Vasilisa the bewitching

I came home from work today to find a very exciting present waiting for me.

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See how it says “artwork”? So excitement. So I opened it…

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And this is what I saw. SQUEEEEE! I KNEW IT!!!

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Then I turned it over.

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Isn’t it completely glorious? I cannot wait to have this framed & up on my wall. (And I got bonus postcards! AND my pre-ordered copy of Vasilisa the Wise – which got launched last Thursday! – will be arriving just in time to make it onto my Christmas reading pile. What is Vasilisa the Wise? Oh my sweet. If you love fairy tales, Kate Forsyth’s enchanting storytelling, or the bewitching, other-worldly illustrations of the extraordinarily talented Lorena Carrington, head over to Vasilisa’s website and check her out.)

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Dark Mofo

I have just come back from Hobart (again – love that city) and immersing myself in the craziness and unearthly beauty that is the Dark Mofo festival. Technically I was there for work – and for those who are raising an eyebrow, I did spend Thursday and Friday in almost back-to-back meetings. Then I had another one on Saturday morning. But… That did leave me with my evenings free to sample the delights of this deliciously wintery festival of art and food that literally paints this city red for two weeks leading up to the winter solstice.

A few highlights…

Siren Song

This is a musical artwork produced by Byron J Scullin, Hannah Fox and Tom Supple that is played out across the city of Hobart every day at sunrise and sunset. It’s almost impossible to describe this ethereal piece, but the ABC as put a sample of it up on their Soundcloud. The only problem is that this recording is tiny and incredibly intimate compared with how it sounds when it is played out across an entire city at dawn and dusk. I especially loved listening to it in the morning, still half asleep, curled up in my hotel bed. It’s a slow wash of music that seeps irrevocably into your brain so that you keep hearing the ghosts of the harmonics for hours afterwards – in the drone of the bathroom fan, the hum of traffic.

The IY_Project

This gigantic, cat’s cradle of laser light based on sacred geometry, is the brainchild of Chris Levine, and is accompanied by an immersive soundscape by Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack and Marco Perry.  They waft smoke through it, and the sheets of light carve out slices of coloured smoke that look like some kind of psychadelic, time-lapse cloud photography. I kid you not, I stood outside in the freezing effing cold watching this for over an hour on Friday night, I was so entranced. Then I went back and did it again on Saturday. Here’s a little sample from Friday.

So this is really fucking transcendental and no pic is gonna do it justice. #ChrisLevine #IY_Project #DarkPark #DarkMOFO

A post shared by Leife Shallcross (@leife.shallcross) on Jun 9, 2017 at 4:22am PDT

And another inadequate snippet from Saturday…

Mogwai

So this was a total lucky dip exercise for me and totally blew my tiny mind. I had no idea what to expect. Anyone who knows about Mogwai will probably read this and go “Duh!”, but it was totally transporting. I can certainly see that to some, this kind of music is the worst kind of white noise, and to tell the truth, I probably couldn’t sit down and listen to a recording. But live in concert? Oh man.

There is something intensely exciting about watching master musicians play live. Their sheer skill is thrilling, and the paradox of they way they are so tightly focussed on what they are doing as to be almost oblivious to the audience, yet at the same time inextricably linked to the way the audience is experiencing the product of their skill is fascinating. On several occasions one or more of the band members turned their backs on the audience entirely. As far as I can remember, only one of the band actually spoke to the audience and that was simply to thank the audience for their applause after each song. He seriously said about 20 words all evening. But the music itself… Wow. It was like being caught in a waterfall of sound. And Mogwai controlled the flow with absolute precision. Each song was carefully crafted around a build up to a blindside of sound that was euphoric. There was one song towards the end where people were standing around me with their heads thrown back and their eyes closed.

Seriously amazing stuff.

Sleeping Beauty

I wanted to see this so badly. This was a production of Sleeping Beauty that combined the talents of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Victorian Opera and the Terrapin Puppet Theatre. Each character in the opera was represented by both a larger-than-life puppet and an opera singer. It was stunning.

Sleeping beauty tree

As is usual with my (limited) experience of opera, I found the story a bit thin in parts. However the visuals and the music were divine. The Tree dude, pictured above, embodied this perfectly. I mean, what is not to love about that image? I can’t tell you what part he played in the story though. Still. It was thoroughly enjoyable I loved the creepy, glow-in-the-dark fairy host. The Good Fairy, too, with her reptilian tail and ghostly vestments was deliciously creepy. It really made you question the King’s wisdom in involving the fay in any capacity (and look what happened, hey.)

I found Sleeping Beauty’s mother, the Queen, incredibly moving.

The Queen Sleeping Beauty

She literally fell apart with grief when the Green Witch cursed her baby daughter. I’ve got a real soft spot for fairy tale queens. They often seem to get a very rough deal. Valued only for their beauty and their baby-producing capacity, so many fairy tales revolve around the queen’s difficulties and mounting desperation to fulfill the second part of this bargain. This queen started off looking extremely young – probably not much older than her daughter was when she succumbed to the curse – but aged visibly during the story. Even the way her skirt hoops are visible under the ragged silk of her dress speaks to her fragility.

The Winter Feast

And to offset all that art, there was the food. Just for context, Hobart is a city where it is supremely easy to find delicious things to eat. But Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast is a smorgasbord of delicious food and drink and smells and music all soaked in crimson light.

I ate oysters and fondue with truffle shavings and canoli and shitake mushroom skewers and dark chocolate salted caramel tarts. I drank hot ginger toddies and hot spiced gin and hot mulled cider and…

So, so delicious.

A little announcement

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Here’s a thing I’ve been waiting to announce for a couple of weeks now…

Noted Writers Festival has just announced its production team and look who’s on it! Oh, wait, that’s me!

I’ll be filling the position of Creative Producer – Professional Development.

I’ve loved working on Conflux so much, I thought I’d try and get involved with some other writing festivals and – Voila! They said yes!

I am a bit excited about this.

Now I have something like 90 artist applications to sift through to help decide who we’re going to feature. Wish me luck (and maybe see you there in March 2017?)

Cheers!

Object Therapy Part 2

Remember that broken crockery and the dismembered rocking horse?

Well, here is the happy ending to that story.

The Crockery

This treasure chest of beautiful brokenness went to artist Halie Rubenis who did remarkable things with not just the chipped, cracked and shattered contents of this “big box of abject clumsiness”, but the actual box itself and all the bits of plastic bag and bubble wrap that it was all nestled in. From all this she created the objects in The Surgeon (below left) and Warts and All (below centre and right). In The Surgeon the porcelain cup has been repurposed as a whetstone for the knife; the handle of the knife is made from the plastic bags all the bits were wrapped in. In Warts and All, those oozy, fungal growths are made from the styrafoam box.

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Best of all, this isn’t even the end of this story. Check out Halie’s Instagram account to see what else she is doing with the contents of my box of broken china.

The Rocking Horse

My rocking horse was delivered into the hands of award-winning Sydney-based furniture designer, Liam Mugavin. I had no idea what to expect. It’s a very plain, utilitarian object; all natural wood. So I’d wondered if maybe the artist it went to might jazz it up a bit by painting it, perhaps.

Well, Liam jazzed it up. But…wow.

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I was blown away by the artistry and intricacy of Liam’s work. What you can see beautifully in this photograph is the way Liam’s repair honours my grandfather’s original construction of the rocking horse by echoing his use of dowel in the joints of the horse (you can see how the end grain of the dowel is contrasted against the larger bits of wood in the horse’s eye, shoulder and belly). But Liam has taken that to a whole other level in repairing the horse’s neck. In some ways his repair is completely understated. You have to look quite closely to appreciate the beauty of the construction in the repair. It’s still all natural wood. Not a lick of paint in sight! And the entire rest of the rocking horse is untouched, down to the ratty mane, missing ears and odd crayon scribble bestowed here and there by one generation of kids or another.

But once you get up close and really look at what he’s done, it’s astonishing. All those obliquely-set inserts create an incredibly complex pattern in the wood. Crazy beautiful. And that punk-rock collar of protruding wooden and brass rods is pretty ostentatious. I took my sister to the opening of the Object Therapy exhibition at Hotel Hotel to see it and we spent about an hour talking about it afterwards over dinner.

So there you go. Happy endings. It’s worth heading over to the Object Therapy website to check out some of the other repair projects. My personal faves were Alison’s bag, Skye’s glass ring and Kristie’s Kenwood Mixer. That last one was hilarious.

Also, if you’re interested, Object Therapy has a Vimeo channel where they’ve collected some snippets of the “before” and “after” video interviews they did of each of the contributors. You can hear me waxing lyrical about the history of the rocking horse, the value of creative time and our throwaway culture.

Leife’s 1st Interview, Rocking Horse and Ceramics, 1. The Rocking Horse and its head, it came off from Hotel Hotel on Vimeo.

Leife’s 2nd Interview, Rocking Horse and Ceramics 2. hours and hours or work, the value of creative work from Hotel Hotel on Vimeo.

Fix and make – Object Therapy

A little while ago I found out about a fascinating community art project called Object Therapy being run by Canberra’s Fix and Make Workshop. In short, it invited members of the public to donate broken household objects for artists to transformatively repair. I submitted two “objects”, both of which were accepted. Interestingly, one was all about emotional connection, memory and sentimental value, and the other was all about raw beauty. They were…

A broken rocking horse.

rocking-horseMy grandfather made this for me. I spent hours riding on it when I was a kid, and even as a teenager I treasured it and kept it in my bedroom. It’s not the most elegant or romantic version of a rocking horse you’ll ever see, but it was so much fun.

Add to that, it also doubled as a spaceship/racing car/motorbike if you turned it upside down and sat inside it.

And it wasn’t just me. My kids had a ball with this old thing. My daughter used to ride on it for hours at breakneck speed when she was tiny – barely two. There’s even a great story about how I lost the diamond out of the antique ring my partner gave me and she found it – embedded in the carpet under this rocking horse of all places.

It was well-loved and well-used for probably more than thirty years.

Perhaps that’s why the neck joint finally gave out and its head came off.

A box of broken crockery

crockeryI’m kind of a hoarder.

All these bits and pieces were just so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to think of them as just rubbish, so I put them in this huge old styrafoam box that once held seafood, and kept them for years. I think I was thinking one day I’d maybe make a mosaic or something out of them. In submitting them to Object Therapy, I was thinking maybe someone else could use this raw material to make something new and wonderful.

What happened…

Fast forward a few months, and yesterday I got to be reunited with my objects! Just last week I got a little sneak peek of what happened to my crockery. It went to artist Halie Rubenis and I’m kind of in awe of the innovative approach she took to transforming the objects. I’ve only seen three of them (there are apparently a few more), but…wow. You can get your own preview on Halie’s instagram site. What blew my mind a bit was how she not only used the broken crockery in the artwork she produced, but also the styrafoam box and even the old plastic bags the bits of crockery were wrapped in.

I think the plate in this photo is my favourite. I love the contrast between the formal, almost prissy design of the old plate, and the organic jumble of coral-like growths (former styrafoam box!) now oozing out of the crack.

In addition to giving me the heady rush of contributing to the creation of new art, this project has also been extremely thought-provoking. In the reuniting interview, I got asked a lot of questions about how this project made me think about waste and recycling/reusing/repurposing, and also about whether how I valued the objects had changed. That value question is so hard to answer. It’s easy to look at a finished piece of art and value it for the materials gone into making it. The time and sheer human creativity and ingenuity that have gone into it are much harder to quantify. What do you count? The time working on the actual object? The time brainstorming (and weighing up, and discarding) ideas? The answer is, all of this counts, of course. But it can be hard to justify.

Which brings me to this thought-provoking video I saw at a conference earlier this year in a presentation all about valuing creativity.

 

And what about the rocking horse?

Spoilers!

(It’s beautiful. It’s mended and whole and just stunning. And I’ll tell you all about it after the exhibition on 14 October at Hotel Hotel in Canberra.)