Faculty staff and alumni were well-represented among the winners at the 2017 Helpmann Awards.
By Sarah Hall
Seven staff and alumni from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music won Helpmann Awards on Monday evening, in the fields of theatre, dance and music.
The VCA’s recently-announced 2017 Keith & Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellow Leticia Cáceres won the Helpmann for Best Direction of a Play for Belvoir Theatre’s The Drover's Wife, for which alumnus Mark Coles Smith also won in the category of Best Male Actor. The Drover’s Wife additionally took the awards for Best Play and Best New Work (Leah Purcell).
“I’m really so happy this has happened, it’s amazing,” said Ms Cáceres on her win for The Drover's Wife, a reimagining of Henry lawson's story of the same name. She described the Helpmanns, which recognise distinguished artistic achievement and excellence in the arts in the live performance sector, as Australia’s equivalent to the Tony or Olivier awards.
“We never lost sight of why we wanted to tell this story the way we wanted to tell it,” she said. “To have had this recognition means not only that were we able to talk critically about the issues that were important to us, but that we did so in a way that was satisfying for audiences and critics alike. For me that is a massive achievement.”
Alumnus Barrie Kosky's Opera Saul scooped several awards, one of which went to Kosky for Best Direction of an Opera, and another of which went to the MCM’s senior lecturer in Early Music Dr Erin Helyard for Best Music Direction. Saul, financed by the South Australian government as the centrepiece to this year’s Adelaide Festival, following rave reviews from the UK’s Glyndebourne festival.
Lecturer in Design at the VCA Anna Cordingley won Best Scenic Design for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Jasper Jones; alumna Anna O’Byrne won Best Female Actor in a Musical for My Fair Lady, produced by Opera Australia and John Frost; and alumna Lilian Steiner took home the award for Best Female Dancer in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production for the Lucy Guerin Inc and Arts House’s production Split.
Head of VCA Theatre Associate Professor Matthew Delbridge said he was delighted with the continued success of staff and alumni from across the Faculty.
“Having representation from alumni across all areas of the performing arts is further proof of the ongoing legacy of our programs, the sustained excellence of our graduates, and our rightful position as the pre-eminent training institution in the country," he said.
Main image: The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Jasper Jones, for which VCA lecturer Anna Cordingley won a Helpmann Award for Best Scenic Design. Picture by Anisha Senaratne (LPA).
Is Jenny Watson Australia’s equivalent to Tracey Emin? Watson is about a decade older; she is less concerned with listing everyone that she has ever slept with and more obsessed with horses, but shares Emin’s interest in punk and street culture, feminism, the conceptual dimension of art and the use of unconventional materials. Both artists are also fine draughtsmen in the conventional sense of the word, but choose to break the rules and cultivate an intense, awkward line.
These reflections on the art of Watson have been provoked by a substantial retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is her largest show to date, with over 100 pieces spanning over 40 years and accompanied by an excellent catalogue largely written by the curator of the exhibition, Anna Davis.
Watson was born and trained in Melbourne, initially at the National Gallery School (subsequently known as the Victorian College of the Arts) and then spent a number of years travelling and living abroad, mainly in London, Paris and New York. She is quoted in the catalogue as saying, "I turned from the observation of the outside world to recording an inner space … I wanted to shatter the techniques I had learnt … to let a random uncontrollableness take hold of the work."
Jenny Watson, White horse with Telescope 2012, synthetic polymer paint on rabbit skin glue primed cotton. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery ©the artist.
Developing an interest in combining text and image; embracing techniques of collage and bricolage, and engaging with feminism and punk culture certainly gave her art of the 1980s and 1990s a sophistication and internationalism that was uncharacteristic for Australian art at the time and made it highly attractive to curators who wished to work on the international scene.
In Watson’s CV there is one entry that stands out from the rest: “1993 Jenny Watson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale”. To represent Australia at the Venice Biennale is the highlight of any artist’s career and Watson had that opportunity thrust upon her at the age of 42. The circumstances for her selection may not be relevant for us today, but she felt at the time, and has told me on a number of occasions, that it would have been better if this had occurred a bit later in her life. However, the chance was not to be missed.
Her exhibition at Venice, Paintings with Veils and False Tails, was quirky, unusual and controversial. Most of the oil paintings were of horses or girls with ribbons and false horsetails on red velvet and accompanied by inscriptions. One reads, “She realised she was in love with him after he visited the other girl for afternoon tea”, while another, “I feel like when Mum caught us smoking as kids”.
The combination of childish innocence, autobiography intertwined with fiction, adolescence and obsessions with horses, the “fab four” and pop culture of the 1960s, Twiggy and movie stars were part of the fabric that prepared the way for this significant exhibition.
Watson likes to think of herself as a rebel for whom a prohibition and a declaration that something cannot be done is sufficient incentive to try to do it – she is a compulsive rule breaker. Her major preoccupation in Venice was, in her words, “My decision to filter the life of a suburban girl through a conceptual lens [which] was a slow developing but key moment”. This remains a preoccupation throughout her art.
The other challenge that she has taken upon herself is not simply to succeed as an Australian artist, but as an artist on the world stage, who was born in Australia. The Venice Biennale gave her a brilliant platform from which to be picked up by international galleries.
Two of them did precisely that and Watson showed with some success and to some acclaim in Europe, America and Japan. Things generally came undone with the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/08 when sales largely evaporated and Australia and Australians once again became her primary market and audience.
Jenny Watson, I’ve got a dirty pig on my mind 2013 oil paint on cotton, grounded with rabbit skin glue frame.
Image courtesy the artist, Galerie Transit, Mechelen and Verlag für zeitgenössische Kunst und Theorie ©the artist Photograph: Bert de Leenheer.
Jenny Watson is, in some ways, a maverick artist in the Australian art scene. Although she is sometimes associated with Tracey Emin and Jenny Holzer through her extensive use of text, her strange and unconventional creations on cloth are immediately recognisable as uniquely her work.
Her love of the horses that surround her on her property in Samford, some 21 kilometres north west of Brisbane, keep her grounded, while her imagination still explores reality through the eyes of the little girl in the backblocks of Melbourne who sees and questions the structures of the physical world and its intersection with the world of the imagination.
Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney until 2 October.
Banner image: Detail from Jenny Watson’s The Pretty Face of Domesticity, 2014, oil and synthetic polymer paint on velvet striped shantung. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Transit, Mechelen ©the artist.
Julius Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald Prize finalists in recent years. If he wins, he'll be the youngest ever artist to take the prize.
By Sarah Hall
When third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Julius Killerby asked the former Essendon Football Club Chairman Paul Little to sit for a portrait, he did not expect to become a finalist in Australia’s most popular portraiture competition, the Archibald Prize. But, as was announced today, that's exactly what's happened.
“I sort of used the Archibald as an excuse to approach Little so I could paint his portrait,” said Killerby, who is currently working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the VCA. “I'm pretty surprised to find out it has made it into the finals – even though, of course, I was secretly hoping it would get picked.”
Killerby’s work will be judged alongside 43 finalists, including VCA Art alumnae Prudence Flint, Yvette Coppersmith, Sophia Hewson and Kate Beynon, former VCA Art staff Jon Campbell and current staff member Richard Lewer. At 22, Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald finalists in recent years. Should he win, he will be the youngest ever artist to take the prize (as it stands Nora Heysen is the youngest ever winner– who was 27 when she took the prize in 1938). The winner, to be announced on 28 July, will receive $100,000 and significant media recognition.
Killerby’s oil painting casts Little in shadows against a black background – indicative, possibly, of the dark times Little led the Essendon Football Club through in recent years.
Killerby described making it to the finals of the competition as a validating experience, and said his art was in tune with the style of the Archibald. “I don’t think I was compromising my work at all by entering it for consideration.”
Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw said she was delighted by Killerby’s inclusion in the prestigious competition.
“Julius has been diligently working on this portrait of Paul Little for a number of weeks,” she said. “He is such a generous and hardworking student, and has committed to making some serious gains in his work this year.”
Killerby’s art practice involves spending six to eight hours in the studio every day. “You can’t be an artist casually,” he told Precinct, likening the creation of a painting to a "slow battle".
Already an admirer of the work Little has done as a philanthropist and businessman, Killerby said it was important for him to get to know him on a more personal level before painting his portrait. They met in May this year and became acquainted before Killerby spent approximately 100 hours working on the oil painting in his studio at the VCA.
“I was just exceedingly happy to paint Little’s portrait regardless of the prize itself and really enjoyed the process,” he told Precinct.
“Becoming a finalist was just the cherry on the cake.”
Banner image: Olga Filonenko/ Flickr
The Archibald Prize is held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales You can see the work of the 2017 finalists on the Gallery of New South Wales’ website.
Esther Marie Hayes sheds some light on the inspirations behind her costume design for Macbeth at Melbourne Theatre Company.
Costume designer Esther Marie Hayes didn’t study Shakespeare at school. However, throughout her early years as a costume designer, she has undergone a thorough education of the world’s most famous playwright. Macbeth marks Esther’s third Shakespearean play for Melbourne Theatre Company, working alongside the same creative team under the direction of Simon Phillips for both Richard III in 2010 and Hamlet in 2011.
Simon appointed Esther as a fresh-faced VCA graduate to design costumes for Joanna Murray-Smith’s 2009 play Rockabye. From there, the two developed a strong theatrical language and aesthetic that would inform their creative collaborations.
Esther’s costume design concept for Macbeth began with an analysis of how they contemporised their last Shakespearean works together. ‘All three are modern adaptations. Richard III was political, Hamlet was political and militaristic, and Macbeth is militaristic,’ Esther says. All three shows involve a considerable amount of blood, which for a costume designer, is bound to present logistical problems.
With a cast of 13 and numerous cast members playing multiple characters, Esther’s biggest concern was designing costumes that could accommodate all the necessary quick changes required to tell this multifaceted story.
Having grown up between Spokane and Melbourne in a multi-generational ‘military family,’ Esther was told stories about her Grandfather serving for his country from a young age. She then watched two uncles and three cousins move around the world as members of the United States Navy and Army. This family history helped to inspire the design of various soldier’s costumes, many of which have been repurposed from the military uniforms used in Esther’s costume design for Hamlet. ‘The soldier costumes are special to me, they feel close to home.’
Esther’s research started with her own family history, but delved into much deeper territory when she broke down the role of each character; modernising the narrative to bring it into the 21st century.
‘The set design was already completed, so I was responding to that initially, before looking at each individual character.’ She began researching the uniforms of various authorities in different parts of the world – the police force in Mexico and swat teams in France; army generals in the Middle East; humanitarian aid workers in war zones and first responders at terrorist attacks; as well as foot soldiers in small nations of Europe. She looked at the dress codes of French horse-riding teams, and the formal dinner garments of the King of Jordan and his wife. Regulation Army pyjamas in the United States and the balaclavas and bandanas on the heads of hate-crime groups and gangsters were also pinned to the inspiration costume board. Esther looked at crime dramas The Night Manager and Orphan Black for additional research.
When it came to the witches, high-end fashion was the focus. ‘We wanted them to look similar, but with individuality as well. We were looking at blacks, and layering to create those silhouettes. And we looked at how fashion has been interpreted by military dress, as well as that kilt look with the heavy boots,’ which Esther says only ties the play back to its Scottish roots. ‘It’s hard when we’ve created a world that’s very modern, to then also create that unearthly, spiritual image, which the witches represent.’
The inauguration clothes of American presidents and first ladies also made their way onto the board, along with Oscar worthy ball gowns. Alexander McQueen’s sheer, figure-hugging lines and surplus of sequins was the first port of call when it came to designing Lady Macbeth’s ceremonial gown.
Next to North by Northwest, Macbeth is the most labour intensive job Esther has designed. Her favourite part of the whole process, she says, is the ‘breaking down’ of the soldiers’ costumes, where the garments are dyed, sanded and washed in various rinses to make them look worn. ‘My favourite part is seeing this transformation. It’s hard work but it looks like magic.’
Other than watching unworn, hand-tailored uniforms turn into tattered ones, Esther loves collaborating with her peers in the creative process. ‘There are so many different people that you work with doing a production of this scale and every part counts.’
Macbeth plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 June. Book now.
This article was originally published by MTC Backstage. View the original article.
Banner image: Lady Macbeth costume designs by Esther Marie Hayes. Image courtesy of Melbourne Theatre Company.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowships, worth $75,000, were awarded last night to four University of Melbourne graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM).
Awarded biennially to theatre, music and visual arts graduates, the Fellowships were established in 1994 by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE to enable young artists to travel and study overseas in the early stages of their careers.
Dame Murdoch’s granddaughter, Julie Kantor, presented the awards last night at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery on behalf of her grandmother, saying the Fellowships were created to help students become “artists of the world”.
“It seems to me, and certainly to my grandmother, that an essential feature of the artist at any stage in their career, is to find compelling means of creating a bridge between the private world of feeling and insight, and a public world that has an enormous need for inspiration and understanding,” Ms Kantor said.
“To understand this need and to refine one’s feeling and insight, my grandmother and grandfather believed that young artists need to be able to experience the world beyond the place of their study and residence.”
Dean of the VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, said providing young artists with international travel opportunities was of benefit to Australian culture more broadly.
“Travel can provide emerging artists, musicians and performers with inspiration and connections that last well beyond the initial moment, and indeed continue to inform their creative development throughout their careers. As consumers of culture, we all stand to benefit from that,” he said.
The main $25,000 Prize for Visual Art, judged on the day by a panel comprising Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan and Director of Gertrude Contemporary Mark Feary, went to Trent Crawford, who graduated from the VCA in 2016, for his video installation work Liquidity.
Crawford’s work, along with the other shortlisted works for the visual art fellowship, will be on display at the 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship Exhibition in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (40 Dodds St, Southbank) until 5 August 2017.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship recipients are:
Trent Crawford, B. Fine Arts (Visual Art). Born 1995, Crawford lives and works in Melbourne. Interested in dissecting images and technology to explore them in a passive state, Crawford’s work focuses on entering the in-between moments in time where the subject or material exists in a state of lapse; often with its function usurped or absent. By disassembling, restructuring and repurposing new media, he calls to question how the framing devices of screens and filters are active in the construction, fragmentation and degeneration of the image. Award of $25,000.
Theatre (two recipients)
Leticia Cáceres, M.Dramatic Art (Direction). Cáceres has been lauded as one of the most exciting directing talents in the country. She was Associate Director at MTC from 2013 to 2015. She has also directed for Belvoir, La Mama, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, La Boîte Theatre/Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Arts Centre, and Brisbane Powerhouse. She is the co-founder of nationally-acclaimed RealTV. Award of $15,000
Eugyeene Teh, M. Production (Design). Teh has worked with mainstage companies, earning him Green Room Award nominations for both his debut works; Endgame at MTC and Meme Girls at Malthouse. Last year, he worked on Straight White Men (MTC), In Between Two (Sydney Festival with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah), Lady Eats Apple (Back to Back Theatre) and Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse). Award of $15,000.
Troy Rogan, B. Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) (Hons). Rogan is a Melbourne-based composer, orchestrator and cellist, who brings his passion for making meaningful, engaging music to each project. He draws his inspiration from the art of storytelling, with a fascination of the parallel that various musical languages can impart. Award of $20,000.
Banner image: Trent Crawford with his video installation work Liquidity. Photo: Sav Schulman.
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room is a one-day symposium featuring an impressive line-up of speakers and thinkers, chaired by the Victorian College of the Arts’ Dr Sean Lowry and the University of Adelaide’s Professor Jenny McMahon. We asked a handful of the participants to enlighten us on their philosophy on art.
By Sarah Hall.
Q: What would the world be like without art?
Answered by Rowan McNaught, MFA candidate, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Without art our physiologies would adapt to have gigantic eyes. They let too much light in. We can’t go near others because of the risk that they will elaborate an impossible darkness. But all the stuff that people have in their houses is really much more beautiful. Esperanto is a success but was not invented, and June Huh cannot prove the Rota conjecture despite his best efforts. There is the same number of wars. In our dreams we can see figures from history but only as they rush by, wearing the clothes of today, made of technical materials."
Q: What role does art have beyond aesthetics?
Answered by Sophie Takách, Monash Art, Design and Architecture.
“Art has the potential to exceed; to exceed appearances, exceed expectations, exceed habitual responses. It can (and should) affect our way of thinking about possibilities and reality, make us feel the world.
“Art can bring us closer to the world, to materials and forces. It is possible that this affect is reached through aesthetic appeal, and I believe there is no reason that art should distance itself from aesthetics in pursuit of meaningfulness. On one hand, if it is only about looking, and not feeling or thinking, art can be too easily consumed and assimilated, lessening its power. On the other hand, if there is nothing in art to invoke sensation, how does it reach beyond the narrow confines of an already interested audience?
“The power of art to effect change in the world is through an intensification of sensation, by commanding attention, by engaging with people. I believe that the role art has in the world is to break established habits of consumption and action, and by doing away with established notions of beauty in the pursuit of the new it is possible to define a new aesthetics. So art does not leave aesthetics behind by going beyond them, instead it pushes aesthetics before itself as a cresting wave.”
Q: How does studying art help or hinder our understanding of it?
Answered by Dr Sean Lowry, Conference convenor, Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies in Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Art education can radically extend expectations for ‘understanding’ art.”
Q: Does an artwork still exist if nobody is there to appreciate it? Why?
Answered by Dr Kate Just, Graduate Coursework Coordinator, VCA Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
"My work's engagement with people is central to its purpose. However, a work of art can also exist or emerge as a gesture of love and devotion. An act of love does not need to be seen or reciprocated in order to exist. It can just emanate."
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room takes place on 11 July, 2017, 9.30am–5pm, at Federation Hall, Southbank, Melbourne. Free event, but booking is essential. More details.
Main image: 03 Immanuel Kant 03, by Willie Sturges. Flickr.
NOTE: This event has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled at a later date to be announced.
Next week, the Melbourne Conservatorium’s Dr Erin Helyard will give a public presentation, and short recital, on extreme emotional responses to music, with a focus on the 18th-century composer FD Philidor’s opera Tom Jones. Here, he explains why feeling hyper-sensitive to novels and music was, at that time, the order of the day.
“In the 18th century there was a phenomenon known as sensibilité, which basically described a very heightened emotional response to novels or music. At the opera, people would weep aloud or shout enthusiastically, and this sort of behaviour was enculturated and encouraged; it was seen to be a mark of an emotionally-superior human being.
“More recent equivalents might be something like Beatlemania, when crowds went absolutely nuts for The Beatles, or Lisztomania when people went crazy for the Hungarian composer Liszt in the 1840s.
"But sensibilité, as it was called in French, was somewhat different in that it was inextricably linked with the quality of a person’s character.
“To a large extent, we’ve lost this arguably refined level of emotional connection with the things we read and watch these days. We don’t respond in such an openly empathetic way, both because we are somewhat desensitised, and encouraged not to.
“The novel was a new invention in the early 18th century. English novelists in particular were understood to be master manipulators of the emotions.
"There are accounts of people weeping and throwing books in the corner, so moved were they by intricately-rendered accounts of human behaviour. Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones was hugely popular and lead to composer F.D Philidor using it as the setting for an opera.
“Of course, people do have extreme emotional responses to many types of music these days, but not so much at the opera. Rave culture might be the closest contemporary equivalent to 18th-century audience behaviour.
“For my talk, I’ll be discussing these cultural ideas of sensibilité as well as discussing Philidor’s achievement in the operatic sphere, and I’ll be joined by our very talented BMus student Dorcas Lim, who’ll be singing one of the arias from Philidor’s opera.”
-- As told to Sarah Hall
A presentation/recital by Dr Erin Helyard: “Philidor, sensibilité and Fielding’s Tom Jones” takes place on 12 July 2017 at the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne. Booking and event details.
Main image: Ralph Arvesen/Flickr.
The electric guitar symbolises rebellion, freedom, excess and youth, and we need those qualities now as much as ever.
By Dr Ken Murray, Senior Lecturer in Guitar, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne.
The electric guitar symbolises rebellion, freedom, excess and youth. But with the classic rock period well behind us, is it in danger of becoming a faded relic? The Washington Post recently reported on declining sales in the American electric guitar industry, with some manufacturers expressing concerns about its future. One reason for this was said to be a lack of current guitar heroes.
Is this true? I’d argue we still have plenty, with artists such as Jack White and St Vincent leading the pack. At the same time, the electric guitar is evolving as an instrument. Increasingly, it features in contemporary art music ensembles. But what makes a guitar hero? Let’s consider some of the maestros first.
The guitar legends
One of the first and most enduring of these was the late Chuck Berry, with his unique fusion of rhythm and blues and country music. The Beatles and Rolling Stones covered his songs. Many artists emulated his showmanship and attitude.
The rock guitar solo further developed in the 1960s and 70s as players such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck pioneered a blues-based style of virtuosic soloing. The electric guitar played a key role in the panoply of rock guitar styles that developed in the 1970s. However, it has been many decades since the airwaves were ruled by the sounds of guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Angus Young or Eddie Van Halen.
1980s pop music embraced synthesizers, keyboards and new technology such as the Fairlight computer. Rather than limiting the use of the electric guitar, this shift led to a broadening of the sonic palette with innovative guitarists adding textural depth and a new range of colours. Influential exponents of this playing style include Johnny Marr of the Smiths, U2s The Edge and Andy Summers of The Police. Their subtle musicianship ushered in a new type of guitar hero.
In the 1990s, the dominant sound of grunge bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam was an electric guitar, often distorted. Grunge musicians valued the instrument more for texture, volume, energy and tonal roughness than virtuosic solos.
Meanwhile, the English band Radiohead was releasing guitar dominated albums such as Pablo Honey (1993), The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997). Guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien supplied muscular riffs, ambient textures, and blistering solos to these three albums, at times reminiscent of progressive musicians such as Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, while also drawing on the textural style of the 1980s.
On later Radiohead songs, such as Optimistic, the guitar work is characterized by a rhythmic yet rough and relatively “unschooled” style of strumming. Greenwood and O’Brien’s role in the band expanded to include additional instruments, composition and arrangement.
The new electric virtuosos
The early 2000s was characterised by a return to the roots of popular music forms, whether the blues, country music, rock and roll, funk or Motown. There are many wonderful exponents of blues-based electric guitar playing active now - a short list would include Gary Clark Junior, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks. Still, 21st century pop, in general, is not bursting with shredding electric guitar virtuosi, but rather songwriters and mavericks who use the instrument to create a personal style.
Jack White, who sums up this approach, might be our century’s most prominent electric guitar hero. White combines a love of blues and country music with a return to simplicity in both recording and live performance, He also wrote one of the most famous guitar riffs of the 2000s, Seven Nation Army.
Another strong contender for the role is Annie Clark, aka St Vincent. A phenomenally gifted singer, lyricist, electric guitarist and performer, St Vincent is an adventurous and trailblazing musician, embracing electronic music, alternative sounds and elements of progressive rock.
Like White, St Vincent embraces imperfections, energy and spontaneity in her playing, which is a highlight of live performances. Like many pioneering progressive rock artists (the Moody Blues, King Crimson, Frank Zappa), she draws on aspects of contemporary classical music and has written chamber music for the American ensemble yMusic.
While sales of the electric guitar may have stagnated, in the past 20 years, the instrument has become increasingly influential in contemporary art music. One pioneer here is the American guitarist and composer Steven Mackey. Prominent new music ensembles such as Bang on a Can, the International Contemporary Ensemble and Australia’s Elision Ensemble have embraced the electric guitar. In fact, it has changed aspects of how these groups operate, due partly to amplification and balance issues and the opportunity to use electronic effects across all the instruments in an ensemble.
There are many wonderful works for the electric guitar, including music by Australian composers George Lenz and Andrew Ford, which were first performed by the Sydney-based new music specialist Zane Banks. And in early June, two electric guitar symphonies written by New York composer Glenn Branca had their Australian premiere. His use of drones, alternative tunings and mass electric guitars has influenced both classical and rock musicians. In my own work with the MCM ensemble Three (trumpet, trombone and guitar) I have found the electric guitar a perfect foil to the brass instruments.
Guitar women and shredders
There have been some great female electric guitar soloists, from the pioneering gospel blues of Sister Rosetta Tharpe to performers Nancy Wilson (Heart), Joan Jett (The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney). On the local front, Adalita Srsen (Magic Dirt) has been a leading guitarist for years and Courtney Barnett has achieved international fame with her understated electric guitar accompaniment style.
A more soloistic rock style is represented in the work of Danielle Haim (Haim) and Donna Grantis from Prince’s band 3rdeye Girl. These are all guitar heroes to inspire a new generation of performers.
Compared to the music of the 70s, guitar solos are on the wane in mainstream rock and pop. But in the genres of heavy metal and progressive rock, shredding (rapid, high energy, virtuosic playing) is still a valued form of expression. Many of these “progressive” guitarists work with guitar makers and effects designers to come up with new products (such as the seven-string electric - now used by many metal guitarists - designed for playing low, heavy riffs).
Virtuoso guitarists Dave Mustaine (Megadeath), Kirt Hammet (Metallica) and John Petrucci (Dream Theatre) have been influencing young shredders for decades. Psychedelic rock, meanwhile, is undergoing something of a renaissance in Australia with Melbourne band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard leading the way.
In short, the electric guitar is evolving. A new breed of guitarists are plucking, strumming, shredding, riffing, experimenting and amplifying their way into the future.
Steve Mackey will be visiting the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in late August/early September this year. He will perform at the Melbourne Recital Centre on September 2.
Main image: Claus Rebler/Flickr
On July 6, 2017, Richard Frankland, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the University of Melbourne, will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre with The Letter String Quartet. Ahead of the show, Richard was interviewed for, and performed songs on, Radio National's Books and Arts program.
In the words of Michael Cathcart, the host: "He's worked as a soldier, a fisherman, a field officer during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These days we know him as an author and playwright and filmmaker, an activist, an academic, a musician ..." The list goes on. You can listen to the full audio of Richard's interview below.
Image: Richard Frankland performs at Wilin Week, 2016. By Jorge de Araujo.
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Find out more about the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development.
Melbourne Conservatorium of Music staff members Joel Brennan, Don Immel and Ken Murray, who perform as the ensemble Three, were this week presented with the 2017 Melbourne Recital Centre’s Contemporary Masters Award for their world premiere performance of James Ledger's Voodoo Sonnets in February. The award, which is open to all artists who perform at Melbourne Recital Centre throughout the year, recognises the "finest performances of repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries”.
Three, a performance-led-research team featuring Brennan on trumpet/flugelhorn, Immel on trombone and Murray on guitar, strives to establish new, cutting-edge chamber music with a special focus on presenting performances that resonate with current-day audiences.
Melbourne Recital Centre’s Director of Artistic Planning Marshall McGuire said Three's February performance at the MRC’s Salon "captured the imagination and attention of the audience in a most original and compelling way," and that the ensemble performed with "confidence, authority, virtuosity and a great sense of ensemble”.
Don Immel said it was great to receive recognition for the work the ensemble has been doing commissioning composers and bringing new works to life. "These collaborations have been immensely satisfying for us and it’s been wonderful to introduce them to a wider audience." he added. "This award is great encouragement for us to continue our work developing an exciting repertoire for our unique ensemble."
Voodoo Sonnets will be included on Three's forthcoming album, due out later this year. The ensemble's debut album, Midnight Songs (2016), received numerous favourable reviews and was described as an "inspiring example of forward-thinking classical music culture in Australia" by the independently-run classical and new music magazine CutCommon.
Image: Three, from left to right, Don Immel, Joel Brennan, Ken Murray.
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Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2006 Ari Wegner has worked on dozens of commercials, short films, TV series and feature-length films, before landing the gig as cinematographer for Lady Macbeth, which hits cinemas on 29 June.
Interview by Sarah Hall.
Ari, how did you get into cinematography?
I’ve been interested in photography since high school, or even before, and I’ve always liked writing. I guess at film school (Bachelor of Film and Television, VCA, 2006), I realised that cinematography encapsulated both of those interests.
How did you get from your Bachelor of Film and Television at the VCA to Lady Macbeth?
After the VCA, I did really small stuff, then moved on to bigger projects – making commercials, TV shows, feature films and short films, including Night Shift (2012), which did really well. I also shot Ruin (2013) in Cambodia, which was received really well and won a prize at the 2013 Venice Film Festival (Special Orizzonti Jury Prize).
On the back of Ruin I signed with an agent in the UK and we were both really excited about Lady Macbeth. The director [William Oldroyd] and I hit it off right away, and agreed on how it might look and how we wanted to work together.
How do cinematographers and directors tend to work together?
Ideally, in collaboration. Some directors are really loose and free-form; some work best when everything is planned out meticulously. Some have a very clear idea of what they want, and others prefer to have a cinematographer lead the visuals a lot more. Every project and director is so different, which is a huge part of what I love about this job.
Of course, there are so many other people involved too: the production designer, the editor, the cast, wardrobe people, location, sound – it’s such a team effort, and really needs to be for the whole thing to look great.
What was it like to work on Lady Macbeth with star-in-the-making, Florence Pugh?
Florence is fantastic. I don’t think we realised until much later how uncomfortable that shoot must have been for her – she was wearing very tight corsets the whole time and some of the dresses she had to be sewn into … Plus, the dresses were all period pieces, so she had to be super-careful not to damage them.
Can you talk us through some of your cinematographic decisions for the film?
Both myself and the director William Oldroyd wanted to establish quite formal cinematographic rules, not least because the lead character Katherine has very strict rules in her life. Our idea was to shoot Katherine in these locked frames in parts of the film where she doesn’t have any freedom or agency. At other times there’s a more freehand style of filming. We didn’t pan or tilt or move the camera at all until those moments.
What attributes best serve you as a cinematographer?
I guess I’m quite a calm person naturally, and I can see that kind of energy really trickle down. I sometimes feel a bit like the MC – trying to set the tone and make sure we’re moving at the right pace, listening to anyone who’s having a hard time or needs some extra attention.
What other projects have you been working on?
I shot a film called Stray last year with the first-time-feature director Dustin Feneley, who I met at the VCA. It’s in post-production now and, given we’ve been talking about making it for 10 years, it’s so great to have finally done it.
What advice would you give emerging filmmakers?
Trust your gut. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects that really aren’t for you. As much as that might feel weird it’s actually more respectful to everyone involved – and it frees the job up for someone who really wants it.
Lady Macbeth opens in Australia on Friday 29 June 2017.
Banner Image: The filming of Lady Macbeth; Ari Wegner holding the camera. Image by Myron Jonson.
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What does it take to concentrate several seemingly-competing careers into one? Best ask concert pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar.
On 8 May 2017, as part of the University of Melbourne's Dean's Lecture Series, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham appeared in conversation with pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar, to discuss Dr Dunbar's journey from concert pianist to theatre practitioner and academic.
Dr Dunbar reflected on the pros and cons of an interdisciplinary career, and particularly how music provides unique insights into actors, training, and the challenges of rehearsing and performing. The conversation was interspersed with a piano performance of works by the 19th-century romantic composer Franz Liszt, music that dramatises love’s conflicted interests – or possibly the realities of an interdisciplinary career.
Image: Paul Hoi/Flickr
Such is the ubiquity of the guitar that its popularity can be taken for granted, its history overlooked. The period between the 1890s and 1940s was crucial to the instrument's evolution.
By Dr Ken Murray, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
The guitar may be the most widely-played instrument in the world, an active component in musical styles from all corners of the globe. It's well known that the guitar played a key role in the music of the post-second-world-war era but what is less well documented is the trajectory of the guitar during the period from the 1890s to the 1940s.
The current Instrument of Change exhibition (until 31 August) at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne takes a fascinating approach to those overlooked years of the guitar and illustrates how the instrument was played and enjoyed by both amateur and professional musicians during that period.
It also includes photographs, musical scores and artworks by iconic Australian artists such as Tom Roberts and Russell Drysdale.
In the 19th century the guitar played an important role in instrumental groups such as the Spanish Estudiantina, where it accompanied steel strung bandurrias and lauds. These Spanish groups had great success touring the world in the 1880s and 1890s, helping to disseminate the Spanish guitar internationally. The exhibition features a beautiful early flamenco instrument, notable for dimensions similar to a 19th-century parlor guitar.
The formation of banjo, mandolin and guitar clubs and societies (known as the BMG movement) saw the guitar competing with a new range of instruments that were mass-produced and promoted through magazines and mail-order catalogues. In this context, the guitar was prized for its historical associations and sophisticated repertoire.
Instrument of Change also focuses on Percy Grainger’s intersections with the guitar.
Grainger, linked mainly in the public imagination to his piano performances and compositions, engaged with the guitar as both performer and composer over many decades, from his first works in the early 1900s, to experiments with the instrument in London in the 1910s, to performances with the American experimental composer Henry Cowell in the 1940s. Grainger appreciated and embraced amateur guitar and mandolin ensembles and included guitars in numerous pieces and arrangements.
Through the use of open tunings and plectrum-style strumming, Grainger was an early advocate of massed guitars in the concert hall. The Instrument of Change exhibition features scores, instruments and photos from the Grainger Museum archives.
The guitar surpassed the popularity of other instruments in this period through ingenious evolutionary changes of shape, design and function. With the arrival of new instruments, such as the Gibson harp guitar and early arch-top instruments, design features derived from both the mandolin and banjo were successfully adapted in a quest for greater volume and relevance.
A range of other related instruments are featured in the exhibition, such as ukuleles and the Hawaiian steel guitar, which added new waves of interest to this scene in the 1920s.
While many of the trends influencing the guitar were global, Australian performers and makers were involved in these developments and their contribution is recognised in the exhibition.
Italian makers the Cera brothers emigrated to Australia in the 1920s and continued making their amazing harp guitars and mandolins into the 1970s. The burgeoning classical guitar scene of the 1930s and 40s found an advocate in Len Williams (father of classical guitarist John Williams) who helped to build a classical guitar community in Melbourne.
The exhibition ends with the Maton guitar company, one of the most recognisable and enduring Australian musical brands, established in 1946. The founder, Bill May, played double bass and guitar in dance bands and Hawaiian groups and made his first guitar as a teenager in 1932. He began with flat-top acoustic guitars and later diversified with archtop instruments and an extensive range of electric guitars.
May was keenly aware of the diversity of guitar activities. In an advertisement from the early 1950s he stated that there were Maton models to cover a range of styles including “radio, orchestra, solo, hillbilly and Hawaiian”.
While American instruments were his examples, May was committed to making an Australian product that could compete with the best in the world. His vision of an Australian guitar with international impact was formed during the seminal period of 1920–1946 when the guitar became a truly global instrument.
Instrument of Change: Visions of the Guitar in the Early 20th Century is at the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne, until 31 August 2017. The exhibition was curated by Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Associate Professor Michael Christoforidis and Dr Ken Murray.
Find out more about Guitar at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
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On 15 June 2017, on the eve of the opening of the Victorian College of the Arts' landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition, Curator Dr Elizabeth Gower and participating 9 X 5 NOW artist Tai Snaith spoke with RRR Smartarts presenter Richard Watts about the show.
More than 300 visual artists have contributed original works for the exhibition, which runs from 16–25 June at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank, Melbourne. Proceeds from the sale of the works, most of which will be sold for between $500 and $1,500, will go to establishing the new ART150 Fellowship to support emerging artists.
Image: David Rosetsky's 9 X 5 NOW work. LYV (partial version). C-type photo collage.
The Music Therapy team at the University of Melbourne was invited to collaborate with the National Gallery of Victoria to provide an experiential music activity for high-school students in response to the NGV’s Van Gogh exhibition. Here's what happened.
By Dr Lucy Bolger and Dr Grace Thompson, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
It's a Friday lunchtime. The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, is filled with visitors coming to see the spectacular works of Van Gogh. The exhibition Van Gogh and the Seasons: The Art of Emotions has been extraordinarily successful and people have travelled and queued for the chance to see the collection. In the Grand Hall, two beautiful, contrasting pieces of Van Gogh’s artwork are projected onto the walls. One is a sparse, muted winter scene, with a dark figure and his dog walking a solitary path through the snow. The second is a lush, vibrant painting of a woodland grove in the spring, dotted with flowers.
Recently, the Music Therapy team at the University of Melbourne was invited to collaborate with the NGV to provide an experiential music activity in response to the NGV’s winter masterpiece exhibition of the work of Van Gogh. The program was intended to support high-school students engage creatively with the exhibition. As music therapists, we recognise that music is a powerful tool for exploring emotions, particularly in adolescence, and we leapt at this opportunity to explore the theme of the exhibition – “the art of emotion” – through music.
Scattered around the Great Hall are small groups of students, buzzing quietly with conversation, surrounded by paper, pens and musical instruments. From around the room we hear sporadic clangs and chimes; an occasional burst of laughter; brief musical phrases that swell and subside. Every now and then, the groups look up at the artwork with a new flurry of activity or a questioning eye.
Two or three music therapy masters students sit among each small group of high-school students, asking questions and giving suggestions, gently drawing out ideas and sounds from the young people. As a group, they draw together a musical response to the artwork they see on the walls.
This project was also an engagement opportunity for our Melbourne University Masters students, a chance for them to apply their developing skills in facilitation, songwriting and improvisation. In pairs, each student facilitated one of three different activities designed to explore Van Gogh’s work through music and narrative.
Two groups used song-writing, allowing the structure of familiar songs to scaffold an exploratory process of lyric writing. Two groups developed a radio-play based on the work, using music and sound to give voice to the emotions of their story based on the artwork. And two groups created a soundscape, allowing freely improvised music and a visual score to directly represent their responses to the art.
The high-school students responded impressively to the tasks at hand, offering creative ideas and exploring various ways to represent emotion through music. Their teachers expressed amazement at their students’ engagement and enthusiasm in response to such "new" tasks, and commented on how much was achieved in such a short period of time.
Suddenly there is an increase in intensity and activity. Groups start to arrange themselves and the sounds become more organised. The students are practising. After only an hour, the groups come together and form an audience for each other, sharing their music and creative responses to the cheers and applause of their teachers and peers.
They have produced diverse music – creative, thoughtful, funny, reserved – exploring Van Gogh from many angles, placing themselves inside of the paintings and using music and sound to express the emotions of the art.
See also: Van Gogh’s ear for music: a playlist.
Find out more about Music Therapy at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
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Main image: The Music Therapy team assembles at the NGV. Photo: Sav Schulman
New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Kirsty Budge is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, recipient of the 2014 Stirling Collective Award for Painting and recent nominee for the 2017 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize. This month, she will exhibit alongside more than 300 contemporary artists in the landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition.
On Sunday, Ariana Grande played to a packed house of 60,000 fans at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground, in tribute to the 22 people killed at Grande’s Dangerous Woman concert in the same city two weeks ago. She was joined on stage by pop stars including Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Pharrell Williams.
One Love Manchester aimed to counter the effects of terrorism by spreading messages of unity and love through music, harnessing pop as a personal and collective coping mechanism in the face of tragedy. But in troubled times, can music really heal?
The Manchester bombing is the latest in a line of assaults on entertainment venues, including the attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Paris’s Bataclan Theatre in 2015, and at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last year. These are seemingly inspired by a desire to curtail Western liberal freedoms, and specifically the freedom of women, the gay community and the young people who are celebrated in pop music.
Given the sentiment of the event, Grande drew some backlash on Twitter for performing her risqué song Side to Side. But as she revealed during the concert, she had changed her set list after talking with the mother of 15-year-old Olivia, who was killed in the bombing. During their emotional meeting, Olivia’s mum said that she “would’ve wanted to hear the hits”.
Evidence shows that bereaved families increasingly choose to commemorate loved ones with contemporary songs with which they, or the deceased, personally identify.
An Australian funeral services provider reported Queen’s The Show Must Go On or Another One Bites the Dust were increasingly popular funeral songs. In the same way, pop concerts are built on a known repertoire of songs, which the audience predicts. This assists in the ritual communication of emotion.
It was music’s capacity to arouse different emotions that allowed One Love Manchester to achieve Grande’s aim for her concerts to be, “a place for them to escape, to celebrate, to heal, to feel safe and to be themselves.” It is now well established that mechanisms such as rhythm, shared emotions and the memory of specific events make music a powerful tool for connecting with other people.
Pharrell Williams’ upbeat Happy embodied the concert’s defiant stance on terrorism, suggesting that fear can be triumphantly overcome through the enactment of happiness and joy. Coldplay’s touching performance of Fix You allowed for the expression of mourning and collective grief.
Robbie Williams led the audience in a version of his song Strong, changing the lyrics to, “Manchester we’re strong, we’re strong”. Cultural studies theorist Graeme Turner has argued that this sort of sharing brings with it a temporary experience of equality and comradeship between many people.
Black Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love?, inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, has become an anthem for countering terrorism and related anti-Islamic sentiment. It provided the Manchester audience with an emotional bridge to the larger, global community of those affected by terrorism.
We need to do more research to understand how these shared emotions and experiences can be galvanised to create longer-term resilience and solidarity. But for this night, One Love Manchester demonstrated the power of music to heal an urban community and bring people together.
Samantha Dieckmann, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne and Jane Davidson, Deputy Director ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne
Banner image: Ariana Grande by lindsaydaniella/Flickr.
How would you put together a playlist that captured something of Vincent Van Gogh for a major Australian exhibition? With great care, of course.
By Dr Rachel Orzech, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Van Gogh and the Seasons is the current Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (until 9 July). Since 2015, I have been commissioned to create playlists for these annual exhibitions, each one focused around a major collection of significant artworks that would not normally be exhibited in Australia.
For a musicologist specialising in 19th- and 20th-century Western classical music, these assignments are a dream. Each year, I study the list of artworks to be exhibited, talk to the curators at the NGV, and undertake some research into the lives and work of the featured artists.
I then make a shortlist of related musical works and try to figure out how they might best work together as a soundtrack for the exhibition. In the process, I’ve discovered many wonderful (and sometimes obscure) pieces of music that I hadn’t previously been familiar with.
Visual artists are frequently part of much broader cultural networks that encompass music, theatre and dance, so it's usually easy to find clear connections between artworks in a gallery and musical works. Sometimes those connections are made because the artist knew the composer, or was inspired by the music, or because the artist and composer shared similar ideologies or philosophies.
In 2016, the NGV's Winter Masterpieces exhibition centred on the work of Edgar Degas, who painted a number of works featuring ballet and opera scenes in Paris; the link between music and painting in that instance was clear.
In 2015, the NGV exhibited items from the collection of Catherine the Great, and I created a playlist using music composed at Catherine’s court, and pieces that complemented artworks in her impressive and diverse collection.
But Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) presented a unique challenge. Relatively isolated during his brief career as a painter, he did not form important connections with any musicians or composers, as far as we know. Nor did he show a great interest in any particular musical genres.
I began by trawling through his letters, which have all been digitised and translated into English. I found very few references to music; the exceptions were some mentions of Richard Wagner, and a reference to Charles Gounod’s 1864 opera Mireille.
As a Wagner scholar, I could not resist the temptation to include a few excerpts from his operas, particularly those which were performed frequently in concerts in Paris at the time. The playlist opens with the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin, first performed in 1850 – a perfect beginning:
The second item on the list is an aria from Mireille – a work I had never heard before undertaking this research:
In reading Van Gogh’s letters, I also came across a mention of the World Exhibition which was to be held in Paris in 1889; we don’t know whether Van Gogh attended, but he was certainly aware that it would be taking place.
These exhibitions were an opportunity for nations around the world to exhibit their national culture and for France to promote its own national culture to visiting nations. Musicologist Annegret Fauser’s fascinating 2005 book Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World's Fair revealed the musical life that flourished at the Exhibition, and gave me some ideas for items to add to the playlist.
Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera Ascanio (1890) was to be the centrepiece of the Paris Opéra’s contribution to the Exhibition, and although things didn’t quite work out that way (it wasn’t premiered until the following year), I included one of its "Airs de ballet" in the playlist.
More successful at the Exhibition (this time from the Opéra-Comique) was Massenet’s Esclarmonde (1889). Australia’s Joan Sutherland sang the title role in one of the work’s few revivals in the 1970s, so it seemed fitting to include it on the playlist.
The aria I chose, however, is sung by the character Roland, a knight who loves Esclarmonde, the Empress of Byzantium:
The final playlist betrays a heavy bias towards French opera and Wagner, which of course does not encompass or reflect all aspects of Van Gogh’s life and work. Yet the lack of direct connections between Van Gogh and music provided me with the opportunity to expose listeners to the music that interests me and informs my work, as well as the chance for me to discover works such as Esclarmonde that I had never heard.
See also: Van Gogh gets some music therapy.
Van Gogh and The Seasons is at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, until 9 July 2017. More information.
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Image: Sophie Duran.
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With a role in Gertrude Opera’s current production of The Consul, MCM Master of Music (Music Performance) student Joshua Erdelyi-Gotz talks about juggling the demands of performance with full-time studies.
As told to Sarah Hall
The current production of Gertrude Opera’s The Consul (29 May–2 June) is about a bunch of people in a waiting room in a consulate. Some of them have been waiting for days or weeks, to get a visa or get out of the country. There are so many papers to fill out and none of them are being properly looked after. Always waiting, never being able to leave; it’s hell.
There’s a woman in the waiting room called Magda Sorel whose husband is being pursued by the secret police, because he’s a freedom fighter. She’s always being watched. She’s trying to help her husband but can’t, because she can’t get out of the country. So the opera is about her struggle and everyone’s frustration at being stuck in a consulate, and never getting to speak to the person in charge. It’s a very depressing piece of music.
If you know what it’s like sitting in Centrelink waiting for your turn to go up to the counter, it’s like that – but worse.
I first got involved with Gertrude Opera after being involved in a concert opera with a man called David Kram. About two or three weeks after that finished, I was emailed by Linda Thompson who runs Gertrude Opera. She said David had recommended me, and asked if I would be interested in being involved. I said yes, despite the fact that I was going into my Honours year at University. Usually there is an audition process, but I just got lucky.
The Gertrude Opera program runs for an entire year, and every place is completely sponsored, kind of like the Melba Opera Trust, which runs on a mentor program. It’s a big commitment, and can be tough if you’re juggling things. I did struggle a bit last year doing both Honours in Music Performance at the MCM and the Gertrude Opera, and now this year doing my Master of Performance. I wouldn’t have said that “throwing yourself” in the deep end’ and overloading on commitments was my preferred method of learning, but it has really forced me to become better at time management.
Also, this kind of juggling is what you have to expect if you want to work in the field. You’ll often have multiple engagements and need to learn multiple pieces of music at any one time. So it's helping me to prepare for that lifestyle.
Normally in operas, all the major ones such as Don Giovanni, the performers are given a chord to help them find their starting note. But in this case the musical score does not give us that chord and we sort of have to look through the music to find our starting notes. From then have a whole page of chromatics that you need to sing, based on that initial note. You can really mess up the other performers who have to bounce off each other, if you don’t get that right. So in that way, it’s very difficult and the performers need to be fairly good aurally. It’s an opera that’s hardly ever done.
My character is a man called Assan, the go-between of the main character Magda and her freedom-fighting husband, John. Mine is not the biggest role but it’s certainly one of the most difficult. There’s another MCM grad in the opera, Darcy Carroll, and a lot of the rest of the cast are from interstate and overseas.
When I first joined the Gertrude Opera I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I am hesitant to recommend it to students who already have a full-time load. But it has really helped me, and not just musically. One of the most important aspects of being a musician is knowing people and I have just had the opportunity to work with so many talented musicians through this program.
Visit the Gertrude Opera website for more information about their upcoming performance of The Consul.
Find out more about studying opera at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Banner image: Supplied.
Victorian College of the Arts Film and Television graduate Qiu Yang has won the prestigious Palme d'Or - Short Film award and a Jury Special Mention at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 for his short film A Gentle Night/ Xiao Cheng Er Yue (2017). The 15-minute film is set in a provincial Chinese town, following a woman’s desperate search for her missing daughter.
Yang is a 2014 Master of Film and Television graduate, whose VCA graduation film Under the Sun has already received numerous awards, and screened at Cannes in 2015.
Trailer for Under the Sun (2014) by Qiu Yang.
Head of VCA Film and Television Nicolette Freeman said she was "thrilled" to hear of Qui’s success at Cannes, but not surprised. "It's so good to see Cannes recognise Qui Yang's talent. It's an extraordinary achievement for him to be screened, let alone awarded, at Cannes in such quick succession.”
“Qiu is a very talented new director with a strong and unique artistic voice,” said Ms Freeman. "That was clear to us during his two years in our Masters program in 2013 and 2014. I can’t wait to see this new work.”
Yang was joined at Cannes this year by another VCA Film and Television graduate, Ariel Kleiman, who, with co-director Jane Campion, presented Top of the Lake: China Girl.
Trailer for A Gentle Night/ Xiao Cheng Er Yue (2017) by Qiu Yang.
Find out more about Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Banner image: Screen capture from A Gentle Night/ Xiao Cheng Er Yue by Qiu Yang.
As part of Reconciliation Week, the Faculty of the VCA & MCM is supporting a benefit concert in order to raise money and increase awareness about the suicide rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As part of the event, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development Richard J Frankland will perform a one-hour set with his band, the Wandering Minstrels. Here's why.
Interview by Paul Dalgarno.
Richard, an incredibly high percentage of Indigenous Australians are affected by suicide. Why do you think that’s the case?
As the late scholar Patrick Wolfe once put it, invasion is a structure not an event. Trauma exists at a very high rate for Aboriginal and Islander people, and the trauma that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people face comes from discrimination, dispossession and from the destruction of a social order that is more than 2,000 generations old.
We now live with an extremely high suicide rate, mortality rate, chronic illness, unemployment, incarceration rate ... the list goes on. These are extremely difficult things to live with on a daily basis. Many of our young people are in despair and live with a poverty of spirit. There is hope, though. We have many warriors standing up, we have many strong organisations and we have many leaders. We will defeat the poverty of spirit.
Has suicide had a direct effect on you? How so?
I have lost family to suicide. I have lost friends to suicide. I have seen it and the grief it leaves behind. I have written the outline of a program that I have passed on to the ATSI support organisation Culture is Life and I am hoping that further develop and implement the program.
Can you tell us a bit about Richard J Frankland and the Wandering Minstrels?
Richard J Frankland and the Wandering Minstrels are deadly (grouse). You can expect a few laughs, a few yarns and a few tears ... LOL. The Wandering Minstrels are Biddy Connor, John Wayne Parsons, Tiriki Onus, Michael Julian, Rob Finch and Angus Grey. All are or were involved in VCA & MCM. The music will be a bit folky, a little bit of blues, some rock – no doof-doof, sorry.
What does Reconciliation Week (27 May–3 June) mean to you?
Reconciliation Week is basically about trying to find the pathway that will help us all get it right. The other day, I heard my son and his non-Aboriginal mate Ally Mitchell do a Welcome to Country in language: my language. Wow, what a feeling – to me, that's a rung on the ladder toward a vision for victory. Those kinds of actions make me believe that we will defeat discrimination; that we are already changing a nation.
Why should people come along to the benefit concert on 2 June?
People want to contribute to making Australia a better place, a stronger place, but sometimes they don’t know how to contribute. Attending the benefit concert is a way to do that. People should come and learn the stories, hear the yarns, hear the songs, and network. And, of course, if they can afford it, they should throw a quid into the bucket.
The Reconciliation Week Preventative Suicide Program & Benefit Concert is on 2 June 2017, 6pm–8pm, at Magnet Galleries, Melbourne. Free admission (but bookings essential). See the VCA & MCM events listing for more information.
The not-for-profit organisation Culture is Life supports and promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions to affirm and strengthen culture and to prevent youth suicide. Visit Culture is Life for more information.
Beyondblue offers a range of services around suicide and suicide prevention. Visit beyondblue or call 1300 22 4636 (24 hours/seven days a week).
Find out more about the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the Faculty of VCA & MCM.
Banner image: yaruman5/Flickr.
When many schools have cupboards full of musical instruments, why are so few students learning to play?
By Dr Alexander Crooke, Postdoctoral Fellow in Music Therapy
Musical participation in schools has been increasingly linked to a range of benefits deemed critical for today’s students. This includes fostering creativity, offering unique ways of understanding and interpreting the world, and promoting numerous forms of school engagement.
It is also linked to a number of wellbeing and social justice benefits, such as increased inclusion and connectedness at school and classroom levels, as well as cultivating peacebuilding, diversity and intercultural understanding.
So why do so many schools have cupboards full of musical instruments gathering dust? Our ongoing research has identified several important trends.
One major barrier to sustained music programs relates to who actually delivers them. Some argue it should be the generalist classroom teacher, but as over 15 years of research and government reports have pointed out, most have neither the time nor the training to do so.
This speaks to two issues: the first being that space for the arts in generalist teacher-training has been on the decline since the 1990s, with more recent reports claiming it comprises an average of 1.51 per cent of time spent in Victorian preservice courses. This has left teachers who aren’t already musicians under-equipped in terms of both skill and confidence to provide music to their students.
And then teachers must deal with an increasingly crowded curriculum. Few would disagree the emphasis in our current education model on standardised testing, and mandated performance in core subjects like literacy and numeracy, has significantly reduced teachers’ abilities to focus on provision in other areas.
If you then add in all of the other “extras” teachers and schools are expected to provide their students – think Bike Ed, dental vans, science excursions, swimming lessons and more – suddenly teachers are up against the wall. This is not to deny the fantastic work many do to build music into their daily lessons, but in our research, it has been clear these are the exception, not the norm.
Unfortunately, we found that that, even when teachers who were incredibly supportive of the arts were given intensive support by skilled practitioners to integrate it into their daily teaching, most simply can’t find the time to do it. Others stated that, while in-class mentoring was valuable, this value lay in the fact that sessions provided students access to experiences they couldn’t, and didn’t intend to, provide themselves in their normal classes.
Some may argue the introduction of specialist teachers has addressed this issue.
Specialist teachers are employed, often part time, to deliver a specific subject that has been deemed too hard to deliver in the mainstream curriculum. In Victoria, this includes things like Languages Other Than English, Physical Education, and education in all art forms.
While this may be a useful model for the schools that can afford them, in the majority of the schools we’ve spoken to over the last six years, it is not a sustainable solution. Faced with the reality of being able to afford only one or two specialists, school leadership has told us they are left to pick and choose which of these specialist subjects they will provide.
Often this comes down to who is available, and what they are willing to do. Furthermore, because of the instability (and what many specialist music teachers report as a significant lack of support, or isolation, from the rest of the school community), these specialists regularly move on, taking the school music program with them.
These factors lay the groundwork for what we call “the exposure model”, whereby schools tend to expose their students to as many diverse arts experience as possible. This is linked to an understanding that, not only is ongoing provision in one art form unrealistic, but will inevitably reduce students’ access to experiences in other areas.
Clearly, this undermines the stability of music provision, which requires extended, deep engagement to achieve the benefits noted above.
The value of the arts
The most common factor which underpins all of this at a systemic and cultural level is what participants in our studies have repeatedly referred to as a lack of value for music, and the arts more generally, in our schools and in our society.
Participants have told us this is lack of value exists among teaching staff, school leadership, parents, education departments, the federal government, and in some rare cases, even students. Schools have consistently reported to us that this is one of the biggest hurdles they face in supporting musical provision.
We, and many others, have argued strongly that governments need to go beyond rhetorical support for school music, and start providing schools tangible support to provide it. That is why I welcome the Victorian Government’s pledge, to provide $2 million over four years so that every Victorian student has access music by 2018.
This is a significant step, and signals a value shift in the right direction. For this, people like Victorian Labor MP James Merlino should be commended for pushing this funding scheme through, and maintaining it one year on.
Yet, we are far from celebration. There is a lot of work to be done in our schools, and in our society, before all Victorian schools are really in a position to provide music to students.
The changes required are both structural, and cultural.
We first need to attribute value to music that is comparable to curriculum leviathans like maths and English. Secondly, this needs to demonstrated through education policy structures that place music within the core of the educational experience, rather than an added extra.
Once we do this, then we can expect musical instruments to be used with the same surety as calculators and dictionaries.
Banner image: Phil Roeder/Flickr
On 23 May 2017, RN's Books and Arts aired a one-hour broadcast from the Victorian College of the Arts on what it's like to go to art school, to coincide with this year's ongoing ART150 celebrations.
Guests included: graduates Dannika Horvat, Linton Wilkinson, Nicholas Pearce and Louisa Wall, classical guitar student Louis Virgil Smith, Director of the VCA Professor Su Baker, Head of Music Theatre Margot Fenley, Music Theatre students Sian Crowe, Olivia Morison and Chloe Honig, and VCA Enterprise Professor and internationally-acclaimed visual artist Patricia Piccinini.
You can listen to the full broadcast here:
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Image: RN Books and Arts presenter Michael Cathcart with, left to right, Sian Crowe, Chloe Honig, Olivia Morison, and Chris Nolan on keys. Picture: Sue Thornton.
Musical theatre writers and composers will have a career-making opportunity to present their work at the ASCAP Musical Theatre workshop which includes an expert panel led by Broadway and Disney composer Stephen Schwartz, best known for composing Wicked.
Restless, at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne, exhibits recent works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists as a counterpoint to the "welt" paintings by Gordon Bennett (1955–2014). Bennett's chilling imagery can be understood as a declaration of new possibilities, responsibilities and sensitivities for Australian artists and curators. The following transcript is from an interview between Ashley Perry, Honours Fine Arts (Visual Arts) student at the Victorian College of the Arts and Dr David Sequeira, Curator, Restless.
David Sequeira: I remember the opening of Gordon Bennett’s exhibition A Black History in 1993 as an intense and unsettling experience. That Saturday afternoon, on the way to the exhibition, I saw a man lying in the middle of one of the backstreets of Fitzroy. He looked drunk and barely conscious, and there was no-one else in the street. I stopped the car to help him – to at least get him onto the footpath.
Gagging from the stench of alcohol, cigarettes, urine and body odour, I lifted him up and the blood from his head-wound smeared on my shirt and hands. He had just enough energy to call me a filthy black cunt before he passed out in my arms. I sat on the footpath with him, stressed and shaken by the fragility and ugliness that I had experienced.
Finally, a police patrol van stopped and took him away. Restless, I bought a new shirt and went on to the opening. I had never seen works of art that challenged the privilege of white history so uncompromisingly. As I looked down at the room sheet, I noticed that some of the stranger’s blood remained on my hands.
Ashley Perry: What interested you in Gordon Bennett’s exhibition A Black History at Sutton Gallery in 1993?
Not only did A Black History highlight the cruelties of Australia’s colonial values – more importantly for me, the work pointed towards contemporary manifestations of these values. These manifestations seemed everywhere – in our schools, museums and galleries. Until this exhibition I had never seen contemporary art that had been so critical of dominant histories. Bennett’s work seemed to interrogate my understanding of art history and expose its weaknesses – that it was relatively unquestioned and that it had been constructed from "white" values.
What was it about this show and these works that resonated in your mind until now?
I was especially interested in a suite of small works on canvas, some of which are included in Restless. Uniform in size and painted mostly in black and blue, these works were hung in a small room separate from the larger paintings. Parts of each canvas were painted in relief, in which cuts reveal a red interior. Bennett referred to these works as "welt" paintings, and I was struck by his symbolic use of the canvas as a scarred and unhealed skin. Across the floor of this entire room, Bennett had written the words "a black history" repeatedly. I became aware of myself engaged in the process of erasing "a black history" as I walked across the room to look at each of these works.
From that, why now? Why re-address or revisit this work today, almost 25 years on from the initial exhibition?
In 2017 the welt paintings still articulate both personal and shared experiences, and shine a light on the processes of revealing and concealing the past. My assertion is that Bennett’s work (particularly from this period) made a profound contribution to museology and curatorship in Australia. Through these works I learnt to question the hierarchies within museums and examine their role in the construction of identity and history.
I became aware of how the placement of art objects within museums impacted my understandings of them. In addition to Bennett’s unpacking of the complexities of history, his chilling imagery was a declaration of new possibilities and responsibilities for Australian artists and curators. Restless can be considered an exploration of those possibilities.
You have drawn together a range of practices for this exhibition. Could you talk about the context in which the artists produced their works, compared to when Bennett made his show?
None of the works by other artists in Restless reference Bennett – it is unlikely that these artists would be overly familiar with his work. This is not the focus of the exhibition. The main point of Restless is to highlight the types of art and curatorship that can emerge from the ideas that Bennett so powerfully articulated.
In the early 1990s it was mostly Indigenous artists who claimed the issues that Bennett brought to light. Now, issues around race, history, representation and colonisation are central to a broad range of Australian artists. There seems to be a shared responsibility about being an Australian artist that I find deeply moving.
Artist information for Restless
Implicit in Nick Devlin’s series of altered Australian flags is a critique of the fabric of Australian-ness. Exploiting the traditional emblematic use of the national flag, Devlin’s alterations question the type of Australia that the flag represents. These works suggest those Australian values recently identified by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull such as mutual-respect, democracy, freedom, rule of law and a-fair-go are not experienced by all Australians.
Karla Dickens assemblages refer to the rarely discussed sexual violence associated with colonisation. Her haunting imagery, which incorporates branding irons, stockman’s whips, bullock horns and Akubra hats, shatters the romance of the outback as a place of tranquility. Dickens’ work addresses the rape and massacre of Indigenous Australians that remains largely eclipsed by the mythology around the colonial pioneer.
Megan Evans' work results from over 30 years of investigation into what displaces a sense of belonging in Australia. Although her Scottish family history in Australia can be traced back to the early 1800's, her late husband’s Aboriginal culture is far more ancient. Evans’ "bleeding" sculptures – original 19th-century heritage objects that she has beaded and embroidered – can be understood as articulations of acute awareness that the establishment of her family in Australia took place at the expense of his.
The dark humorous quality of Jordan Marani’s work points to the absurdity and offensiveness of Australia’s recent history. His White Horse Trailer Policy (a pun on White Australia Policy) mocks the arrogance of Australia’s first parliament who promoted a homogenous population of northern European descent. The 1901 policy that was not completely dismantled until 1973 was designed with the assumption that someone with white skin was superior to someone with dark skin.
Restless runs until 10 June 2017 at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. Event details.
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Banner image: Megan Evans, Fox, found taxidermy fox, glass beads, cotton, steel star pickets; and Hero, found antique ship in case, glass beads, cotton, steel star pickets. Photo: Vicki Jones.
Masters students from the Victorian College of the Arts recently took part in a fieldwork intensive in the Bass Coast region of South Gippsland. Their aim? To explore how how indigenous knowledge sensitises us to the historical and contemporary complexities of regional sites.
By Dr Danny Butt, Lecturer (Master of Arts and Community Practice), Victorian College of the Arts
How can art help us understand a place? If that place is somewhere new to us, how can we go about orienting ourselves to it? And how can indigenous knowledge sensitise us to the historical and contemporary complexities of regional sites?
These were some of the questions explored by Masters students from the Victorian College of the Arts in a fieldwork intensive I coordinated in the Bass Coast region of South Gippsland in April 2017. The four-day visit was centred on the event Luminous Streets, a component of the Regional Arts Victoria Small Town Transformations initiative The Edge of Us, which links artistic works in five small towns along Westernport Bay.
With only a short period of time to get to know the area, students used a range of strategies to engage the event – some artists, such as Rich Keville, produced their own artistic response to the site in the form of luminous "graffiti" attached to the pier; while James Howard composed audio works based on field recordings taken at the site.
Other students took a more documentary approach, with Jared Kuvent taking long-exposure still photography, while Cath Rutten used interview techniques to generate data that produced a musical score – making a creative response to the typical evaluation strategies used in her work as a cultural planner.
The idea of “fieldwork” is best known in anthropology, and so the question of indigenous knowledge was central to student learning of both the site and the opportunities that fieldwork methods might present. I invited renowned Māori artist, curator and academic Dr Huhana Smith, Head of the School of Art at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand, to act as guest faculty for the site visit.
Dr Smith presented her community-based action research project Manaaki Taha Moana: Enhancing Coastal Ecosystems for Mäori in a seminar at the Faculty of VCA & MCM's Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development before joining the students out on the fieldwork site, where they were welcomed to country by Boon Wurrung artist Steve Parker and participated in a smoking ceremony.
Working with my colleagues in the arts collective Local Time, who also joined the intensive, I’ve spent the last ten years researching how artists can engage questions of indigenous knowledge and political struggles for self-determination in a respectful fashion, to enhance our sensitivity to intergenerational local knowledge of habitat and the ecosystem.
Across the world, local communities and indigenous researchers such as Dr Smith are actively working to undo the impact of colonisation on customary methods of caring for the land. Indigenous knowledge now has urgent relevance as we seek sustainable ways of life in an era of widespread environmental degradation and climate change.
While a short visit to a regional arts project could only begin to point at the potential openings for artists into these questions, the experience highlighted for students the value of place-based learning and the benefits of a holistic approach to research and community engagement.
In the words of VCA student Cath Rutten: “It was a great field trip ... such great conversations and insights from everybody. It really reminds me of how important it is to work in proximity with others."
This wasn’t just a one-way flow of information, but a real exchange. Outside of their own learning, the students contributed significantly to the Luminous Streets event with their presence and engagement. They gained first-hand insight into how a large-scale community arts project works and I’m really excited to share their findings with the organisers.
Working with tutor and artist Amy Spiers, the students are currently finalising their research reports and responses. I will be sharing them with the Regional Arts Victoria project team to feed into the next iteration of the project in 2018.
Image: Boon Wurrung artist Steve Parker introducing the class to the material history of the Westernport area. Photo: Jared Kuvent.
An app that lets audience members experience Melbourne General Cemetery like never before? Victorian College of the Arts Lecturer in Theatre Robert Walton explains more.
By Robert Walton, Lecturer in Theatre (Acting) at the Victorian College of the Arts
Blurring documentary with fiction, Vanitas is a reflective thriller about life’s great mystery: death. Experienced through their own smartphone and decrypted through the secret language of flowers, each visitor will embark on a self-guided walk through Melbourne’s oldest modern cemetery. Alone.
Intrepid audience members will listen to the app as they wander towards a rendezvous at the centre of the cemetery. It’s a meditative experience that asks you to listen deeply and look closely at the world around you. In Vanitas, not everything is as it first appears.
A vanitas painting portrays collections of objects symbolic of the certainty of death. We were inspired by a painting from 1700 by Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch called Vase with Flowers (above). Ruysch’s floral vanitas depicts blooms just passing their best, on the cusp of wilting or being eaten by bugs. Her mysterious painting, like all vanitas pictures from that era, reminds us that all living things fade, and that our objects will outlive us and become the last traces of our daily lives.
In much of Australian culture, death remains taboo. For a variety of reasons, we are unable or unwilling to talk about it. In fact, we often go about our lives as if death is a fate that will not befall us personally. Australia also has the second highest uptake of smartphones in the world.
Hence, we have made a smartphone app as a vanitas for our own times. The interface itself is based on Ruysch’s painting with each flower representing an episode in the story. Like the flowers in the painting, you are drawn to some episodes first and then chance upon others along the way. The shift between guided and random order allows the audience to weave their own connections with the threads of narrative we present.
The story mixes documentary, autobiography and fiction and is told wholly through remixed audio fragments taken from interviews with a variety of experts on the themes of vanitas, flowers, life and death. We find out about the secret language of flowers, witness a cremation, and talk to botanists, historians and professionals from the death industry.
We are lucky to have Southern Melbourne Cemeteries Trust in our city; world leaders in forward thinking about the future of our cemeteries. Those we have worked with from the Trust's team have been great collaborators and have helped us to understand how death practices have evolved over the last century and how they might develop into the future.
What is clear is that Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville is a place of extraordinary national importance. It is a haunting museum and art gallery of lives past, like the shadow of the city itself.
And, with 300,000 people buried there, it's certainly the biggest venue I have ever played. But the dead are what you’d call a captive audience. On the whole they are very well behaved bunch; they don’t give much back. They seem to be enjoying the show so far, yet we live in constant fear of a standing ovation.
The audience on the weekend can expect a meditative experience exploring themes of death and transience. Ticket holders can arrive any time between 10am and 4pm on their chosen day.
Audience members will be asked to come with a fully-charged smartphone (Apple or Android) with an Australian mobile number, email address, access to the internet (there is no WiFi in the cemetery) and headphones. Once booked, they will be sent an email with information on how to download the Vanitas app before coming to the cemetery.
Vanitas was commissioned as part of In Your Hands – a new series of artworks and installations that invite audiences to create experiences mediated through hand-held technology – by Arts House through the Australia Council’s New Digital Theatre Initiative. Tickets are available from Arts House. Admission: $10
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Banner image: Jason Maling and Robert Walton.
Geoff Hughes, of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is one of Australia’s leading improvising guitarists and music educators. With his fellow musicians in the Michelle Nicolle Quartet, he won the Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album at the Bells Australian Jazz Awards on 16 May. Here, he discusses the win, its significance, and his current and future projects.
Interview by Paul Dalgarno
The album features some well-known and not-so-well-known compositions by legendary composer/bandleader Duke Ellington and his hugely talented co-composer Billy Strayhorn.
It was recorded back in 2015 by the ABC at Southbank, Melbourne, for ABC Jazz but wasn’t released until last year on ABC records.
The quartet comprises Michelle Nicolle on vocals, myself on guitar, Tom Lee on bass, and Ronny Ferella on drums. Michelle, Ronny and Tom are all sessional teachers in the MCM Jazz & Improvisation department.
What does it mean to win an award of this kind? Beyond the immediate kudos, what do you hope the award might lead to?
Awards in music can be difficult territory, although the Bells themselves are ostensibly chosen by a wide community of jazz and improvising musicians and industry people before reaching the final stages. We were nominated in 2013 for the previous album, too. That’s important affirmation for this band and what we are doing.
In the present day it is incredibly difficult to secure gigs in festivals in Australia, and even more so in Asia, and Europe. The US is practically out of reach. Australian acts are competing with a huge number of overseas artists; they usually have to travel further, and the support mechanisms for that are few. This award contributes to a track record of recognition, which, along with concert reviews and other recordings, will help us to that end.
Awards are like the icing on the cake, or a boost to the band's CV when one is looking for an edge. There is also money involved – which helps to alleviate the expenses from previous projects!
Can you tell us a little about the dynamic in the quartet: what you bring to the party, what the others bring? How does it work in theory and how it all comes together in practice?
Michelle is the band leader, as the vocalist, but she, her partner Ronny Ferella and I, have been working in this format now for nearly 20 years. Tom Lee joined us in 2005 – not long out of University – and launched straight into a new album and tour with us in Singapore, Indonesia and Holland (at the Northsea Jazz festival ). He did a great job then and has been with us ever since.
The dynamic of this group is ostensibly a vocal-led interactive ensemble as opposed to a singer with backing musicians. That's a really important part of the sound of this band, which treats even standard repertoire in an eclectic way.
The pressure on Michelle to become SINGER writ large is constant. But the quartet has sustained an interactive approach to every project nonetheless.
Some of the tunes on this album are around 80 years old, but we endeavour to create a sensibility more contingent with the things that have influenced us all as musicians in the 21st century – as well as expressing what we really love about classical jazz music (which is misunderstood by most people).
Michelle is the main driver as far as material and arrangements go – although a lot of work happens in rehearsal where ideas are tested, added or withdrawn. It's also fair to say that, after 20 years of playing, much of our music has developed in performance. These days, our rehearsals are examples of economy in terms of time and frequency.
I have always loved the way that I am accepted as a texturalist in this band, rather than just an accompanist or soloist. It's interesting to me to use the guitar as a way of arranging interesting textures and ambiences.
Do you get more pleasure out of playing alone or in ensembles? What are the pros and cons of each?
I do enjoy both, but playing solo is nerve-wracking. I’m currently working on a recording in my home studio – a solo project from which I hope to generate some live solo playing. I enjoy that in ensembles one has more material to work with straight away by virtue of the other players, as opposed to the sonic "tabula rasa" of solo playing.
The hardest thing about playing solo is dealing with your own silence. My view, though, is that investigating both solo and group playing to a deeper level can really benefit both. It's really all about balancing constructive listening and musical independence.
What projects are you currently excited about? And what’s next for the quartet?
I have been lucky to have been part of two regularly working and touring groups over the last 15 or so years, and countless other freelance and one-off things. Those two groups are the Michelle Nicolle Quartet and also the late Allan Browne’s Quintet, which actually won theBells' Best Small Australian Jazz Group last year for its recording Ithaca Bound.
I'm looking forward to the next step with the remaining four members of Allan Browne’s Quintet. I'm also looking forward to getting my solo project finished – it's been going for a while.The Michelle Nicolle Quartet has been around the world and recorded seven albums together – but we still enjoy touring and the process of getting new album material together.
In 2014 we performed a whole concert of adaptations of music by Bach at Elder Hall in Adelaide, which was a fusion of a whole lot of interesting elements, including free improvisational and groove-based elements along with some more Bach-like contrapuntal conventions. I’m hoping we can get that project into the studio soon.
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Image: From left to right, Ronny Ferella, Tom Lee, Michelle and Geoff Hughes at "Live at the Village" Springfield in the Blue Mountains.
The ongoing Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800 exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria was produced in collaboration with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and The University of Melbourne. Whether you’ve seen it or not, your views could help our researchers.
By Dr Amanda E Krause, Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.
While popular conceptions of love tend to focus upon romantic love, the National Gallery of Victoria’s Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800 exhibition presents depictions of love in its many variations, in painting, sculpture, prints and drawings, as well as non-representational and functional objects such as costume, furniture and religious artefacts.
Curated by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Angela Hesson of the University of Melbourne’s ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), it features more than 200 items from the NGV’s International Collection, some of which have never been displayed before.
But what does it teach us? What do you, as a gallery-goer, get out of visiting an exhibition of this kind?
Though the artworks in Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800 concern historical expressions of love, we are interested in how people experience those emotions today. With that aim, we are undertaking an audience-response research project, and would love – yes, love – you to get involved.
If you haven’t already, you can visit the exhibition at the NGV until 18 June, 2017. It’s located on the ground floor, free to enter, and the NGV is open 10am–5pm daily.
But even without visiting the NGV, you can assist us. Our online survey contains questions about visiting art galleries, and about yourself, and to respond to eight key works that are part of the Love exhibition. You can access it here – many thanks in advance!
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Image: The Garden of Love (c.1465–1470), Antonio Vivarini (studio of). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
The work of VCA Art alumna Penelope Davis blends art and science to form a commentary on the impact of climate change.
By Kate Stanton, University of Melbourne
The collective noun for a group of jellyfish is a smack or a fluther. But when the creatures come together in large groups, often in small areas, it’s called a bloom.
These blooms drift on the current, forming strange and ghostly clusters that can stretch kilometres through the ocean.
Artist Penelope Davis spotted her first bloom several years ago, when she was walking along the beach near her bayside home in Melbourne. Hundreds of jellyfish spent the summer in Port Phillip Bay and, after investigating further, she discovered the creatures were uniquely suited to the warmer, oxygen-deprived waters caused by climate change.
Sea-change (detail) by Penelope Davis made with silicon, nylon thread and plastic. Photo: Simon Strong/Artist supplied
“It was quite terrifying”, says Ms Davis, who studied at the University of Melbourne.
But she felt an aesthetic attraction to the other-wordly sea creatures.
“They were intriguing. I like their semi-transparency and how they capture light.”
A bloom of jellyfish is a natural occurrence, the result of changing ocean currents, seasons or the availability of prey. In recent years, however, some scientists have wondered whether jellyfish numbers are growing – and whether a warmer planet means more jellyfish.
Scientists are still unsure, but Ms Davis was struck by the imagery of a bloom as an evocative illustration of what oceans could look like on a planet ravaged by climate change: bodies of water congested with ethereally beautiful but poisonous animals.
That is the inspiration for Sea-change, Ms Davis’ latest work, which debuted last month at the MARS Gallery in Melbourne as part of the continuing festival Art+Climate=Change 2017. The festival was convened by the not-for-profit organisation CLIMARTE, which aims to use art to spark discussions about climate change, bringing together artistic and scientific communities for exhibitions, talks and other public programs.
For Sea-change, Ms Davis collected discarded plastics and other ephemera, cast them in silicon moulds and hand-sewed the pieces together into 46 creations designed to resemble jellyfish. Suspended from the ceiling, they look just like a bloom, delicate and eerie, floating beneath the surface of the ocean.
Look closer, however, and you will recognise the shapes of the components: tap heads, plastic tops off tomato sauce bottles, mobile phone chargers, camera lenses, fishing lines and other castoffs that recall consumption, consumerism and waste.
Ms Davis says she did not set out to explore climate science in her work, but it was the natural by-product of her three-month artists’ residency last year at LAB-14, a hub of studios and working spaces for creatives, engineers, researchers and start-ups in the Carlton Connect innovation precinct which is anchored by the University of Melbourne.
Ms Davis says LAB-14 had a buzzing, purposeful atmosphere that was an inspiring contrast to her artists collaborative in St Kilda.
“I’m usually surrounded by a bunch of other artists and we talk a lot about the Melbourne art world. To go somewhere where that’s totally irrelevant and there’s all these enormous issues that people are working on, it really made me step up,” she says.
Sea-change at the MARS Art Gallery in Melbourne. Photo: Simon Strong
Ms Davis says she would meet with the building’s other residents to explain her jellyfish, and to engage with them on the issues underpinning the work. She even asked for some of them to contribute their scraps to her project.
Carlton Connect was designed to produce such interactions, says Dr Renee Beale, the precinct’s Creative Community Animator.
Dr Beale sees herself as the bridge between people of different and often segregated disciplines, such as art and science, in the hope of forcing new conversations about the world’s biggest problems. She connects scientists with artists who might need research to inform their art.
The people behind the Carlton Connect project believe that real innovation and solutions come from these interactions. A new Science Gallery, set to open there in 2018, will regularly host exhibitions that use art to help visitors engage with science.
Dr Beale also curates exhibitions, such as last year’s Absolutely Famished, which brought scientists, food experts and artists together to talk about future food trends, including robotic farming and 3D food printing.
“We recognise the importance of the creative arts in opening up new ways of thinking,” she says.
Dr Beale says many scientists are interested the emotional power of art to prompt action on research and data that isn’t always inspiring in its raw form.
Dr Peter Christoff, a CLIMARTE board member, has spent much of his career communicating the intricacies of scientific data – to politicians when he worked on the Victorian Ministerial Reference Council on Climate Change Adaptation and to students as an Associate Professor of Climate Politics and Policy at the University of Melbourne.
“The challenge has been trying to represent the information and also the arguments behind climate change in ways that are extremely accessible,” he says. “Not only accessible intellectually but also accessible emotionally.
“I think a lot of people have realised there’s only so far you can go with facts.”
Dr Christoff says the public is tiring of conversations about climate change if the same facts and images are repeated over and over. It’s important, he says, for artists such as Penelope Davis to think of new ways to connect people to the dangers of climate change.
Penelope Davis’ work in progress at Carlton Connect, LAB-14. Photo: Artist supplied
“She’s created this extraordinarily beautiful and menacing future world that is the product of all our misdemeanours,” he says of the artist’s jellyfish bloom.
“That’s one of the ambiguities of this sort of art,” he says. “It can almost entice you with that future.”
Ms Davis says she started to think about ways artists could work with scientists during her residency at LAB-14, noting that a lot of their research goes unnoticed by the public.
“I think science has this problem, they’ve known all this calamitous information for an awfully long time. But it’s very hard for them to communicate it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm people and make them shut off,” she says.
A good communications strategy is an imperative for climate scientists, who are alarmed by apathetic attitudes to a warming planet.
“Climate change is not really a scientific issue any more, it’s a public issue,” says Professor Ary Hoffman, leader of the Hoffman Group at the University’s Bio21 Molecular Science and BioTechnology Institute. He studies the ways organisms adapt to environmental change.
“How do we convince the public to take it seriously?” he says. “How do you make it meaningful for people so they take action, and at the moment, we are not seeing action being taken.
“It’s clear that we are making very slow progress.”
Professor Hoffman, who uses works of art to emphasise points in his lectures, does believe that good art has a place in the scientific community.
Dr Beale, of Carlton Connect, believes art and science should inform one another, a connection she hopes to encourage at LAB-14. It is there that a sculpturist might work alongside a 3D printing company, or a virtual reality designer alongside a painter.
“The idea of having artists juxtaposed with scientists means you have two very different ways of thinking coming together and when you have that, often new ideas spring from that,” she says.
“In a sense they’re similar,” says Dr Beale. “Both artists and scientists are very experimental, they’re open to new ideas, they work on creating things.”
Banner image: Sea-change. Photo: Simon Strong/Artist supplied
The University of Melbourne is pleased to announce the second round of successful applicants to the pioneering ACMI X co-working space in Melbourne’s Arts Precinct.
In 2016, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) established ACMI X, a state-of-the-art, 2,000-square-metre, 60-seat co-working space in Southbank which enables greater collaboration, innovation and industry connections for creative practitioners and researchers working with the moving image in fields such as filmmaking, digital production, web development, visual art and design.
The University has committed to a significant industry partnership with ACMI X which includes the funding of six shared desks in the co-working space for current students and recent graduates, five for research students and recent graduates from the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, and one to research students and recent graduates from the Faculty of Arts.
Emma Roberts, a Faculty of Arts graduate, and Ben Andrews, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of VCA & MCM and Faculty of Arts, have been working at ACMI X since 2016 on a number of virtual reality (VR) projects.
Ms Roberts said her passion lay in supporting and enabling new creative work. “In a nascent medium such as VR, the residency at ACMI X is allowing us to explore and experiment in this exciting medium,” she said. “The space has allowed us to connect with a bunch of creators in similar fields.”
Nicolette Freeman, Head of Film and Television at the VCA, said she was delighted with the partnership.
“ACMI X is an ideal parallel workspace for our scholarly community to develop their creative practice and, in particular, to develop new creative partnerships within the broader ACMI X community. We look forward to the future realisation of the many great projects enabled by the partnership.”
Bjorn Nansen, lecturer in Media and Communications in the School of Cultre and Communication, expressed similar enthusiasm, noting that: “ACMI X offers a space of potential in which networks of creative workers and social researchers could converge and mingle to produce new formations of productivity and insight.”
The following creatives and researchers have been offered a 12-month residency at ACMI X:
Malcolm Bloedel (Film and Television, Documentary)
Marleena Forward (Film and Television, Documentary)
Jack Keele Wedde (BFA Screenwriting)
Jack Rule (BFA Screenwriting)
Quinn Hogan (BFA Screenwriting)
Brianna Nixon (BFA Screenwriting)
Brodie Marchant (BFA Screenwriting)
Meegan May (BFA Screenwriting)
Charmaine Peters (BFA Screenwriting)
Nikki Tran (BFA Screenwriting)
Simon Trevorrow (BFA Screenwriting)
Michael Bentham (PhD, Film and Television)
Simon Bowland (Master of Production)
Shontelle Fisher (BFA Honours, Film and Television, Screenwriting)
Emilie Walsh (Visual Arts)
Thomas Schmocker (Dance)
Rohan Schwartz (Visual Arts)
Sarah Pass (Master of Producing)
Emma Roberts (B.Arts Film Production)
Ben Andrews (PhD Film and Television)
Donna Hensler (PhD Film and Television)
Tara Lomax (Screen studies)
Andrew O’Keefe (VCA and FoA)
Alexa Scarlata (Screen studies)
Natalia Grincheva (Transforming Technologies Research Unit)
Stephanie Hannon (Media and Communications)
Robbie Fordyce (Media and Communications)
Further information can be found on the ACMI X website.
Third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Alex Rothnie took a circuitous route into Production. His highlight so far? Working as a set designer on the VCA’s upcoming production of Mother Courage and Her Children.
Interview by Susanna Ling
My pathway to studying Production at the VCA wasn’t a straight one. For two years I had been working as a set designer/maker and theatre technician at my old high school while I was studying a Bachelor of Environments at university, but I always found my work far more engaging, enjoyable and rewarding than my studies. After years of encouragement and persistence from my boss, I finally decided to change direction. I’m now studying something that really interests me and makes me happy.
I feel a sense of infinite possibility at the VCA. For me there is no typical day – that’s what makes it so engaging. My days range from exhausting shifts in the workshop, repetitive sessions of model-making, stressful moments of costume construction, inspired moments of design, and long days of meetings. But that’s what makes this course so rewarding: every imaginable door is open to us, leaving us to explore our true interests.
I strive to create encapsulating, interactive worlds for performers and audience members. As a set designer, I often find myself most inspired by installation artists. It’s a powerful and exciting thing to see artists transform previously mundane spaces – say, a room or a road – into one giant piece of art, a pure visual display of expression.
Some of the challenges we face as designer/makers are also some of the greatest points of inspiration. We’re constantly in a game of tug-o-war with someone or something, forcing us to come up with creative solutions to realise our vision. It might be a miniscule budget, or spatial issues that come with a specific venue, or a design deadline that’s creeping up faster and faster. Trying to overcome the specific limitations and challenges posed by each show can open you up to ideas you’d never considered.
I’m currently living out my university highlight, designing the set and props for the VCA’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Theatre design is my true passion and to be given the opportunity to work on such a big show is a real blessing.
Through working on numerous VCA productions I’ve learned hands-on how a show operates and how my role – or indeed, roles – fits within it. I’ve found that sometimes, as a designer, my hands are tied quite as tightly. One thing the VCA has developed in me is an ability to problem-solve and think outside the box. Delving into this piece and trying to create a world with such a creative team of people is incredibly inspiring.
I’ve learned that you have to soak up as much information and experience as you possibly can. Theatre is such a collaborative experience, encompassing different people and disciplines and skill-sets. No-one will expect you to be an expert on everything, but the more you learn, the broader your sense of theatre and collaboration will become. I think that’s the key to becoming a better practitioner – being able to draw from a far larger, deeper pool of knowledge.
Our 2017 Brecht Season runs from 5–11 May at both the Southbank and Parkville campuses. Visit the Brecht Season event page for more information.
Image: Alex Rothnie with his set model for Mother Courage and Her Children. Photograph: Sav Schulman, 2017.
Want to learn more about the Bachelor of Fine Arts? Join us at Focus on Fine Art
What: Hear from academics, current students and alumni about what you'll learn and the world class opportunities on offer
When: Tuesday 20 June, 6.30–8.30pm
Registrations essential. Register now.
Aspiring actors and theatre-makers will be offered two new degrees by the Victorian College of the Arts from 2018.
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre) will replace the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre Practice), providing more thorough and streamlined training in each discipline.
Head of Theatre at the VCA Associate Professor Matt Delbridge said the courses will nurture a new generation of culturally-aware, internationally-focused actors and theatre makers, preparing them for 21st-century careers in the Asia Pacific region across a wide range of stage and screen contexts.
Delbridge, who took up his position as Head of VCA Theatre in 2016, said the new degrees offer a more nuanced, strategic and pragmatic version of the Theatre Practice degree.
“The current degree has aspired to prepare actors for the demands of the screen, main stage productions, and the generation of new work,” he said. “That’s an admirable goal and aspiration, but if we give more time, energy and resources to these two ideas separately, we’ll make much better theatre-makers and much better actors.”
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre) will train theatre artists to work across all areas of live performance, including physical theatre, writing, directing and dramaturgy. Third-year students will also have the opportunity to practise in a travelling studio overseas.
“We have really increased the amount of time and resources poured into theatre making” said Delbridge. “It will be the first Theatre course of this type in the conservatoire sector in Australia, and it will be taught by leading practitioners in the field.”
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) will prepare actors for work across all areas of the profession for stage and screen, including animation and gaming.
“Acting is something the VCA has been doing for a very long time and our graduates have had a lot of success,” said Delbridge. “But now, with an invigorated staffing profile and a stronger emphasis on performance for screen, animation and gaming, we are taking a major leap forward. It’s about 21st-Century preparedness.”
New teaching appointments to VCA Theatre include I Putu Budiawan, Senior Lecturer (Acting); Leith McPherson, Senior Lecturer (Voice and Movement); Lyndall Grant, Tutor (Stage Combat); Steph Kehoe, Tutor (Theatre Making); and Chris Kohn, Tutor (Directing).
Ongoing staff in new positions include Sapidah Kian (Lecturer (Acting, Directing), and Rinske Ginsberg, Lecturer (Movement and the Actor's Body).
Image: VCA Acting Company 2016 in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Lachlan Woods.
Want to learn more about the Bachelor of Fine Arts? Join us at Focus on Fine Art
What: Hear from academics, current students and alumni about what you'll learn and the world class opportunities on offer
When: Tuesday 20 June, 6.30–8.30pm
Registrations essential. Register now.
Prudence Flint graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1989. Since then she has held solo exhibitions across Australia. She was a finalist in the Archibald Portrait Prize in 2015 and 2016, won the Len Fox Painting Award 2016, the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2004, and the Portia Geach Memorial Award in 2010.
Acclaimed Australian composer and recipient of the 2014 Albert Maggs Award Tim Dargaville will be featured in a portrait concert Speaking in Tongues at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. The programme includes the world premiere of the Maggs Award composition “Between Breath and Word”, and also a major new solo piano cycle “Kolam”, amongst other works from the past decade of his longstanding career.
Interview by Sarah Hall.
How did the event Speaking in Tongues come to be?
This concert was initially conceived as a result of the 2014 Albert H. Maggs award. This significant award provides resources for the commissioning and performance of a new work, and has done so for many Australian composers over the past 50 years. So for me the planning of the performance event influenced the writing of the new work, and the writing of the work influenced the nature of the program for the concert.
In a sense, this award created the opportunity to bring separate strands of my creative life into a celebration, to frame the new commission as part of a retrospective programme, and also invite significant collaborators to perform in the event. It’s been an exciting 18 months, connecting these aspects of the award together.
Can you tell us about the work that will feature in the concert, including Kolam?
Some of the music in this concert brings together my long term interest and research in the south Indian vocal percussion tradition of Konnakol and the mandala ritual art practice Kolam with my traditional Western classical training.
The Kolam project, which I’ve been working on for more than ten years now, is inspired by the beautiful ritual of daily mandala-making that occurs in Southern Indian Tamil villages, and explores rendering this in a sonic form.
Ten years ago, my partner Rosalie Hastwell and I were Asialink artists in residence, working with Adishakti Theatre in Pondicherry in Southern India. As part of a daily routine we’d see these beautiful rice flower mandala designs on front doorsteps every morning. Our then 12-year-old daughter Ruby was fascinated by these patterns and learned how to make kolam from two Tamil village women who worked for the company.
Ruby’s engagement in this activity also got me interested! As I result, I developed the idea of making kolams in sound by tapping into the Carnatic rhythmic practice of Konnakol that I’d been learning at the Karnataka College of Percussion in Bangalore previously. Since that time I’ve created a body of work for different groups, including for percussion, a saxophone quartet, and orchestra. They’ve all been called Kolam as they are interconnected through using similar musical patterns, and the project is expanding in scale – a bit like the mandala getting bigger and bigger as it draws geometrically outward.
One of the world-premiere works in the Speaking in Tongues program is the 25-minute solo piano cycle Kolam for renowned Sydney pianist Bernadette Harvey. It is comprised of five movements, and is the largest one I’ve done. Bernadette and I have been working on this particular composition together for the past three years. It was a Kolam work that won me the 2014 Albert Maggs Prize initially, so there’s also a nice connection there.
Could you tell us a bit about the world premiere of Albert Maggs Commission work Between Breath and Word?
This new work references some of the other works on the programme in subtle ways, and in that sense is designed to be a summation to the whole concert. I hope the audience experiences a sense of connection to the earlier music on the programme, and also a fresh and surprising reframing, which includes a diverse array of individual sound colours, mixed in surprising and unexpected ways.
I like the idea that a piece of music can take someone’s breath away. In some respects, to me, music is about what we can’t say in words. The title Between Breath and Word reflects that space in which music can make us speechless. That’s the kind of music I strive to make.
Which other musicians who will perform with you for Speaking in Tongues?
Pianist Bernadette Harvey and harpist Marshall McGuire are well known nationally and internationally for being dazzling performers of contemporary Australian music. Both these musicians have regularly commissioned works from many Australian composers including myself, so its wonderful to me that they are both involved in this event.
Also, excitingly, a number of work on the programme will be performed by musicians from the New Music studio at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, conducted by composer Elliott Gyger.
Why the name Speaking in Tongues?
To me composing is actually about making sense of the world that you’re in and the experiences that you have. The experiences I’ve had in South India have been very powerful and in some respects life-changing, and the education that I’ve had in the western classical music world has been equally influential. I’m interested in making music for people that draws on the authenticity of life experience, and is true to who I am. I think that a creative practice in general, and the Speaking in Tongues concept in particular, is about reconciling these very different experiences.
Speaking in Tongues is at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. Visit the VCA & MCM What’s On page for more information.
Professor Su Baker is Director of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), University of Melbourne with 25 years’ experience in teaching, research and senior management.
Su is a leading arts academic and artist, who is called upon for expert advice and has written on the shifting needs of arts education and the role of the Art School in the 21st Century, including “Art School 2.0 : Art Schools in the Information Age or Reciprocal Relations and the Art of the Possible”.
Su has exhibited nationally over the last 20 years in public and commercial galleries, including numerous solo and selected group exhibitions and national survey shows including in a number of curated exhibitions at state galleries and significant contemporary art venues.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
By Alix Bromley
What does the word half-caste mean for people born of two cultures? What are its implications on individuals and communities?
Mariaa Randall, a Bundjalung woman from the far north coast of NSW, decided at a young age that dance was the thing she was going to do. She recently finished her Master of Animateuring at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Her dance work HA LF dares to take a closer look at the progression of Aboriginal identity and challenges the thinking that perpetuates racial segregation.
“I need to have really strong intention as to why I’m dancing.”
HA LF is Mariaa’s story, as told by Eddie Diamandi, a filmmaking graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts.
The project saw VCA film and television graduates team up with artists who have received support through the VicArts Grants program to make short documentaries that go behind the scenes with artists and give an insight into their creative process.
Each week we’ll release a new film in the series in partnership with Lido Cinemas who will be showing the films on the big screen ahead of all evening screenings throughout November and into the summer period.
Watch more in the Generator series: Video: A graphic way to tell the story of tsunami.
By Steve Thomas, Lecturer in Film and Television (Documentary)
As an independent documentary maker, my journey through asylum seeker terrain began in 2002, when I was researching a documentary on the history of the township of Woomera. That research eventuated in Welcome To Woomera (2004), the first of what’s turned out to be a trilogy of films I’ve made touching on the situation and lives of asylum seekers in Australia.
From those films, and the years working on them, I’ve noticed certain patterns and gained first-hand insights.
My second film, Hope (2008), was a collaborative documentary about the life of the late Amal Basry, one of a handful of survivors of the SIEV X people-smuggling disaster of 2001, when 353 people drowned en route to Australia.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
Alice Darling – Master of Directing for Performance
“At the end of the day I feel so excited to do the work that I do, and it’s a real privilege to get to be the person that watches the work and shapes it. And if I get to do that for my life, or just a little bit longer, that’s amazing.”
Theatre director and alumna Alice Darling talks about her time as co-director of Kindness – the culmination of three years’ creative partnership with fellow theatre alumni Kate Shearman and Bridget Mackey.
Kindness debuted at Theatre Works in 2015 as part of Flight: Festival of New Writing, a new initiative in partnership with the VCA and Footscray Community Arts Centre to showcase the work of VCA theatre graduates.
Find out more about Graduate Study in Theatre at the VCA.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
Darren Vizer – Master of Dance
“For me, the decision to become a director and a choreographer… I had no choice. There was no choice. That was the reason I went back to the arts.”
The Devize Co artistic director, Artist in Residence at La Mama Theatre, and guest choreographer at VCA talks about his return to graduate study and how he applies his acting background to his dance and choreography practice.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
By Kate Lefoe, Masters of Film and Television (Narrative)
Sweat forms on my neck under my camera strap. It’s a humid Saturday morning in Guihua Park, Suzhou, China. A man in his sixties is talking sternly to my producer Ann. A crowd gathers around us. I look to Ann for a translation but she avoids my gaze. I can tell things are getting tense. Ann is 23 and majors in Kunqu Opera at Suzhou University. We’re here filming the marriage market where parents come to meet and arrange blind dates for their kids, hanging signs that reveal their children’s statistics. ‘Man. Born 1980. 165cm tall. Bachelor of Commerce. Accountant. Own apartment.’ It’s our first day of shooting my documentary Age, Height, Education, part of the two week Looking Suzhou Film Scholarship Program. Ten students from Film and Television are here to make their documentaries with the help of a local student.
Later I’d find out that the man claimed we were invading their privacy and that their kids didn’t know they were trying to set up dates for them. He was threatening to call the police and said we should delete the footage. A crowd gathers and more people start weighing in – a middle-aged women says ‘He’s being kind to you, if he was being mean, he’d break your camera’. It’s time to go. Ann tells me just how serious things were getting. We decide to call Professor Ni, Head of the School of Film and Television at Suzhou University. A warm and funny man well respected by his students, he is just as surprised as us to hear about the sensitivity of the parents using the dating market. While we sit in the shade, a few strangers who watched what happened come up to us to offer their support and suggestions for the documentary.
Over dumplings we discuss what to do next. The People’s Park in Shanghai is rumoured to have dating markets on a Sunday. Undeterred by our first experience we book tickets on the 7am bullet train and plan a more discrete approach.
Ann and I share a terrible sense of direction, and we get a little lost finding our way to the park, huge in size and filled with markets and dozens of professional matchmakers with rows of paper signs with eligible singles. The matchmakers are happy to be interviewed and explain how it works and what the expectations are for a compatible partner. But we still need to interview parents!
I admire Ann’s tenacity as she gets politely knocked back again and again by parents. I wander around filming the market by myself. Occasionally being shooed away. By a large tree, an old man is quick to start up a conversation in English with me and more people gather. Ann returns and has almost convinced Mrs Ye, a woman looking for a daughter-in-law, to be interviewed. The men I’ve been chatting to chip in and Mrs Ye is happy to be interviewed. Interestingly, her views are more old fashioned than the mother we interviewed in Suzhou in terms of what’s important in a future daughter-in-law. We get what we came for.
The next week is a blur of translating and editing. Our VCA lecturer, Siobhan Jackson, and Professor Ni, come in to watch our rough and fine cuts throughout the week. Siobhan offers a fresh perspective and great advice. With all of us from the VCA busily editing in our dorm rooms, we drop in to share advice, frustrations and snacks. Ann and I have a marathon 12 hour session of translating and finalising the English and Mandarin subtitle tracks. The more tired we are, the harder it is! Despite our frustrations with the project, we both still make jokes and laugh. We make a good team.
After a week in the edit cave, it’s time to screen our films. It’s fascinating to see the ten different stories from Suzhou. I’ve loved the process of learning about an aspect of another culture and it has been amazing getting to know Ann and learning about her life. We’re all incredibly sad to get on the bus and wave goodbye to our new friends.
The documentary we made Age, Height, Education was a finalist in the Phoenix Documentary Awards in Beijing and is expected to start the festival run soon. I’ve already started planning a return visit to make another documentary with Ann.
More information about Looking China 2015.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
By David C. Mahler, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television)
Like all good filmmakers I know the audience loves drama; I think I’ll start with it.
My Chinese filmmaking partner/translator Wang Yutong and I had been developing our project for three or so days already. Props had been bought, specific costumes purchased, locations scouted, the whole shebang. To be honest I was surprised our project was given approval when I pitched it on day one. The idea was set almost entirely on a boat, drifting down a river through various parts of the Chinese landscape. Boats, on water, with actors, sound gear, cameras… and a film crew of one, moi. OK, on reflection we were a little ambitious. Unfortunately foresight is not my forte – after those three days of prep we gathered our young actors to read through the script and begin shooting.
A little lesson, when an actor reads your script, looks you in the face and says ‘you’re never going to make this’, you might want to take a moment to reflect. Awkwardly laughing and giving a reassuring pep-talk may not be the way to go. By that afternoon, after struggling through 40 degree heat, a stinking, rented garbage barge and an uncomfortable amount of gawking onlookers I finally accepted it was time to go back to the drawing board.
I met with Siobhan Jackson, our supervising producer, at the Soochow University bubble tea cafe. I was lucky to have spent all of the last year under her expert tutelage in my second year of the VCA Film and Television course. Our relationship meant we could speak openly and truthfully. As I rattled through all of my production worries and woes, the truth set in; maybe it was time for Plan B. We discussed a few possible new directions, realistic projects that would suit both the program’s criteria (a ten minute film, preferably documentary, relating to our location of Suzhou, China) and my interests in filmmaking. An hour, and many more delusional/over-ambitious ideas later, we found my new direction.
The impetus actually came from our Chinese partners. All but one of the ten volunteers were young women. To be completely transparent I had a very misguided understanding of what modern China would be like before visiting Suzhou. Our Western media definitely paints this incredibly diverse country in a specific light. Unfortunately, it is quite often an unjustly negative one. Meeting these young women and hearing their hopes, ambitions and goals for the future affected me deeply. On reflection I think the deciding moment came in a conversation I had with Siobhan’s translator Jessy. We were waiting for a cab one night after having explored the historic, beautiful Ping Jiang Road. Most of the group managed to score cabs back to the dorms, but we’d been left behind.
The image of Jessy’s smile is still vivid in my mind – she was happy to discuss her aspirations as a business woman and producer. I was surprised but glad to hear she had such ambitious goals. I asked her if there were many opportunities for young women such as herself. I explained to her that in the West equality is not a word strongly associated with China. She laughed. I felt embarrassed, and of course rude. She explained it’s true that men are more favoured in a business environment than women. If she managed to find a job working for a company she expected to be paid less. But, she asked, is it not the same in Australia? She had me there.
She explained that her hopes for the future were high because the younger generations seemed to be developing more liberal mentalities. The unavoidable influence of the internet meant new perspectives were being introduced to the collective consciousness. China was changing, has been changing for decades now. Advances in equal rights and opportunities, and acceptance of minorities were progressing day by day. Her openness and bright energy filled me with warmth. I had made a strong connection with a new friend. Perhaps there was something I could do to help spread the message?
My film ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ follows a day in the life of a young Chinese woman: waking up, grabbing breakfast, a bit of shopping, meeting friends for a day on the town. A reality of freedom, independence and normality that many of us in the west are oblivious to. Over these visuals are placed the seven interviews that Wang Yutong and I conducted with young women. They discuss their aspirations, situations, pasts and futures. We touch on a dark history – condescension and scorn towards young women from an older generation, specific derogatory words which were once commonplace – but overall, the film’s message is one of a hope, strength and pride.
I was given an incredible opportunity, the chance of a lifetime to create a film in China. Ten young, naive Australian filmmakers were met with warmth, kindness and generosity, and we all came home changed for the better. Our entire experience was an adventure in positivity and wonder, and I look forward to revisiting the inspiring new friends I am grateful to have made.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.