Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Some Day

Nestled amidst the musty railway trunks, three-legged hatstands and grime-spackled bookcases of the Born Dancin' Office for Paranormal Investigations squats an old-fashioned rolltop desk devoted to research into mechanical oddities. Faded prints of steam-powered wheelchairs, eighteenth-century animatronics and automaton engineering butt dusties with giant Japanese robot technologies, furled parchments on Disney rides and a subscription to Tamagotchi Collector's Monthly. It's here you'll find a darkened pigeonhole containing all available information on one of the most successful robotic creations to emerge in recent years.

Dakota Fanning is a remarkable achievement, to all appearances a real life human child. It's only when she talks that one notices the gears and cam-shafts and flywheels which must be whirring away in there. Everyone knows that machines can't think, which is why she seems to have been equipped with a speaking mechanism produced by Hollywood media moguls, spouting flawless interview-speak with the confidence and lack of self-consciousness found only in the biggest of Tinseltown stars. She acts like an aging Katherine Hepburn in tween form. Maybe that's why the director of the new Charlotte's Web called her "the greatest working actor in the world" at the film's world premiere on Sunday. Certainly, it seemed that few, if any of the thousand-plus children in attendance were troubled by their little pint-sized Hollywood hero was a bunch of nuts and bolts. But I guess kids have always been able to identify with toys and dolls and puppets that way.

The film itself was pretty good, in an understated kind of way, but the afterparty was a scary ride into the unknown. Firstly: the buses. We were herded from the Regent that sunny afternoon into a squad of waiting buses, which felt more like school camp than anything else, kids clambering over the backs of seats, a gleeful ruckus of little 'uns who'd been sitting still for the last hour and a half and sure as hell weren't going to stay put any longer. Our coaches took us the the Collingwood Children's Farm, got up like Charlotte's Somerset County Fair, brass band, petting zoo and all.

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Once there, the grownups (there were no 'adults' in this particular world) were freshened up with an endless supply of booze ferried out from lord-knows what thicket while kids mainlined bags of cotton candy, hulking golden donuts with a visible nimbus of saccharine glazing and bottomless red-cordial-infused ice buckets. Tipsy parents and sugar-soaked kiddies? Recipe. For. Chaos.

I'd had a bet how long it would take before we saw our first tantrum, and I was surprised that it took a good hour or two. Perhaps it was all the pony rides and miniature ferris wheels and carousels and fully operating lifesize Dakota Fanning which provided distractions for that time. Certainly, the animal nursery was popular, with different stalls featuring animal actors portraying the various characters in the film.

Here's Bitsy the cow, looking a little more formidable in real life.

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Less successful was the lair of Templeton, the rat.

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Note: if you look closely, you'll realise that THIS IS NOT A REAL RAT. Also, I'm pretty sure I saw a kid walking off across the field holding this stuffed rat later in the day.

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I had a moment of perspective-sharpening after leaving the nursery to see two groups formed around separate objects of interest. I went to the smaller group, which pretty much consisted of me and about two other people all looking adoringly at this little fella, our Wilbur for the day. He's sleeping here, which, at four weeks old, is understandable.

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A much bigger group was ooh-ing and aah-ing over the day's real Prize Pig, Young Miss Fanning.

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I kind of found it sad that Dakota was getting so much attention because she was a) famous and b) could autograph things for people, when nobody particularly cared to appreciate the beautiful little Wilbur, who is a far more astonishing and heart-stirring creation than anything Hollywood could produce. Then again, it was Charlotte's writer E.B. White who'd always proposed that same old notion:

If you let nature play itself, it'll entertain you for the rest of your life.

Over the course of the day, I noticed that Dakota was just playing herself too, and that despite her flawless ability to emulate exactly what we imagine a celebrity to be, she's still just a 12 year-old kid having a great time. Maybe she's got a bit too much energy and enthusiasm, but with the sugar flowing on Sunday that could have been any kid there. And all of them, from the tottering toddlers to the tantrum-tossers, and even the beaming parents and coolsie blow-ins, were all pretty entertaining as themselves. Quite the cast, and no CGI effects needed. Sunny times.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Magazine or Book or Magazine

First edition goes out tomorrow. Isn't it gorgeous? Follow its progress along with the other 51 copies at bookmagazine.blogspot.com. I won't mention it again here though, where other, more pressing issues of national emergency take precedence.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Continuing on from yesterday's post, which you may read if you care for continuity, or skip if you are a rebel thought nomad, trim sails to the wind.

What I like about Hoegsberg's Thought Project is its unfinished nature, which is perhaps due to its quasi-collaborative method. It takes as its subject "thought", but doesn't present a rounded set of conclusions or deductions or implications: it focuses on thought (and ideas and even art) as process, not product. And I think I'm interested in the process of thought, as made evident in the narratives accompanying each photograph. They trace routes of thinking, sometimes doubling back, sometimes leaping across a chasm to end up somewhere different, but never sitting still, since I suppose that's impossible. Maybe thought is a kind of movement (a dance?) and too often we do the movement in private, attempting wherever possible to show the world only the finished pose, the final figure rather than the clumsy routine we've been through to arrive there.

Gillian Wearing's art frequently centres on the line between ordinary people's inner worlds and the faces they present to the public. I first saw her stuff a few months back at The Greatest Gallery In The World and was immediately impressed. It was in the same room as some shots by another favourite, Cindy Sherman, so I was double-chuffed. And Wearing's series of photographs which feature herself, um, wearing almost perfectly realised latex masks of other people is very Sherman-esque.

The photo sequence in question, though is part of the series "Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say". Wearing asked passersby to write a thought on a piece of paper, which they then held up as she took their photograph, and some of the results are fantastic exercises which question our expectations and social stereotypes.

Other works in the Wearing exhibition currently on at ACCA include a confronting and touching series of photographs of a working-class prostitute with various of her regular clients, each accompanied by a handwritten (and often barely legible) letter by the respective client, explaining his feelings about her. The notes range from the heart-rending (the old man who declares that he loves her and wishes she wouldn't sell herself for the price of a beer) to the shocking (the angry soul who seems worried that she calls him a dud in the sack, and soons begins a horrible diatribe against her).

Something about the method here prevents the series from simply turning into another exercise in voyeurism, in prurient gasping "look how they live!" sensationalism. I think it's the way the subjects are given the opportunity to express themselves, without editorial intervention from Wearing, though as the framer she does have a lot of involvement in that sense, of course. And it's very interesting (and I'd venture to say quite deliberate) that the woman in question doesn't get the chance to respond to these writings, or express herself. We don't get to know her at all. Do we get to know the men any better?

I typed in this web address today and came across a very sweetly sad little site - a blog from the US covering two and a half years of a relationship (between 'Jennifer' and 'Alan'). It was set up so that they could write how they really felt to one another, though reading it, I got the feeling that they'd be pretty open in real life too. Who knows. But charting the course of their ups and downs, the blog makes for fascinating reading, especially if you just click on random dates. There are times when they seem wildly, passionately in love, but other entries hint of a cooling off from one party or another, or a feeling that something is being held back, or that something is being covered over.

The saddest thing is the way it ends on Sunday July 25, 2004. Jennifer is the last to post, and her final line comes from nowhere: "i feel so sad and forlorn! where are you when i need you?!"

And that's all she wrote.

Unfinished, peripatetic, ideas-based, half-baked, processive, meandering: something seems to link all of these things, but I'm not sure whether one adjective will really nail it. And of course it's a family resemblance, not a single feature.

But it's hard enough finding work that I like, so I thought I'd start one myself, or at least throw out a net and see what it brings in. So here's a little pointer to a project I'm starting which will be a magazine called Book, or perhaps a book called Magazine.

There will be 52 copies. Each week, I'll post a copy of a blank book (each book will be different) to somebody, who will contribute whatever they like to it. Writing, obviously, and drawing and painting and music and cut-outs and pasted objects and origami and coffee stains and pieces torn out and lamination and essays and plagiarism and photographs and stencils and so on, it'll all be welcome. Every edition will have its own theme, though these can be interpreted widely. It's a pretty open brief. And when its recipient has added (or subtracted) as much as they want, they'll post it on to the next person.

The final results will vary in quality, I imagine, but in toto should be fun to compare. Who knows?

I'll track the various copies across the world via the website, too, and people will be able to post impressions on the developing books as they recieve them.

If you'd like to be added to the list, just keep an eye on the site for more info.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I spent last night workshopping some of Shakespeare's monologues with a friend who has an audition with Bell Shakespeare. Said workshopping mainly involved sitting on a darkened oval as he bellowed things from the other end of the cricket pitch like Shane Warne in an excited moment.

"What a rogue and peasant slave am IIIIIII!!!"

A very fine bottle or two of red was involved, sponsored by an unexpected double win on a $2 sweepstake (his win - I remain a loser). And thrice did the field with tall terraces bound echo with a throaty cry of "vengeance!" Most of the time he played with much more nuance, however, and it was unexpectedly thrilling to put myself back in the position of director (or, I suppose, dramaturg) as I offered comments and criticism and "do it again like this" and so on.

In honour of this occasion (which I now dub the Inaugural Annual Yell Shakespeare on the North Fitzroy Oval Festival - all invited for the 2007 event) I will today completely depart from my usual performance focus by taking a meandering, rhizomatic journey through some of my favourite art of recent times. Art, as in pictures and stuff, or at least a bit like that. I'm not really that well-versed in art, and I'm not even sure I know what I like, but I do know what makes me feel different and deserving and such; the sort of thing that has me thinking "well, I may not know why I exist, or anyone else, but I'm very very glad I do right now."


A while back I interviewed VCA grad and ACCA employee Gabrielle de Vietri about her Ideas Catalogue, and I'm really very all over it for the awesome and utterly charming idea that it is. Briefly, de Vietri assembles a catalogue of unrealised projects from people around the world, which are then put on sale, much in the style of an art catalogue. Prices range from a few bucks to a few thousand, and the Ideas themselves are in turn funny, provocative, offensive and sublime. And some are, to gurgle up the old cliche, so crazy that they just might work.

For example, I like the first issue's BREAK-UP INDICATORS, a pair of walll-mounted metres that can be used by the respective members of a couple to display "a percentage of likelihood of staying together." Useful, huh? And "at 0% and 100%, the adjustable knob could lock, as these are stages that imply unchangingness." I like it. $120.

Or, for the literarily/statistically inclined, why not pick up ALL THE POSSIBLE STORIES (also from Issue One - we're now up to Two)? The Idea calls for its owner to "Find every story that can be written in the English language in 1000 letters," and goes on to explain just how this can be accomplished. It's worth someone doing, though clearly I'm too lazy/erratic to try it myself. $620.


Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know was quite the indie hit flick a little while back, and she's an accomplished artist in all kinds of forms. She's one of the people behind the website Learning to Love You More, which my sis put me onto, and which features "work made by the general public in response to assignments given by artists." These assignments are things like "Make a portrait of your friend's desires" or "Interview someone who has experienced war" or, my favourite, "Take a picture of your parents kissing". The results are posted on the site.


Simon Hoegsberg is the guy behind the Thought Project - a photographer, he gave himself the task of stopping ordinary folk walking the streets of Copenhagen and asking them what they were thinking about at precisely that moment. The photographs themselves are gorgeous; even better, though, is the fact that most of the people he stops are sweet, complex, articulate souls who open up, just for a moment, a doorway into their minds and lives. All through a few words. Take this one:

... you can read the rest of this (and the many others) at Hoegsberg's website.

I had a lot (LOT) more written, which I've just lost. That's how the internet and me get along, I guess. I'll try to re-write it tomorrow, or not.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Sometimes I wake to find questions crowding in like cats batting their angry paws at my bedroom door. I usually realise quite quickly that what I have taken to be questions are, in fact, cats batting their angry paws at my bedroom door, but I find the easiest way to ignore this kind of feline spam mail is to imagine that they are questions, rather than hungry and irksome creatures over whom I have some responsibility. And so I retreat to an idyllic corner of my mind (I call it "Christopher Walken's House of Pantaloons") and ponder these queries, which are to me a kind of frog chorus.

For instance.


It would seem so, yes.


I know. There were a few shows I didn't get to mention (Mantalk, La Clique) but they weren't traffic-stoppers so I don't feel too guilty. Also: Cairns.


I cannot say. But if it were a James Bond film, it would most decidely have been one of the early 70s ones, since it involved a contraption which looked like this:

It also involved a man explaining to me the finer points of cognac appreciation, an afternoon in an open air spa with cocktails and lovely ladies, fast boats, scuzzy underwater photography and, well, Cairns. So definitely a 70s number.


I accidentally licked an old lady's finger while trying to lick an ant. I swam in a watering hole with a turtle. I was introduced to a kind of fruit which weighs about 50 kilos. And I ate more food than I really should have.


Mostly. Almost entirely. Here's an image-based approximation of my feelings over the whole trip.


This is a watering hole.


Great guns. I now sit of an evening upon my grand balcony, gazing through smug, half-lidded eyes at the glory that is my dominion. Or at least the park opposite. Also they make good coffee on the corner.


Of course, it'll be a grand old time and we can toast future happiness and tell tall tales and also just more ordinary stories too (not tall).


Well, I recently heard a story from someone who, as a child, was quite the enterpreneur. She grew up in Hong Kong and was intrigued by the economies of scale involved in the whole tooth-under-the-pillow thing. At a local feast, she found some pigeon's heads discarded after a cook-up, and figured that a beak was worth at least a few teeth. A week later her parents complained to the housekeeper about the godawful smell coming from her room, and it didn't take long before somebody lifted her pillow to reveal the little row of bird heads festering underneath.

Huh. Kids.


I'm reading Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita right now, and it's very, very good.


What, so you can blow it all again, like last time? Geez, is that the only reason you came over? I'm not a cash machine.


Well if that's all I am, fine. But I don't have time for your stupid panhandling; here I am holding down a full-time gig, fending off the creditors and jetting up and down the coast, while spending the rest of my time with my forehead pressed against the steering wheel of the '78 Falcon I bought thinking it would give my life "vim", listening to Harry Nilsson's Without You on repeat and wondering exactly what would happen if I just closed my eyes and floored it. Basically, I'm really busy.


Nothing! I just want to sit here out on my balcony, reminiscing about tropical Far North Queensland and ignoring your stupid scratching at my door. Is that too much to ask? So quit your mewling and let me get back to getting back. Oh wait.