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.

Awesome words: Alternative Facts

Alternative Facts:

  1. A lie.
  2. A lie expressed for political expediency.
  3. A lie about a lie.

(My definitions.)

This phrase is awesome (I don’t mean that in a positive, upbeat kinda way) for its abject insidiousness. It is awesome because the very phrase “alternative facts” is a perfect example of what it embodies. If you call something out as being a lie, falsehood or untruth, you are making a statement of fact. If you call something an alternative fact, you are engaging in a lie about a lie. It is pure, self-perpetuating genius.

Just to drive home why this whole alternative facts thing is an exercise in evil, this phrase is now inextricably wound up in connotations of lying for political expediency. Let’s look at the events that rocketed this phrase to notoriety.

  1. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lied (made false/inaccurate/misleading statements, whatevs, you split the hairs) about attendance numbers at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.
  2. When challenged about this at a press conference, Trump’s campaign strategist Kellyanne Conway characterised these statements as “alternative facts”.

What is striking about this incident is that the alternative facts were not tendered for any meaningful reason. I’m sorry to be so crass, but this really was just a one-sided political pissing contest, a mine-is-bigger-than-yours schoolyard tossing competition. The implications it has respecting this administration’s capacity for being up front and honest with the American people and the rest of the world on any issues of actual import are freaking huge.

The other consequence of Conway making out like alternative facts are an actual Thing, is the broader effect it has on the culture of political discourse in the US.

This from the Wikipedia page on alternative facts, about the discussion of Conway’s use of the term and the criticism she subsequently received for it:

The magazine [American Thinker] asserted that the phrase “alternative facts” was in common use in law and that it was known to most lawyers, including Conway, with her George Washington University Law School degree. After giving examples of non-legal uses of the phrase “alternative facts”, the article contended that when Chuck Todd upbraided Kellyanne Conway with the claim that “alternative facts are not facts; they’re falsehoods”, he was not only wrong, but “propagating an ignorance born out of lazy and shallow thinking”.

Wait, what? So a journalist challenging a government spokesperson on what was a pretty blatant and easily provable falsehood was somehow “propagating an ignorance born out of lazy and shallow thinking”? WTAF?

I mean, whoah. Now we are talking a lie defended by a lie defended by a lie. It’s like a whole recursive onion-thing, where each layer is just wrapped in a new, bigger, thicker, stickier, more repulsive layer of lies. This is orders of magnitude above mere political spin.

And you know what? That onion thing is a comprehensively documented consequence of lying: that you have to keep lying to perpetuate the original lie. That’s what makes phrases like alternative facts such powerful, dangerous things. They are just the start of a self-perpetuating process that has the capacity to do incalculable harm.

 

lies

To get the t-shirt, click on the pic.

Hellooo 2017

Well, what a year that’s been.

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Serenity and rose quartz clouds at sunset, Canberra, 30 December 2016

Being a very visual person, a fun thing I’ve liked to do since I discovered it a few years ago is checkout Pantone’s colour of the year. Interestingly, for 2016, for the first time ever, they announced TWO colours for the year: Serenity and Rose Quartz. (Side note: naming paint colours is a job I’ve always coveted.) This colour pairing was supposed to express something about the need for harmony in chaos. And it was very pretty in a sort of a kittens and candy-floss kind of way.

The irony, of course, is that on many levels 2016 was not a kittens-and-candy-floss kind of year and I’m not sure that as a global society we really embraced that whole harmony thing. But, in the spirit of aspiring to Serenity and viewing the world through Rose Quartz-tinted glasses, here is my writing achievements round up for 2016.

Just like 2015, I elected to focus on novel projects. I find that what with working a day job and spending time with my lovable and hilarious family, I have to be a bit strategic about how I spend my writing time. So I didn’t do much on the short story front. Here’s what I did do:

  • Wrote two new short stories (and started another, um, eight or so and had ideas for a few more…)
  • Sold 2! (One old, one new.) Both to markets I’m very happy with.
  • Had 2 published (Pretty Jennie Greenteeth in Strange Little Girls, and Breathing in Aurealis #95)
  • Got Novel Project #4 to just over 107,000 words. I wanted to finish it and didn’t, which is annoying, but I’m almost there. Early feedback on the first chunk has been really encouraging, and I’m reasonably confident of wrapping up the first draft soon.
  • Had some exciting things happen in relation to Novel Project #1, which are still a bit secret. But I’m looking forward to talking more about those in 2017.
  • Got into the 2016 ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY professional development program, which was affirming and valuable and through which I’ve met a bunch more talented and extraordinarily lovely writers.
  • Was part of the team for Conflux 12 & pulled off a wonderful con.
  • Was appointed to the creative production team for the Noted writers festival for 2017!

So what’s on the to do list for 2017?

  • Finish the damn first draft of NP#4 and get it out to my very patient beta readers.
  • Probably do a bit more work on NP#1
  • Have a little rest from novel projects and write/finish/polish up/send out some short stories
  • Give in to the lure of the long-form story and start planning out NPs #3 and 5
  • Get my bloody passport in order and get myself to  Europe for a bit of research.

And what’s the colour for 2017?

pantone-coy-2017-15-0343-chipA “tangy yellow-green” called Greenery. The comment from Pantone is all about vitality and the desire to rejuvenate.

 

Greenery bursts forth in 2017 to provide us with the hope we collectively yearn for amid a complex social and political landscape. Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate, revitalize and unite, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute

I’m a big fan of green and, you know, nature stuff. But the cynical part of me can think of a few other associations for green in today’s “complex social and political landscape”, which are less kittens-and-candy-floss and more poisoned apple. Which is to say, I actually think green is a very fitting choice for 2017.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if 2017 did turn out to be all about rejuvenation and new growth and a renewed focus on environmental sustainability? And shared prosperity is actually pretty good too, so let’s have some of that.

Here’s to 2017. I hope all your good dreams come true, and we kill off a few of the nightmares.

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Spring love

I have a bunch of fun stuff in the pipeline, but I can’t announce any of it yet! So have some beautiful snippets of my garden in full Canberra spring glory.

And the beauty of close up photography means I don’t have to show you any of the weeds that are rather more abundant than the pretty bits.

Glimmers of sun in the pouring rain

aurealis-95In a week that has spelled disappointment, grief and gloom for many of us, I’ve had a few small, personal glimmers of sunlight. Here’s one. A lovely review of my story Breathing, out in the recent Aurealis #95, from Kat Day over at Tangent online. She’s given it a “highly recommended” (squee!) Achievement unlocked.

A lovely piece of work, very thought-provoking and actually rather moving.

And here’s some Leonard Cohen for you. Because even though he’s gone now, that’s one life that is definitely worth celebrating.

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.

the-surgeon-warts-and-all

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.)