Monday, March 10, 2008

Light, Space and Democracy

Mischa Kuball, Refraction House 1994
© Photo:
Hubertus Birkner, Köln

Space, Light and Democracy, COFA UNSW
On Friday, I attended a Symposium at the College of Fine Arts entitled “Space, Light, and Democracy”, in which three artists spoke on their work, and notions of, public and private light. It was hosted by the CCAP and Artspace.

Mischa Kuball, a German artist from Koln, discussed his light pieces, which included the manipulations of lighting in a riverside officeblock, and the illumination which emanated from a refurbished synagogue in Germany. It was interesting to note the ways in which light was able to engage the public with the work themselves, until they became part of the piece. For example, the neighbours living around the synagogue were themselves illuminated by the bright incandescent light, becoming exposed by it, and gradually entering into a kind of protective role of both the building and the lightpiece.
The image of the small synagogue ablaze with light was compelling, both visually and conceptually.

The other speakers, Merilyn Fairskye and Ashok Sukumaran
both use light to engage with the urban public. Merilyn’s work can be seen around Sydney in the Devonshire St Tunnel and at Sydney Airport. Ashok used strings of interactive lighting in the streets of Mumbai to create feelings of elsewhere.
I can relate to that.

Archibald Prize Opening

Del Kathryn Barton
"Self Portait with Kell and Arella"
Archibald Prize Winner 2008

I received, later that afternoon, an invitation to the Archibald Prize opening Party.
Managing to extricate myself from witching hour Chez Fifi was no mean feat, but I managed it, liking a party and all.
I was wearing a black bond's tshirt, a skirt made of upholstery fabric and workshoes-a-la-studio. Across the road from The College of Fine Arts in a shop window was a dress calling my name and I walked out of the shop wearing it. (The girl said I looked nice, the dress matched my eyes, can you believe. I believed her when thousands wouldn’t have)

I sat at the entrance of the Art Gallery of NSW between the sandstone columns,watching the crowds roll in. I must say, it struck me how rather badly dressed everyone was. Lots of immensely high heels supporting bare tottering legs.. It was certainly an odd crowd, not what I would call an art crowd, mind you. Nothing like Barry keldoulis’ openings with the cheese biscuits and interesting looking persons. I honestly don’t know where half this lot came from. Perhaps they had all received text messages late in the day, like me? Perhaps they were all remarking on that woman at the entrance with the bad hair and dirty mary-janes?

Inside, we could barely hear above the noise of the crowd, I just make out Del Kathryn Barton’s name during the speeches. Figures. I had been teaching about her a few days ago. I have liked her work when she still exhibited at Ray Hughes, when it was dark and scary and fetishist. Since then she has burst into colour and bloom: good on her. Its a very engaging painting, and with no loss of integrity. Everybody loved it.

I liked this one. It seemed to be made of little teardrops.
James Cochrane

Moving around the show I felt she was possibly one of the few artists who hadn’t sacrificed their own integrity in making a portrait. Portraiture brings out the worst in people. And a lot of the works seemed muddy: all the usual suspects were there in a festival of snotty boogerishness: Nicholas Harding, in a typical painter/subject repartee, produced a scumbly dull piece. As did Ben Quilty. It seemed as if everyone has developed eye problems in the last year. Perhaps I have developed eye problems and evrything was in fact bright and clear: who knows?

I made an effort to actually enter the Wynne Prize this year, but as I left things to my usual last minute panic, I was unable to frame my watercolour. Well, actually, I didn’t have the money for a new frame, so I was meant to swap it with an already framed one. Naturally, I missed the deadline, as I so often do.
There was only one other watercolour in it, so it won the watercolour prize. It was also a HUGE piece, and just happened to be John Wolseley.
The party was fun. Lucy Culliton was racing around in a state of excitement: "I love this party!" she shouted.

Since I have just had business cards printed, featuring said watercolour, I stood for a while with my tiny business card positioned on the wall next to the Wolseley. It looked so very funny, but at least there I was in the show, making myself laugh till no sound came out. Which is my usual habit at openings. All the high-heeled girls just didn’t get the joke.

Surf Club Nipper Presentation Day
Sundays cultural offering? Ian McEwan at the Sydney Opera House. However...a far more cultural event preceded this:
the Surf Club Nipper Presentation day which involved about one hundred and fifty children wearing funny coloured swim hats all performing their version of a rescue and then squashing themselves in to the e clubhouse to hear the champions called out. Bedlam. Oh, a baby lifeguard is called a Little Nipper.
A spectacular blue day, not a breath of wind. Barbecue, rolling sea. Even skinny little Tilly managed to rescue her patient.

Ian McEwan at the Sydney Opera House
I take my leave from this bucolic scene, and head for the ferry.
There is a powerboat race on Sydney harbour, and ferries will only run till 3pm. Hmm. Millionaire motorboats have hijacked my route to the city.

I cross the Harbour, meeting my friends when I get there. It is surreal, that in the bright glare I will be listening to Ian mcewan perhaps talk about the darkness of the human psyche.
It’s sold out, he place is packed. I run into a whole heap of people, gallery directors and art lecturers I wasn’t expecting to see, My old bookshop friend John. I strike up a conversation with a lady eating chocolate. Outside the sky is th most hard and brilliant cerulean blue.

I was a bit disappointed with the talk. McEwan read excerpts from his books, following each reading with letters he had received from people pointing out his mistakes. For example, that Orion is not visible from Venice in summer(Comfort of Strangers), that the Mercedes driven in Saturday would never have a clutch because those models are all automatic. What he was alluding to, I gather, am how the actual intrudes ion the imaginary, and how the imaginary intrudes on the real, and they pass backwards and forwards. I was waiting for this great marvel of words, and I felt it was "light entertainment" in a way. I mean, it was still good, just not what I expected. It seemed so surreal, the setting, the people, the light of the day.
I realised this week that I have read every Ian McEwan book, and I read the first one in 1990. What drove me to choose it? It was "The Child in Time". I would have bought it in Ariel at paddington, probably because I liked the cover. I know I chose "Enduring Love" entirely because of the Odilon Redon etching on the front.
I think, of all his novels, Black Dogs is the one I felt most resonated with me. Although I probably enjoyed Atonement and On Chesil Beach more, Black Dogs articulated something serpentine in my own nature that I possibly would never had identified.

Outside, the surface of the the Harbour sliced by the bow waves of the nasty powerboats. The noise was terrible, the spectacle ugly, and the boats huge, hunched and monstrous. Why on earth such a thing was held in the middle of the Harbour is beyond me, worlds were colliding all around. Not to mention that these screeching creatures were standing between myself and home.

On the other side, in Circular Quay was moored a ship which in size completely dwarfed the Museum of Contemporary Art, named the Albatross of Nassau. Its white bulk filled the landscape, and I wished it away. We drank champagne and looked at the harbour in its haze of heat. Below the sails of the Opera House people crowded to watch the gargantuan monsterboats roaring around and I wondered what Ian McEwan thought of all this as he sat signing books in the foyer (no dedications, please!) Folks wandered around looking comparatively civilised.

On the left is the MCA. On the right is The Albatros

It is interesting to consider all this in terms of light, private and public. We do here have a very democratic sharing of light, in fact, one can scarcely avoid it, both natural and artificial. Here in the glare, are we illumined? This apportioning of rights to the harbour, I felt, was very elitist. Most undemocratic...


bluemountainsmary said...

So much to think about here.

Loved reading your views on the Archibald.

The though of you standing there with your business card pinned against the wall and laughing to yourself made me laugh and is an image that will not readily leave me. Even though I have no clue what you look like.

Interesting about Ian McEwan. Spooky about Black Dogs. For me. Need to read that too, haven't yet although have read many of his others.

Anonymous said...
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fifi said...

yes, I do amuse myself. Such a tragic!

Its funny, when I read a book I feel that I am the only one to have read it, like I have actually enacted it rather than just reading it, and when others say they've ead it too, I always get a kind of surprise. So I supose thats why for me it was odd seeing Ian McEwan like a superstar at the Opera House. Maybe.


Isabelle said...

What an interesting and thought-provoking post. Goodness. I've done nothing that exciting recently.

Love the pictures. The light - mmm. The portrait - great. I love faces. Your watercolour - beautiful.

Ian McEwan - a bit gloomy for me. I have to feel strong to read him, so haven't read much. "Black Dogs" I did quite like, and "Saturday". But he's a bit short on jokes in my recollection.

Very impressive birthday you have this year, by the way. You should be 80 (or perhaps even better, 8), to make it work completely. But I don't think so...

fifi said...

Isabelle, re McEwan,
I don't know why gloomy seems to appeal to me so much. I find the latter group of works different to the earlier ones, they seem more sharply focussed or something. I think I just have a hidden dark streak.

Yes, impressive birthday, I agree. I think I will make up an age suitable. How about 26, because that adds up to 8? I'd like to be 26 again....

ah, numbers are an abstract concept after all. So someone said .

Suse said...

I was kind of meh about Atonement, however I loved the film. That sounds sacreligious I suppose.

However I adored Enduring Love but despised the film (and felt bad about that as a friend's brother wrote the screenplay).

I have 'Saturday' sitting on my bedside table, on loan from a work colleague who now will not be needing it back for many months.

rambling ...

Loved this post and wished you'd taken a pic of your card and the painting side by side.

meggie said...

What a very interesting journey, you took us on, with your day.
I did enjoy the movie Atonement. Have not read the book.
Love your watercolour. Like Mary, I like to smile at the image of you, with your card on the wall.

Thankyou Fifi, for your recent kindness to me! Much appreciated.

Ampersand Duck said...

"a festival of snotty boogerishness"

That will keep me smiling for the rest of the week...

I have been invited to the opening of "Turner to Monet: The Triumph of Landscape", and I'm glad, because I probably wouldn't have paid to visit it, much as I love Turner. I dislike blockbusters. My shoes will probably be flat and grubby, because I don't seem to own shiny/glittery/ frivolous heely things.

I wish you had put your watercolour in; he needs some competition!

Lovely post. Lots of lovely things to think about, especially snotty boogerishness. Makes me think about John Howard.

Anonymous said...

You do move in illustrious circles. My life is so very mundane in comparison. Blogging is great to get an insight into other people's minds and worlds.

I have always read McEwan too. I never feel like I am enjoying the books when I read them but they stay with me afterwards somehow. I read On Chesil Beach last summer in the depths of despair and the ending did prod me into doing something about my own situation - it didn't help, but at least I will always know I did everything I could.

Molly said...

That blueandgreeness in the middle---is it your? It is gorgeous....

fifi said...

I feel now I am some sort of advocate for Iam McEwan, but it just happens I have read them all over a long period of time. And since I am not of any literary family as such, it was just by random. I loved Atonement, the book and film, but not the Enduring love film so much. I hope your colleague is alright, but I gather not. I'm sorry for that.

Meggie, I am going definately to go back and ponce around the gallery taking photos of myself.
Yes, miolly, that is one of my superb artworks which of course would have won me fame and fortune if only I could ever get my ACT together and not miss deadlines....
I'll blame waterpolo for that one.

My other works are all black and dark.

ha ha, yes indeed, snotty boogerishness pervades the world.
And mary jane shoes are the thing.
The very thing to wear to an opening. I rather love Turner myself. (Actually, I don't mind monet either but I don't usually admit to that in public.)

Reluctant B:
Yes, I read them and feel bad, but think on things later.
I finished my story btw, the one about your end of the earth. Its rather long, and I probably wont post it but when Its finished I will send you a copy.

travistee said...

My head is too full of the flu to say anything significant today, but I have enjoyed reading of the Fish swimming from Cultural Event to Cultural Event...

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, do. I would love to read it. Thank you.

Leann said...

Hi fifi;I came by to say thanks for sticking by me when I wasnt able to post.
thanks for sharing all this with us.loved those pictures.
have a great weekend.
love leann

Arcturus said...

Hi Fifi ... Lovely entry, as always. And let me just say, you more than deserve to be on Sydney Harbour in a sprawling yacht with the bright, warm noontime sun in your hair. I totally see it. Far more than a bunch of nouveaux riche millionaire upstarts.

genevieve said...

Hey, I love that watercolour. I do hope you get it entered in something, it's great.
Wonderful post, a lot happening in that week! I have only read one McEwan - I think it's best not to expect too much from well-loved authors in the flesh, then it's not so upsetting if they're a bit less exciting than their work. I was going to go hear Paul Auster and Siri H. recently, and got put off by the front of the Oz Review, giving them some big plug as 'the first couple of the republic of letters'. A shame, as I might have enjoyed it - but the hoopla is kinda disgusting.
Interesting about those dedications, too - I believe there is a practice in the States that bookcollectors insist on no dedications, just a signature - apparently the books become more valuable. Perhaps McEwan is sick of asking people what they want :-)
Anyway, enough from me!!!