A beach, somewhere

A short story inspired by viewing ‘Loose and Limbic’ by Claire Lefebvre.

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The four of us walked in silence, making a staggered line down the path. Tall, mismatched fences on either side led us forward. There was a child’s laughter echoing from the left and a raised voice in the distance, a language we didn’t understand, but still we seemed alone on that path. We emerged and, before us, the pebbles stretched out to become the shore and then the ocean. A slight chill breeze and a smell of salt washed over us, all was a pale, ripply stillness. We made our way to the water’s edge, passing over gentle rises and dips, like the swelling of small waves frozen in time. There were signs of past visitors – a fisherman’s net poking up through the pebbles, crusty with salt and loose edges fraying; a weathered child’s bicycle, it’s once bright plastic worn pale and brittle; a discarded hat with an obscure logo and indecipherable Greek letters. But still, we were the only people. There was a dog. He was slim but not starving, with short caramel tan fur. He happily hung his tongue out the side of this mouth and approached us with a wagging tail. We petted him and he followed us down the beach.  

I placed my hand on the wet pebbles, they were smaller at the shore, ground down to pieces of unrecognisable material, little specks of colour here and there. The water was cold and clear. As it washed over me it seemed to make my hand more real. I picked up a little rock, pale pink, marbled with white. While I turned it over, running my thumb over its smooth surface, I sensed movement behind me and without looking jumped up and away, just missing an attempted splash. A half smile invited retaliation. I put the rock in my pocket and a war of sorts ensued.

The sun started to set and an unspoken peace ended the battle, slightly breathless, we all looked out to the horizon: each silent, each thinking, each absorbing. Colours slowly morphed the once empty, pale blue horizon. The ripples of movement on the water caught the light and threw it back to the sky. Then one of us launched a pebble into the ocean. It plopped in with a splash and rippled outwards, for a second disturbing the stillness, bringing us out of our own heads. And then it’s a race to find bigger, better pebble. I threw a small one to see how far it could go. Someone found a round flat one and managed three skims along the water before it went under.

I looked up to see Molly sitting on a slight rise, the dog at her side, she still looked out over the water. Her pale pink hair was almost the same colour of the setting sky, her grey oversized jumper matched in with the pebbles, she was still, apart of the landscape. I spotted a nice, big rock and I threw it as far into the water as I could. It didn’t go far but it was satisfyingly loud. The splash reached up, the ripples swelled out and then it was gone. It was never there. Just like when we left that place on the beach, there were no ripples of our being there, not a photograph taken, not even a forgotten hat. Maybe that’s why I pocketed the pink pebble.

We laughed at the deep thudding splash. Was it nervous laughter erupting from disturbing the otherwise peaceful landscape or joy from making a change, showing we exist, we are here?

I sat next to Molly and the boys continued to try to find bigger rocks. I think Molly and I may have spoken a little, but we were both lost in thought, lost in the horizon. The light lost colour slowly, it faded to a pale wash of pink and orange, then into deep blues and darkened. Although I didn’t see him leave, the dog was gone. With the last of the light we made our way slowly through the path again and back to the car. Now that place is just memories, and a little pink rock I lost long ago.

Unseen Spaces in Highlight

A little while ago I went to the exhibition and talk by Shaun Tan at Tinning Street Presents, “Every Place is the Same”. And as I read Murakami now, those images are coming back to me. They both share an interest in the relationship between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Tan’s landscapes, often those urban spaces you see every day, become a place of whimsy and beauty – showing their potential to be extraordinary.

Murakami’s work is no less whimsical or beautiful, but almost a direct opposite. As he shows us the ordinary in the extraordinary. The easy acceptance of the impossible, makes it seem almost every day.

Can we constantly be in these two states? Schrödinger’s thought experiment was to disprove using the Quantum mechanical superposition state on everyday objects, but perhaps we can – in a more metaphysical sense. We are both ordinary and extraordinary, until observing the system forces the system to collapse and forces the object into just one of those possible states.

Or perhaps there is just two type of people as Murakami writes in “A Wild Sheep Chase”“Now people can generally be classified into two groups: the mediocre realist and the mediocre dreamers.” (page 180)

But then what would I know, “It’s an illusion that we know anything at all.” (page 125)

I love to read a Murakami novel in those in-between places, clinical by nature, like airports and hotel bars – where time is meaningless. Those sort of places I can see Tan painting into something extraordinary.

Even better if I have something warm to sip when I read lines like “In which there is nothing” (page 85). There’s truth in a lot of what he says, especially, “The second whisky is always my favourite.” (page 100).

I may be buying a bottle of Nikka Whisky From the Barrel when I finish this book.

Threads to Bare

I just wanted to share the art joy that is the Jealous Curator blog and podcast.

The art is stunning and the gracious and modest voice of the curator inspiring, with a genuine interest in the people behind the art.

The feature art of this post is inspired by ‘Art for your Ear’ episode no.58 ‘comfortable in my skin’, with Erin M. Riley – I’m calling the image ‘Threads to Bare’. It’s ink on paper and acrylic on canvas, in a digital creation. 

Listen and enjoy.

 

Walking in Both Directions

I had seen Emily Ferretti’s work at the Sophie Gannon Gallery, so when I heard she was launching an art book, ‘Walking in Both Direction‘ I had to go along.

The sun was blasting down on my walk to the Gertrude Glasshouse, and I was red faced and sweaty when I arrived, but inside was cool and fresh.  Slightly nervous, and probably even redder than before, I brought a book and asked for a signature, silently appreciating our taste in hats. 

Ahh the smell of a new book. It’s beautifully produced. A lovely way to enjoy work such as these.

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Emily Ferretti: PARKS-SOPHIE GANNON GALLERY- JUNE 2015

Poetry in Paint

It’s hard not to compare John Olsen’s paintings to poetry. His lines lyrically travel over the canvas, the varied colours bringing either subtle beauty or dramatic power. In The You Beaut Country at the NGV, you can see Olsen’s work and T.S Eliot’s words come together with a natural affinity.

Not only had I come to see Olsen’s works, but also to hear Ben Quilty’s talk. A great artist in his own right whose painting of Margaret Olley is one of my favourite Archibald winners.

Ben Quilty started the talk by mentioning the negative review by Robert Nelson. Quilty asks why anyone would write a bad review about art in Australia. As he says, ‘Why would anyone want to stop people going to a gallery?’

It’s true that art needs all the support it can get but we also need truthful critics.

During the Q&A, one person mentions that we should all write a review. This seems a lot closer to a solution. We are all so different, why give only certain people the power over the critique. Let’s share our thoughts. Let’s have a conversation.

I would like to share one sentence from the aforementioned review, John Olsen retrospective: mildly entertaining at best by Robert Nelson.

“His tumultuous panoramas spread out in convulsive swings and encounters, making us think of streets, places and ratbags, the nooks and monstrosities that surge and eddy with random impulse; but at the same time, this hubbub of a life teeming in its crannies is also pure painting, nothing but marks of painterly spontaneity that read as an abstract gestural language on a flat surface.”

A lovely description that loses me at the end. I don’t see anything wrong with art that is gestural mark making. Art is a way we can work through thoughts bigger than words, how we can communicate emotion, how we can try to make sense of the world or ourselves. Quilty tells us that a couple of weeks ago Olsen’s wife, Katherine, passed away. In this terrible time, Olsen has made more work in the last couple of weeks than he has for a while. Art is there to express the best and help us through the worst of moments. Does it need to be anything else?

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Head in the Clouds

A look into Neuroaesthetics

I was looking up at the clouds the other day, finding pictures where I could. It’s something I haven’t done for a while. Flooding me with memories of childhood, summer days, itchy grass and laughter. I noticed that in trying to interpret obscure images within the clouds I found myself remembering moments and images I had thought long forgotten. This is one of the reasons art holds such an appeal to me – it’s ability to trigger memories and emotions.
Our whole lives are filtered and interpreted by our brains. Just looking at one picture is a complicated journey, containing twists and turns all completed in half a second. From photoreceptors absorbing light, electrical signals traveling along neuronal pathways, through the thalamus and relayed to different processing areas of the brain. One of the pathways visual information can take is known as the ‘What?’ pathway. It is here that long-term memories can be activated by visual input. The potential memories are only brought to mind if the neurons are activated. So if an image is unknown, but has certain visual tags, it can spark up the correlating memories.
I’m getting a little into Neuroaesthetics here, the study of the brain in relation to aesthetics. Can we look into the brain to explore and understand our relationship with art? It’s a question that has gained popularity but not without some criticism. Including from neuroscientist Bevil Conway and musicologist Alexander Rehding. They have said “it is an open question whether an analysis of artworks, no matter how celebrated, will yield universal principles of beauty” and that “rational reductionist approaches to the neural basis for beauty … may well distill out the very thing one wants to understand.” (Neuroaesthetics and the Trouble with Beauty) Both of these criticisms seem to have assumed that the aim is beauty. When I tend to agree with Brown and Dissanayake:
“Aesthetic emotions are unquestionably an integral part of the arts, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient to characterize them. Thus, a narrow focus on aesthetic responses is ultimately a distraction from the larger picture of what the arts are about.”
I’m not interested in hearing a right/wrong manual for art and beauty – not that it would even be possible. I am interested in furthering a discourse on art. Perhaps as Brown and Dissanayake suggest the term should be Neuroartsology.

Another criticism  findings as Matthew Rampley writes in ‘The Seduction of Darwin’. “…at best it merely adds an additional discursive layer; familiar aesthetic concepts are redescribed using the vocabulary of neurology.”
The idea that impressionism triggers a more emotional response is a familiar concept, however it is further explained with neuroscience. Patrick Cavanagh discusses it in “The artist as neuroscientist”:
“Brain imaging of subjects presented with faces expressing fear show that the amygdala (a centre of emotion) responds strongly to a blurry version of the faces. In contrast, areas responsible for conscious face recognition respond weakly to blurry faces and best to faces presented in sharp detail. Impressionist works may connect more directly to emotional centres than to conscious image-recognition areas because the unrealistic patchwork of brush strokes and mottled colouring distract conscious vision.”
That could be seen as a new description of an old concept, but knowing the why is a necessary step in understanding human behaviors and exploring art’s potential. With technology improving and more study there’s a lot of potential to find.

I’m just beginning my journey into Neuroaesthetics. I have a lot more reading ahead.

The Anticipation of a Break

The art: The State of Being Three
By Eugene Choi
Seventh Gallery

The purpose of art, particularly contemporary art, is something I’ve been contemplating. A wrestling match of contradictions. Does it even need a purpose? Probably not. But as a creator I find I do and as a viewer I often impart my own purpose into the reading of a piece.

As I look at ‘The State of Being Three’ my mind goes through it’s own journey. First second, I don’t like it. What is this? Flowers suspended within a metal structure. Next second, I see the layered plaster on the floor. I feel the apprehension of the flowers 20161210_160851
dropping. Can see it all smashing. Suddenly the fragility of the flowers becomes apparent. The metal structure, so strong, and yet it surrounds the flowers without supporting. Next the type of flowers adds it’s own story. King Proteas have a large flower head, a sharp bowl with a velvet softness. They are not a fragile flower. Perhaps the artist chose them for 
their long vase-life, but I like to think it’s because they have adapted to survive fire. They have a thick underground stem containing dormant buds that produce new growth after a fire. I had only just received a couple of these flowers for my birthday, so I felt a connection.

 

After making my own reading, the next stage is to read the statement by the artist. It’s
such a genuine voice that comes through. I feel her vulnerability, just as I did in the work, as she tries to ‘find comfort on this metaphorical structure’.

I realise as I go through this process that it is this evolving narrative that draws me to art. Everyone will bring their own perspective to the reading, perhaps sculpting a slightly clearer understanding of the world or the humans within it, just as the artist is sculpting to try to understand or articulate what they feel.  

So while what I see may not be the purpose of the work, it still tells me a story. In ‘The State of Being Three’ I read: “although I may seem fragile and about to fall and break – I don’t need to look strong to survive – I will bloom after the fire”.