Writing somebody else’s world

I began a story for a particular call out for submissions. In a keenly felt tragedy of non-epic proportions I lost what I wrote in the first draft mid way through. I managed to start again and finished it. Mind you, I wasn’t going to, but the ideas for this project kept percolating. What I had written I had liked, which was a rare first off. And of course the primary inspiration already existed in an established and developing world. Thus, in a way, the hard work was done. Through gritted teeth then, I returned to the blank document and thus summer was spent, in part, re/writing this one story that would only fit as part of this larger existing world. It felt, at times, like I was betting all on black.

A writer can hide from ideas, but like hungry puppies, they will track you down until they become stories.

A writer can hide from ideas, but like hungry puppies, they will track you down until they become stories.

I listened recently to an interview with the filmmaker of Winter At Westbeth, a documentary about the elderly residents of a long-established artist’s colony in New York. The interviewer spoke about the importance of collaboration and support for creativity. In suburban Melbourne, I don’t have a rent controlled subsidised artist’s place to live (gimme please), with a bunch of like-minded folk. What I do have though, is the internet (just – it’s a whole big story, suffice it to say BUFFERING EVERY 20 SECONDS FOR VIDEOS SUCKS!).

Embracing the tedium of rewriting

Rewriting can feel like…but not this time. 

Anyway, back to my point. Via this internet, I found this existing and currently expanding world in progress and it’s publisher. With an introduction to push me in the right direction, plus additional guidelines and a wiki in place, this was like an invitation and permission to play in another person’s playground where I didn’t have to build a swing first or pack up afterwards. Thus, adding to this growing realm constructed through the imaginative efforts of a few contributors felt constructive and instructive. With each writer building upon the other it was kinda like a community. It isn’t quite a Westbeth, I felt more like each member of this loose but inspired group of contributors is providing a personalised piece for a distant but Gothic and phantasmagorical castellated Lego construction where each plastic bespoke doodad is honed to perfection so the overall design is coherent and lyrical.

But yeah, I’ll take it.

Glad I took a change and rewrote my story.

The will to rewrite and keep going? Still got it.

The will to rewrite & keep going? Still got it.

Somewhat reminiscent of the vast ornately works of China Mieville, such as Perdido Street Station, but definitely its own thing, this world is the kind of creation that attracts me as a reader and a writer.

As a writer, what was provided was scaffold to build upon, with just enough in terms of both inspiration and the very important boundaries for imagination that help in creativity. As a reader, I could already see the city and its inhabitants, all I had to do was introduce something to it from me – my story. Turns out I could and it was welcomed and will be published. This is a source of joy in itself as the story would have taken a bit of work to make it useful for anything else;)

This was more calculated too. I have all manner of projects that need my attention, but this one had those helpful particular word count and rules for the world. It helped that I had an idea that I kept returning to, and which grew and crystallised the more I pursued it. Also, I felt my style for this was a good fit, even though I’ve not had much fantasy published before. Plus, this is a paying gig, which adds further spice to the motivation. All this will make sense when you see this world, which I am loath to publicly reveal here until this is ready to read.

Stay tuned.

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100 words before sleep

I couldn’t sleep last night. Not for hours. So I wrote a Drabble for a contest over at 10 Minute Novelists,  and the more likes it gets the more chance I have of winning (renown I think).

I had tried meditating, and saw music as colour, which was not as restful as I needed

I’d tried meditating, & saw music as colour, which was not as restful as I needed.

A Drabble (named for Margaret Drabble) is a story that is exactly 100 words long and this contest had to include three supplied words or phrases. It’s like a crossword without the squares and an infinite number of variations. Think of a story, include the three magic words, and edit until it fits the neat container of the word count. Thus, when wide awake, it’s a tiring thinking task as well as a creative one, with word limits and inclusions as useful boundaries.

After I posted it, I feel asleep, suspicious and listening to the gentle crunch of a light stepper on the lane way gravel outside my window.

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Month of Sundays

The Drop by Drawing class on Sundays at the National Gallery of Victoria concluded. I miss it already. Last Sunday wasn’t the same. For one, there was foster kittens, but mainly, I missed arting about.

Live model, drawn without pencil leaving the page. Jan 2017.

Live model, drawn without pencil leaving the page. Jan 2017.

However, I can safely say my month of Sundays was a revelation. It’s provided an official sanction, or permission for two hours of an afternoon for all the participants to try something. This included lying on the floor of the 19th century gallery and sketching with eyes closed, or drawing a live model without lifting the pencil from the paper (see above). Some of the exercises are meant to open up our ‘seeing’ in much the same way as Drawing on the Left Side of the Brain does.

I just like looking at art. Art interprets the world, and we can interpret the art. Its not a class thing. Im not rich.

Art interprets the world, & we can interpret the art. I’m here to tell you lil illiterate girls from the country can grow up & have art in their lives. 

The other participants have been mostly pretty friendly and engaging, especially for the occasional ‘group’ task, like drawing a stranger while hopping or some such. It’s just as well we were in it together; as a group we looked ridiculous, but that’s much better than any individual standing out ridiculously:)

Drop By Drawing: Preparation

Drop By Drawing: Preparation

Some participants have clearly been professionals, honing their skills, others are giving it a go, or somewhere in between. But it’s weird how often humans need permission to go ahead and try something. Maybe this has been hard-wired in school and then work.

This is it.

This was it.

But there is something else as well. Much of the world considers if you aren’t doing something that either makes money or is ‘for’ some purpose, it is wasted time. Obviously, I don’t agree. Perhaps, if more people took the time to do the things (within their means?) they want to do, maybe we’d be happier? Sadly, to some, this is too a radical suggestion. Being selfish is bad, apparently, but we are all selfish, to a degree. If we weren’t, we’d barely survive beyond baby-hood. So, I’ve happily been selfish on these Sundays, pursuing something for whatever slight joy or satisfaction maybe had from it, because I could. More people should.

Art Inception. Looking at a framed Banksy being clever about art.

Art Inception. Looking at a framed Banksy being clever about art.

It’s also good to get beyond striving for ‘accurate’ and ‘good’. Whatever pressure there is on me, is from me, I’ve learned that in writing, and now in this. And stuff pressure, by the way. There is no timetable. Thus, I realise I can look back at some of my work and see the freedom I had and perhaps felt, in expressing myself. I’d like to get that back.

Watercolour, early to mid 90s. From the hoard of the artist. Me.

Watercolour, early to mid 90s. From the hoard of the artist: me.

Post Script

In case you are worried about my writing: it continues apace. My first short story of 2017 has been accepted. Further details will be posted in the coming weeks about where this will be available and what I learned when writing it. Suffice it to say, I’m a bit chuffed about this one. It kinda balances out not winning a (biggish) competition recently.

That’s me, I guess, writing on and drawing some conclusions.

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No one view

Tis said there is only one view of Sydney, a vista that encompasses the Harbour, the harbour’s old coat hanger of a bridge and the Opera House. Of course they are much-loved and instantly identifiable everywhere, even if our Prime Minister is not so much. Melbourne, meanwhile, has no single view. No one image sums up Melbourne in the same way as Sydney. And that’s how I like it.

Flinders St from the Cathedral.

Flinders St from the Cathedral.

Last Sunday, I was in the CBD. On the corner of Flinders Street, opposite its station, you can see St Paul’s Cathedral, and across the street from it, a the pub, both plastered with billboards that are for the latest NGV exhibition, and the newest musical (Book of Mormons) and with the church, one welcoming refugees. Diagonally opposite the pub, dinky old (classic) Porsche cars are displayed by an owners club at Federation Square. Further down the street, the Masonic building is nudging up to the lavishly ornate Moorish Revival Forum Theatre, which is opposite the angular and modern Ian Potter Gallery, currently displaying an exhibit on the architecture of a new mosque.

Yes.

Yes.

I duck into the NGV and walk through the Joseph Brown collection. Originally Josef Braun, this artist, collector and art dealer came to Melbourne from Poland. After serving in WWII, he returned and built his collection, sponsored artists, and, thus, like so many of Australia’s migrants, contributed to the rich life of his adopted city. I notice, in the NGV’s display of his collection, are Australian artists and their work interpreting Scheherazade and a Sheikh’s return to Cairo from Mecca, among others. Because they could.

Multicultural vibes in the Joseph Brown Collection

Multicultural vibes in the Joseph Brown Collection

Outside again, along the footpath, groups pose for photos. At the lights, Chinese girls dressed in red celebrating the Lunar New Year wait next to Sri Lankan retailers on their way to work. Mothers in saris and young women under parasols flow around me, like the Yarra nearby.

Cool respite.

Cool respite.

I enter, like many do, the cool hush of the Cathedral. I’ve never visited before. Beyond its massive columns and warm light, I am struck by the Vietnamese family, paused quietly in front of the Vietnamese War memorial plaque. Even now I am on the verge of tears thinking about this.

Melbourne like it was.

One old version of Melbourne.

Eventually, I wandered outside, a sleeping homeless man sheltering in a shady nook of the church. I head back towards my tram to sketch paintings Turkish ambassadors and anguished sheep.

More than a week ago the city was scene of carnage and death, and courage too. A sixth person who could have been a neighbour, or someone in front of me in the supermarket, has died as a result of events on that day. I have no words for that.

The oldest bridge in Melbourne is a copy of Blackfriars Bridge in London. Plus trams.

Melbourne’s oldest permanent bridge is a copy of Blackfriars Bridge in London. Plus trams.

Most days, I suspect, are more like my Sunday morning, bustling and humming, trams dinging in the distance. This city reflects the diversity of its inhabitants in much of its architecture and cultural life. All around me locals and newcomers, tourists, citizens, and visitors, young and old, workers, and commuters, day-trippers and wanderers can enjoy this. All getting along, all going their own way, together.

Because?

Because this is Melbourne. No single view sums up this city.

How could it?

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Review: Not afraid, awed

My Sunday’s are currently for art. Mine and other’s. It began with the notion to (try to) attend all four Drop By Drawing events at the National Gallery of Victoria, for two hours every Sunday. I haven’t, in fact missed any. This week I first took at look at the Art of Banksy (see earlier post). Then I had some time, and choices. I could visit John Olsen’s You Beaut Country, or David Hockney’s electronic garden wonderland exhibit. However, in the spirit of Sherlock‘s Dr Watson avoiding men explaining the world, instead, I opted for Who’s Afraid of Colour, featuring an array of works by 118 Australian Indigenous women.

Swathes of colour.

Swathes of colour.

I was extremely happy to say I’m glad I did not miss this. The only proviso is that I need to go again, to spend more time with the works featured in this vibrant, comprehensive, and diverse exhibit. Of course, there was colour, gigantic swathes of colour, but there was also texture, and light and shadow. There was also paint, textiles, fibre, video, and timber. There was tradition and innovation, woven baskets and painted nets, capturing so much significance.

Be ensared.

Be ensnared.

I can’t adequately describe nor show my favourite piece, (although I did take this one picture below). I’ll try, though, because if  you can’t get to see it, you shouldn’t miss out entirely. Imagine walking in a room of warmly lit, bone-bright white sea creatures, hanging from the ceiling, casting shadow shapes on the black walls, and on the floor, all around, so you feel a part of something living, yet fossilised, suspended in time and in the air in the cool quiet of this still space.

Whos afraid of light and shadows?

Who’s afraid of light and shadows?

When I go back, (and I will), it will be for this room, mainly. And for all the art I rushed past, forgetting and then remembering I had to be drawing somewhere else.

Don’t panic though, there’s ages to see this, (ends in mid April) and it’s free. Sadly, however, there is no single and comprehensive official NGV book to go with the exhibit, unlike say Olsen and Hockey. Interesting that. There is, however, an essay on the NGV web page about the exhibition.

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Review: Passengers

Can’t discuss themes without mentioning plot points and characters, so spoilers, k? But you know, if you wanted to see Passengers, you might have already.

I went in believing this wasn’t going to be the most memorable film. Just another glossy adventure in space featuring incongruously paired but beautiful people contemplating the terrifying mysteries and dangers of space. And it was that but also more.

In space, no one can hear you write

Firstly, I wasn’t expecting this film to feature a writer, and wasn’t expecting to write this kind of review, about writing. But it has, and it could have gone badly. I mean, a journalist searching for a story on a spaceship sent to colonise a world sounds a bit Telephone Cleaner Third Class on the B Ark. I’m happy to say, however, Passengers never felt like a joke, at least not about this.

I don’t think it’s only me, but I am a little wary of films and novels featuring characters who are writers writing about, often, themselves, and their writing. It’s a bit too insidery, and to some outsiders, it might seem as if the script writer or novelist is running out of ideas, like bands sometimes do, and instead of writing songs about struggle, love and life, sing about struggling with not loving the fruit’s of their success.

Passengers though, surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it to lead me here, but here I am, concluding that while the film has flaws and unresolved mysteries, it presented a writer and her insights reasonably.

In space, time is the final frontier. That and credits for first class breakfast.

In space, time is the final frontier. That & credits for first class breakfast.

The film made all sorts of visual references to 2001: A Space Odyssey (the physical structure of the ship), with Arthur (Michael Sheen) and the ship’s voices and systems possessing an occasional touch of HAL in their performances and uses. This is in neat contrast to the barman as presenting as stereo-typically wise, counselling the writer over a drink (as well as the mechanic).

Michael Sheen manages to steal scenes in every film he’s in and then some, whether he is camp (Tron II or whatever it was called) or restrained. He does lend this film that slightly worn, English-accented gravitas many films are relying on these days (see Jeremy Irons) in place of more plot development. I also believe it’s the case English and some Australian actors are cast when the Hollywood types look a bit too perfect for ordinary cinema going plebs like me. Unfortunately, Sheen’s Arthur, while arguably the most likeable presence on the Avalon, presents more unresolved mysteries than solutions and solace with his whiskies.

Arthur on the rocks

What I did like about this unresolved feeling around Arthur is his suspect uncanny-ness. Like Preston (Chris Pratt) and Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) do, it is easy to see Arthur as human, and more difficult to see how his operating system has also been corrupted by whatever is affecting the entire ship. It is also difficult to see and to question his agenda, because as with the first Alien film, Arthur’s agenda is the company one. It is only towards the end that we see how this series of events, from a small beginning, ultimately directs later actions, mainly of Preston and then, of Lane. Arthur, speaking for the ship, is a kind of a director or creator, or, even writer, who sees the impossible occur with Preston to then manipulate those around him for the best outcome for the ship. Or, I’m again reading too much into his behaviour.

Through a whisky glass darkly

Anyway Arthur has a lot to do with how Preston and Lane see each other. He is a confidante, an adviser, but he is as unreliable as the ship, and Preston and Lane forget that. Thus, as a mechanical wing man, he leaves a lot to be desired. Or everything he does is fine, because he understands how humans work. Again, dunno.

If I’m focusing on Arthur it’s because he is the only bit of the ship with a working and useful interface. As Preston is driven crazy and guilty, and while Lane copes with finding out the truth, Arthur is the centre through which we can view everything, while remaining unknowable. We learn everything, or as much as we need to know about the two humans on board, it is Arthur who is the true mystery to me and thus represents the problem within the ship. Arthur could be the empty vessel (pun intended), filled with Preston and Lane, or a surface reflecting back to them what the passengers need. In any case, his presence rescues the film, as much as it helps and compromises the central relationship.

If this a lot of words to throw at a a gleaming surface of a film that focuses much attention on revealing hidden flaws in ‘unbreakable’ machines and showing the psychological responses to stressful situations in mismatched beautiful people, then so be it. This film won’t haunt your imagination with images of primal horror like Alien, nor will it confound you with symbolism like 2001, even if there are nice analogies with the Garden of Eden and neat turns of phrase. Maybe I was right after all. The Avalon is just like the B Ark, which is just like now: a world full of infuriatingly dumb technology, programmed simply, doing what it is told, but ultimately fixed/ hijacked by human ingenuity.

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Review: Art(iface) of Banksy

On Sunday morning I visited The Art of Banksy exhibition, curated by Steve Lazarides, at The Paddock, an incongruously named gravel and concrete patch of space nestled alongside the train lines and the car parks that service the Birrarung Marr/Fed Square complex. For this exhibit’s purposes, I guess it fits an aesthetic: centrally located desolation.

Urban neglect, separation from nature, social isolation: you can get it all just visiting The Paddock.

Urban neglect, separation from nature, social isolation: you can get it all for free visiting The Paddock.

Pay attention to the art works outside the gallery. They are contributions that also critique the nature of the exhibit and the fact it was not approved by Banksy himself.

Curator as Judas, inspired by Caravaggio, by local artist Adnate.

Curator as Judas, inspired by Caravaggio, by local artist Adnate.

The cosy space featured many of Banksy’s by now iconic images, mostly as framed prints, or photographs of his work, in a gallery that attempted to imitate a darkened London street (red phone box and all). The air conditioning was welcome.

Almost Banksy

Almost Banksy: it is the art of Banksy or the art of the photographer? Is this image mine, or the gallery’s, or Banksy’s? 

A few images were arresting, probably because I was less familiar with them. Notable mentions because of this are the Statue of David, and the Grim Reaper on the Big Ben’s clock face. As ever they spark questions and conversations, but this time, perhaps not the ones originally intended (if one can ever know an artist’s intentions).

Quiet nook.

Spotlighting in a gallery nook.

Today, coming into this shadowy place out of the bright heat of Melbourne’s summer, I was uneasy about some of the images. Perhaps, it had something to do with the events of Friday January 20, in Melbourne’s CBD (I won’t describe them, suffice it to say they remain immensely upsetting). There are times when we as individuals need police and even the military. They serve a social utility, even as an imperfect bulwark against chaos. As a peaceful person, even I concede throwing flowers at people intent on harming others may not stop them.

 

Insert something profound on art, time, and the ghostly reflection of me in the image.

Insert profundity on art, time, & my ghostly reflection in this image.

I understand how armed resistance, peaceful resistance, and even artistic resistance to forces and groups that seek to control and curb our lives and creativity are required, and often dangerous. Despite what they failed to achieve, I too have taken part in marches.

Yet here and now, for me, Banksy’s work is out-of-place. Just as the artist hasn’t approved this exhibit, a part of me baulks at this too. Then again, art where it is not meant to be, is exactly Banksy’s thing. See what I mean, grr? Questions without answers.

I understand the art is incongruous, they are meant to make us stop and reconsider our biases. These works are meant to challenge the status quo. But especially since Friday sometimes we need to stop and present those who serve the community with flowers, rather than throw things at them. Those in uniforms, behind shields, and piloting helicopters, are people, too.

Inceptions himself.

Banksy Inception’s himself.

Same, same? Yeah, nah?

Same, same? Yeah, nah?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put Banksy’s work in a gallery, neatly framed, for a paying public, and the works are changed by their context. On buildings in the city, he makes a point of criticising people who pay for art, but inside a pay-walled gallery, where his works are now for sale, it’s too twee.  An argument can be made for his art losing its potency, along with its wider audience.

Even though it would be a creative anachronism, for a moment, I want them vandalised, called out for becoming commodities. This is even though ,or perhaps despite myself, you see I too bought one of his images, stitched onto a cap, (I did say it was hot out). Thus, even I succumbed. I can’t fight the forces of consumerism, either.

No, not the set of a Sherlock episode. More Banksys art about art.

Come see the violence and boredom inherent in the system. Art about art.

Perhaps, the most political act an artist/dissenter today is do, is to remain pre-commodification. The artists who remain outside capitalism because their works (even the word ‘works’ sounds like a product) are not traded nor sold are the ones fighting something, or against something (?). But maybe commodification lends them their visibility? And as this exhibit demonstrates, often they don’t control the means of re-production. Maybe you do need to be inside the Matrix to change its destiny? Again, I don’t have answers, I have feelings and questions, and a longing to see the something less familiar and less jokey (yes even me, occasionally).

I too, can see a joke and take it further.

My perspective? The key to making a joke about a joke is to take it furthe- 

For actual paint and actual stencils on actual walls, Hosier Lane isn’t far, and is completely free to visit, and take selfies in front of, to sell, too, if you want. That is, if you can squeeze between the wedding parties being photographed, and homeless people being moved on under new council bylaws against rough sleeping.

How about that as a dose of reality?

Or, you know, art.

Or, you know, art.

Thanks to Arts Hub for providing me with a free ticket.

The exhibition finishes by the end of January.

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