Huff by Cliff Cardinal

Raw, innovative and utterly engaging

Review: Huff by Cliff Cardinal, co-presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and Native Earth Performing Arts ·
Subiaco Theatre Centre, March 21 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Huff is stunning – in both senses of the word.

At the end, we applaud until Cree playwright and solo performer Cliff Cardinal has returned to the stage for his third bow. Thank you, I try to say with my palms; thank you for that extraordinary theatrical experience. Thank you for using your immense skill and talent to shine a light on those who have fallen through the cracks. The audience is then slow to move. Many of us just sit, pressed to our seats by the gravity of all we have witnessed in the past 70 minutes.

Huff, directed by Karin Randoja, is set in the 1980s on a Canadian reserve. Wind and his brothers are caught in a torrent of solvent abuse and struggling to come to terms with their mother’s suicide. Australian audiences will instantly recognise the parallels with issues facing our own First Nations people, in the wake of colonialism, racism, inter-generational poverty and trauma.

Our introduction to Wind is truly shocking. A freezer bag covers his face, secured by tape around his neck; his hands are taped behind his back. As he gasps for air, the plastic clings to the contours of his face. This is a suicide attempt, he tells us. Another horrifying minute passes while he describes what is happening to the air and to his brain.

A member of the audience literally saves his life.

Finally able to breathe, Wind explains events leading up to that point. He begins his story before his conception, when his mother’s beauty “pulled the air out of an Indian’s lungs”. But the young couple’s difficult life “on the res” is soon tarnished by alcohol and violence. Wind is the middle of three brothers – the eldest, Charlie, is a sadist affected by Foetal Alcohol Syndrome; the youngest, Huff, is a sweet soul destroyed by his appalling circumstances.

Cardinal plays all these roles, along with that of Wind’s patronising schoolteacher, his wise yet worn-out grandmother, his baffled stepmother and the stoned DJ of Shit Creek Radio (“For those who are up shit creek without a paddle … The weather will be warm and weird today.”) It is easy to believe there’s a full cast on stage, such is Cardinal’s skill at portraying and switching between these diverse characters.

The dysfunction and despair of Wind’s world, the loss of innocence and depravity is heartbreaking. “Is that your sacred gift from Creator?” his little brother asks, as Wind siphons petrol from his teacher’s car.

In a motel room they’ve broken into through a hole in the roof, Wind “huffs” the petrol. “Gas tastes like metal, but also like being scared – like someone screaming in your face,” he tells us. He narrates the brief hallucinations that follow in the style of a TV games show host, before puking on his hoodie. That huffing is a relief speaks volumes about their intolerable, suffocating life.

Sydney - January 22, 2017: A scene from Huff, showing at the 2017 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)
The ensuing scene, in which Wind washes himself with crushed tomatoes, is a comic delight. Yet  darkness soon returns. Photo: Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival.

Somehow, this dark story is frequently injected with humour and playfulness. Cardinal plays a skunk who often threatens Wind, then eventually sprays him. The ensuing scene, in which Wind washes himself with crushed tomatoes, is a comic delight. Yet darkness soon returns. As he stands ever closer to the audience, his red-soaked arms, neck and shirt are more akin to murderous violence.

The simple set, designed by Jackie Chau, is comprised mainly of a chair, milk crate and beer bottles. It is used in clever, original and startling ways, helping Cardinal give a voice to outsiders and often unspoken taboos.

To me, this is theatre at its best – raw, innovative and utterly engaging. It is theatre you experience with your gut as well as your brain; theatre that does not just offer a window into another world but throws a brick through that window, inviting us to reach out a hand.

Huff plays Subiaco Arts Centre until March 24.

Top: It is easy to believe there’s a full cast on stage, such is Cardinal’s skill at portraying and switching between these diverse characters. Photo: Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival.

Bradley Kickett, 'Shoalwater',
News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

The many faces of water

Review: Binja-Bilya-Warden by Bradley Kickett ·
Paper Mountain, 21 March ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Bradley Kickett, 'Burlong Pool', acrylic on canvas, 70cm x 50cm.
Bradley Kickett, ‘Burlong Pool’, acrylic on canvas, 70cm x 50cm. Photo: Nina Levy.

When we think of water, we tend to think of it as a singular entity. It moves and shifts, but ultimately, it’s all part of the same whole. Bradley Kickett’s abstract paintings at Paper Mountain show water as multifarious: a teeming, shining, sometimes muddy, sometimes pure, collection of bodies, none of which are really the same.

Kickett’s paintings follow the waters that move from inland, east of York, through Mount Stirling, and the Avon River by Northam, which turns into the Swan, ultimately feeding into the ocean. By tracking the water’s journey, he displays the differences between waters; the salt flats, the clear streams and the brackish mud.

Kickett has a very distinctive style of dot painting combined with paint pouring, so the colours mix and meld together to show the nuance and movement of the water. He states that he is more interested in the formal and technical qualities of painting than that of symbolism or storytelling, and the paintings’ detail and style is intricate and precise as one can be when pouring paint.

The paintings require a lot of time spent on each individual image to fully appreciate the differences, so at times it feels like perhaps a few less paintings might have been a more effective choice for a solo exhibition. However, taking the time to look at them individually is rewarding, as it’s surprising how different they all appear in the details. Bodies of water are like any other bodies, with bumps, swells, and colours that are unique and deeply personal, and Kickett portrays these bodies with precision and focus.

‘Binja-Bilya-Warden’ is at Paper Mountain until March 29.

Top: Bradley Kickett, ‘Shoalwater’, acrylic on canvas, 110cm x 80cm.

Lia McKnight
Drawing, Features, News, Sculpture, Visual arts

Close to home

Finding sensuality in organic objects is one of the central ideas behind “Sensual Nature”, an exhibition that opens at Fremantle Arts Centre, March 29. It’s a concept that comes from one of the 12 artists whose work is featured in the exhibition, WA’s Lia McKnight. A curator as well as an artist, McKnight tells Seesaw’s Nina Levy more about her career in the arts and the ideas that drive her work.

Lia McKnight, Follic #2, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 28.5 x 19 cm
‘I spoke about the sensual experience of objects and ways in which imagery of natural or organic forms can connect to the subconscious, the erotic and the uncanny.’ Lia McKnight, ‘Follic #2’, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 28.5 x 19 cm.

Nina Levy: Is it challenging being a curator but also finding time to make your own work?
Lia McKnight: Yes, it’s very difficult to find the creative energy and the time to do both. For that reason, I made a choice many years ago not to take on projects as an independent curator – it was just too hard to have a family, a job, curate shows AND be an artist. I have been fortunate to be able to curate (or co-curate) three exhibitions over the past few years as part of my role as collection manager at the John Curtin Gallery. I do find that I tend to work less on my own creative projects during these times.

NL: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? And how did you find your way to making a sustainable career in the arts?
LM: We always had art materials in my home when I was growing up – my mum was an art teacher and very creative herself. After I left school I went straight into a teaching degree as it didn’t seem at all possible to be an artist. I ended up changing courses a few times and doing other things until I finally went back to do a visual arts degree when I was 22. I knew then that I was in the right place and it was wonderful. Being an artist in the “real world” is much harder than art school though and it was a long time until I was in a position to really prioritise that. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of hard work and persistence.

'My drawings and sculptures find inspiration in collected objects from the natural environment, while also revealing the darker, uncanny world of the psyche.' Lia McKnight, Aurum, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 57 x 76 cm.
‘My drawings and sculptures find inspiration in collected objects from the natural environment, while also revealing the darker, uncanny world of the psyche.’ Lia McKnight, Aurum, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 57 x 76 cm.

NL: Your bio states, “Privileging lived experience and emotional geographies as areas of intrigue, [Lia McKnight’s] work seeks to speculate on the shifting parameters of identity and context.” Tell me more!
LM: This is a rather convoluted way of saying that I am interested in the everyday – what we feel and experience, as well as the objects and environments that we live with. This includes psychological states, dreams and the unconscious. You could draw connections to an artist like Louise Bourgeois who created work that directly referenced her own internal reality and memories or experiences of her childhood. In this way, aspects of life that have traditionally been framed as feminine (and therefore lesser), such as emotion, domestic realms and so on, are provided equal status to, or primacy over, intellect.

I am interested in the ways in which we identify ourselves and the things around us and how this is constantly changing depending on a vast range of factors. To give an example, the sourced imagery and collected objects that I reference in my work have been found around the bushland and coastline where I regularly walk: places close to my home outside Fremantle. They are humble and everyday objects but placed and arranged in my studio, they become precious. This particularly became the case last year when some of the places I walked were bulldozed as part of the Roe 8 project. The banksia nuts, balga resin and sticks I had collected became like artefacts or sacred objects. To cycle back to that original sentence, my drawings and sculptures find inspiration in collected objects from the natural environment, while also revealing the darker, uncanny world of the psyche.

Lia McKnight, Memento 17, 16 & 18, 2017, found objects, copper, wool and balga resin. Photographed by Eva Fernandez
‘I have also created a number of sculptural works that combine ceramics and textiles that I describe as ‘uncanny assemblages’.’ Lia McKnight, ‘Memento 17, 16 & 18’, 2017, found objects, copper, wool and balga resin. Photo: Eva Fernandez.

NL: “Sensual Nature” has been developed from an idea that is credited to you. What was the original idea? How did it land up being developed into this exhibition?
LM: I proposed a solo exhibition to Fremantle Arts Centre and there were a number of themes and ideas described within my proposal that resonated with curator Ric Spencer. I spoke about the sensual experience of objects and ways in which imagery of natural or organic forms can connect to the subconscious, the erotic and the uncanny. There were also connections to broader environmental concerns. Ric and I are both interested in the writings of cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram who describes the possibility of an active participation with nature, saying, “Perception is a kind of improvised dance with the world, a dynamic interaction between my sensing body and the sensuous landscape.”

Ric could see the potential for this to be broader than one small personal story and there are now eleven other amazing artists on board.

NL: Tell me about the work you have made for “Sensual Nature”
LM: I have created a series of ink and graphite drawings that interweave imagery of collected findings from the natural environment with a kind of process-driven “stream of consciousness” technique. I have also created a number of sculptural works that combine ceramics and textiles that I describe as “uncanny assemblages”. There is a dark humour to many of these works and they all shift between the real and imagined.

NL: What is your favourite playground equipment?
LM: Ooh I love a good slide. Or if it’s an extra cool playground, the flying fox!

“Sensual Nature” runs March 29 – May 20.

Top: Lia McKnight.

Contemporary music, Music, News, Performing arts

Making music in the field

Outdoor shows are relatively common in Perth, especially in summer… but have you ever attended a performance in a bird sanctuary? Perth’s GreyWing Ensemble are giving you the opportunity to do just that when they launch their album “nature forms I” this weekend. Nina Levy caught up with GreyWing’s Lindsay Vickery to find out more.

Most album launches take place in venues specifically designed for listening to music… theatres, clubs or concert halls. But the first of two album launches for GreyWing Ensemble will take place at Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary in Bayswater, this Sunday 25 March. Given the unconventional choice of venue, it’s no surprise to learn that GreyWing Ensemble – which consists of Lindsay Vickery on clarinet/saxophone, Jameson Feakes on electric guitar, Kirsten Smith on flute and Catherine Ashley on harp – are particularly interested in environmental music.

Lines of flight
An extract from the score for ‘lines of flight’ by Lindsay Vickery, from ‘Lines of Flight’.

It’s this interest that drives the first of GreyWing’s two new albums, “nature forms I”, says Vickery. “Many of the pieces from ‘nature forms’ and Sunday’s launch take a stance where they draw their structure and sounds from recordings of natural environments, sometimes called field recordings or soundscapes, rather than traditional music structures and sounds,” he explains. “They ask the musicians and the audience to try to enter into the rhythms and timbres of the natural sound world rather than transforming natural sounds to fit within the conventions of classical music language. The melodies that evoke birds sounds in a Beethoven symphony, for example, use the scales and rhythms of classical music rather than try to precisely mirror the actual sounds of bird. There’s a limit of course – you can only listen and play with ‘human ears’ but it’s a sort of nature rather than human first aesthetic position that came out of the environmental movement of the 1970s and has been increasingly been explored by composers.”

Nature Forms
A postcard that accompanies ‘nature forms’, showing the locations of all the field recordings.

That “nature rather than human first aesthetic” will be in evidence at the Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary launch, too. “There’s no power there, of course, so we use a lot of Bluetooth speakers, each of which is pretty quiet, spread around the space to play the ‘field recordings’. That way they are more like sounds in nature that occur in many locations, not just from two big speakers in a PA system,” Vickery says. “I suppose for most projects the fairly loud and unpredictable ambient sound of birds, frogs and insects would be a drawback, but it is perfect for this album because we can kind of embed ourselves in that sound world try to become part of the family.”

It seems as much a philosophical as a musical stance, a desire to tread lightly on this earth, as well as experimenting with sound. “It’s sort of both of those things,” agrees Vickery. “Jameson studied with the composer Michael Pisaro, who calls this approach playing ‘just below and just above “music”‘. It’s part of that same ‘nature first’ (or at least equal) aesthetic I mentioned, so trying to fit in, rather than dominate the sonic environment. Of course, it has the side effect that it’s generally quite soothing music to listen to.”

On Friday 6 April, less than two weeks after the launch of “nature forms I”, GreyWing will launch another album, “Lines of Flight”, at Gallop House in Dalkeith. It’s quite a different album, observes Vickery. “‘Lines of Flight’ is a collection of works written for the group by local composers Catherine Ashley, Eduardo Cossio, Sam Gillies, Cat Hope and me. That launch is at Gallop House in Dalkeith, where Kate Moore is this year’s composer in residence. It’s a bit less thematic, but perhaps the most common theme is composers blurring the lines between prescribed and improvised situations for the performers. The works approach this goal through a range of extended, graphical, textual and extended notations.”

Lines of Flight Detritus
The ‘crazy looking pretzel score’ for Vickery’s piece ‘detritus’, from ‘Lines of Flight’.

Experimenting with new forms of notation is central to both albums and Vickery explains that the scores are created using an iPad app developed at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (where Vickery is a senior lecturer and coordinator of the composition and music technology program). “It’s called the Decibel scoreplayer and it allows you to scroll notation and graphics across the screen and synchronise it with multiple iPads,” he elaborates. “The general project is to develop music notations that are better suited to particular requirements – for example music with a lots of sliding pitches and no pulse is very hard to represent with traditional notation, the same with music where timbre is the most important element and of course filed recording fit into both of those categories. The scoreplayer also allows you to organise the musical structure differently – it is simple to coordinate sections to be played in different orderings or combinations for example and coordinate it wirelessly between the iPads.”

Even if one doesn’t know much (or anything!) about musical notation, the results are fascinating to view, so it’s pleasing to learn that these are being shared. “Both albums have a pretty elaborate physical object, a sort of ‘art book’ that you can get in addition to the recordings – a ‘concertina book’ and case with bookends laser cut with score excepts,” says Vickery. “For ‘nature forms I’ the concertina image is a full length, nearly two and a half metre score of my piece ‘nature forms I’. For ‘Lines of Flight’ it’s the score from Sam Gillies’ ‘Snowden (Eyes in the Sky)’. We worked with the amazing local design company Future Shelter to create it. Both also include a pretty fancy liner notes and postcard showing the locations of all the field recordings for one album and the crazy looking pretzel score for my piece ‘detritus’ for the other.”

‘nature forms I’ launches March 25, 6pm, at Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary. Listen/purchase here.  
‘Lines of Flight’ launches April 6, 6pm, at Gallop House, Dalkeith. Listen/purchase here. 

Entry to both events is by donation.

Lines of Flight
An extract from the score for ‘here, apparently, there was a time for everything’ by Lindsay Vickery, from ‘Lines of Flight’. Pictured top is an extract from the score for ‘Wellington Forest’ by Lindsay Vickery, from ‘nature forms I’.
News, Reviews, Visual arts

Humanising history

Review: The Corsini Collection – A Window on Italy ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The Corsini Collection is inextricably tied to one family and one city – the Corsinis, in Florence – but it is also part of a larger narrative that encompasses several major events of the modern era. The exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) provides viewers with an introduction to Italian art and the families whose collections enhanced and guided the narrative of art history through the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

It’s hard to think of Italian art without thinking of the cities that fostered these movements, and I was struck by the way in which Florence emerges throughout the exhibition as a personality, almost a family member of the Corsinis themselves. From an image of the fanatic Savonarola, who gripped the city with religious zeal, being burned in the square of the Piazza della Signoria, to extensive family portraits with the Arno flowing through fields out the window, Florence is more a character in this family drama than simply a backdrop. Even the family dog, who provides a sweet wall companion to children as they walk through the exhibition, is named Arno.

SCUOLA FIORENTINA DEL XVI - Veduta della Piazza Signoria col rogo di Savonarola
Florentine painter after Francesco Rosselli (Florence 1445 – before 1513) ‘The Execution of Savonarola and Two Companions at Piazza della Signoria’, 16th – 17th century,  oil on canvas,  96 x 119 cm,  Galleria Corsini, Florence.

Walking through the exhibition I couldn’t help but feel a fizz of excitement – it is pretty amazing to think that currently there are works by masters of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, such as Botticelli, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio, here in Perth. The exhibition is divided thematically to provide a general guide to art of the periods as well as the lifestyles of the rich and powerful families such as the Corsinis. It is, of course, quite different viewing these works on the walls of the brutalist building that is AGWA, as opposed to those of a Florentine palazzo. Huge decaled images of the palace interiors, however, provide a helpful backdrop to pieces that could otherwise appear a little dull without context, such as the family dining set, pots and pans, and a games table. The paintings are heavy on portraits, particularly of the family, and the centre room is the locus of the exhibition, with the Botticelli tondo Madonna and Child with Six Angels (c 1500) taking pride of place.

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino (Cento 1591-Bologna1666) Saint Andrea Corsini 1630 oil on canvas 75 x 65 cm Galleria Corsini, Florence
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino (Cento 1591 – Bologna 1666) ‘Saint Andrea Corsini’ 1630, oil on canvas, 
75 x 65 cm, Galleria Corsini, Florence

Renaissance and Baroque art can sometimes feel far removed from our everyday realities, but throughout the exhibition it becomes apparent that the Corsinis were as affected by historical events as anyone. Unlike the Medicis, the other main family of Florence, the Corsini line survived into the modern era, and it’s fascinating to imagine what it must feel like to have your ancestors so elegantly portrayed around you, and a treat to see the Renaissance and Baroque works give way to photography and portraiture of the 1950s and 60s. It’s also interesting to see the details of our more recent history enter their narrative, most strikingly with the bullet hole through the head of Guercino’s Saint Andrea Corsini (1630), fired by a German soldier who, thankfully, did not realise the painting was hung on a false wall, behind which the remainder of the Corsini family’s art collection was hidden.

It’s these touches of drama that give the exhibition its warmth, turning it into something that’s not just a line-up of famous names, but a show about one family who, despite being born into a life of power and privilege, had a real, abiding commitment to the art of their home city and preserving it for future generations to enjoy.

Top: Exterior of Palazzo Corsin

“The Corsini Collection – A Window on Florence” runs until 18 June.

Asher Fisch with WASO
Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

An ode to flair and imagination

Review: “Ode to Joy”, Asher Fisch conducting West Australian Symphony Orchestra & Chorus ·
Program: Beethoven’s Zur Namensfeier: overture; Fantasia for Piano, Chorus & Orchestra Choral Fantasy; Symphony No.9 Choral ·
Perth Concert Hall, 15 March ·
Review by Leon Levy ·

All-Beethoven evenings are common enough, often based on the safe formula of overture/concerto/symphony: good for both box-office and a contented audience. But turn that formula on its head, and suddenly the jaded listener finds her or his antennae quivering.

And so it was that on Thursday night we had WASO living more dangerously than the gentle “Ode to Joy” title of the evening implied: for it represented the musical equivalent of an increasingly rich but novel meal based only on one central ingredient.

The Zur Namensfeier overture, from 1815, has never established itself with the public and yet, undistinguished as it is, a convincing case was made for it as an effective concert opener for a programme such as this.

The Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra was written in 1808 as the concluding work in a benefit concert for Beethoven himself, an event of epic length held on a bitter Viennese winter’s night. Even with Beethoven at the keyboard, it’s hard to imagine how this rather strange composition would have been received. By contrast, on a balmy Perth evening not only was the work given room to breathe, but having our esteemed principal conductor at the keyboard brought an additional focus and frisson to the proceedings. It was an extraordinarily unusual but daring and imaginative act to programme this work on the same bill as the Choral Symphony, which it rather pre-echoes. Has this ever been done previously? Certainly not in Perth; but it proved fascinating to have the two works performed in sequence.

After a somewhat rambling piano opening, the orchestra introduces – rather pleasurably as we sense its approach—the “proto” choral theme which is then carried in variation form by various instrumental combinations before the vocal soloists are eased in, followed by the full choir. There was much enjoyment to be derived by the listener in all of this, as the unusual work flashed vividly and satisfyingly into life.

But having strolled happily through the foothills, we now came to the Everest that is the Ninth Symphony. For all that the “Ode to Joy” is done to death, in the context of the work as a whole, all sense of over-exposure withers. A beautiful unfolding of the opening movement, by turns dramatic and lyrical, was followed by a finely controlled scherzo, almost gossamer at times, but always with a strong and satisfying momentum, evoking both joy and drama. Unrushed, but still with a perceptible sense of moving forward, the slow movement sang its way with an unforced beauty, setting the scene for the choral conclusion. And what a triumphant exposition that was, the audience in the very grip of the music as the first quiet statement of the famous theme was followed by oh-so-refined re-statements until the blazing tune could be held back no longer, or so it felt! The firm, gleaming tone of bass David Parkin immediately set the standard for the remaining vocal contribution from the well-matched soloists Rachelle Durkin, Fiona Campbell and Henry Choo, and a very fine WASO Chorus.

In sum, the assembled forces (including Naomi Johns and Perry Joyce in the Fantasy) provided what, even at this early stage in the season, will surely prove to be one of the highlights of 2018. But equal congratulations must be offered to the artistic planners whose flair and imagination brought us a programme that was so unpredictable, stimulating and so worthy a tribute to Beethoven, whose own share in the universal brotherhood of the “Ode to Joy” was, after all,  comparatively meagre.

One would normally have to go far to hear a concert of this calibre: fortunately there are two further performances – subject to ticket availability – and then an ABC broadcast on 24 March.

“Ode to Joy” plays until 17 March.

Pictured top is Asher Fisch conducting West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Below: West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Thursday night’s performance.

Ode to Joy

News, Reviews, Visual arts

Street smart

Review: Handbrake’s “Chaos Controlled” ·
35 Cheriton St, East Perth, Friday 9 March ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·

Near the disused East Perth power station, nestled amongst a cluster of industrial buildings, is the warehouse space in which Handbrake’s “Chaos Controlled” was held, the iridescent colours of his art works popping against the foreground of the street’s grey and rust.

“Chaos Controlled” was the perfect name for this short-lived show by street artist Handbrake (real name Hans Bruechle). Within a carefully curated space, it was both a showcase of the subversive and a celebration of the alternative. From the vividly painted vodka bottle skulls to the eye-catching sequence of skateboard decks, there was no shortage of visual stimuli. Video footage of Handbrake at work – projected on a screen hung from the warehouse ceiling – revealed a detailed process of design, planning and execution.

Handbrake’s trademark combination of quirky and vibrant came through in his use of colour, emphasised by the bright palettes used to bring the jumbled compositions to life. Several illustrated pieces that were exhibited feature drawn outlines in heavy black, almost like a colouring-in page, which are then paired with neon colour. This is not paint-by-numbers, but colour applied in freeform flow. There is something evocative about the space left uncoloured, as if reminding us that not everything needs to be treated and covered for full effect. The surfboards that were on display are drawn and painted on in a similar fashion, transforming a blank and practical object into art you’d want to take home and  show off to others. Turn around and there was even a motorcycle featuring detailed illustration on its panels – you can literally ride this graphic art!

A playful highlight was the triptych of Australian Playboy covers, real covers reimagined and given the “Handbrake” branding treatment in a street update on traditional pop art. Instead of the Ben-Day dots of a Lichtenstein, here we find hand-drawn tattoo motifs in black. Also tongue-in-cheek and wonderfully constructed were the sculpture pieces, spot on in their wit and observational humour, with a “Facebook like” button placed as bait on a metal spring trap (the dangers of social media) and a rotary dial phone with a built in lightbulb (“illuminating conversation”).

Had these pieces been displayed on spotless plinths in a silent, air-conditioned white gallery, would they have had the same effect? The art does speak for itself. But part of the joy of “Chaos Controlled” was its positioning as a proudly street-smart exhibition. With many in the high heels and expensive suits of a conventional opening, punters were more than comfortable weaving around a motorcycle and getting up and personal with a skateboard deck.

Accessible and just plain fun, Handbrake’s exhibition made for a great night out and I look forward to seeing more of his works.

Handbrake is pictured top, with his work.

Tank & the Bangas
Music, News, Pop, Reviews

With a bang

Perth Festival review: Lee Fields & the Expressions + Tank & the Bangas ·
Chevron Gardens, 4 March ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

The organisers of Perth Festival had a huge task planning the final show at Chevron Gardens. Not only was it the closing party of the international arts festival, but it signified the end of Perth’s summer festival season, following the conclusion of Fringe World last week. Could they fill the venue with their choice of artists? How would they give the punters a night to remember?

Contrary to programming norms, Lee Fields & the Expressions were first, despite their position as headline act. Fields, a veteran soul singer from North Carolina, USA, was welcomed on stage by his six-piece band, the Expressions. They kicked things off with the swaggering, brass-infused number, “I Still Got It”. Fields strode out, dressed in a fine black evening suit, grabbed the mic, and – quite simply – owned the stage. At 67 years of age his confidence and level of showmanship were the kind you don’t see in younger performers.

Lee Fields & the Expressions
Expert at engaging the crowd: Lee Field fronting the Expressions. Photo: Cam Campbell.

Fields and his band were experts at engaging the crowd, wholesome and cheesy like musicians and entertainers I’ve seen only in film clips from the sixties and seventies. They made us shout, sing, dance, and wave our arms in the air, rewarding our willingness with lashings of praise. They singled out different clusters of the audience: “these happy people right here – put your hands up!” and “those beautiful people, way back there, y’all got SOUL!”.

Fields, who is often nicknamed “Little JB” for his resemblance to the legendary James Brown, made the audience swoon with the richness and surprising warmth of his voice in slower, Hammond organ-drenched numbers like “Magnolia”, “Honey Dove” and “Paralyzed”. The whole audience was grooving and clapping on the backbeat in the more audacious “How I Like It” and “Don’t Walk”. True to their aptly-titled new album – “Special Night” – Lee Fields and the Expressions promised, delivered, and left us wanting more.

At this point I must admit I had little to no knowledge of any of these musicians before attending the show on Sunday. I once shared a video of Tank & the Bangas – their winning submission for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest in 2017 – but I otherwise had no idea what I’d signed up for.

It seemed no one else was prepared for the tumultuous musical rollercoaster that is Tank & the Bangas either. At least three people turned around to me, mouths agape, exclaiming “whaaaaat?!” during their first few songs. Though to call them “songs” is really underselling the whole experience. Lead vocalist Tarriona Ball (Tank) burst onto stage while the rest of the band (the Bangas) concocted a flurry of synth, drums, sax and bass against a backdrop of manic stage lighting. There was no epilepsy warning but there should have been. Tank led the troops with her impressive vocal ability, moving effortlessly between rambling Nicki Minaj-esque rap; soulful nineties R&B lyricism; sweet, heady, girly folk; impassioned ecclesiastical cries; thoughtful, measured verses of slam poetry – often without warning.

The New Orleans act is a fascinating slice of music coming out of that city today: rooted in jazz, wild and free-spirited, a celebration of community and diversity, a product of all the musical styles that have flourished there. But these relative new-comers to the music scene (they found their fame online) are not afraid to explore darker personal and political themes. The epic twelve-minute “You So Dumb”, which left the audience speechless, is a journey through romantic disappointment, self-rejection and grief. The touching, confessional “Rollercoaster” (about fear and self-doubt) is a mix of poetry and stunning vocalism backed by smooth, new-age slow jams.

By the end of the night, Tank & the Bangas had the audience jumping and fist pumping to the frenetic “Hey Hey Hey!” as they lead the final hurrah – blasting, banging, roaring and slapping with full exuberance. I understood then why they had been programmed as the final act.

Good move, Perth Festival.

Pictured top are Tank and the Bangas. Photo: Cam Campbell.

Installation, News, Reviews, Visual arts

Dancing or drowning

Perth Festival review: Repatriate by Latai Taumoepeau ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

At the end of a hall I’m filed into a single line with the crowd as we move into a room to view Latai Taumoepeau’s Repatriate, displayed in a dark tunnel-like structure. It’s the opening night of Fremantle Art Centre’s Perth Festival programming, and Repatriate sits alongside the main event, Amy Sharrocks’ “The Museum of Water”.

When it’s my turn I move into the narrow tunnel, where I’m presented with five iPad screens, each depicting a different stage in a recording of the Australian-Tongan artist/dancer’s 90-minute durational performance. The rhythmic soundtrack accompanying the work is encompassing, yet muffled, and I feel as if I am submersed in water.

The claustrophobic installation mimics Taumoepeau’s situation. Contained into a Perspex tank no larger than a standard shower, she performs a Pacific Island dance as the tank fills with water around her. The dance is an amalgamation of choreography informed by multiple Pacific Island cultures, including her own Tongan heritage. Her wrists, ankles and waist are encircled by yellow floaties, playfully referencing the body adornments for which Islander dancers are known.

As the work progresses, the water level in the tank begins to rise, and Taumoepeau’s movement becomes laboured. Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, her movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties. These pull her body towards the surface, a hindrance rather than a help. Perhaps these ineffectual “aids” symbolise the limited resources that small island nations, such as Tonga, have to combat the effects of climate change (in comparison to the larger, more powerful nations that have caused the problems).

Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, Taumoepeau’s movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties.

As Taumoepeau is submerged, details of the dance are lost, a poignant metaphor for the loss of culture that will occur as sea levels rise around Pacific Island nations and residents are displaced from their homes and traditions.

According to the wall text, the small screens on which the work is displayed recall “souvenir postcards depicting Indigenous people as primitive stereotypes inhabiting island paradises”.  This format also allows for an intimate experience, an almost one-on-one viewing. Rather than displaying a lengthy screen work as a grand projection, as is common in galleries, this series of postcard-like glimpses into the work provides a sense of the entire 90 minute performance in a manner that is both efficient and engaging.

Repatriate is a powerful performance work, although it deserves a more prominent placement than its hall-end location. Latai Taumoepeau presents a compelling art work that draws attention to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels not only on the Pacific Islands, but the world. The use of the artist’s own body to demonstrate this impact, paired with the intimate setting of the small screens and confined space is both humanising and commanding.

“Repatriate” is on display until 23 March. 


Second Woman
News, Performance art, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Brave, intense, strange

Perth Festival review: The Second Woman by Nat Randall and Anna Breckon ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 3 March ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

How many ways can you say the words: I love you?

In sarcasm; anger; desperation; with nonchalance; with love.

Nat Randall’s revelatory performance at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art was a study in the nuances of language and in epic theatre.  Randall began the show at 3pm on Saturday and performed the same, fairly short scene with 100 different men over a period of 24 hours.  24 hours!  Is she mad?  Maybe.  But wow, it was good.

The scene is inspired by a very similar one from the John Cassavete classic, Opening Night.  In her version, Randall is a woman alone in what appears to be a hotel room.  She is visited by a man (well, 100 men), her partner.  They exchange about ten minutes of sparse dialogue, parsing some of the details of their relationship.  They dance, they drink, the man leaves.  This short exchange was performed over and over and over, separated by intervals of ten minutes during which the packed audience could leave, chat, or stay.  Most chose to stay, many for an hour.  Some stoic souls stayed for the whole fraught adventure.

Randall is a Sydney-based performance artist and a core member of the collectives Hissy Fit and Team MESS.  She’s no stranger to Perth audiences, having performed most recently in last year’s Proximity Festival.  She performed The Second Woman in Hobart’s famed Dark Mofo last year and in the Next Wave Festival in 2016 for which the piece was created.

Randall is incredible to watch.  Taking her cues from each new sparring partner, she changes the tone of the same piece as easily as you or I might change underwear.  The first iteration I saw was bursting with humour – the audience breaking into laughs at every second line.  The second was heartfelt, intimate.  It felt like we shouldn’t be there, hanging on each word.  Another was a scene of fatigued sadness, of love gone old and stale.  In each scene of course, the dialogue was almost identical.  The dramatic tension of the work arises from the chemistry between the players, and the audience’s concern (or investment) in the welfare of Randall.  (When) will she falter?  When will she get to go the toilet?  Is she wearing special senior’s knickers?  (Answer: she has a 15 minute break every two hours)

The male players were chosen from a general call-out made through the Festival’s publicity channels.  They called for men of diverse ages and backgrounds with non-performers specifically encouraged to apply.  Of course, some of those who were featured were certainly actors, but many (most?) were not.  They were blokes who might otherwise be in the audience…in some cases wonderfully unwitting of the thrills of live performance.  In preparation, each was given a script with the barest of stage directions.  They knew where to move, what to say and do, but the open question was how.  And therein lies the power of the piece.  I love you.  I love youI love you.  It was genuinely surprisingly to see how ten minutes of dialogue could be interpreted in such radically different ways.  How a tone can change an outcome.

The set, designed by Future Method Studio is a thing of great beauty.  A boxed room, red and lushly lit with the fourth wall sheared off for our viewing pleasure.  It feels a little Lynchian, as does Randall in her red fitted frock and tragically blonde wig.  This room dominates only half the stage with the other half of PICA’s black box taken up with a large screen – each scene is filmed in real time by two camera operators who hover just outside the room.  Randall’s collaborator for this project is Anna Breckon, a film writer and director who is the co-creator of The Second Woman.  It’s Breckon directing the footage as it gets projected onto the adjacent screen, resulting in a very unusual cinematic experience that is almost as compelling as the live action happening next door.

Audience members came and went.  And the line to get in grew ever larger (though I’m betting there was no line at 3am).  I wanted to get in for a third viewing – but alas, by that time, word had well and truly spread and the line snaked outside PICA.  A small band of brave ones (mostly artists themselves as I understand it) stayed for the full experience.  I wish I had.

Brave, intense, strange.  These are a few of my favourite things.

Photo: Perth Festival