Imperfect articles

If you’ve been visiting a while then you may recall me wittering on about a sketchbook. Well, my latest effort has been uploaded for perusal online at The Sketchbook Project. Some of the pencil sketches haven’t come up so clearly, but hey, my little book of pictures is in the world.

Self explanatory

And it turns out my this book is not just staying home on a shelf at the Brooklyn Art Library, no sirree, it is touring the USA. If however, like me, you are not in the US, you can see my efforts here online. Each page contrasts water-colour or pen and ink efforts I produced when I was a kid, with sketches I completed over last spring and summer when I undertook my season of sketching. Hence the title, Past Imperfect, Present Tense. I didn’t know at the time what I was working towards. It turned out it was this.

Work in progress, last summer. It didn’t make the cut for the sketch book.

I longed to recapture the contentment, sitting in my Nan’s tiny cottage over a hot and mosquito filled January or several, listening to the steady too-ing and fro-ing thocks of the tennis while I painted, and painted. Instead, I found a new contentment, looking for views and angles as I wandered Melbourne’s CBD and lying on the parquet floor of the NGV, pencil in hand.

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Doctor Who: a Time Lord’s winged chariot

You’ll got the Andrew Marvell reference To His Coy Mistress for the episode titled World Enough and Time yeah?  It’s apt. Not just this episode with its portents of doom, and accurate time dilation Black Hole physics. No. The entire series has indeed felt time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Most episodes have felt overtly rushed or truncated, except for the triple hander Monk episodes and they felt like a big richly decorated introduction for a small and inexplicably slap dash and inconsequency pay off. The joke is with this episode it is both fast and slow.

World enough for ya?

…the last age should show your heart

This poem is about youth and is advice on what to do with it, it’s YOLO girl, ye olde style. This is also a perennial theme of Doctor Who: it is a guide to making the most of the precious hopeful, passionate, energetic years, before they are consumed by the usual day the day-ness Rose complained about (like working in a shop). Thus, The Doctor doesn’t just pick companions who happen to be young because they are visually TV friendly, uh uh. He says it himself: he needs their perspective, since the universe is his backyard humans can see things he can’t. He also needs their young enthusiasms and drives and emotions, because this ancient, lonely man-god is less dangerous to others when he is with them. Or as he says of Clara: she cares so he doesn’t have to. And the young care more.

But he also in his didactic fashion warns this latest companion that his lifestyle demands as a Time Lord burn them out. Or, as in this episode, literally burns their hearts out. There is a price for humans adventuring through space and time, (which is of course just a metaphor for life) and thus it comes to pass all too quickly that Bill’s bill is drawn up. And  surviving the loss of her heart gets her a lesson in waiting those long years for help. Foreshadowing much everyone?

Slow-chapt power

Speaking of which: John Simm’s Master. Again this felt like a prelude to the main feature ahead, but his disguise as Razor was entertaining, if recognisable. His character did in indeed feel like he languished in his slow-chapt power of time, hiding disguised on a ship for an eternity. Again, it is a deliberate choice to make his disguise old.

His character with its jokes about good and bad tea reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, with its characters making jokes about the horror ahead for Idris as her soul is replaced by that of the TARDIS.

To his coy Mistress

If this episode is being didactic, then this could be a farewell to Missy, because Marvell’s poem is addressed To His Coy Mistress to get a hurry on before she dies (my interpretation). Granted, she has been rehabilitated a bit but Missy’s not so much coy as preoccupied. And she is definitely will be making much of time, being in one place, two bodies, and two-time zones at once. In hindsight the series has been a lament for the times lost between the Doctor and his best friend.

Though we cannot make our sun stand still

I loved how this episode used actual physics. There are no instant sonic solutions because of the Black Hole. It was a neat device too, to get the explanation to us by putting the power in the hands of the janitor who thusly didn’t understand what was happening 400 miles on the other part of the ship. Bill and Razor’s response to the Doctor’s role in explaining this is also gold.

And yonder before us lie…

I can see why many consider this the best episode of the season, but I’m willing to tack on a ‘so far’ because I can’t see how Bill’s getting un-cyberfied in this twin Earth ship Mondasian mechanical nightmare and because the episode began with the regeneration process. I don’t want either to be true, but I don’t want a typical Steven Moffat “let’s undead the dead” solution either. It was shocking that Bill was shot. Her transformation was similarly shocking. I don’t know how this can be undone and even if either should. This episode is all about change over time. From Master to Missy, from human to cyber, from  young to old, from one Doctor to the next, from living to dead. So, is Bill’s passage through the iron gates of life one way? And if it is there is a solution through physics, physics, physics, then ok, but why shock us at all?

So we will roll up our strength and all our sweetness into one ball, and watch time devour the days to see what becomes of Mistresses and Masters, Mondasian Bills and our Lord of Time.

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Shadows of many pasts at Heide

The Heide Museum of Modern Art is a clutch of buildings set amid a rolling pocket of vestigial lush greenery in what is now outer suburban Melbourne. Before it was a gallery, cafe, and sculpture park, it was home to the Reed family, who added an artist’s colony to a dairy farm. Before that it was an important location in the lands of the Wurundjeri People.

Path to Heide I

Heide I is the cottage farm-house, complete with a walled garden and collapsing cow shed quite near the afternoon shadows of the magnificent Red Gum Yingabeal.

Detail from a rare painting by Mary Boyd at Heide I

Currently, this area is displaying art from the Boyd family, featuring disturbing clay Angels by John Perceval, and WWII inspired paintings by various Boyds in addition to a couple of Nolans in the library. Rather than focus on untangling the intricacies of the familial relationships, I looked at the art.

Detail from a Schoolgirls painting, by Charles Blackman

Mainly, I visited to see the Charles Blackman Schoolgirls retrospective located in Heide III (the newer gallery) before it  closed. Often, when people mention the 1950s, it is in the context of an insult, contrasting now to a throwback to an unequal and even brutal time.

I’ve been guilty of that too, because we don’t generally think about the achievements of say mid-century modern architecture when we decry the suffocating social roles and institutionalised racism and class-ism of the era.

But this highlights how easy is it to forget people like the Reeds, Boyds and Blackman and his wife Barbara Blackman (among others), as they created and flocked to a Melbourne arts-based counter narrative, in protest to and in defiance of aspects of the world around them. Which brings me to Schoolgirls.

Melbourne cobble stone back streets.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t to be reminded of my own history almost as soon as I entered. Artists of the 1950s weren’t so different to me, apparently. Blackman may have been responding to the blindness of his wife (see the covered eyes, and posies representing other senses), and to murders at the time. He was also, however, inspired by John Shaw Neilson, the lyric poet of my home town, just like I was in school. He was disturbed and influenced by the news of the day, just as my exposure to news influences my writing practice now.

As you can see, even in these examples I’ve posted, there is a bleak and urban dystopian quality to these pictures. It’s a contemporary isolation he has portrayed, but it’s also as if my own two woollen pinafored years at a bucolic Catholic primary school were transferred to an overcast 1950s Melbourne. Its architecture and stadia are familiar, but even the cobbled lanes are made foreboding. Shadows haunt Blackman’s inner city and the girls are sometimes ghosts. So yes, I didn’t expect the art of the 50s to be so immediate and so personally affecting.

Urban isolation

As if to further transport me I wandered to Heide II, the house the Reeds intended to become a gallery. Although it is an award-winning design I can’t love it. It reminds me (again) of my own childhood, built as it is of  almost luminescent and creamy Mt Gambier limestone.

Even the view is enclosed by weathered limestone at Heide II

Wandering around the spaces that were once bathrooms and bedrooms, I can taste (or I remember a familiar) chalkiness and I’m drawn to the views outside to escape the confinement I feel.

Amphora by Denise Green, aptly on display in what was the laundry of Heide II

All this distracts me from the art, this time featuring Denise Green, an Australian artist based in the US.

Denise Green

Her works, particularly the water colours and line drawings appeal, but I can’t stay long. Here, the building evokes in me what Charles Blackman was portraying: here I am lonely, if not alone.

Detail of a work by Denise Green, on display in the former bathroom of Heide II.

Here, I am cold, even if it is heated. Here I am claustrophobic, but not shut in. I am sorry for it but I can’t love buildings made of the long dead. Made of billions of skeletons of seething sea creatures and plants transported from the region of my childhood home. The rooms close around me until I too feel the forces it took to turn life into stone. Here, I am rooted in the stillness and heed Shaw Neilson: There calls / No voice, no music beats on me; / But it is almost sound: it falls / This evening on the Orange Tree, and on this house too it seems.

Works by Denise Green on display in the former kitchen of Heide II

The old timber homestead feels alive. It is jolly and welcoming, and the new gallery is bright and friendly, but in Heide II, there is real absence, and shadows linger longer in the hush, even when I can read of the comfort the Reeds lived in, in their bright modern home.

So while I love Heide Museum and Sculpture Park, in Heide II I am forlorn, pondering my own history. I am lost contemplating the conversion of youth to age, and the weight passage of time. I dwell upon how mysterious living beings are consumed and transformed under immense social and geological pressures, and are transported across familiar territories I too have crossed, to perhaps, become significant for future people we can never know.

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Doctor Who: Roam where you want to

Apologies for the delay, but as with so much of this season, Doctor Who feels like it’s biding time until the big finale. Having said that The Eaters of Light, promised a bit and delivered more than recent episodes. I acknowledge I’ve been hard on them, but when a great thing falls a little way from being that good it feels worse than an average thing being less than average.

But back to the episode: this one is a quick lesson on how events become history, and how history becomes superstitions as the crows and bookend scenes demonstrate.

The tension and its release worked with the modern scenes. The monster’s ability to kill was interesting, and it looked threatening enough, although I think the sunlight as a cure was skipped over a little.

I really liked Nardole in this, rather than functioning as a curator of vaults and plot devices and previous narratives, he gets to display some character traits and make jokes. And there were jokes, so knowingly and quickly delivered.

And yet…

For a show about time travel I wish there had been time to explore the role of Kar, the Gate Keeper, but I realised that her anger, and unease as a leader are what made her vulnerability more convincing. She clearly was a kid dealing with the fact she was responsible for unleashing something she didn’t entirely understand to destroy an enemy she thought her people couldn’t stop.

This, by the way, is BS. The Romans were held out of what was Scotland and the locals didn’t need aliens to do it. Which leads me to a thing I get ranty pants about: this thing people (I mean everyone from pseudo-archaeologists obsessed with ancient aliens to Pinterest users) have with claiming ancient civilisations and societies could not achieve the things they did except through alien (or European) help. It drives me crazy. It reflects modern biases against the capabilities of traditional peoples, their cultures and their technologies and nothing more. Any way, rant over. I get that most of the rationale of Doctor Who these days is inserting aliens where they aren’t meant to be.

No. Aliens did not paint this, nor build the pyramids.

Back to the story.

Kar reminds me, perhaps deliberately, of The Girl Who Died‘s Ashildr before she became immortal. And seemingly The Doctor hasn’t learned much, he still tries to stand in for the people whose job it is to regulate forces (like portals) to save the world.

In a way Kar and Ashildr share the same story:  young women thrust into important roles, who then sacrifice themselves for their people. And their peoples are portrayed simplistically, so they are like the kids of Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome but with swords, and instead of the myth of Captain Walker, they have the roles of the Gate Keeper and Story Teller.

I don’t know what this means for the finale, except the last few minutes where again Missy becomes the entire point of the episode. While she is rehabilitating herself the Doctor can’t yet entirely trust her. Fair enough.

This time tomorrow we’ll know why.

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Doctor Who: More ice?

Imagine ordering Empress of Mars, a colonialist, capitalist and slavery themed episode of Doctor Who that demonstrates 19th century military and mercantile values and not realising it was accomplished earlier, with more nuance and to a more satisfying degree in the episode Thin Ice? As if to make up for this, some fetching steam punk garb is added in, as are call backs to previous series. And I mean way back. Think not only to Tooth and Claw in 2006 but to 1974’s Monster of Peladon. And so, if we didn’t realise before now, these Who arcana indicate the authorship of Mark Gatiss.

Lounging Red Coat on Mars

As a war story, Red Coats of Mars would have been a better title, because it was mainly about these soldiers, what they wanted, and what they did to get it, and how they left the planet. The subplot about the Colonel was interesting and entirely in keeping, a little like Captain Quell of the Mummy on the Orient Express – a former soldier seeking a quiet life. At this point I feel like I’m outside the Matrix looking in, all I see are types and archetypes (the green code) where others see people. Ah, (pointing to the code) there’s the soldier about to die, because he mentioned returning to his fiance. Look, (again pointing to the code) the catalyst in the form of a soldier after the loot.

Action figure Red Coat on Mars

Perhaps the Red Coats, with their camp, military hierarchy, industry, and social mores, were the most convincing part of the entire shenanigans. Because, once off the ice, the titular character barely got time to apprehend what was going on, decide on a plan, and order an attack, before being taken hostage like she was a mere human queen beholden to a werewolf, and not actually the fabled Ice Warrior leader herself. Carapace instead of character development, methinks.

Yes, it was all old-fashioned jolly fun I suppose. As per usual Peter Capaldi did his best, with his Doctor placed, once more in a position to attempt to negotiate understanding between humans and ‘the other‘. Yet perhaps the stakes weren’t high enough, nor his arguments that convincing given the faith of the Reds and the zeal of the Ice Warriors. It took ‘Friday’ and the ‘Colonel’ – to actually get different outcome.

Again Michelle Gomez’s Missy was under used, given she would have been an interesting contrast in power to the Empress. Meanwhile Pearl Mackie’s Bill did things and said things when asked, or challenged to. I forget what they were, mainly, but she had one good joke.

Perhaps I’m being a little mean. This was not the worst Gatiss episode of Doctor Who (that award goes to Victory of the Daleks from 2010). Nor was it the best (The Crimson Horror, The Idiot’s Lantern, and The Unquiet Dead). It was middling, with interesting ideas, but no room to fully explore them, nor lead them to a hearty resolution. Don’t get me wrong. I just wanted more of consequence from this. More cross-examination of Catchlove, and more for Iraxxa to do, and yes, something more for Bill beyond offer an opinion as the literally the only other woman on an entire planet.

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Doctor Who: Here’s a thought

Themes in Doctor Who repeat because history repeats, and stories do too, as per The Lie of the Land.

I am endlessly interested in how stories are in and of their time but also universal, cosmic, mythical. How any story set today can refer to ‘fake news‘ but also be about the first story humans learn and repeat: the mother daughter plot.

There can be any amount of throw away lines like the one above to demonstrate The Doctor’s world being in touch with the zeitgeist but the bigger picture consists of long games: human history as a series of extremist and fascistic bumps in the road we forget, and repeat. But beyond the sociopolitical forces at work over time is the question of what it is to be human. One of the ways is how we invent stories and people, or reinvent those who are no longer here, that is Bill re-imagining her long dead mother.

So while The Doctor gave her the photos so Bill could see her, Bill did the work of reinventing her. This does skate close to the ‘love is the answer’ solution as per many episodes, but this is more like ‘imagination is the answer’, which is also, to be honest, quite the plot of late. Once more superior story telling and the love of a daughter for her (unreal) mother save the day. Why must so many mothers have to be dead to save the story?

An imagined mother daughter bond saves the world.

The Silence of the Lambs scenes with Missy in the vault gave the story the oomph it needed, even if she restrained her murdering tendencies long enough for Bill to become the Clarice stand in. And her truth bomb about The Doctor was apt too. It revealed the flaw of this episode. Which leads me to agreeing with the A.V. Club:imagine if The Doctor had actually sided with the Monks as influenced by their mind control? Imagine Bill, Nardole and Missy working together to save and rehabilitate The Doctor and then fight the invasion. That makes for a darker, riskier, and more interesting episode for such a big build up. By the conclusion Bill, Missy and The Doctor would have been facing their demons and guilt over murder and attempted murder, rather than just Missy.

The psychic projection of the merino sheep doesn’t have the same ring.

But we’ve seen alternate militaristic hell-scapes before, through the eyes of both Donna and Martha. Bill’s particular version reminded me a little of the future fascist-vampire world under Hal in the second to last series of Being Human (UK), what with the decor and insignia. Being Human went (because it could) to one of the most taboo things a person (or ghost) could do to save the world, led by the hand by the person it needed to happen to. It was bleak. And while the vampire future folded in on itself, the sacrifice to stop it had consequences that continued to be felt in later episodes in the current world.

Maybe, as a function of its ‘family friendly’ status, I don’t feel this with Doctor Who. Bill attempted to murder The Doctor. This should have emotional and psychological consequences beyond a 3000 word essay on free will, although I can’t fault the performances of Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi.  But the episode leaves a lot of stuff swept under the carpet: like should there be consequences for The Doctor spouting Monk propaganda? And, how about the fact the Monks killed and imprisoned people, and didn’t unwind time as well as memories. Are victims forgotten, or are their deaths rewritten? Is everyone charged with a memory crime released?

Perhaps, the problem is that this episode sells the premise well enough, but we’ve been told over the two previous episodes not to trust the world. Thus, this rescue doesn’t seem quite as believable as it should. A part of me wishes this wasn’t so much the rescue as much as just another subroutine in the Monk model universe. Although with the impending return of the Ice Warriors and ye olde Cybermen maybe this isn’t the usual Who universe at all, just a repeating, looping, self referential one.

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Review: Much have I seen and known

Maybe at another time I will provide a more considered and thorough critique of the following film and its performances, but right now it is too much with me and all I’ve got are raw feelings.

Do you remember when you were young? When you rushed home from school full of energy, even after an hour on the bus, and watched Monkey Magic, then re-enacted all the martial arts moves with your younger brothers, because the days were long and the life in your very sinews couldn’t be contained for the thrill of it? And maybe the neighbours at the farm across the road five kilometres away called to ask what’s going on and all it was, was us, sounding our barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world?

No? Just me then?

War and life lessons with Diana in Wonder Woman.

For a moment that’s how I felt watching Wonder Woman. And I could tell others felt the same, what with the tween girls doing cartwheels in front of the screen after the film ended. Yes, I wanted to say, that’s it exactly: because this film is about the earnestness and idealism of youth and how it energises everything and everyone, even in the very worst of circumstances.

I will drink
Life to the lees

 

But this film is also about how so quickly youth and idealism are sacrificed and how mostly there is no time to mourn their passing because we are too busy suffering, growing, and falling.

All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone

 

And so, while I remember when I was the girl who flew through the air and won (second) best on court in netball once when I was 12, I can’t be her again. Mostly, because time and how my knee (still) reminds of the netball injury when I was 21.

The lesson here for Diana, and me, is that time passes, but sometimes we still remember that which we were. So I recall how oh my god how I high I flew against much taller goal attack Jodie that Friday night, decades ago. I was something. Sometimes, I want to go back. When life was simpler and there was so much I didn’t understand. Before thousands of dollars worth of dental work, death and accidents, before broken hearts and failure. And that’s another thing Diana learns. Leaving childhood is permanent.

Look, me winning netball laurels for most improved one year.

Of course, Diana is supposedly changed through her experience, but unlike me, she gets to keep her skills and strength and vitality. Thus, once this odd cinematic joie de vivre goes, I’ll return to the daily battles against my physical limitations, cynicism, helplessness, and grief, railing always in my weariness against making:

…an end,
To rust unfurnished, not to shine in use!

 

That’s another part of this. Longing to be of use, for adventure and adrenalin. Even from me, whose most dare-devil risk taking has been bungee jumping and the kind of innocent youthful exploits I’m glad occurred before mobile phone footage. Or, if none of the above, to achieve something of significance.

And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought

 

Anywho…

There is much to think on and feel, about this film and the performances and plot and everything else. However, I got something from it I hadn’t expected, and don’t really know what to do with: a restless ardour that even now is fading. And, I mourn for it as it leaves since I don’t want to be weak, or fatigued, or cynical. But I suppose, if I can be at all like an ancient Greek hero or Tennyson’s Ulysses:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield
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