From the page to a coffee table – They Are Us is open

Neale Thompson, who made the exquisite coffee table in the background drawing on my piece 'Ghosts of Us'

Neale Thompson, who made the coffee table in the background drawing on my piece ‘Ghosts of Us’. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

The They Are Us collaborative ekphrastic art exhibition filled the room for its official opening on February 27, and it was quite the night.

It was very rewarding indeed to see, after a year of development, how the artists from Soldiers Hill Artist Collective had used the short stories and poems of our team of writers working under the Words Out Loud banner as inspiration for such as wide range of art on the theme of They Are Us.

And I was especially chuffed to see the exquisite coffee table (with terrarium, a so delicate world balanced on the surface) made by Neale Thompson in response to my melancholy (shock!) ‘Ghosts of Us’. It even has wildlife carved into its pattern as a special treat.

Part of the audience at the launch of They Are Us

The combined works comfortably fill the generous space at the Lounge Gallery, Billy’s Bar, at the Mercure at 613 Main Rd, Ballarat, and the launch crowd comfortably filled the room! Lovely to see some red dots on the walls by the end of the evening, too!

City of Ballarat’s deputy mayor, Cr Belinda Coates, again showed her appreciation of not just the exhibition and the project’s collaborative nature, but the role of art itself at a defining time in history.

Reuben Morgan (of the BallaRat Pack), who composed a gorgeous piece for the previous WOL-SHAC collaboration Weathering the Future in 2018, has again written a bespoke theme piece. He was unfortunately unable to perform it on the night, but a recording of the work (about seven minutes in three movements) played during the launch shows a piece well worth a closer listen when it becomes available as he reflects on the refugee experience.

We’re particularly grateful to Radmac Office Choice in Ballarat for the generous donation of foam core board on which to display the written works and to Robert Young Signs for their contribution.

The exhibition runs from February 24 to April 5.

They Are Us – an exhibition of words made art

They Are Us exhibition logoIt’s only two weeks until the official opening of the They Are Us ekphrastic art exhibition, and it’s getting exciting!

The exhibition has been a year in the making, combining the talents of 20 Central Highlands writers and the Soldiers Hill Artist Collective.

It’s a follow-on to the Weathering the Future exhibition of 2018. I curated that one as part of the City of Ballarat’s community arts program but this time around SHAC has been in the driving seat and I’ve had only to wrangle the writing side of the event (and that’s no chore at all; these writers rock!).

The idea this time was for the writers to go first, producing flash fiction and poetry on SHAC’s chosen theme of “They Are Us”, and then the artists were randomly given the written work to use as inspiration.

They’ve responded with a range of media, including photography, painting, linocut, woodwork and weaving.

I can’t wait to see what they’ve done!

Kirstyn and I hit 99.9 Voice FM last night with SHAC’s Neale Thompson to talk to The Arts Program about the exhibition, so got to hear how Neale went about the process of translating my 100-odd word story into a coffee table. Terrific stuff! It’ll be great to see it in the flesh (or the red gum, more specifically).

We’ve been fortunate to have the support of the Mercure Ballarat as a gallery space — they’re generous and throw a great launch party, and Radmac Office Choice in Ballarat has supplied foam core board for the mounting of the written work, which has relieved some of the burden on the purse strings.

The exhibition runs February 24 to April 5 with the launch on February 27 at 6.30pm. We’re chuffed to have Reuben Morgan again performing an original piece of music inspired by the theme – his performance at Weathering the Future was amazing – and City of Ballarat councillor Belinda Coates doing the honours. It should be a huge night. All welcome!
 

Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung and Neale Thompson spruiking They Are Us at Voice FM’s The Arts Program.


 

Dark Imaginings: Gothic Tales of Wonder

image from Dark Imaginings at Melbourne Uni
 
What a wonderful title for an exhibition — how can you resist? For the University of Melbourne has prepared just such a show, running 1 March to 31 July.

It features artists, body snatchers, and some of the renowned writers and poets, and trick photography and magic lantern slides to get a little ghosty.

As well as wonderful art, there will also be some events, such as a curator’s talk, a workshop on writing horror/Gothic with Dmetri Kakmi (he knows his stuff, people!), lectures by Mary Luckhurst and Ken Gelder (on vampires!), and an “in conversation”.

This last item includes Kirstyn McDermott, Michelle Goldsmith, Narrelle Harris and yours truly, hosted by Louise Swinn (of Sleepers Publishing and Stella Prize fame, amongst other things).

We’ll be yarning about speculative fiction noon-1pm on 14 June at the uni’s Parkville campus: details and bookings here.

All events are free but bookings are required. More here on Dark Imaginings.
 

Sharing the love — little heart warmers

2016 has been a bit shit in a lot of ways, hasn’t it? Loss and meanness and downright ugliness. But, as Heart would say, or sing, rather, what about love?*

Well, recently my writerly community was gathered in Melbourne** celebrating their love of the written word, in various literary and visual forms, and my wife and I were off at the other end of Ballarat taking a quiet anniversary weekend out. Here’s a picture: let’s call it Love 1.

Worldmark Ballarat resort

If you like willows and lake reflections and red bricks against blue sky, you’ll find more pictures here.

On day 1 of the weekend, we ate dumplings at our favourite dumpling house (Fu Man Lou) and then went on a ghost tour***, the tickets for which had been given to me for my birthday. That’s love right there — a gift from someone who “gets” you. For the record, the tour started out pretty well, in a haunted Victorian-era bakery subject to flooding, but kind of went off the boil as the night wore on and the cold set it. Too much sauce, not enough substance — unlike the dumplings. Nom nom nom. Funnily enough, the site of the dumpling house was also the setting for one of the ghost stories. What the hell, Love 2.

The second night, we went to Catfish Thai. Oh my, times a bunch. Seven courses, each one delectable. We had a window seat looking over this old brick place and next to it a wall covered in winter ivy — noice. Wonderful restaurant, great service, divine tucker, with a bill best suited to special occasions. Love 3.

And then, as there are on anniversaries, wee small gifts of affection: a Plague Doctor Bird! My beloved secured this months ago, a fabulous work by KJ Bishop, a damn fine writer who also is a dab hand at gardening and sculpture. Round it out with a Batman mug: Love 4!****

Plague Doctor Bird

The weekend wasn’t entirely without its “literature”, of course. We slummed for a day and watched Anomalisa, a disappointing film from Charlie Kaufman about a dude not coping with his decisions in life and hurting everyone; the well-constructed and quite engaging, and infuriating, The Big Short; and a surprisingly entertaining Trainwreck. Claymation annoyance, effective rom com and political statement: Love 5. The wine and cheese gets the movie marathon over the line. Also, do check out a card game called Sushi Go! Great for pairs or groups, quick and easy but not without its strategy. It’s Australian, and, I’ve just found out, was the subject of an Indiegogo campaign: more love!

And, as readers of this blog might realise, I finished off that weekend by sharing that other love of mine: my vampires. But that’s enough about that.

As shit as it all gets, we’ve got nature, and art, and each other. It’s worth taking the time out sometimes to remember that. Love out.

* New album out next month! (New versions, a couple of new tunes *drums finger* still no Oz tour, but.)
** We missed youse all!
*** We did their Ararat ghost tour a few years ago and it was brilliant.
**** In return, there were poppets. We love poppets 🙂

Getting crafty at the biennale

Photographic exhibit by Vanessa Brady

Photographic exhibit by Vanessa Brady

Wendouree circuit of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale has been achieved — with added craft!

First stop was breakfast at one of our favourite cafes, Eclectic Tastes, which is hosting a small group exhibit. Then:

  • chic French cafe Eau Verte for Nina O’Brien’s black and whites of kids being kids;
  • road kill at the Wendouree Performing Arts Centre — a few victims were missing (an aside: there are a couple of wonderful works by Aboriginal artists — curse me for not getting proper details — in the foyer, a feature of which is a hanging Marc Rogerson sculpture reflected in mirrors);
  • wildlife and landscapes on canvas at the Lake View Hotel (a woman with blurred face in a forest, kind of Blair Witchy, was my pick) — sadly, still running on the big brekkie so couldn’t snaffle a $15 lunch special;
  • Oodles of wunnerful black and whites ’80s concert photos by Jeremy Bannister, including — gasp — Sisters of Mercy! at Racers (hard to get up close to, though, in the busy cafe);
  • cool landscapes set against star fields by Matt Thomson at the Ballaarat Yacht Club (old spelling of Ballarat reflects the club’s founding in 1877);
  • close-ups of flowers at the Statuary Pavilion at the Botanic Gardens;
  • and finally, probably the day’s highlight, rural landscapes from Vanessa Brady on show at the Robert Clark Conservatory in the gardens. Brady also has some wildlife pictures, and also in the conservatory are sculptures by Kim Percy.

    A morning well spent, with plenty of variation and an admirable matching in most instances of theme to venue.

    Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage

    Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage

    Also in the Botanic Gardens is the Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage, a store run by the Crafts Council of Ballarat occupying the relocated home of the intriguing poet (1833-1870). A wide selection of handmade giftware is on offer, including exquisite timber pepper grinders and cute door stoppers.

    The biennale runs until 20 September 2015. The cottage is open daily September-mid June, otherwise at weekends and public and school holidays.

  • Moira Finucane, does it again

    glory box la revolucion


    The milk was good, but it was the tomato sauce that took the prize.

    There on Collingwood’s Melba Spiegeltent catwalk, Moira Finucane in a white gown, tearing out her heart — only her heart was a family-size bottle of tomato sauce, dribbling and spurting in time with her anguish. Exit to Hollywood blonde Clare St Clare taking that dripping container while singing Blue Velvet.

    Yes, it’s Finucane & Smith, strutting their art — some new, some old — in Glory Box La Revolucion (until 13 September 2015).

    The troupe provide about 90 minutes of entertainment: another highlight, one of the best covers of Bowie’s Wild is the Wind you’ll ever hear, by Mama Alto accompanied by piano.

    That same piano that keeps our table, only a row back from the catwalk, safe from flying milk as Finucane empties two 2l bottles over plastic-wrapped audience, self and stage in wild abandon.

    Elsewhere, she’s nude under witchy fingernails and black diaphanous cape, and rockin’ it out to Garbage (if memory serves) in jeans and leather jacket with St Clare.

    There’s acrobatics involving chairs, rope, trapeze, cork screw … this is 18+ wine drinking. A bewigged industrial thrash dance. A song about more than coffee in Paris, an ooh la la to equality and respect.

    Boobs, chuckles, politics, art: always entertaining. All in the luscious surrounds of the Spiegeltent with its Innocent Bystander pinot noir at the bar.

    The card on the table tells us that Finucane & Smith are heading off to Cuba and may be some time. NO, we say. For all that we’ve seen of Moira Finucane, we still haven’t seen enough.
    Melba Spiegeltent at Collingwood

    SIDE DISH

    lamp at savanna ethiopian eritrean restaurantBefore the gig, we had dinner at Savanna, an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant. Check out this funky ceiling lamp! Check out the delicious menu — we shared a platter of various veg and meat with injera for $45, washed down with organic Ethiopian shiraz at $6 a glass, and walked out pleasantly stuffed. Highly recommended.

    Napoleon conquers at NGV

    napoleon exhibit at ngv

    It took two-and-a-half hours to go through the Napoleon exhibition at NGV yesterday. It wasn’t particularly crowded, but there was oodles to see and read. Simply oodles. Busts, furniture, books, uniforms, paintings. Music.

    This line jumped out:

    The attention paid to the decorative arts in particular was part of a wider plan to revive the country’s economy…

    Whoa! Art as an important part of a nation’s economy as well as identity? Revolutionary stuff, at least Down Under.

    Napoleon’s savvy might not have made it down here just yet, but the little dictator was fascinated by Terra Australis, in particular Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery.

    A section of the exhibit is dedicated to giving the French their due in the mapping of the coastline and the cataloguing of its flora and fauna. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, even had black swans, emus and kangaroos in the garden.

    The Australian connection runs close to home, too. I also wasn’t aware of the Napoleonic memorabilia to be found at Briars Park on the Mornington Peninsula, thanks to a family connection running to Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena.

    napoleon on horsebackAnother section sets the scene for his rise to power, and then it’s a chronological introduction to his career and the way art changed with the times as classic imperial motifs rose to the fore.

    You can trace his evolution from thin-faced general to round-cheeked emperor; a video of his death mask completes the passage. One watercolour portrait on a small box shows eyes of avarice; another display contrasts his simple soldierly tastes with the pomp of state; elsewhere there is mention of manipulation of the media of the day with exaggerated reportage and widespread iconography of his greatness.

    As always in such a historical display, there’s the fascination at the thought of these items being used: the combs and travelling boxes, the chair with the lion-headed arms, the Psyche mirror …

    A familiarity with the French ruler’s history is advisable to help fill in the gaps, but what a champion display this is.

    Meals on wheels: Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

    melbourne's colonial tramcar restaurantOn Sunday night we dined out in style for a friend’s 50th, indulging in five courses on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

    The 1947 tram has been decked out with lamps, tables for four and for two, a chef and bar service, and for three hours it trundles amongst a convoy of three around Melbourne — St Kilda, Albert Park and Docklands slid past the tinted windows, while a various artists playlist of the Eagles, Prince and Sinead O’Connor played quietly in the background.

    The food was top notch: appetiser of dips, entree of grilled barramundi, main of eye fillet, cheese and then sticky date pudding for dessert, all washed down with sparkling and red wine, with port to finish. All included in the price. The staff were awesomely friendly, too.

    Rather than rush home from the tram, we made a night of it, crashing at Citigate, right opposite Flinders St Station, which meant we could walk everywhere we needed to go: ideal springtime lunch at Southbank, then to the tram, then to the gallery in the morning before the train home. The room was spacious enough for two people with only one carry-on bag between them, there was an iPod dock, the staff were wonderfully friendly, and this was the view from the twelfth floor:

    view from citigate hotel melbourneQuiet, too. All they need now are proper cave curtains to keep out the sunlight.