In May this year, French Connections commenced with a two-week study tour of Paris.
French Connections is part of an international project instigated and led by Anne Virgo OAM, Director of Australian Print Workshop, which aims to generate a significant body of work in the print medium.
We were thrilled to be invited, alongside two other artists, Martin Bell and Megan Cope, and now that we have returned, we are keen to make new work inspired by all the incredible material we saw, collections we explored, and places we scampered through.
But before we do, rewind to see the story so far,
French Connections, part 1
French Connections, part 2
French Connections, part 3
French Connections, part 4
French Connections, part 5
French Connections, part 6
French Connections, part 7
We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young. You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. That chick is going to starve and die.
— Sir David Attenborough (on plastic pollution)
Our seams and cracks, be they through physical injury or knocks to and aches of the heart, are markers of our lived experience, and through acceptance we can come to find meaning in them and appreciation: I am here, imperfect and all the stronger for it. As Christopher Rodgers-Wilson replaced metal ligatures for golden joinery on the stage, he was proof that “injury and rehabilitation can be enlightening in unlocking a new path forward and arming you with a stronger resolve and new found sense of appreciation for your dancing”. Mending is an art, and the essence of resilience.
In other moments, the “crack in everything” could be read in the lines separating two dancers from each other. Between Coco Mathieson and Callum Linnane, their ever-unfixed negative space created an even river line from head to toe. It appeared as if they were the one worn form in the landscape, cleaved in two by the passage of water and/or time: when one part of Mathieson was convex, Linnane’s neighbouring body was concave. Framed in white costumes, designed by Topp, with the dark stage behind them, it was the negative space they created which caught my eye, the background illuminating the foreground. Together, they made the space that let the light in, and it was breathtaking.
Elsewhere, this sensation was evoked in the space one dancer tried to fill when entwined with another. With a head tilted to one side and the opposite arm extended, a lovely long 'u' shape was drawn with the body, a lovely long 'u' shape for another to fill with their head lowered, their ear to the other’s shoulder. A shoulder for a pillow, an arm for support, an ear pressed close so as to hear, a meld of two as one, a perfect fit; the joint-call technique of kintsugi, where a similar shaped piece is used to replace the broken one. Each movement flowed into another, but always either filling the outline made by the other, or following the river bend of the other, but never crossing it, instead, shining a light through it. At times, Amanda McGuigan, Karen Nanasca, and Sharni Spencer rippled and sparkled like light as it sought to emblazon the darkness. Gold and darkness made splendid by staging and lighting design by Jon Buswell.
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.
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