll through coffee pots

A Modern Life: Tablewares 1930s – 1980s

If you want to date or explain the provenance of that treasured plate or teapot, visit the NGV before 27 January 2019. You’ll have an enjoyable history lesson too and perhaps discover that valuable piece of crockery a la Antique Roadshow!

The layout of some of the displays to mirror popular designs, I found a bit overwhelming and busy, but certainly stunning and there is a great range of designers. So much detail to produce the humble cup and saucer.

Nowadays, in trendy places, you can be offered a jam jar to drink from and your meal served on a wooden board – or even given disposable crockery and cutlery!

Not so in previous decades.

Following the Second World war, societal changes resulted in the decline of domestic servants and many women going out to work. These changes, along with the growing enthusiasm for a modern lifestyle, prompted manufacturers to produce dining wares that were versatile, easily cared for and able to go from the oven to the table.

Postwar optimism also encouraged the development of new tableware forms that were decorated in bold colours and modernist patterns.

This exhibition explores the growing engagement with modern design by commercial manufacturers charting the application of technical innovations in production and decorative techniques in pursuit of commercially competitive products.

Whilst focusing on ceramics, the exhibition also explores the use of new materials resulting from wartime technological advances including plastic, aluminium and stainless steel.

 

As we walked around the cabinets so many memories were triggered.  Personal family stories, especially memories of our mothers and the impact of their preferences, tastes and habits on our own behaviour shopping, cooking, serving meals.

Memories of setting up house in the 80s – scrounging furniture, crockery and utensils to build a home.

Uma was surprised to hear I’d worked in Johnson’s Pottery in the 70s – in fact all members of my family, apart from my young sister, worked in the Croydon factory, producing Australia’s best-known tableware.

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Mum on the pinning bench, Johnsons Pottery circa 1968

Dad was a kiln man for ten years, my mother worked on the pinning bench preparing the holders for the pottery to be fired, my brothers were kiln boys helping load and unload the kiln cars and clearing up debris, sorting and stacking; my sister worked in the decorating section and I inspected the finished products and also worked in the office during the traditional three-week Christmas shut-down period.

When the factory closed for maintenance, the only person running the office was Mr Stephen Johnson, the boss and owner before Wedgewood bought the company. Teenage me on university holidays was hired to answer the telephone and type letters.

At the time Johnsons negotiated special deals with shops like GJ Coles, David Jones and Myer – they chose a specific design that became their exclusive tableware. I took a call from the famous GJ Coles who was a personal friend of Mr Stephen’s and made afternoon tea for the many suited gentlemen who visited to seal agreements for the coming year. 

I can remember the fuss when Johnsons moved away from traditional whiteware and made their first stoneware as they tried to compete with imports from Japan.

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Japanese stoneware

Technology and mass production has made a lot of household items disposable but access to good quality tableware used to be prized – the first complete set of tableware for many being the traditional wedding present of a dinner set.

Most of my family, myself included, had a dinner set gifted as a wedding present. I have a couple of plates, the remnants of the wedding present to my grandparents and parents. Bone China still cherished and on show in cabinets in the homes of many of my generation.

John’s sister in England has a magnificent collection of blue and white pottery (Delftware) and Royal Albert and Royal Doulton Bone China, but the coffee sets and tableware in this exhibition very much examples of the everyday pieces that may not survive intact if their purpose and design enjoyed rather than displayed!

The bold colours of the 70s and 80s obvious and I’m sure similar pieces can be found in Opportunity shops as my generation declutter.

I don’t think young people today place the same value on many of the possessions older generations had to use a greater percentage of their disposable income to acquire.

I can recall seeing the famous blue Willow pattern for the first time when I came to Australia in 1962. We stayed with a cousin of Dad’s and that was the pattern of her everyday dishes. I fell in love with the oriental scenes, my imagination working overtime as usual because I’ve always had a fascination with China.

In the early days of living in Mordialloc, one of the retail chains had a sale of Blue Willow pattern crockery and I bought a set.

When the girls were young, they too ate their cereal from Willow-patterned bowls. I’ll have to ask them if the scenes had any impact on them – I’m pretty sure their answer will be no.

But perhaps in the future, looking back on their childhood or wandering through an art gallery or museum with a friend…

For Auld Lang Syne

I’m lucky to have several dear friends to enjoy the present and some have shared the immediate and not so distant past – the part of life we often struggle to write about in terms of memory and reflection.

Talking about shared experiences or interviewing friends about a particular event can help with perspective when the desire or in some cases, an urgency to record a life for family members or the general community arises.

There are three classes into which all the women past seventy that ever I knew were to be divided: 1. That dear old soul; 2. That old woman; 3. That old witch. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A couple of centuries have passed since Coleridge made that statement about ‘old women’. I’m heading towards seventy and some friends are there already and we’d all agree he got it wrong. 

We may still be fighting for gender equality, and ageism is a reality, but thankfully Coleridge and the other Romantic Poets with patriarchal and sexist views are only around in print and any modern poet expressing similar views will have to contend with shaming by Guerrilla Girls!

I loved my day out with Uma and look forward to catching up with other friends ‘of a certain age’ and intend to enjoy lots of the available activities in October as we celebrate how great it is to be a senior in Melbourne.

Songlines Exhibition Celebrates Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Culture in Kingston

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Entrance to Paola Balla’s exhibition

Today was the beginning of NAIDOC Week, celebrations held across Australia each July

to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The national NAIDOC theme for 2016 is: Songlines: The living narrative of our nation.

As Kingston Citizen of the Year, I was invited to attend the opening of a wonderful exhibition by the artist Paola Balla, a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman of the Day & Egan families, which is part of NAIDOC activities in Kingston.

Paola is of Italian and Chinese heritage and is a mother, artist, curator, writer, speaker, educator and cultural producer whose work includes developing Footscray Community Arts Centre’s Indigenous Cultural program, lecturer at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit, Victoria University, Senior Curator of the First Peoples’ Exhibition at Melbourne Museum and in 2015 curated Executed, honouring the freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener for the City of Melbourne.

Currently, Artist in Residence for Moondani Balluk, Victoria University, Paola is conducting research into trans-generational colonial trauma as a Creative Thesis PhD.

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Interpreting this year’s national NAIDOC theme of ‘Songlines: The living narrative of our nation’,  Paola presents a series of new photographic and site-specific works as a love letter of respect and awe to her Aboriginal family and the strong, beautiful women within it. There are paintings, photographs, poetry, sculpture and a slide show with country music audio – a veritable feast of creative talent! 

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Paola’s work is driven by a commitment to justice, addressing trans-generational colonial trauma, creating spaces for people to have ownership and voice through de-colonising practices and the assertion of sovereignty. She puts the gaze back on whiteness and colonisation by asserting her identity as a sovereign woman and as the descendant of matriarchs.

Her work addresses colonial injury and celebrates Aboriginal female beauty and strength.

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At her Artist Floor Talk on Saturday 16 July at 2pm, there will be a fantastic opportunity to learn about the artist’s Aboriginal heritage and her inspiration for the exhibition.

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Tamsin acknowledging Country with a series of canvas paintings in the background.

 

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The Mayor opening the exhibition

 

Mayor Tamsin Beardsley opened the NAIDOC celebrations acknowledging the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land. This is the seventh year running, Kingston Arts celebrates NAIDOC with a month-long program featuring a range of arts and cultural activities including :

Clock Tower Projections by Josh Muir INTEGRITY, LOYALTY, RESPECT: Screening nightly from Sunday 3 July, 6-9pm . Josh is a Melbourne-based multimedia artist and proud Yorta Yorta/ Gunditjmara man. He painted an illuminating picture of Aboriginal people of Victoria during Melbourne’s White Night celebrations and now his stunning artworks will be projected onto the Kingston City Hall Clock Tower.

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Tonight once it gets dark the passersby will be in for a treat!

 

The history and development of NAIDOC Week can be read here and a timeline downloaded and a full explanation of the theme Songlines: The living narrative of our nation

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are today using digital technologies and modern mediums to record and celebrate these ancient Songlines or dreaming stories.

Dreaming tracks crisscross Australia and trace the journeys of our ancestral spirits as they created the land, animals and lores. These dreaming tracks are sometimes called ‘Songlines’ as they record the travels of these ancestral spirits who ‘sung’ the land into life.

Songlines are intricate maps of land, sea and country. They describe travel and trade routes, the location of waterholes and the presence of food. In many cases, Songlines on the earth are mirrored by sky Songlines, which allowed people to navigate vast distances of this nation and its waters…

Aboriginal language groups are connected through the sharing of Songlines with each language group responsible for parts of a Songline.

Through songs, art, dance and ceremony, Torres Strait Islanders also maintain creation stories which celebrate their connection to land and sea. 

Songlines have been passed down for thousands of years and are central to the existence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are imperative to the preservation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices…

Through learning more about Songlines and how they connect people to Country and the Country to people – we celebrate the rich history and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures – the oldest continuing cultures on the planet.

 

 

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Paola with Kirsten Freeman and another member of the Kingston’s Arts & Cultural Services Team with Paola’s Photograph of  her country in the background

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THE IMPORTANCE OF WELCOME TO COUNTRY

Aunty Carolyn Briggs, a Boonwurrung Elder from Victoria who is recognized as a keeper of the history and genealogies of her people welcomed us to Country. She complimented the Mayor on her pronunciation of Aboriginal words and explained the Kulin are the five language groups who are the traditional owners in the Port Phillip region.

The language groups were connected through shared moieties (divided groups) — the  Bunjil (wedge-tailed eagle) and Waa (crow). Bunjil is the creation spirit of the Kulin and Waa the protector of the waterways.  Their collective traditional territory extends around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys.

  ‘It’s about the strength of families, our heritage and the sense of belonging to place.’

The ‘Welcome to Country’ is only given by a Traditional Owner – a descendant of the first people living in an area. The Traditional Owner will welcome people to their land at the beginning of a meeting, event or ceremony.

Aunty Caroline Briggs
Aunty Carolyn Briggs

For the Aboriginal people, the land has a spiritual connection; it is mother. The human spirit is born from land and returns to it upon death. The land supplies everything necessary for living.

Outside, Carolyn’s grandson also offered traditional Welcome to Country with the Smoking Ceremony (Tanderrum). Green leaves from plants are placed on a small fire. The smoke is used to cleanse the area and people present.

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This traditional way of welcoming people to their land and of cleansing your soul involved three plants for the ceremony. The purification ritual is always undertaken by an Aboriginal person with specialised cultural knowledge.

Aunty Carolyn Briggs reminded us that smoking ceremonies are common in countries throughout the world.

The Black Wattle (Muyan) representing the elders, vital to local clans. Symbolic of the Elders’ strength and what they pass onto the future generation. The wattle (its seed, bark, wood, and gum) was used to provide nutrients, food, and warmth.

River Red Gum leaf ( Biel) – representing diversity within the community – more than 500 different eucalypts throughout Australia just as there are more than 500 different indigenous language groups or clans. Symbolic of the entire community and offers respective access to the land and its resources.

Cherry Ballart- (Ballee) – represents children (bubup) needs a host plant just as children need a guardian or Elder to grow. Symbolic of youth, strong and resilient but requires support when young and never really disconnect.

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There was difficulty getting the fire to light because of the wind so modern technology (cigarette lighter) was harnessed amid much laughter, but we were all able to circle the fire (children first, then ladies, then men) and inhale the smoke to cleanse our souls.

fire at smoking ceremony

The atmosphere in the exhibition (despite serious subject matter) and outside was friendly and uplifting. A great buzz as people chatted and shared stories.

When Paolo spoke about her exhibition she mentioned Mok Mok,  an old woman, ‘a hag’ who she was told to fear as a little girl because she steals children and kills and chops up men.

Always watching and waiting for people to break laws Mok Mok was written about by the esteemed Elder and author, Aunty Margaret Liliarda Tucker, one of the first Aboriginal women to write her autobiography: If Everyone Cared, published in 1977.

Mok Mok is angry about how women and children are treated, too much male violence and too many children being stolen.

The assorted photographic images, slideshow and audio relating to the story of Mok Mok are thought-provoking and provide a strong message:

Our Elders and matriarchs keep family stories, genealogies, connections, nurturing ways, child raising, teaching, singing, language and culture and teach me how to be an Sovereign Aboriginal woman. I respect these lessons by quietly listening, passing on knowledge to my children and creating works that reflect the strength of our women so they are not forgotten.

I hope people take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to connect with Paola and her art and for further information and interaction with Aboriginal Australia during NAIDOC Week, visit Lisa Hill’s blog and take part in her great initiative for Indigenous Literature Week.

The Kingston Arts Centre is easy to access by public transport, being a short walk from Moorabbin Railway Station. A selection of buses also stop outside and there is a carpark at the back.

When I was preparing to write this post, I reflected on many years of involvement with various groups fighting alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they struggled for recognition and respect. I’m so glad that the Andrews Government in Victoria has started negotiations for a Treaty. Recognising Aboriginal Sovereignty has to be the first step in true reconciliation.

I rummaged through a box of old posters in the shed – many already enjoyed by silverfish – and was reminded of events, people and places from the past, 1970 – 2000.

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Unfortunately, some of my Aboriginal friends died far too young and although we now see the Aboriginal flag above council offices, and many officials are mindful of Welcome to Country protocols, there still needs to be more appreciation of the cultural significance and contribution of Indigenous Australians in the wider community.

How easily memories are triggered and stories beg to be retold and retained.

 

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Doublespeak – Anywhere and Everywhere – A Review.

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On Thursday night, I attended Doublespeak, an event of the Anywhere Festival in Frankston by The Dig Collective who will be performing each night until September 6th. at 7pm.

This experimental physical performance about wordplay, the power of words, their use and misuse, their relevance and irrelevance, the rewriting of history, propaganda and the power of silence.

It keeps you engaged and cemented to your seat – just as well they provide soft cushions as an added extra because the wonder and excitement of the Anywhere Festival is most performances can be performed everywhere (with a little adaptation). This festival, I’ve been in a barber shop and a yoga school!

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The audience meets at Fresh Start Organic Cafe (scroll down their page to see a newspaper review of Doublespeak) before being escorted to a secret location (an ‘abandoned’ shop a short walk away). Warmly welcomed by Alex and Tim we were invited to partake in a glass of wine or water.

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Alex Talamo and Tim Sneddon

The warm welcome figuratively and literally an important aspect of this festival because Melbourne’s winter has been long and the nights cold, which may account for low audience numbers. Also the two-actor performance begins ‘on the beach’, the antics of the actors making me smile as I sat defrosting!

doublespeak (noun) deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.
“the art of political doublespeak”

Or as the well-known fount of all knowledge Wikipedia suggests:

Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs, “servicing the target” for bombing), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning (for example, naming a state of war “peace”).

In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth. Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language…

The Dig Collective living up to their reputation as experimental and innovative, present an entertaining show – tightly scripted and acted. ‘Scene’ changes smooth and intriguing; minimum fuss with ingenious and simple props. The speech patterns and movement deliberate but fluid, especially when Dana uses mime. Both Michael and Dana comfortable with each other and the performance space, their timing excellent and ensures the audience keeps up with some segments that move very quickly indeed.

Doublespeak is currently in development to be presented as a full-length performance for the 2015 Melbourne Fringe. The Collective advises:

To speak and not to speak about anything at all is nothing out of the ordinary, especially for a politician…

Working from case studies about people who have attempted difficult conversations at great self-risk, the project draws on the work of Sophie Calle’s Exquisite Pain to explore the form of personal mythology and unspoken cultural practices.

To speak of the unspeakable is a political act – and a dangerous one in the current national climate.

Michael Fee and Dana McMillan
Michael Fee and Dana McMillan

They have been conversing with people in the street during the day and asking for reflections on the question “When have you most felt Australia was an island?” Responses are incorporated in the act and updated to reflect the local conversations.

The welcome scene to get you in the mood for the performance!
The welcome scene to get you in the mood for the performance!

Sound is an important part of the performance and Tim does a magnificent job with this.  To regularly incorporate responses into the show ensures the experimental work remains organic and keeps everyone on their toes. Anyone who’d like to respond is requested to do so. A voicemail to record  reflections has been set up and if you would like to leave your own, please call 0451 051 681.

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Audiences to Doublespeak don’t suffer, but there is a challenge to consider how you use your voice, how you perceive what others say, do you listen but not hear, and do you confront our political leaders and the media when they use weasel words or disseminate misinformation? What about the verbal abuse some of our sports representatives are now famous for? How do you speak to your friends and family? How do government representatives speak to citizens? What do you think of the language of official forms?

orwell on political lies The mood of the play relies heavily on the background sound – the news report when a US Airways passenger plane safely crash landed in the Hudson River six years ago. The intermittent beeps, a bit like a heart monitor, the media ‘pulse’, voices sometimes clear, other times indistinct. Meanwhile, a large blade representing the plane turns in the background throughout the evening, slowly, almost silently, .

As a background prop the turning blade creatively simple and effective
As a background prop the turning blade creatively simple and effective

There have been more recent plane crashes with tragic outcomes reported in sensational ways, but can anyone say what the ‘truth’ is? Dana recalls being an eight-year-old and her father bringing the family together to try and explain 9/11.

How do our leaders explain and use the narratives of public/global tragedies, and crises? What words do the media use? Why do some feel migrant, refugee, asylum seeker and illegal immigrant are interchangeable?

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The performers prompt other challenging conversations we need to have or at least consider. What happened in Australia to enable Tony Abbott, a prime example of a politician well-versed in  doublespeak, to become our Prime Minister? The irony of Bronwyn Bishop’s sojourn as Speaker.

The Anywhere Festival allows you to chat with the performers and producers directly. The Doublespeak cast appreciate you are more than a number on a ticket. Give them a call   – do you feel isolated or are you glad Australia is an island? Have you ever given a thought to the first peoples? Are you a migrant? A refugee? A tourist? What do you know of Australia’s history?

Those who  stay home during this festival miss events guaranteed to give enough food for thought to have real and meaningful conversations with family or friends, around the dinner table, at the pub or in a cafe.

Book for Doublespeak: September 6 @ 7.00pm I guarantee you’ll value words and their meaning, perhaps even think before you speak!

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Plunge – Contemporary Dance Theatre – a Review

On Saturday night, I went to another fabulous event of Frankston’s Anywhere Festival. The advertising blurb intrigued me as well as the venue, Yoga-MeStudios specialising in Yoga, Pilates and Barre.

What better place to view storytelling through contemporary dance!

Buddha's profile through the window of Yoga-Me Studio Frankston
Buddha’s profile through the window of Yoga-Me Studio Frankston

Yoga’s physical activities and movements can be challenging for many physiques, but it promotes a balance between mind and body with exercises geared to the individual.  I wondered how the artists would use the venue and if it would have a bearing on the work.

I soon discovered that the movements expertly performed by Joel Fenton and Jean Goodwin in Plunge are more than challenging to any ordinary person – the flexibility and control they demonstrated truly awe-inspiring. The polished boards and spartan lines of the studio perfect to showcase their performance!

I was green with envy – not just for their youth, but their talent.

A striking pose from Joel & Jean
A striking pose from Joel & Jean

The promise of the promotional advertising blurb:

“Playing out the many possibilities of the single moment when eyes meet, desires peak and you make a move, ‘Plunge’ examines the short and long term impacts of romantic advances that are reciprocated, rejected or unrequited.”

Intrigued, to say the least – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Warmly welcomed at the door, I joined a small group and listened while Darren Vizer, Director/choreographer of Devize Co introduced the show.  He requested members of the audience stay behind and give feedback to the performers and share their opinion about the show. This is one of the pluses of arts in the community – artists and audience conversing, discussing, sharing ideas and opinions – the constructed barriers of being ‘in the audience’ of a traditional theatre non-existent. Instead, up close and personal, genuine rapport can grow.

‘Plunge’ , developed from a workshop at La Mama where performers were given two words: sex and bullying and asked to develop an original piece of theatre merging contemporary dance with narrative. The result, a  story told through movement and words exploring attraction, lust, love, pleasurable and unpleasant and/or unwanted touch.

Darren explained there were several variations on what we would see, the work organic and continually developing.  The performers would be featured at the up-and-coming Fringe Festival, therefore our feedback welcomed.

The show began with appropriate mood music and for the next 45 minutes we watched two young adults (Joel and Jean) enter the uncertain world of romance the way most of us do – an initial physical attraction or desire.

We stayed engaged as Joel and Jean put on a riveting performance with a seamless action replay showing different reactions to a young man’s attempt to ‘hook up’ with a girl.  The first scenario showed acceptance of the advance, then switching stage position, we saw the rejection. The prop switch a clever way of making the audience change the physical focus as well as the alternate scenario.

Joel Fenton (Australia’s Got Talent, Grand Finalist 2012) revealed his acrobatic as well as dance abilities with some moves breathtaking. Without words he illustrated a range of emotions from shyness, reluctance, fear of rejection, joy, frustration and desire, anger, sorrow, despair, defeat and pride. At times almost flying across the floor or letting his upper body and facial expressions display whatever emotion or attitude Joel wanted.

Actor Jean Goodwin (ANZACs Victoria’s road to remembrance) the perfect companion, believable as the willing partner and stunning as the angry long-suffering woman dealing with body image issues and unwanted male attention. For many women it begins in adolescence, continues through womanhood and can result in damaged self-esteem, injury and even death. Jean manages to evoke the full gamut of emotions, moving her body with flexibility and ease.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Domestic Violence and a spate of high profile rapes and murders has focused attention on inappropriate male behaviour: from minor harassment, through to stalking, violence, and persistent misogyny. The home and workplace dangerous places for women, as well as jogging through the park, or walking home late at night. In fact women  can be targeted anywhere!

Plunge dives into the many realities of  sexual attraction, declarations of love or desire, ‘hooking up,’ fleeting or permanent romantic encounters, appreciating and enjoying time with that special someone, and how quickly the ugly flip side appears to become an abuse of power.  The body language and timing of Joel and Jean exceptional, evocative, explicit, entertaining.

We are told so much without words and it’s impressive, especially for someone like me who deals in words. Writers know all about the senses, the sensual, and also the importance of silence, but dance, like film, expresses all of this instantly and effectively!

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Different interpretations or motivations shown right at the beginning. Is Joel, the shy suitor or obsessed stalker penning a note declaring his admiration and dropping it into Jean’s handbag. She sits absorbed, unaware reading her kindle or is she really unaware of her attraction, and of Joel’s attention?

This opening scene interesting – what does the digital age mean for relationships juxtaposed with the handwritten note and traditional ‘rules’ about boy/girl approaches?

Physical attraction or revulsion? Devotion or obsession? Bargaining love or lust?When does no mean no?  Some of the story subtle; your interpretation, emotional engagement determined perhaps by life experience or prejudice. A man can be just as devastated and hurt as a woman, have similar body image issues.

Unwanted advances can take some effort to reject, a tirade of abuse or a physical attack can explode from either the giver or the recipient.

When Jean must cope with unwanted advances: hand on shoulder, hand on hand, attempt at footsies, hand on knee, too close a hug… the shrugs, the pushing away, the attempt to walk away, the grabbing and escalating violence of unnerving embrace… movements so aesthetically calculated and cleverly executed they pack a punch.

A heartfelt confession of dissatisfaction because of body image issues and how it can damn both males and females into a spiral of self-hate and unsatisfactory relationships or loneliness is a very powerful ending.

Plunge a memorable performance doing what all good art does – touching an emotional core, confronting important issues, provoking deep thought and leaving the audience in awe at the talent of the artists!

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I sincerely hope they get the audiences and adulation they deserve for the remainder of the festival and at The Melbourne Fringe.

And to think the innovative exploration was sparked by two words: Sex and Bullying. Two words with traumatic implications regarding relationships.

Yoga-Me, Frankston host to Plunge
Other guests leaving Yoga-Me, Frankston after experiencing Plunge – a bright spot in a dark and dreary night!

Go along to Yoga-MeStudios, Crn Beach Street & Olsen Street, Frankston – and catch a performance of  Plunge and see how great Joel and Jean are for yourself:

Sept 3-5 at 7:00pm.

You won’t be disappointed – and remember they welcome feedback – young artists honing their talent and craft. Fabulous!

Crafting Community at Longbeach Place Chelsea

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I attended the Annual General Meeting of Longbeach Place Inc on Thursday. As one of the tutors, I presented my report for the Memories to Manuscript and Life Stories classes I teach, which have been repackaged this year as Writing Creatively Towards Your Future to encompass new technology.

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The meeting small considering the reach of the community, but not surprising – in my experience, AGMs are deemed perfunctory –  either ignored or suffered unless there are problems to be solved, people to be ousted, or financial mismanagement to be challenged! However, at Chelsea, it was a lovely surprise to experience a great AGM. To hear from other tutors about their courses and to see a fabulous presentation about the craft craze Yarn Bombing. (Renamed Urban Yarn Art in deference to connotations in a world consumed by the ‘war on terror’.) The delicious refreshments afterwards and friendly chatter provided networking opportunities to meet and greet locals, the new ALP member, Tim Richardson MP, and Kingston Council representatives.  The comfortable environment added to the enjoyment of the afternoon.

Yarn bombing, yarnbombing, yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.

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I learned that the old Drop in Craft workshops are now transformed into Create, Make and Take sessions incorporating skills as diverse as pattern making, sewing, weaving, spinning, knitting, crochet and the Storybook Yarn Art Trail, an amazing community project involving several local schools and churches. My sister, Cate is the crafty person in the family and I’ve recently celebrated her talent in a post about the Australasian Quilters Convention, but when my children attended a local school with a Steiner stream, craft skills were an enjoyable part of our home life. I see craft as a very important art as well as being perhaps the most useful artistic skill. (Apart from writing of course, but then I’m biased.) The guest speaker, Elizabeth Alexandreou, the mover and shaker behind the resurgence of craft at Chelsea talked us through the Urban Yarn Art project, the Storybook Yarn Art Trail and explained the importance of passing skills onto future generations. This project inspiring young people to learn craft skills, adapt them into creative projects, connect with different generations and have fun while learning. Last year the trail included a Retirement Village/Nursing home – a wonderful way of ensuring people still feel valued in the community and helping to break down barriers between the old and young.

Each organisation participating in the project chose one of several books to illustrate with urban yarn art – Alice in Wonderland and The Very Hungry Caterpillar were popular, and The Lorax by Dr Seuss. A local church chose to acknowledge that Jesus was a refugee and used their creativity to make a plea for compassion in the current climate of political intransigence. Yarn Art is international and through a participant Longbeach Place Inc shared art with Ireland and at the AGM a lovely wall hanging was displayed that had been posted from Ireland. It is hoped in the future international and national links will expand. In a world of instant communication, but where many people lament the lack of person to person communication, this project is a gift. I photographed Elizabeth and Longbeach Manager Lorna Stevenson with the wall hanging from Ireland and an amazing butterfly created for last year’s display. This butterfly involved collaboration with a member of the Men and Women’s Shed group – a further extension of community connections and sharing of expertise.

The aim of the crafters is to visually enrich the local environment by celebrating what can be achieved in a culture of community and collaboration. Craft is a fantastic activity to bring generations together and to have fun. Although criticism has been made of wasting materials (wool does degrade overtime exposed to all weathers) to me this is churlish and denies the benefit of art and what creative expression is all about. There are many instances of art projects being fleeting or ephemeral just like so much of the beauty of nature (Mother Earth’s art) is transitory!

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Of course, writing and craft are not the only courses or programs at Longbeach Place and while Computers For Beginners tapped, we were invited to walk through the garden and admire the herbs and other plants cultivated by the ESL, Literacy and Volunteer Classes in their Herbs for All project.

As the Association of Neighbourhood Houses states:

Neighbourhood Houses bring people together to connect, learn and contribute in their local community through social, educational, recreational and support activities, using a unique community development approach. Community development enables communities to identify and address their own needs. It starts from the assumption that communities have existing strengths and assets that make them part of the solution. Neighbourhood Houses welcome people from all walks of life. This inclusive approach creates opportunities for individuals and groups to enrich their lives through connections they might not otherwise make, strengthening networks and building social capital.

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My involvement in neighbourhood houses through learning programs and teaching has enriched my life.  Another thread that has enabled me to continue to do what I love – write, socialise, teach. It has helped me stay physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy by encouraging and nurturing a feeling of belonging. I consider myself blessed and encourage others to take a walk to their nearest community centre and become involved – you can learn, you can teach, you can volunteer – you are community.

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Quintessential Quilters With an Abundance of Talent.

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This could have been my beloved Aunt Chrissie’s motto as well as my older sister’s! Both talented artists displaying brilliance with needle and thread and sewing machine. Aunt Chrissie taught sewing, Cate takes what she absorbed to prize winning levels beyond basic dress-making and design …

I was privileged (and gobsmacked) to attend the Australasian Quilt Convention on Sunday 19, 2015, at the  Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne. A memory day with delightful company ( thank you DF and CG) plus unforgettable images. I left with an increased appreciation of the amazing talent of many people – my older sister, Cate included!

In a world where we are bombarded daily with doom and gloom, it’s important to seek joy and immerse yourself in beauty and see the constructive side of humanity, whenever possible.

Motivated to see Cate’s entry in the Lest We Forget Challenge organised by the AQC to commemorate the centenary of the ill-fated WW1 Gallipoli Campaign, D and I caught an early train into the city and walked up from Parliament Station. The free travel for seniors on a Sunday a price hard to beat. There is no excuse for Melburnians not to explore their city by public transport on the weekends because even for others the travel is cheap.

Arts and Crafts really grew as an arts movement in the 19th century, but sewing patchwork and quilting has been around a lot longer. As a skilled activity it is growing in popularity in our society, probably because people have more leisure time and disposable cash, to turn what were items of necessity into beautiful works of art. These slide shows of the other entries in the Lest We Forget Challenge show just how creative and beautiful quilts can be.

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Talent Exhibited 2015
Mairi Neil

A salute to Australasian Quilters
their art worthy of the Tate
Delightful treasures to enjoy
Sighs of envy at  awesome talent…

Sewing a skill forever developing
begin early or late
stitch by hand or machine
tackle projects big or small

Quilts on display perfecting
the importance of the artist’s eye
Colour and perspective creating
visions beyond the mundane

Nuanced narratives revealing
words as stitches
stitches as story
story as history …

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The grand venue perfect for the convention. Magnificent 19th century architecture surrounding and complementing the designs displayed. How wonderful for these high-domed ceilings and ornate walls to echo with the buzz of chattering visitors, exhibitors and enthusiasts explaining and discussing the delightful work on show.

Paintings of cherubs and angels smile benignly at modern art and craft suppliers spruiking their wares.  Experts in their craft conducting seminars and workshops, companies advertising the latest machines, demonstrating kits and finished products.  Rooms off the main area filled with keen learners and experienced quilters glad of the opportunity to indulge their passion.

And it is a passion.

I loved hearing my sister’s expert commentary as she discussed the merits of exhibits, the level of difficulty, the immense skill necessary to achieve the desired result – and of course the difference between hand sewn quilts and machined quilts. I appreciated her enthusiasm because that’s what I feel about words and writing.

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Cate has experienced complicated grief like me and as I turn to pen and paper, she picks up needle and thread. Many of the quilters submitted pieces they had started when diagnosed with breast cancer or were experiencing other trauma. Just as writing can be therapeutic, so can any form of art and craft. To ease pain by focusing on a project or labour of love instead of the grief or challenge is a good start on the journey of healing.

In 2009, when Mum was dying in Maroondah Hospital, a nurse suggested we place the beautiful quilt Cate had made for Mum on the bed, to remind her  of home, and to brighten the harsh whiteness of hospital bed linen.

Memory triggered, I reminded Cate she had started making me a quilt to comfort me through chemotherapy in 2010. However, life can intervene, projects can remain unfinished or lose their focus, other priorities occur. If it arrives, it will be treasured, but as a writer I know all about the dips and curves and changing nature of creativity!

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 sewing defined

A Stitch in Time
Mairi Neil

She sits sewing by dim lamplight
embroidered threads by her side
Contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

In the stillness of evening light
needle and thread silently glide,
As she sits sewing by pale moonlight.

Cross stitches pattern small and tight
new techniques taken in her stride
Contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

Her creativity in wondrous flight
imagination flows like the tide
As she sits sewing by candlelight.

Machines embraced despite Luddites
mass production becomes her guide
Contentment gone, eyes no longer bright

History records seamstresses’ plight
workers stripped of all but pride
Many still struggle in shadowed light
Exploited, sad, eyes no longer bright.

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No sign of sweat shops at this convention and plenty of laughter and intense conversations as people took respite in several cafes sensibly placed in corners. We too succumbed to the enticing aroma of fresh coffee, toasting bread, naughty fried food and sweet scrumptious desserts.

Because of the record crowds we nipped across the way to the Museum thinking their cafe would have smaller queues. However, it was the opening of their WW1 exhibition so it didn’t take us long to rush back, flash our butterfly stamp at the gatekeepers and grab something to eat with other quilters.

Of course, there was another gallery of quilts to show the spirit of the ANZACS and honour those who sacrificed their lives at Gallipoli. Jan Irvine-Nealie, one of the world’s most talented quilters honoured those early soldiers in beautiful quilts presented as a retrospective and Lucy Carroll’s Gallipoli Quilt honoured all soldiers moulded by the ANZAC tradition.

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But the exhibition wasn’t all about the Gallipoli Centenary – thank goodness – because in the last year we’ve been into overload in Australia with every aspect of the campaign and WW1 dissected and projected on our screens, at festivals, museums, on stage, at book launches, photographic exhibitions… You name the media and it’s been done.

There were magnificent examples of work representing various interpretations of “True Blue”. I loved the variety. They reminded me of the astounding varied responses from the same writing prompt! To think these pictures are created by scraps of material and wool, hand stitches and machine – what patience and persistence, what talent!

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There were quilts that made you have a double-take and ones that immediately inspired verse or a story – many of course a complete narrative in themselves:

The Connection
Mairi Neil

The glance
Has lingered
Emotions soar

Caresses and whispered words
Open eyes; feed a receptive heart
Natural laws of attraction at work
Nuances of touch press flesh tenderly
Ephemeral or eternal memories,
Casual coupling or
Ties that bind?
In a moment of passion
Our lives change
No turning back time…

There were plenty of quilts showing a sense of humour as well as social commentary and one that poked fun at the judges:

the judges are so particular

Intricate designs passed down through centuries and reinvented by modern quilters, William Morris influenced panels,  interpretations and  new creations showcasing the boundless expertise of Australasian quilters. A comfort to me who has difficulty threading a needle nowadays never mind planning a masterpiece!

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A truly inspiring day and one last look outside at the wonderful trees in autumn finery and my pocket notebook works overtime.

Autumn Leaves
Mairi Neil

autumn leaves and tree exhibitob bldg grounds

Autumn, a time of contemplation; leaves
Underfoot, scuff and swirl
The wayward wind encouraging dance
Unaccompanied by music…
Maroon, magenta, green, gold, burnished brown
Never dull. Colours raked and piled
Light fades early
Easter celebrations and
Anzac marches ensure
Valour and sacrifice remembered at
End of day fireside reveries
Smoke and thoughts wafting skywards

Some days we are truly blessed to be with people we love and to experience the inspiring and creative qualities within our community. The following witty observations spot on!

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