Up! Up! Up they go.
After the building had closed, with birds and crimps under wing, we tiptoed into Realm, with Richard Holt, to install our commissioned work, A Weight of Albatross. We woke our rookery of albatross(es)* from their bubble wrap nests, and began threading the piece together, with a map for guidance. By 11pm, our two stainless steel and fourteen frosted perspex birds were in place.
Watch: A Weight of Albatross being installed at Realm, time-lapse video (courtesy of City of Maroondah)
Realm, Ringwood Town Square, 179 Maroondah Hwy, Ringwood
* The most common collective noun for a group of albatross is a rookery, but a weight is also accepted, and though the OED preferences albatrosses as the plural, Collins and Merriam-Webster are happy to fly with albatross. So a weight it is, A Weight of Albatross, because it sounds more poetic to our ears.
Included in our weight you will find a Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), Southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora), Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), Black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta), Grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma), Indian yellow-nosed albatross (Thalassarche carteri), Sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca), and a Buller’s albatross (Thalassarche bulleri).
Recently landed: A Giddy Delight, Gracia's written response to The Australian Ballet's The Merry Widow, for Fjord Review
At the Paris Universal Exhibition at the turn of the twentieth century, where it was said Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music, near everything newly-discovered or newly-made could be found. The Eiffel Tower, now synonymous with Paris, for one; the world-encompassing scale of the Galerie des machines where visitors could delight in discovering atmospheric hammers, cigarette makers, phonographs, and telephones, another. Add to this a colonial exhibition of the ‘other’ from across land and sea masses; the Imperial, the largest diamond in the world; and a giant wooden and stucco elephant, which was later purchased and placed alongside an infamous red windmill, the Moulin Rouge, to render complete the Jardin de Paris Elephant. For a franc, a gentleman could enter the elephant’s body, by way of a staircase twisting up one of its legs, and find themselves in an opium den and a froth of belly dancers.
Paris: the city of entertainment. “Paris was where the twentieth century was…. Paris was the place to be,” said Gertrude Stein of that beautiful era, la Belle Époque. Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, and Degas. Bonnard, Cézanne, and Monet. Well may I cry, pour me another cocktail of Post-Impressionism, Les Nabis, and ornamental Art Nouveau, but what of all this and a widow, merry or otherwise? This doorway to the past was, for me, what coloured and illuminated The Merry Widow. It was the backdrop to the foreground and the foreground to the backdrop, the very balance of the composition, the lightness of step, its undeterred waltzing heart. The elephant in the garden: frivolity and amusement.
From the palette of the Fauvist “wild beasts”, Matisse et al., to that found inside the belly of the beast, colour radiated mood, and it needn’t be true to the natural world. The emotional state was the heat rubbed into the canvas, into life, and on the stage in Robert Helpmann’s The Merry Widow, originally created for The Australian Ballet in 1975, and felt last night at the State Theatre from a seat in the stalls. Colour as a vehicle for describing the lustre and space of the city of light, itself. Colour to describe high and low art brushing shoulders.
From modern Latin, from the Greek words sumbiōsis, ‘a living together,’ sumbioun, ‘live together,’ and sumbios, ‘companion’ comes the word symbiosis, an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both. In the dictionary, the very definition of a symbiotic relationship, why, it almost sounds like a pas de deux. A ‘step of two’ performed by dancers working together, dependent upon each other, with each other, in synchronicity, aware, at all times, of the other.
In Stephanie Lake’s new work, Replica, Christina Chan and Aymeric Bichon embody this definition. From the outset, they are two different organisms mutually dependent upon the other, moving to the benefit of both, or so it seems. In the dark of the theatre in the Northcote Town Hall, as they stand before a strip of light on the floor, they are the bodily incarnation of mutualism. Bichon moves and Chan responds; Chan moves and Bichon responds. Two silhouettes in accord, making ‘a living together’ through togetherness. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. You tap my left shoulder; I’ll tap yours. My arm draws a large circle in the air. My hand lands upon your head. With the tap, you begin to fall, but not before extending your arms forward and tapping at my abdomen. A push here, a poke there, no cause is without effect. We all fall down. Ring-a-ring o’ roses; a pocket full of posies; a-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down; it’s human nature, after all.
Human nature, animal nature, it is one and the same, whether in the dictionary or the nursery rhyme; the slowest faces a penalty, the weakest in the herd is more at risk of falling prey to a predator. Best pair up with another; make a replica of their survival techniques through movement; and remember that if we all fall down, we can also all climb up. Take my hand; pull me up. In ecological rings, in biological terms, a symbiotic relationship between two or more species can be beneficial to all organisms involved (mutualism) or none (competition), and it can benefit one organism without affecting the others (commensalism) or help one while harming the others (parasitism). In Replica, Chan and Bichon, take turns trying on all four caps for size, from mutualism to parasitism, drawing for me the nature of things as the needle traces the groove and the lights shift from dark to light, warm to cool, red to blue. Lake’s choreography, Robin Fox’s sound composition, and Bosco Shaw’s lighting design all follow the same principle. Chan’s hand connects with a part of Bichon and the sound in symbiotic understanding changes. Bichon claps, the lighting alters in response. There is more than one relationship involved here.
Subscribe to The Blue Notebook: Journal for artists’ books, published by Wild Conversations Press, edited by Sarah Bodman, UWE, Bristol, UK, to read our invited contribution, and other tales by other folk. Inside Volume 12, No. 2 Spring – Summer 2018 (pp. 6–14), you’ll find us talking about our artists’ books within Looped, at State Library Victoria.
Head to Book Arts to subscribe (hard copy and digital).
The space between our understanding of the world and how a fox (in a painting) sees the world is vast, but this is what we were thinking, dreaming, scratching, sniffing, living as we worked on our most recent artists' book, Paw Pad Path (2018). It is of the earth as much as of the canvas and of history. And we are delighted that Paw Pad Path has been selected for the forthcoming 2018 Libris Awards: Australian Artists' Book Prize exhibition at Artspace Mackay.
2018 Libris Awards: Australian Artists' Book Prize
Civic Centre Precinct, Gordon Street, Queensland
Saturday 26th May – Sunday 19th August, 2018
The Libris Awards is an initiative of Mackay Regional Council through Artspace Mackay. The awards seek to develop awareness of the council’s significant collection of artists' books, and to develop the collection further through the acquisition of new works by leading Australian artists working in the field.
The Australian Book Designers Association recently announced the Longlist for the 66th Australian Book Design Awards 2018, and we are delighted that Prattle, scoop, trembling: a flutter of Australian birds is one of seven books longlisted in the Best Designed Independent Book category.
You can pick up a copy of Prattle, scoop, trembling: a flutter of Australian birds through our online store.
For a fourth year running, we are returning to the Melbourne Art Book Fair at the NGV, and with us we will be bringing scores of new artists' books, zines, and prints. Some of these new titles you may have seen unfurling on instagram, and tomorrow, should you be in the neighbourhood, you can see them with your own eyes, leaf through them with your own fingers, nestle them in your own palm.
See you beneath the Leonard French at the
Melbourne Art Book Fair
National Gallery of Victoria
Friday 16th – Sunday 18th March, 2018
Friday 16th March: 10am–5pm
(Friday night opening: 6–9pm)
Saturday 17th March: 10am–7pm
Sunday 18th March: 10am–5pm
(With the exception of the Friday night opening, entry to the fair is free.)