Archive for August 2007
I caught the tail end of a lovely documentary last night on the ABC about the Australian artist David Frazer. I had not heard of him before but his work was astounding to say the least and really made an impression. He works in a variety of different print media such as wood engraving, lithography, etching, and lino-cutting. Frazer meticulously depicts isolation and rural decline in his print work and the detail in his work is beautiful. His works are small (refreshing in the ‘big-is-best’ mentality currently engulfing the art world) and requires the viewer to look closely. Frazer’s love and attention of his subject matter is imbued in the work and it is the incredible detail that really caught my eye. Thinking about his expression of various Australian characters, I realised that there is a specificity in his interpretation of being Australian. For me personally, it resonates, because it speaks of my own childhood experiences in a small Australian country town. There is a nostalgia there and a sense of loss too, of something or someplace that has been, but is no more or at the very least, that we are in the process of losing (alluding perhaps to Trent Parke‘s assertion that Australia has lost it’s innocence – though I might argue that there is nothing innocent about Australian history, but that is another argument for another post!).
“Another night on earth”. Wood engraving (12.5 x 20cm) by David Frazer
“Images of abandonment, alienation and longing are invested with ambiguity, optimism and wry humour. Typical rural objects and funny, sad characters are detailed as in a John Steinbeck novel; dreams of a rural utopia faded through the hardships of isolation and weather. To quote Martin Flanagan; “…perhaps the clue to David Frazer’s art is the figure that occasionally appears on the roofs of his houses, arms spread, imitating flight, wanting to leave a landscape he is nonetheless planted in…”.”
Funny, because this is often how I have felt as an Australian. So much a part of it but nevertheless an alien in my own country. I wonder then, if this a culmination of our history and the violent displacement of both white and black cultures (and more recently of Asian, Middle Eastern and African cultures). It seems to me that we are struggling to keep up, defining ourselves on the fly. Yet, there is something there that belongs to us all. I don’t have the words to express it really, it’s simply a feeling…. one of spiritual belonging perhaps?
I suppose, looking at Frazer’s art, I see similar themes in my own work, particularly in my ongoing B&W series of Australia currently titled Where the Heart Is. There is a nostalgic focus on the rural landscape, on the wilderness and the characters that inhabit those spaces. And it is largely this – and the tenderness of his expression – that speaks to me about Frazer’s work. I’m delighted that I now know of this wonderful artist.
Dream Away by David Frazer (6 x 9 cms)
Downward Mobility II by David Frazer (7.5 x 10 cms)
Cherryvan from the ‘Australia’ series.
Today marks the 41st anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, the most well-known battle fought by Australians during the Vietnam War. I attended the service this morning at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Anzac Parade. As always it’s an interesting show of military precision and political rhetoric. One one level, one can’t help but be moved by the eloquence of the proceedings and the understanding of the sacrifice that participants of the war – on all sides – endured. On the other hand, for those who have been directly or indirectly affected by the impact and reality of war – I speak here of veterans as well as their families – perhaps the heroic glossing over of history and the stark reality of the impact of political gameplay rang a little hollow. As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the former spouse of a peace-keeper, I couldn’t help but feel a little cynical with the sanitised content (and zealot religious tone) of some of the speeches/songs. Then again, I’ve never been exposed to war but I have experienced and witnessed the after-effects of it on both individuals and communities. Thus it is from this latter perspective – notwithstanding the fact that I am a pacifist – that I speak.Nevertheless, I still find these occasions fascinating. Watching the media scurry to film/photograph/interview the military and political elite is always bizarre. I guess my sympathies lie more with those men and women who have survived their experiences as well as their traumas. I’m also intrigued by the absolute rules and precision of all things military. Timing is everything (as this morning’s helicopter fly-overs demonstrated) and I admit, it’s always impressive, if not a little creepy. And we mustn’t forget the regalia – from medals to badges and lanyards etc…. it’s all there shiny, well-loved and on display, advertising the sense of pride, belonging and perhaps even regret these soldiers must feel. And why shouldn’t they? After all they have paid the supreme sacrifice for events that some versions of history and hindsight suggest were regrettable.
Conjecture aside, I am proud and fond of my friends many of whom I have met through the Vietnam Veterans Federation (VVF). Despite some gaps with politics, generation and even culture, they are good and solid people.
Remembering the Fallen
Veterans reflect during a reading of a Prayer for Peace
For about 6 months now I’ve been somewhat blocked as to how I wanted to sequence the photographs that I’d taken of the vets. I didn’t feel like these portraits told the stories that I wanted them to. I admit it didn’t help when Jon Rhodes proffered his opinion of them as being boring (which despite Martyn’s like of them, I had to agree with). However I think that I’m nearing a break-through – of sorts – enough at least to pick up where I left off. I’ll be catching up with the ladies (“Shirl the girl”, being their larger-than-life matron) next Friday. Also on the books is looking at the other side of the conflict from a Vietnamese perspective. I have met a few veterans from the Vietnamese side of the conflict who are now residing in Australia. I am looking very forward to hearing their stories as well.
Well, finally after a year of rejections (and really, as any artist would know these are not good for one’s ego and can have the tendency to make one doubt their work – though not totally of course otherwise we’d simply give up and go back to our day jobs full-time…. yucky thought!). Anyway, as I was saying….. finally! I have been selected to show in this year’s Off the Wall Show at Art Sydney. I must say I’m quite amazed – when I spoke to their rep I thought I’d simply been short-listed for display on their website and figured this was pretty cool, but then she pointed out that I had been selected as one of 20 from over 300 applicants so then I thought….. Ohmygawd!!! Yay for bloody me! Anyway, needless to say its the boost and affirmation that I need and I am rather chuffed. So I have two months to submit six of my images. I know a few already that I’ll definitely show but am thinking that this could be an opportunity to do some new stuff. Not that this has been lacking but perhaps I could be more focused about the process??
I’m looking very forward to the advice and other pointers not to mention the exposure. Plus a little adventure to the big smoke…. god I love Sydney!
Anyway, had to share my bloody brilliant news with all those people who read this blog (well, the few of you who actually might…. other than my sisters!).
Life is funny, so full of highs and lows…. though as I keep pointing out to my mate Frank, in the words of the Swamp Thing “the only way out is through my friends”! You never do know what’s around the corner do you?? So watch out world, I’m gonna make a splash like a banana bomb!
And just cos, here’s two little parting treats (from my jaunt last weekend to the Canberrang swing dancing fest):
The Mistresses (from the Lindy Charm School for Girls)
I had the fantastic opportunity to go to my first deb ball last weekend. For those of you who do not know this old custom, let’s take a look at what our dear old Wikipedia has to say about this :
“A debutante (or deb) (French word for “female beginner”) is a young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity, and as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal presentation known as her “debut” or “coming out.” Originally, it meant the young woman was eligible for marriage, and part of the purpose was to display her to eligible bachelors and their families with a view to marriage within a select upper class circle. This traditional event varies by region, but is typically referred to as a debutante ball.
In Australia, some debutante balls (or colloquially “deb balls”) are held in year 11 or 12 of the Australian Government funded school system through the school, although some are held outside the school system by organisations such as the local chapter of Lions Club. Girls do not have to ‘make their deb’ and today many girls elect not to or see deb balls as irrelevant. Equally, the ongoing tradition indicates that the debutante ball as rite of passage is alive and well in Australia.
It is customary for the female to ask a male to the debutante ball, with males not being able to “do the deb” unless they are asked. Debutante ball students who are partaking in the official proceedings must learn how to ballroom dance. Debutante balls are almost always held in a reception centre or ballroom. Usually they are held late in the year and consist of dinner, dancing and speeches by the school captains. Schools often restrict invitations to the debutante ball to students within the grade level at one school, but single-sex schools tend to allow a partner with no association to the school to attend. The debutante ball traditionally is a rite of passage for some Australian school students, both male and female, and represents their coming of age. They are often, but not always, similar to American proms. .
The girl wears a white wedding dress-like ball gown, while the boy wears a tuxedo. When a girl attends a non-Government school, the girl is invited to take part and her family pay for the ball. They are presented to the Governor of the State or other dignitary.”
On this occasion, the girls were presented to the Mayor (wearing tartan pants!), his wife and a lady-in-waiting. I was rather expecting a more American style event, a little like the formals in the city. I guess being a small country town, tradition is upheld a little more scrupulously perhaps?
I was surprised at the formality of the proceedings – though it should be pointed out that there was no alcohol at the event, not even for the parents – which would in part explain this. The debutantes themselves were really amazing…. like brides in training. And really, the evening was just like a mass wedding… there was the bridal dance and they even had a cake which they all cut together (8 girls and 8 boys). It was a little surreal to see teenagers playing dress-ups and grown-ups. Whilst they are almost adults, they are still effectively, children. I tried to picture my own daughter at 16 (only another 7 years) and wondered if she might choose to do her Deb, and I have to say…..it seemed a strange thought.
I’m planning to continue photographing the re-emergence of these traditions and am interested in contrasting the regional experience to the urban one. I dare say that this research will further feed into my work on the culture, ephemera and mania of the wedding (take a look at Bride for a Day on my Flickr site for some recent photographs). Ah yes, the rituals of girls and women….. too interesting not to photograph. Plus, it sits nicely with my work on ‘man-culture’. A little ethnographic perhaps, but given that I am not in the travel mode – well for now at least – what better place to look at than your own backyard?