News, Reviews, Visual arts

Object lessons in memory and meaning

Review: Agatha Gothe-Snape, ‘Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ & Nicholas Mangan, ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Claudia Minutillo ·

Forming a deep and rich understanding of the recent past can be difficult. Our ability for retrospection often improves as we travel a greater temporal distance. The two latest exhibitions from Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, however, turn this notion on its head.

Spanning PICA’s Ground Floor Galleries, “Trying to find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” is the culmination of a research project into the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art led by Australian contemporary artist Agatha Gothe-Snape.

A rare gem, the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is Australia’s only public women’s art collection. This exhibition signifies its first public return to PICA since 1995 and creatively re-examines some of the collection’s foundational narratives of domesticity, still-life and self-representation.

The show includes artworks from the Cruthers Collection and new works produced by Gothe-Snape in response, giving the collection breathing room as if it were a living, conscious being. Cruthers Collection curator Gemma Weston, who collaborated with Gothe-Snape on this project, aptly describes the exhibition as “a dream the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art itself might have, if it were able to”.

In this dream-like mode, a viewer can (and should) navigate the space intuitively, first entering through Gothe-Snape’s installation Certain Situations/ EXPRESSION CURTAIN (2013). Previously acquired by the Cruthers Collection, the work is comprised of a large makeshift wall with a cut-out doorway in which a patterned yellow curtain hangs. Among other things, the installation draws attention to the performative nature of engaging with art objects in the show.

Some artists featured from the Cruthers Collection include Elise Blumann, Penny Bovell, Susanna Castleden, Penny Coss, Rosalie Gascoigne, Eveline Kotai, Ann Newmarch, Miriam Stannage and Mei Swan Lim. Their work spans across painting, textiles, print, drawing, sound and media. Within this myriad of expression, layers upon layers of meaning accrue which regrettably cannot be expressed in full here. However, the central feature which must be mentioned is the work from which the exhibition takes its title, and one of Gothe-Snape’s new responsive works.

In the centre of the space, a large platform displays a number of chairs loaned from exhibiting artists – the chair chosen had to be one in which the artist has found comfort. Some torn and frayed, some splattered with paint or just a skeleton of what once was, the borrowed chairs so beautifully manifest the artist’s presence through the object alone. Accompanied by Gothe-Snape’s letters to the artists requesting the chairs, we are invited to see the objects as a symptom of all their experiences. Through this, we immerse ourselves in one large connective web of shared feeling, experience and memory across time and space.

Upstairs, Nicholas Mangan’s “Termite Economies (Phase One)” brings the viewer back down to earth with a less whimsical aesthetic of insects and brown dirt. Mangan’s work is also the culmination of a research project. In this case, the Australian science agency CSIRO investigated termite behaviour in the hope their industrious methods might assist humans in their pursuit of gold.

Nicholas Mangan’s ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ re-imagines termite mounds using a 3D printer, plaster and soil. Picture by Bo Wong.

Occupying a much smaller and contained space, nightmarish rather than dream-like, the dimly lit room accentuates the stark artificiality of the bay lights which illuminate Mangan’s earthy termite sculptures from above. The organic forms have been rendered by a 3D printing process and are cross-sectioned to reveal inner passages; human innovation and research meets animal instinct.

These sculptures provide an access point to thinking about recent capitalist pursuit, economic viability and its reflection on society’s behavior and motivation. We may well imagine ourselves as these little termite colonies and speculate on possible futures. Accompanying the sculptures, retro monitors play archival and recorded footage of termite activity, showing the termites at work and also at a cellular level. The juxtaposition of historical and contemporary objects and visuals position the ideas explored as trans-historical, looking at the past in less rigid and more speculative, all-encompassing ways.

Perhaps the resounding point over all is that a focus on the embodied experience of objects and the contested ideas they encompass may provide a deeper understanding the recent past and present moment. These two exhibitions are not to be rushed through and are made all the more meaningful if the viewer is committed to their own participation, thinking and research into the objects before them.

“Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” & “Termite Economies (Phase One)” are showing until 6 October.

Pictured above: Agatha Gothe-Snape’s installation ‘Trying To Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ in the PICA main gallery. Photo by Bo Wong.

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Four women engaged in panel discussion
August 19, Calendar, Lectures and Talks, Visual arts

Lectures & Talks: Women in Art: Then & Now

3 August @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by PICA ·

An intergenerational discussion.

In response to Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair, leading female art makers and industry voices discuss the history of women’s art and the arrival into the present. Join us for this critical panel exploring where we have come from, where we are, and where we need to go.

PICA invites industry and community alike to engage in this interdisciplinary discussion.  From forgotten artists to triumphs celebrated, seize the opportunity to prompt further discussion during our Q&A as we explore the question, “Have we come far enough?”.

Saturday 3 August, 3.30pm – 4.30pm

More info
W: pica.org.au/show/women-in-art/
E:  info@pica.org.au

Pictured: Women in Art, Credit: Susie Blatchford (Pixel Poetry)

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Names in black print on white background
Calendar, July 19, Lectures and Talks

Artist Floor Talk with Agatha Gothe-Snape

27 July @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by PICA & Agatha Gothe-Snape ·

Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair is a celebration of hidden stories.

Artist Agatha Gothe-Snape has followed the thread of histories from work in the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art at the University of Western Australia and has gained a unique and vital insight into Australia’s only public collection of women’s art.

Join Agatha Gothe-Snape, with curators Gemma Watson and Charlotte Hickson, as they guide us through the research and development, stories and hidden gems, comfort and discomfort of what it means to share personal experience with personal practice.

Saturday 27 July, 3pm

More info
W: pica.org.au/show/artist-floor-talk-agatha-gothe-snape/
E:  info@pica.org.au

Pictured: Agatha Gothe-Snape, Every Artist Remembered with Elizabeth Pulie, 2009, from the series Every Artist Remembered (Firstdraft), posca pen on arches paper, framed. 183 x 155 x 7cm, CCWA 950 Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, The University of Western Australia. Credit:  Robert Frith. © Courtesy the artist.

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Men working in a forest
Calendar, July 19, Lectures and Talks

An illustrated lecture with Nicholas Mangan

24 July @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by PICA & Nicholas Mangan ·

Nicholas Mangan’s work challenges us to question the histories embedded in objects, structures, and documents of human culture. How often do we consider the effects of  human activity on the natural environment? Mangan – one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists – calls for us to interrogate these narratives, and asks us to imagine possible futures.

Come down for this illustrated lecture, led by Mangan, through lines of research and anecdotal histories that have informed the development of his revealing project Termite Economies.

More info
W: pica.org.au/show/illustrated-lecture-with-mangan/
E:  info@pica.org.au

Pictured: Image AMS467_035_354 – man sawing section out of termite mound nest.
Courtesy Australian Museum Archives. Credit: Anthony Musgrave

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

Less is more

Review: Hatched National Graduate Show 2019 ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

The 2019 edition of “Hatched National Graduate Show” is more of a minimalist affair than previous years.

Hosted by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), “Hatched” is an annual survey of works by selected artists who have recently graduated from tertiary institutions nationwide. This year’s exhibition features 18 artists (including three from WA), scaled back from the 30 graduates chosen for the 2018 show. As a result the PICA galleries feel more spacious, encouraging visitors to pay sustained attention to the works on display, and allowing links to be drawn between art from across the country – with shared concerns including mass consumption in global capitalism, sustainability and the natural environment, and explorations of cultural traditions and gender identity.

Many of the works in the ground floor galleries have been created with a sense of human scale in mind – such as Jonathan Kim’s finely balanced assemblages which sit directly (and vulnerably) on the floor, or Ómra Caoimhe’s intricate knitted structures hung from knotted wool. The deeply personal woven domes of Kim Ah Sam have been suspended at head height, as if waiting for someone to duck under and feel the rim of feathers around their neck.

On the back wall is a brightly lit satin cape by Dennis Golding, who has decorated the fabric with hand-sewn symbols of personal and cultural significance. Stunning footage of other richly coloured capes can be found in Golding’s two-channel video Empowering Identity (2018). Fluttering in the breeze, these lush garments conjure the power, strength and symbolic nationhood of the superhero, presenting a powerful representation of contemporary Aboriginal cultural identity.

Anita Cummin’s ‘feelings’. Photo: Matt Schild, Ok Media.

In the adjacent room is Anita Cummins’ feelings (2019), a radiant carpet of crushed Cheezels which is a sight (and smell) to behold. Close inspection shows hand prints in the neatly-packed surface of the powdered snack food, revealing the intimate labour performed by the artist during its installation. The winner of the prestigious 2019 Schenberg Art Fellowship, Cummins is concerned with mental illness and emotional processing, and this all-too-relatable work evokes feelings of excess, compulsion and short-term gratification.

Upstairs, the installations of Yvette James make the gallery space seem a little unstable, encouraging a heightened sense of bodily awareness and a feeling of potential disaster. An uncovered hole in the floor exposes an oil pool of indeterminate volume, while honey seems to leak from the bottom of a wall, and a heavy chunk of basalt rock hangs tenuously above. Evocative yet stylishly minimalist, these works pair nicely with the subtleties of Louis Grant’s nearby pastel blocks, which are seemingly solid forms that bear the bubbles and imperfections of kiln formed glass.

Across the room, Annette An-Jen Liu’s Reconsidering Time in the Ritual of the Joss Paper (2018) produces interesting tensions between the archival and the ephemeral, documenting the ceremonial tradition of burning joss paper. Liu has arranged display cases containing piles of ash alongside screens blaring an overlapping cacophony of news reports, signalling to the complexities of performing cultural heritage practices during the age of mass media.

As a whole, “Hatched 2019” offers a compelling and vital cross section of current contemporary art produced by emerging practitioners, in which the works of each artist bear witness to their considered academic enquiry and commitment to their developing practice.

“Hatched 2019” runs until 7 July.

Pictured top: ‘Empowering Identity’ (2018) by Dennis Golding. Photo: Matt Schild, Ok Media.

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Calendar, May 19, May 19

Dance: A Call to Dance

7-18 May @ PICA ·
Presented by Amrita Hepi ·

It’s your move

A Call to Dance is a participatory dance work that’s all about you.

Join acclaimed choreographer and dancer Amrita Hepi for a yarn about heritage, belonging, public expression and cultural authenticity. Together you’ll have fun and open conversation about some big issues facing us all, and come up with a small movement of personal rebellion: a move that’s all about you.

Each evening, she’ll perform the moves discovered from the community that day. At the end of her residency, Amrita will create a performance that captures the character and people of Perth.

This is A Call To Dance.

Produced by Performing Lines

Date, Time & Location
One-on-one Conversation
7-9, 11-12, 14-16 May
Daily sessions: 10.05am, 10.55am, 11.45am, 12.35pm, 2.25pm, & 3.15pm
Location: PICA Education Studio
Duration: 40 minutes each session
Price: Only $10!

Tickets on sale here

Daily performance
7-9, 11-12, 14-16 May at 5.30pm
Location: PICA Performance Space and various spaces across Perth
Duration: 10 minutes
FREE

Final performance
Saturday 18 May at 3pm
Location: PICA Performance Space
Duration: 30 minutes
Price: $10

Tickets on sale here

“Pop culture, the dynamism of tradition and the permeability of cultures play into Hepi’s work.” – Sydney Morning Herald

“Seeing the finished Hammerfest dance made us realise new perspectives on the city we know so well.” – Susanne Naess Nielsen, DanseArena Nord, Norway

More info: http://pica.org.au/show/a-call-to-dance/

Photo: Anthony Gattari

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Film, Immersive Experience, News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

A star is born

Perth Festival review: The Last Great Hunt, Lé Nør   ·
PICA, February 13 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Lé Nør  (The Rain) is the most ambitious work yet by The Last Great Hunt. It’s also the first time that all six members of the West Australian company have combined their talents as devisers, operators and performers in one production.

The result is awe-inspiring.

Here’s the bare bones: Lé Nør is set on the imagined North Atlantic island city-state of Sólset (from now on I’m going to dispense with the accents and umlauts; more on them later) that has endured a terrible seven-year drought that has reduced its inhabitants to water-hoarding, water-blackmailing obsessives. When the rains finally come, they keep coming. Before long the little island faces an even more existential threat.

We follow the lives of the inhabitants of one apartment block, Inez (Gita Bezard), a pregnant rescue helicopter pilot, and her husband Leal (Jeffrey Jay Fowler), Petri (Chris Isaacs) and his inseparable mate Tobe (also Fowler), and two single women drawn to each other, Eliza (Arielle Gray) and Soren (Adriane Daff). Another woman, Suzette (Jo Morris, the only non-Hunter in the cast) pines for her fled boyfriend in her lonely flat, endlessly playing and replaying Phil Collins’s Against All Odds.

All of their shenanigans are overseen with mild menace by the narrator, TLGH’s gamester-in-chief, Tim Watts.

That’s the last you need bother about the plot. It’s the how, not the what, that this thing is about.

As well as the Collins dirge, there’s I’m Not in Love, White Wing Dove, Head over Heels, How Do I Get You Alone, steak knives and more in the exquisitely hideous 1980s soundtrack ­– is there a word for nostalgia for a time you didn’t have to endure yourself?

That’s only part of the referential delight of the work. It’s a deep dive into a world transformed by the lens of a camera, a stage show that becomes, more completely than anything I can remember, the Grand Illusion, the making of cinema.

Effectively the set is a screen that dominates the PICA stage, designed, along with its attendant gadgetry, by the “seventh Hunter”, Anthony Watts. All the show’s action, all its effects, are created for, and live on, that screen. Around it bustle the Hunters and stage manager Clare Testoni, setting scenes, setting up camera shots, striking poses, delivering lines, all to be distilled into images on it.

It’s a phenomenally intense ride – if anything a little too dizzying to actively engage in for 90 minutes – wildly funny and sexy. It’s a technical achievement, with a personality and charisma, like nothing we’ve seen from a West Australian company.

The title, the Hunters say, means “The Rain” in the hilarious gibberish-language they have concocted for the show (there are English surtitles), but we know better.

It really means film noir (although some of the shots, of Gray and Daff in particular, owe as much to flicks like David Hamilton’s soft focus, gauzy 1977 Bilitis as anything grittier) but film theory is probably as unimportant here as narrative. Nothing is important (when nothing is real, there’s nothing to get hung about).

So just sit back and watch Jo Morris in a phone box climbing up the walls and across the ceiling while you see how it’s done; watch two fight superstars (Gray and Daff as goodie and baddie respectively) suddenly come to life on their billboard; watch Bezard’s matchbox helicopter swoop down to rescue our heroes from Solset’s last unsubmerged rooftop (the one with the billboard) like eagles on the slopes of Mt Doom.

With Lé Nør The Last Great Hunt have confirmed their individual and collective stardom and their mastery of their craft. Now it’s time for the real fun to begin.

“Lé Nør” is playing at PICA until February 24, and Mandurah Performing Arts Centre February 28 – March 2.

Pictured top: Visual marvel – Jo Morris and The Last Great Hunt soar. Photo: Daniel Grant.

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Three dancers, all covering their eyes. One wears grey shiny leggings and is naked aside from that. One wears a bottle green criushed velvet unitard One wears hot pink shiny leggings and a black shirt
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Provocative and challenging

Review: Jo Lloyd, Confusion for Three ·
PICA Performance Space, 15 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Jo Lloyd is a Melbourne-based independent choreographer and one who has interested me for a couple of years now. It was in 2016 that I had my first chance to see Lloyd’s work; she was the choreographer for Nicola Gunn’s quirky and clever Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, presented at PICA as part of Fringe World. Lloyd’s witty and perceptive choreography capitalised on Gunn’s exuberance and was as integral to the storytelling as the script. The absurdity, the unexpectedness of the movement appealed to me enormously. Reading about Lloyd’s other work, it seemed that this is characteristic of her style. So when I saw that Lloyd’s Confusion for Three was coming to Perth, I was excited.

The name Confusion for Three is apt. There are three dancers (Rebecca Jensen, Shian Law and Lloyd) and there is confusion on many levels. For me, the most striking of the confusing elements was aesthetic. Clad in clashing colours, patterns and textures (think shiny hot pink leggings, a bottle green crushed velvet unitard teamed with a red shirt), the dancers perform movement that is deliberately awkward.

From corners of the startlingly white stage, the dancers either eye one another (and fleetingly the audience) warily, or ignore the other dancers completely. Duane Morrison’s evocative soundscape is ominous, rumbling and hissing. One by one, the dancers traverse the blinding whiteness, with movements that are angular, stuttering, uncomfortable. At times, bodies intersect but these meetings feel like unwanted entanglements rather than unions.

Two dancers how a third upside down. There appears to be a struggle.
Bodies intersect but these meetings feel like unwanted entanglements rather than unions. L-R: Shian Law, Jo Lloyd, Rebecca Jensen. Photo: Christophe Canato.

The discomfort is heightened by the bright lighting that ensures there is no cloak of darkness to protect the audience. Though it’s the dancers who shed their layers to finish naked from the waist up, it almost feels like we’re the ones who are exposed.

Reading the program notes by dramaturg Anny Mokotow, there is no question that this discomfort is intended. “Confusion,” she says, “… is a conversation on the state of the body as a contemporary beast, one that ventures to challenge aesthetics.” Later she says, “Confusion is a physical language, a means of communication that will always remain in process. The process continues, the confusion never quite sorted.”

There are occasional moments of harmony, levity and relief. Towards the end, the dancers clamber up a series of suspended straps to form a twisting and swinging rope of bodies. Peppered throughout are moments of humour. “There’s no story,” Shian Law confides quietly to the front row. Other moments teeter perilously between slapstick and violence. Are we meant to laugh? Again, I think the uncertainty is intended.

I found Confusion for Three perplexing – but clearly that is what it hopes to achieve. As a work that seeks to provoke and challenge our assumptions about the aesthetics and purpose of movement, Confusion for Three is successful. The three dancers, too, are to be commended for their po-faced intensity and commitment to movement that is often harsh and unforgiving.

Nonetheless, I found it hard to engage with the concept. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy watching dance that is designed to appeal aesthetically in some way, whether it be through movement quality, spectacle or comedy. Confusion for Three was, however, warmly and enthusiastically applauded on opening night, so maybe you should come down to PICA and see for yourself?

Confusion for Three plays PICA Performance Space until November 17.

Pictured top L-R: Jo Lloyd, Shian Law, Rebecca Jensen. Photo: Christophe Canato.

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Two dancers playing with autumn leaves
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A wonderful thing in Wellies

Awesome Festival review: Indepen-dance, Four Go Wild in Wellies ·
PICA Performance Space, 3 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

There’s not a thing wrong with a little fun, and if you’re a wee bairn of three, or four, or five, that means play.

A girl dressed in a green beanie, yellow raincoat and green wellington boots, kicking one leg high in the air
The games that kids play are the stuff of Indepen-dance’s ‘Four Go Wild in Wellies’ (pictured in 2016).

And the games that kids play are the stuff of the Scottish dance company Indepen-dance’s Four Go Wild in Wellies, a tiny drop of colour that brightens up the Awesome Festival for little ‘uns and those who dote on them.

Wellies is simplicity itself. Four orange one-person tents disgorge four kids (played by adults Hayley Earlam, Emma Smith, Neil Price and Adam Sloan in yellow, red, green and orange).

They play games, or variations of games, every child knows. Tag, statues, hide and seek. They get tired and go back to their tents. Lights out.

That’s not all there is to it, though. As we watch them play we see those traits that kids learn and begin to master as they play. Aggression and co-operation. Teasing and sympathy. Enmity and forgiveness. All those small lessons in life, those human strengths and weaknesses, that help define us.

For all its modesty, Wellies is neatly constructed (by director Anna Newell and choreographer Stevie Prikett) and sounds and looks just fine (set and costumes by Brian Hartley, music – a sweet continuing tune on, I suspect, the electronic forms of banjos, mandolins, accordions, balalaikas, bass and drums, composed by David Goodall).

Earlam and Smith are lithe, energetic dancers, and Price and Sloan, both of whom have Down Syndrome, perform with zest and humour.

It’s worth noting that we are seeing more and more productions featuring people with Down Syndrome – Julia Hales’ Perth Festival hit You Know We Belong Together (making a welcome return in Black Swan’s 2019 season) and Back to Back Theatre’s Lady Eats Apple at the 2017 Festival are two outstanding recent examples.

This recent growth in opportunities for people with Down Syndrome to create and perform is due, in part, to vastly improved opportunities, more generally, for those with Down Syndrome – thanks to a combination of social advances and a significant increase in life expectancy.

It’s a wonderful thing to witness in Wellies.

Four Go Wild in Wellies plays the PICA Performance Space until October 6.

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A woman wearing a clown nose, dancing with a shadow
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Finding light in melancholy

Awesome Festival review: Rachael Woodward, Valentine ·
PICA Performance Space, 1 October ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

It’s not often that grief and loss are central themes in theatre for children, but these are the concepts at the core of Rachael Woodward’s Valentine, which premiered at PICA this week, as part of the 2018 Awesome Festival.

On one hand, Valentine is your typical children’s theatre show, complete with fairytale-like narration, mesmerising puppetry and slapstick performance style. But it’s the raw and literal way the work deals with loss that surprises. The titular character loses her grandfather and, in the process, loses her heart. It’s close to home for most adults and for Woodward as well. The character of Grandpa is an amalgamation of her own grandparents.

Brought to life through a combination of clowning and shadow puppetry, the work sees Valentine (played by Woodward) alone on stage, while Grandpa (puppeteer Rhiannon Petersen) exists as a shadow behind a curtain, along with the scenery. Petersen and Woodward perform with perfect synchronicity, like cogs in a well-oiled machine.

With bold, black and white images, and red accents, the simple set is charming. Shadows run seamlessly, and were relished by my junior companions. The show is interactive in parts, an excellent device to use in a room full of children. Comedy is another valuable resource in children’s theatre and thankfully there is humour here, too, bracketing the sorrow. As the subject matter would suggest, Valentine is really very sad.

It is Woodward’s charm on stage, however, that gives the work its punch. She captivates audiences young and old with her engagement, range of emotion and honesty, all of which are conveyed without speech.

As an adult watching Valentine, I found it heart wrenching. I was a little uneasy about how a room full of children would react when confronted with such real and intense emotion, but the young audience members drew on the happy moments. They adored the interactive elements; a simple game of catch with members of the audience was an unexpected highlight.

Despite the melancholic themes, my young friends savoured the comedy and saw the lightness in the performance. And that sums up the lesson that Valentine hopes to teach us, that shutting your heart to pain and sadness means that you also miss all the warmth and happiness in the world. We have to embrace the full spectrum of our feelings, because then we have a life worth living.

Although Valentine‘s two show run is finished, the Awesome Festival runs until October 12. 

Pictured top are Rachael Woodward and and Rhiannon Petersen in “Valentine”.

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