Creative artists present nuanced views of conflict, causes and consequences

ntop-qanonAward wining film director George Miller says, “. . . art is at its best when it allows catharsis through story telling and a nation is at its best when it provides a refuge for humanity to heal and flourish.” It seems that this observation is relevant to three arts events due to launch across western Sydney, where negotiating multiculturalism and difference is a daily  experience.

The first is Diaspora-Making Machines opening at Blacktown Arts Centre, on Thursday, September 29. The second is a public dialogue between writers Ellen van Neerven and Michael Mohammed Ahmad under the provocative title Black and Lebo. The third is The Cartographer’s Curse, a new production created by National Theatre of Parramatta, which explores the complexities of political and social divisions within the Middle East. Above is an image of the qanun, a Middle Eastern instrument featured in The Cartographer’s Curse. Director Paula Abood explains qanun is the origin of the English word canon, encompassing the lore and law of a society.

In Diaspora-Making Machines eight artists of diverse cultural backgrounds explore some of “the systemic devices (the machines) that generate movement and the dispersal of communities (the diaspora).” From the earliest days of the colony, Blacktown has been a scene of continuous waves of migration. Some were forced, like the Aboriginal and Maori children sent to be “reformed” at the 1823 Blacktown Native Institution, and others like migrants and refugees who made new homes there by choice.

1-blak-douglas-bac-for-diaspora-making-machinesOffering an Aboriginal perspective on the exhibition’s theme of Blacktown’s historic place as a centre of migration, attitudes to newcomers, and notions of belonging and assimilation is Blak Douglas, who grew up in the area. His work, left, Pipe Dreams (Part A), suggests a challenge to the role of the church as a systemic device in the dispersal of Aboriginal communities. Another of the artists is Mehwish Iqbal, who grew up in a small town in Pakistan where art wasn’t even taught in the local school. Nonetheless, she defied traditional expectations to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts and then moved to Dubai. In 2006, she moved to Australia with her family where she completed a Masters degree at the College of Fine Arts UNSW. Mehwish has undertaken international artists residencies and has a keen interest in themes of integration, assimilation and separation experienced by migrants living in Australia and issues faced by under privileged children in developing countries.

The other artists are Jumaadi, Nerine Martini, Susannah Williams and Warren Armstrong, Luping Zeng and his son Cheng Zeng. Diaspora Making Machines will continue at Blacktown until Saturday, November 5.

ellen-van-nervanBlack and Lebo promises a lively discussion between two award winning young writers, Aboriginal author Ellen van Neerven, right, and Michael Mohammed Ahmad, below, left. Ellen won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize, among other awards, and has just published a new book Comfort Food, a collection of poetry. Michael is the director of Sweatshop – Western Sydney Literacy Movement, a talented actor, and a doctoral candidate at the Western Sydney University Writing and Society Research Centre. He has won several awards for his work and for his debut novel The Tribe. His second novel The Lebs will be published early next year.

Ellen and Michael Mohammed.AhmadMichael will discuss the intersections between race, faith, class, gender and sexuality in contemporary Australian literature, give performances from their latest works and take questions and comments from their audience. Black and Lebo takes place on Friday, September 30, at Western Sydney University, Bankstown campus, Building 3, Room G 55. The event is free with lunch provided and everyone is welcome, but RSVP is essential.

Prof Ghassan HageFrench and British colonialism of the early 20th century in the Middle East is the starting point for The Cartographer’s Curse. Invasion, colonialism and conflict have been common experiences for centuries among people in this region, where borders have undergone frequent change, according to who holds the power. A century ago, it was the British and French who drew lines on a map to divide the area according to their own interests. The consequences continue to reverberate and have led many people to seek refuge elsewhere in the world. Under the guidance of Paula Abood, history is imagined through spoken word poetry and prose, parkour movements and qanunic music. Among the characters are the cartographer, the wandering professor, the poet, the resistance, the merchant and the master of the qanun. The professor is played by Ghassan Hage, above right, an actual Future Generation Professor of global stature.

1-ntop-cartog-curse-thistle“This ensemble captures the very best of Arab Australian artistry in all its different expression,” Paula says. “Each performer in The Cartographer’s Curse brings a particular prowess and this makes for an exciting performance.” The coupling of the melodic quality of the qanun with the edginess of Parkour movement, she describes as “artistically very exhilarating.” The thistle, left, grows throughout the landscape of the Middle East and could easily be perceived as a metaphor for resilience and survival. The Cartographer’s Curse opens at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, on Thursday, October 5 and continues only until October 8.


More creative opportunities and events which smash conventions

1-Nazanin - exploring identity through calligraphy and ink drawingAdding to last week’s post about opportunities, here’s another valuable offering from Blacktown Arts Centre. With funding from Blacktown Council and the NSW Government, the centre is offering six Creative Residencies in 2017 in the following categories –

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Residency $5000
  • Pat Parker Memorial Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Space Residency
  • Visual Arts Studio Residency
  • Without Borders (Accessible Arts) Residency $5000.

The residencies offer space for the creation of new work and mentoring opportunities for the further development of existing creative projects. Blacktown Arts Centre is recognised for its exploration of dynamic, culturally diverse work that reflects Blacktown, its history and its communities. Above is one of this year’s resident artists Nazanin Marashian combining calligraphy and ink drawing in her exploration of identity. Nazanin came to Australia from Iran as a young child when her family fled the Iran/Iraq war in the early 1980s. A great deal of her art work is influenced by the lingering images of war torn houses and streets and the stories from relatives who remained in Iran. BNazanin - drawing first dayelow, left, is a work from her first day of residency – as she “got a few different ideas flowing.

Central to Blacktown Arts Centre’s program are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities drawing on issues of local and global significance. A free workshop to assist applicants will be conducted by award-winning author and long-time writing coach Janet Fennell.

Writing for Small Grants & Opportunities 
Saturday, 13 August | 10am – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Another will be conducted by Patricia Adjei from Viscopy to answer questions relating to copyright, licensing, fair use and moral rights. Patricia will also explain the Resale Royalty Scheme in relation to your practice, and in particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Viscopy Licensing & Copyright Law 
Saturday, 20 August | 2pm – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Applications close Wednesday, 9 September 2016. Blacktown Arts Centre.

Among the people who have made a major contribution to Blacktown Arts Centre’s performing arts program and simultaneously benefited from the centre’s support is Richard Petkovic. Richard is the founder and director of Sydney Sacred Music Festival now in its sixth year. In the course of his musical and regional networking during the last 20 years, Richard has met many highly skilled musicians – many of whom arrived in Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - 6 of 14 membersAustralia as refugees. Two years ago, they launched Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra which combined an eclectic mix of cultural music from Mongolia, East Turkistan, Vietnam, China, Mexico and Indigenous Australia to create new Australian music that explores different cultures, faiths and genres.

“Featuring some of the best ‘world’ musicians in Sydney, SWMCO melds classical strings, Dervish rhythms, Latin Samba and intimate melodies to smash conservative music conventions and create a dynamic journey that changes the internal chemistry of the listener,” Richard says. Now some of these musicians are collaborating with others and leading visual and multimedia artists to create the spectacular Worlds Collide event on Saturday, September 3, as part of this year’s Sydney Sacred Music Festival.

william+barton+sacred+musicThe festival will be formally launched with The Gathering Ceremony at Marrong, Friday, September 2, at 2pm  (Prospect Hill) Pemulwuy. Featuring in the ceremony will be internationally renowned didjeridoo player, William Barton.

Marrong (Prospect Hill), was a place of Darug ceremony for thousands of years and the highest landmass in the Sydney Basin. It was from Marrong that indigenous warrior, Pemulwuy, observed the approaching devastation of Aboriginal land and led the resistance against the expanding colony. The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people – a place of spirit and a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).

The event kicks off a program that will continue until September 18 and incorporate a wide range of musical events in venues from Mona Vale to Campbelltown, Sydney CBD to the Blue Mountains. Program and bookings.

From Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) comes this urgent invitation –

PYT - Tribunal 2016Don’t miss out — TRIBUNAL is selling fast!

Join Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT), Griffin Theatre Company and some of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists and cultural leaders to tell the parallel stories of Indigenous Australia and our treatment of newly arrived refugees in a performed conversation at the SBW Stables Theatre from August 12 to 20. LISTEN HERE to the cast talk to ABC Radio National about TRIBUNAL

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW and are selling quickly. Book online HERE to avoid disappointment.

Are artist run initiatives (ARIs) the answer for creative spaces?

Natalie Wadwell - ARI forumHere’s a welcome opportunity to discuss an issue of major concern across western Sydney – creative space.  Young and committed creative Natalie Wadwell, is organising an all day forum on May 27, We Run This: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector, as part of Vivid Sydney. It will be a co-presentation by 107 Projects in Redfern and the National Association for the Visual Arts. Above, Macarthur Advertiser’s photo of Natalie.

Natalie has been pursuing the issue of space run independently by creative artists, for several years in the Campbelltown area. She is not opposed to government funding, but is well aware that there is not enough of it and all too often, it comes with strings attached that limits its relevance to local needs. Participants in Theatre Links in the West, based in Penrith, have been working on the same issue across several locations. Among many subjects of lively discussion at their meeting on April 5 they recorded, “The Penrith Council priority for a hub for arts and cultural development at the grass roots level in the heart of Penrith was a very popular topic, with discussions revolving around its location, its purpose, how it would be managed and the need for its management team and activities to be funded significantly for it to work.”

For a decade, Parramatta Artists Studios have been providing a tremendous resource and service for a whole range of artists across different art forms, though the number they can support at any one time is limited. Of course, the studios are not run by artists, but professionally managed by Parramatta Council. There are hopes that among the opportunities that may be available through the “transformation” by UrbanGrowth of the North Parramatta heritage precinct would be the establishment of an artist run initiative.

We Run This_John O'CallaghanThis suggests the forum We Run This: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector is very timely. There will be representatives of ARIs from Sydney, Wollongong, Launceston, Alice Springs and Canberra. They will offer experience and ideas in answer to questions and presentations from a dynamic group of speakers including John O’Callaghan (JOC Consulting), left, and Monica Barone (CEO, City of Sydney). John O’Callaghan is an urban planner specialising in social activation, community engagement and new media.

Other participants include Euphemia Bostock, left, below, founding member and chairperson of We Run This_Euphemia BostockBoomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative. She is a Munanjali-Bundjalung woman and elder, who has worked across many mediums including textile, printmaking, design and sculpture from the early 1960s. Her work has been exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally. Boomalli has operated since 1987.

The conference will be moderated by Maria Miranda, a research fellow from the University of Melbourne writing on The Cultural Economy of Artist-Run Initiatives in Australia. Natalie and the joint organisers argue that Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) play a vital role in balancing Australia’s arts ecology. Established for independence and flexibility for artists, ARIs operate at the intersection of community, urban planning, business and culture. “Is the ARI concept the future of the prosperous community?” they ask.

Western Sydney has already had its own experience of an Artist-Run Initiative, as recorded in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. Street Level operated for two years from a Penrith shopfront from 1988 to 1990, when it moved to a vandalised pinball parlour in Blacktown and continued for another five years. Street Level was instigated by visual arts graduates of University of Western Sydney and in its seven years of operation provided a huge range of experience and training for artists, curators and communities. In fact, it was one of three examples of developments that seemed to me to represent the region’s turning point in 1990 from being a victim of isolation and media demonisation to finding a strong voice confident of its unique characteristics.

We Run this: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector is designed for councillors, regulators, developers, urban planners, artists and practitioners, policy advocates, researchers, arts investors and all those interested in facilitating the sustainability of existing spaces, as well as encouraging the emergence of ARIs in more communities across Australia. Tickets from $33. Bookings and information.




200th anniversary of the Appin massacre offers opportunity to reconsider

dailytele-Capt CookMost people probably saw or heard about the Daily Telegraph front page, March 29, which sent commentators into overdrive. Whitewash said the headline – UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook “invaded” Australia. Some claimed it was political correctness gone mad. Others stated that the university’s guidelines had been around for 20 years and were just that – guidelines for student essay writing. SBS’s “Backburner” offered a satirical opinion piece under the title Outrage as University Teaches History Correctly. In The Guardian online, Paul Daley wrote It’s not politically correct to say Australia was invaded, it’s history. Paul Daley also wrote a story Lachlan Macquarie was no humanitarian – his own words show he was a terrorist.

Camden professional historian, Dr Ian Willis responded to the second story with a blog post Was Governor Lachlan Macquarie a Terrorist? The colonial frontier was a violent location,” he wrote, “and many people suffered and died. Colonialism wreaked havoc on many cultures around the globe. Was Governor Macquarie any better or worse than any other colonial administrator?” Ian considered the NSW colonial frontier and transportation, the colonial frontier wars in North America and elsewhere and the “Sugar Slaves” of Queensland and provided further related references. Among them was a link to the exhibition With Secrecy and Dispatch at Campbelltown Arts Centre. I found myself responding and then copying the response to the Professional Historians Facebook page.

ABC - Tharawal - Glenda Chalker“By chance I have just heard Ellen Fanning on ABC RN Life Matters, this morning, with Tharawal elder Glenda Chalker, reading and discussing Macquarie’s original documents at the State Library and with two historians, considering this proposition “was he a terrorist”. The issue at Appin (in April 1816 – [not 2016!]) was that the Tharawal people gave no “show of resistance” at all. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the people were sound asleep, The fact that the military attacked in these circumstances, was quite contrary to British law and risked ending the captain’s career and Macquarie’s had it become known. Reporting was therefore oblique and secretive in style, as I understand it. The fact that Aboriginal bodies were beheaded and hung in high places to deter resistance and the heads sent to Scotland [not London], compares with the much condemned contemporary behaviour of Islamic extremists. Those heads were returned to Australia in 1991 and are currently held in a warehouse in Canberra. Dharawal elder Glenda Chalker, above, with the proclamation document ordering the Appin Massacre. (photo by Tracey Trompf on the Life Matters website)

“Arguments which seem to prevail at present,” I wrote, “are that colonial powers at the time were all behaving in similar ways, so this was no worse than any other. For Aboriginal people, context of the times is irrelevant. They did suffer from invasion and where they could, fought back. Australia’s colonial history is much more complex and nuanced than is frequently portrayed. We can’t change it, but we need to face up to it and recognise the continuing consequences to Aboriginal Australians. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, we have a great deal to learn from each other.”

Cataract DamSecretary of the Professional Historians Association, Dr Stephen Gapps, responded, “It’s certainly a 200th anniversary that not a lot of fuss will be made about. Come to the ceremony on 17th” – with a link to Federal MP Laurie Ferguson’s website. Under the heading 2016 Appin Massacre Memorial Ceremony, is written – “To honour the Dharawal people, the Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group is hosting a memorial to mark the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre – Sunday, April 17, 11am, Cataract Dam picnic area. The account given varies somewhat from the Life Matters story, though difficulty, until recently, in getting access to those particular Macquarie documents may well be the cause. Photo – the Cataract Dam as it appears on the website.

Dharawal descendants and supporters have held this annual memorial ceremony now, for 20 years and Ian Willis’s link to the Campbelltown Arts Centre exhibition is closely related. With Secrecy and Despatch has been developed as a response to the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre. New works were commissioned from six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists and are shown alongside existing works by prominent Australian Aboriginal artists. Together these works explore themes of colonial brutality, conflict, identity, culture and memory. If you can’t make it to the memorial, a visit to the exhibition would provide time to reflect on history and contemplate the steps required to share the grieving and find a shared way forward as Australians.

So many causes for western Sydney celebration – birthdays, festivals and campaign progress

JSPC - La StupendaSo much to celebrate in a crowded schedule that stretches way beyond the boundaries of western Sydney. The first cab off the rank is La Stupenda – a voice eternal, a concert that is a highlight of the 25th anniversary year of the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, at Penrith. At the Joan’s official opening in 1990 Joan Sutherland performed her last ever concert recital, accompanied by her husband Richard Bonynge. The tribute concert 25 years later features some of Australia’s leading classical musicians and vocalists, including The Song Company, outstanding Opera Australia singer Amelia Farrugia, celebrated didgeridoo player William Barton and a world premiere performance of a new work by Elena Kats-Chernin. An elegant night of fine music, wine and canapés. Bookings and information.

Perhaps the concert is not quite the first cab. After several years of campaigning, Parramatta Female Factory Friends has notified supporters its petition has reached the requisite 10,000. Those who signed the petition requesting a parliamentary debate about the protection of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, are invited to gather outside NSW Parliament House, 11am Thursday, August 20.  The Friends will present the petition to parliament and invite you join them in the presentation. Although not essential, it would be helpful if planning to attend that you rsvp to with Yes in the subject.

Syd Sacred Music Fest 15 - Buchu GanburgedThe program for the 2015 Sydney Sacred Music Festival  has just been announced. This year is the fifth consecutive year of the festival, to be conducted at venues throughout Sydney, and running from September 5 to 20. The festival will open with Sacred Exchange, in the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. Australia’s Grand Master of the Japanese Shakuhachi, Riley Lee will lead the program and will be followed by Mongolian throat singer and horse fiddle player Bukhu Ganburged (pictured left), the golden voice of Uyghur bard, Shohrat Tursun, Sufi violinist Asim Gorashi and Australia’s leading exponent of the Indian tabla, Bobby Singh. The five performers will demonstrate their sacred traditions through solo performances  and discussion and then come together to create a unique interfaith performance, directed by Richard Petkovic.

Three of the performers – Bukhu, Shohrat and Asim – are members of Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra, which was launched at last year’s festival and has just finished recording its first CD.The 2015 festival includes a sunrise chanting workshop at Bankstown, a Baha’i choral concert at Mona Vale, the high end jazz/Indian music fusion of Sandy Evan’s Kapture in the Blue Mountains, the dance fusion of tango and flamenco in Newtown and the uniting of Sufi Qawwali and electronic dance music at Campbelltown. Click here for program information and bookings.

Sydney Sacred Music Festival is always a richly rewarding experience and gives prominence to some of the extraordinary talent residing in Sydney’s suburbs, especially the west.

1-CPAC 21st birthdayLast but not least come the 21st birthday celebrations of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. It was officially opened on October 29, 1994, after a period of five years of intense work by Susan Conroy, who became Liverpool Council’s first cultural planner. In fact she was the first cultural planner in Australia to be appointed by a local government. In 1992, she was joined by John Kirkman, who ultimately became the first director of the Powerhouse. In an inspired partnership and under the political leadership of then mayor Mark Latham, they turned the building from an almost derelict space to one of Sydney’s leading contemporary arts centres.

As present director, Kiersten Fishburn says, “In 21 years, we’ve grown and changed but the core of commitment to community and to western Sydney artists that was established by Susan Conroy and John Kirkman, initiating and first directing the centre, remains true.” Above is a photo of past and present staff published on the current front cover of CPAC’s periodical Generator. In the front row, second from left, is Kiersten, with John Kirkman, centre, alongside Susan Conroy.

Artists and community members engaged with programs range from Aboriginal to a great diversity of cultural backgrounds. David Capra is curating a 21st birthday bash for Casula Blog - PPM book coverPowerhouse on October 17 and everyone is invited. Party Party Party will be the opening night of 21, an exhibition celebrating the successful careers of 21 highly respected Australian artists who have shown at Casula Powerhouse during its formative years. 21 will continue to November 29. For more CPAC information click here.

The background to many of these stories can be found in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. None of these milestones occurred without a struggle, but their success is inspirational. Check the Book page on this blog and use the blog’s search facility for more information.


Joan Brassil – still a leading contemporary artist

1-IMG_3388Strangers: A Retrospective of Joan Brassil opened at Campbelltown Arts Centre, on Saturday June 6, the tenth anniversary year of her death. In about 1958, Joan had moved to Campbelltown as the widowed mother of two young sons and not long after, became Campbelltown High School’s first visual arts teacher. A much loved and inspiring teacher, artist and collaborator, her life and practice were celebrated by the large gathering of family members, former students, friends and colleagues. On her early retirement at the age of 50, Joan was invited by Barbara Romalis to become one of the founding members of the artist community at Wedderburn, where the surrounding bushland became one of her endless sources of inspiration. It was from this point that Joan’s professional development as a contemporary artist took off. Her academic studies ultimately included a doctorate of creative arts from University of Wollongong. In 1999, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by UNSW. Above, Strangers in the Landscape (sculpture) located in the cafe courtyard.

1-IMG_3385Assembling Strangers: A Retrospective of Joan Brassil was a major undertaking for the project curatorial committee (curatorium) – Michael Dagostino (director of Campbelltown Arts Centre), Ruth Banfield, Susan Best, Greg Brassil, Liam Brassil, Tony Bond, Marsha Meskimmon and Megan Monte. Joan was an installation and media artist, whose early embrace of technology and video led her into collaborations with scientists, researchers, and artists from other disciplines. She participated in major national and international art exhibitions and disposed of few of the materials she had ever used. In fact, one part of the exhibition includes objects created for one purpose and then changed or re-used in another role. Joan was always experimenting and learning. A selection of pages of research commentary and critical reviews are reproduced to enhance the experience of the object room. Above, Astral Potatoes, located in the object room.

1-IMG_3372Why Stranger in the title? Stranger is a recurring theme in much of Joan’s work. In her catalogue essay, Marsha Meskimmon writes: “It is difficult to look at Joan Brassil’s work without embracing unpredictability, the possibility of change and a profound sense of contingency. Moving easily between the dust of the ground and the light of the stars, the stranger (gazing) engages all that lies between, seen or unseen, heard or beyond hearing. Brassil’s aesthetic tactics were not to fix meaning, but to allow it space from which to emerge.” She was deeply interested in Aboriginal thinking and practice and their closeness to the natural world. Above, Joan as she appears in the film (see below), describes her sense of wonderment.

1-IMG_3366In opening the exhibition, Tony Bond described elements she utilised in her work – randomness, chance, curiosity, interrogation, an intense engagement with the nature of being in the world, a manifestation of wonder. The 20 minute film made with Joan during her lifetime and which screens on continuous loop, reveals these characteristics and the way in which she used technology as an instrument of wonder, light and contemplation. Her style of work was generous, inclusive and collaborative. Astrophysicist Dr Brian Robinson was a friend and collaborator whose knowledge deepened her understanding of science. Her use of recordings such as the movement of electrical energy and pulsar registrations, helped him communicate science to a wider audience and gave a broader dimension to his work. Above, Randomly – Now and Then, 1990, microphone stand, computer, diorite mining cores, gravel rock, pavement, speakers and tuning forks.

1-IMG_3397While the technology may have changed, Joan’s approach to her work remains entirely contemporary. The challenge for the curatorium was to assemble her installations in ways she might have done, since each space was different and she responded intuitively to them. Her warmth and whimsical humour are also evident in some of her work. I was fortunate enough to have time with her on at least two occasions, when it always seemed she had a quality of stillness about her. Joan’s son, Greg, says her advice when all around seemed to be chaos was to “sit still”. Her work is deeply contemplative. Left is one of two panels which stand alongside her sculpture of giant tuning forks Tether of Time in Campbelltown Arts Centre’s sculpture garden. The forks stand over a pool of reflection and a perpetual small flow of water. The panel is inscribed with poetic observations about Tether of Time (with apologies for the layout) –

Wind harps on a busy corner tuned randomly
by natural forces sonipally declare the advent of air
NNE or SE find sound among strings
placing the ear against wood on masts
currents of air may be throbbing through wires
as a sonic harmonic searching for a song

Strangers: A Retrospective of Joan Brassil continues at Campbelltown Arts Centre to August 2. Go prepared to listen carefully. Delicate and diverse sounds are a constant among the installations. The catalogue helps illuminate the experience.

Death and Biggie Smalls at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre

Created with Nokia Smart CamDeath is an inescapable certainty for all of us, but for many people the subject of death is very difficult to approach. Death and Biggie Smalls are two complementary exhibitions just opened at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Why Biggie Smalls? Biggie Smalls was a Brooklyn hip hop artist and became the face of East Coast gangsta rap. He grew up in violent surroundings, launched his first album Ready to Die in 1994 and was shot and killed in 1997 at the age of 24. Some of the many facets of death and life are explored in both exhibitions, curated by Toni Bailey. At the exhibitions’ opening on Friday, May 22, Madrid-based performer, choreographer and producer Pepa Molina, above, performed the dramatic flamenco, Pentenera. It was a deeply moving performance filled with grief, anger and mourning.

1-Funeral and burial poles - Tiwi and Melville IslandsDeath and mourning in a very different cultural context were expressed through the funeral and burial poles of the Tiwi and Melville Islands, right above. Nearby, through a range of animated vignettes, Richard Lewer tells the stories of a series of characters and their wilful or accidental experiences of threatened or actual death. There is quiet philosophising, gentle comedy and real poignancy. It is mesmerising to 1-IMG_3339watch this parade of characters as they are brought to life, right below, with disarming simplicity in a continuous loop of black and white sketches. The vulnerability of being human is all too apparent.

Vulnerability, is also evident in the art works gathered together in Biggie Smalls, below top. Many of them seem like reflections on life and affectionate reminders and mementos of relationships – the threatening, the mundane and the uplifting.

Children and adults are invited to give practical expression to the meaning of death in their lives and the focus it can bring to the values and material items of importance to them. In Shelf Life, visitors1-IMG_3348 young and old are invited to create their own art works from materials provided that represent those things they would most like to take into an afterlife. They then pack their finished items into large clear plastic jars and slide them along a shelf to sit alongside the selections of fellow makers. Three of the opening night Shelf Life jars, lower left.

1-IMG_3346Death and Biggie Smalls continue at Casula Powerhouse until July 5. My only regret is that exhibition catalogues are not available at exhibition launches, although primary and secondary education kits are already available. Without a personally escorted tour or the use of a catalogue, the lay visitor is at risk of missing some valuable insights.