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Culture Scouts Delves into Dark Mofo

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Culture Scouts Delves into Dark Mofo

Everything to see in the unexpected at Hobart's Dark Mofo arts festival

Everything to see in the unexpected at Hobart's Dark Mofo arts festival

By Anabel Dean

The day after Culture Scouts completed its Dark Mofo arts festival tour of Tasmania there was a banner headline across the front page of The Mercury newspaper.

“Nothing to See Here,” it shouted in bold letters. The Australian artist Mike Parr had ended his performance ‘with a whimper’ after spending 72 hours buried in an underground tomb beneath Macquarie Street in Hobart.

While Parr was meditating, drawing and reading Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, with air and water but no food, our intrepid band of Culture Scouts raged above ground in three heady days of festivities.

Our exploration of Dark Mofo – the midwinter music and arts festival produced by the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) – could not have been more different to that of Mike Parr. There was ‘everything to see’ in the unexpected, shocking, darkly amusing, weird and wonderful mix of high art and avante-garde, around a city that refuses to hibernate in winter. There was so much to eat, drink, experience and contemplate that we could have done with a few more days to restore balance before returning to Sydney.

The fire pits of the Winter Feast are a warming hub at dark arts Mofo

The fire pits of the Winter Feast are a warming hub at dark arts Mofo

Dark Mofo, now in its sixth iteration, aims to unsettle. It invites visitors to revel in the frenetic energy that exists between opposite poles of light and dark; to get lost in creative expression; be bewildered and inspired and renewed.

For us, liberation and rejuvenation began the moment that we stepped away from the open fire at our elegant hotel, MACQ01, and into the dark unknown of a chilled winter’s night. It was cocktail hour and, like hundreds of other cultural tourists, we flocked to the docks (past the huge neon red, inverted crucifixes along the waterfront) for the opening of the coveted Winter Feast and Dark Park.

The wildly popular and kind-of pagan Winter Feast is the flaming centrepiece of Dark Mofo. Princes Wharf 1 was alive with foodie stallholders, as far as the eye could see, with offerings of top quality Tasmanian produce.

Pagan revelry by candle light on the opening night of the Winter Feast

Pagan revelry by candle light on the opening night of the Winter Feast

Long candle-lit tables were held tightly so we wandered outside to roaring fire pits under trees festooned with lights. We embraced the wet weather – well, you had to really - and only the barbecue roasting of a whole Scottish Highland cow stopped conversation for longer than a few seconds. That, and an unexpected unearthing of MONA’s owner David Walsh in a curtained inner sanctum, where he observed that art appreciation is always best in a state of inebriation.

It probably depends which artwork you’re considering at any time but Dark Park, the public art playground at Macquarie Point, succeeded in its promise to shake the foundations of the seen and unseen, the natural and man-made world. Matthew Schreiber’s laser installation Leviathan, and United Visual Artists’ light and sound celestial installation Musical Universalis, might just end up being the two most repeated images on Instagram this year.

Matthew Schreiber's Leviathan was a show stopper at Dark Park

Matthew Schreiber's Leviathan was a show stopper at Dark Park

Some of us ventured a little out of the CBD - and a hell-of-a-lot further from the real world - to experience The Chalkroom at Domain House. This virtual reality adventure in an empty building allowed us to fly through words and letters graffitied on walls in a 3D city of drawings and stories suspended in space. It was out there. As was Laurie Anderson’s offering upstairs called Drones, the sonic installation of amps and guitar feedback bouncing off walls, a project created with riffing from Lou Reed’s 1975 album Metal Machine Music.

Persistent rain failed to dampen spirits at Night Mass: the labyrinthine all-night cultural precinct featuring more than 100 performers across five venues, with dance, electronic, rock’n’roll, classical music, and a whole lot in between.

We were pleased that nocturnal revelry did not keep Culture Scouts from their early morning pilgrimage to the brightest hotspot of all: MONA. And what a way to start the next day. A chilled glass of champagne in a ferry posh pit (private lounge) with smoked trout and watermelon muesli canapés all the way down the Derwent River to Berriedale.

Early morning champagne and canapes on the Posh Pit ferry ride to MONA

Early morning champagne and canapes on the Posh Pit ferry ride to MONA

MONA, of course, is a story all on it’s own. It’s another antidote to closed-mindedness starting, for us, underground in The Void. It came as no surprise that this Triassic sandstone subterranean space has (unusually for a museum) a living wall of moss with water seeping from above, and a cocktail bar.

We passed on the Poltergeist Bramble and opted instead for the continually evolving private collection (called Monanism) with furniture maker and designer, Patrick Hall, as our guide. Hall's installations of secretly opening cabinets like When My Heart Stops Beating (with drawers that say “I Love you” in adored voices including his young son) and Bounty (made almost entirely from the bleached bones of road kill) are personal reflections about human connections.

Artist legend Patrick Hall gives insight into the Monanism collection on the Culture Scouts tour

Artist legend Patrick Hall gives insight into the Monanism collection on the Culture Scouts tour

We understood Hall’s inspiration because, by now, we were feeling connected. The thing we had in common (other than the need to keep warm in the cold hours of a Tassie winter) is our love of art. It’s a glorious and empowering thing to share with others. We won’t let it go.

From love to open head surgery - that’s Walsh’s description of the new Pharos wing - with its corridors of colour and James Turrell’s latest stellar installation Unseen, Seen. Turrell’s works epitomise the idea that MONA (and Dark Mofo) is as much about light as it is about dark. There’s so much here that, really, you just have to experience it for yourself.

Lunch at The Source in MONA

Lunch at The Source in MONA

The Source Restaurant, as always, revived over-stimulated brains (and bodies) with an astonishingly good lunch. We didn’t need more of something good at Moorilla Winery but it was a fitting end to a day at the museum. ‘Walshy’ would have approved.

In our final MONA minutes we gazed in wonderment at James Turrell’s Amarna. This elevated outdoor platform harnessing light and space is described – Walsh again - as being ‘like what God would do if he decided to build a gazebo’. We should all have one of these!

James Turrell's Amarna elevated as if it were God's gazebo

James Turrell's Amarna elevated as if it were God's gazebo

The ferry for Hobart arrived too soon. There was dinner (very nice thank you, Ettie’s restaurant) and eventually, a bed with luxury linen. But we were not yet done.

Katy Woodroffe’s Sandy Bay artist studio turned out to be our final day sweet treat. It was like sharing an intimate moment with your best friend over a plate of nice brownies by the fire. Katy’s stories of life, travel, history, family and creativity had us as spellbound as her exotic acrylic works on paper.

Exploring Katy Woodroffe’s artist studio in Sandy Bay

Exploring Katy Woodroffe’s artist studio in Sandy Bay

A weekend of art, food, conversation and company with Culture Scouts

A weekend of art, food, conversation and company with Culture Scouts

A quick last minute visit to the marvellous Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery gave thoughtful context to Dark Mofo. It helped remind us how we got here (in terms of natural and human history) and where we might go in the future.

Debate still rages about whether Parr’s time in a steel box succeeded in highlighting violence perpetrated against the Indigenous population by white settlers.

Tim Douglas, in The Australian newspaper, described Parr rising from entombment. “There was no bow, nor a wave of acknowledgment. Parr may have staged a vanishing act, but this was no magic show.”

“The applause dissolved into muted awe as Parr, having briefly appeared, again disappeared from view. There was no artist. A shared moment of silence fell across the crowd, and then rose a single voice from the throng. ‘Encore!’”

We, who explored with Culture Scouts, feel the same. We demand a Dark Mofo encore!

 

Anabel Dean is a Sydney journalist and guide with Culture Scouts.

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Artist Jason Wing on weaving culture, heritage and community into public spaces

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Artist Jason Wing on weaving culture, heritage and community into public spaces

"I wanted to create a environment that resembled another place, another world." Artist Jason Wing in front of his Chinatown mural. Photo: Daniel Boud

"I wanted to create a environment that resembled another place, another world." Artist Jason Wing in front of his Chinatown mural. Photo: Daniel Boud

By Lily Keenan

If you’re wandering through Chinatown in Sydney's centre, you might suddenly find yourself in a particularly unusual laneway. Rolling clouds emblazon the floor and walls, while spirit figures lit up brilliantly in blue hover above. Cast against the backdrop of Chinatown’s industrial underbelly, walking through Kimber Lane feels like a journey to another time, if not another world. It’s a fitting experience for a mural that grapples with exactly this feeling of dissociation, reflecting both the artist’s personal experience and a broader commentary on the collision of cultures that takes place in this iconic precinct.

‘Between Two Worlds’ in Kimber Lane is by Sydney-based artist Jason Wing, a prolific multidisciplinary artist who strongly identifies with, and examines, both his Chinese (Cantonese) and Aboriginal heritage (descendant of the Biripi people). Originally a Sydney street artist, Jason creates challenging works that call into question our understanding of history, identity and socio-political reality. He was commissioned to create ‘Between Two Worlds’ in 2012 by the City of Sydney Council, and it remains one of the most visited and photographed public works in Haymarket. We spoke to Jason about the process of creating this work, the symbolism behind its imagery and his personal connection to Chinatown, the newest addition to our Sydney walking tours. 

Culture Scouts: When you’re in the process of making a public work, how do you engage with that place?

Jason Wing: The first step for me is to always just spend time in the place. I sat in Kimber Lane for about two weeks before I even had an idea, I wanted to see how people flow and move through the streets, how people interact, how much time do they spend there, what kind of person moves through, and just how they move in that space. So my first research was just observing the space. The second step is actually talking to the people, talking to shop owners and asking them how they engage with the space, and asking them what they would like to see. That’s where more of the community consultation happens and there’s no substitute for talking to people on the street. The main brief for the mural was just to divert human traffic off Dixon Street into Kimber lane so I wanted to see how people used it in the first place. Consultation is important from the beginning, that’s key to success for everyone involved.

"Between Two Worlds" by Jason Wing. Photo: Jodie Barker

"Between Two Worlds" by Jason Wing. Photo: Jodie Barker

CS: What did you find were the needs and values of the Chinatown community and how did you incorporate this into the work you made in Kimber Lane?

JW: The main theme I found that people wanted was more parkland. They wanted more areas in the city where they couldn’t see high rise buildings. And they really wanted a different space where they no longer felt like they were in the city. So that was the key thing: How do I take an urban landscape and transform it into something not so much a physical park, but a visual park? Because we don’t have access to land in Chinatown, I wanted to create a environment that resembled another world, another place. I wanted to create visual indicators that said “you’re not in the city any more”.

CS: The mural depicts cherub-like creatures and blue clouds down the laneway. Is there an element of spirituality that you are representing?

JW: The spirit figures are a cross between some universal spirituality or some intangible force but in a manga style. A bit like Astro Boy crossed with Monkey Magic. Essentially the laneway is a journey between heaven and earth. So those spirits represent heaven and you’re walking on the earth. I wanted to find a kind of universal spirit but also with a slight nod to Aboriginal culture and a slight nod to traditional Chinese culture as well. But also I had to cater for an international market, so I came up with that design to evoke that. I didn’t want to isolate any culture but I did want to specifically reference Aboriginal and Chinese culture whilst being inclusive of other cultures. So that’s where the spirituality part comes into it. The spirit creatures are neuter gender and they have the third eye. So that to me references the next generation, this modern spirit person.

CS: Being both Chinese and Aboriginal, and ‘between two worlds’ yourself in that sense, is there a personal element to this mural?

JW: It’s for the community because I feel that all multicultural people feel that disconnect. They feel a bit of diaspora. I wanted to speak to that because I feel that, and it’s a very common feeling. Whilst it did start from my personal experience, I saw it as a larger conversation. What is Chinese? What is Aboriginal? How do you classify an ever evolving culture? How do you represent that visually? How do you cater for old and young? It was a tricky brief when you think about it.

Jason's mural transforms into a light installation at night. 

Jason's mural transforms into a light installation at night. 

CS: The lighting element wasn’t in the original plan for the mural, but it’s now a really effective tool for transforming Kimber Lane into a safe and inviting space at night. How did you use light in “Between Two Worlds”?

The lighting component was a creative solution to safety lighting. I found out that there were standard red and yellow lanterns going in and I saw an opportunity to repurpose that budget for the lanterns and offer a design solution instead. I was actually only commissioned to do the pavement as a visual indicator that Kimber Lane is a shared space between cars and pedestrians. I created the spirit figure lanterns as a solution that then opened up the possibility for the mural to take up the entire laneway.

I didn’t want the lighting red or yellow because I needed a point of difference so the mural didn’t get visually drowned out with other red and yellow colours. The elders of the Chinatown community didn’t want blue - red and yellow colours are preferred because they symbolise prosperity. But I convinced them by saying that the colour blue is consistent through all the elements (earth, wind, fire, water) which are very important in traditional Chinese culture. When you multiply clouds quite significantly that also symbolises a never ending form of prosperity, so they really liked that part of the mural. Generally, immortal Gods rode on clouds, if that’s replicated 200 meters long, that’s a very prosperous image despite it not being red and yellow. So the mural didn’t totally conform, but that goes back to the modern Chinese person: We’re a bit different.

CS: How did you develop your passion for art and were there any significant influence(s) that pushed you down this path?

JW: I think I knew as a child that my brain was always geared towards the arts. It was just hard wired that way. I remember my grandma buying me a crayola crayon castle, she could spot that I had talent so she really supported that. Same as my mum who was a primary school teacher and could always see that I liked drawing. In highschool I had a strong connection with my art teacher who was very supportive. Art school just confirmed all of that and then from there it was just obvious that I should be an artist. But actually I left art school and I didn’t make an artwork for 13 years. I worked in bars, did some teaching and then I made my first artwork in 2006. That’s when I knew that I needed to pursue this career because I could see that I could create social change through art.

The spirit lanterns hover on the edges of the lane, inviting onlookers to walk in.

The spirit lanterns hover on the edges of the lane, inviting onlookers to walk in.

CS: What is your personal connection to Haymarket and Chinatown?

JW: Both my Aboriginal and Chinese families used to meet at the Hingara Chinese Restaurant on Dixon Street in Haymarket for a really long time. I first picked up a pea with chopsticks when I was little and the whole table celebrated because I became a man that day. It’s like an initiation of sorts. My Australian-Scottish grandmother met my Cantonese grandfather at a restaurant in Hay street. My grandfather worked at his uncle's restaurant there and my grandma was employed as an Aussie waitress to double their client base. And she just saw my grandfather and said to her other waitress friend, “I’m going to make that man my husband.” And she did. Mind you, this was during the White Australia Policy and mixed marriage wasn’t really that visually present. And so if it wasn’t for that chance encounter on Hay Street I wouldn’t be here.

And also just being raised in a house that has traditional paper cuts and scrolls and swords. So for me, and I think for a lot of Asian people, they feel very familiar. Chinatowns are all over the world. So when you go there, it’s like your little safe place. And it’s nice that you have that option in lots of countries. So it’s a real honour and a privilege to contribute to that cultural fabric in Chinatown.

CS: What’s your favourite spot in Haymarket and Ultimo?

JW: My favourite dumpling place is actually behind the famous Chinese Noodle House in the same complex. I don’t know what it’s called because it doesn’t seem to clearly have a name. The guy who owns it actually owns five restaurants in the same block, including the Chinese Noodle House that Culture Scouts visit in their tour. He’s the guy who plays violin to people as they eat their dumplings. I actually once tried to give him money because I thought he was busking but he refused and then eventually admitted that he owned the restaurant we were sitting in. He’s the boss man! I’ve wanted to approach them to decorate their place but then I thought… it’s so authentic maybe I’d ruin it. I recommend trying the braised eggplant dish and the cucumber salad. And you can’t go past pan fried pork and chive dumplings.

Another great hidden spot is a strange photo sticker arcade room opposite the 4A gallery. You go up these escalators and there’s all these sticker machines, over fifty of them. And they’re like proper make-up labs with soft lighting and special effects. They’re photoshop booths. It’s really interesting and so much fun to create.

Chinese Indigenous artist Jason Wing. Photo: Daniel Boud

Chinese Indigenous artist Jason Wing. Photo: Daniel Boud

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Culture Scouts Explores Sydney Galleries: Newsagency

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Culture Scouts Explores Sydney Galleries: Newsagency

Newsagency Gallery is part of Inner West Open Studio Tour 2018 (IWOST)

All Culture Scouts are suckers for fun gallery finds - and our Inner West team are no different when scouting for our walking tours. When we enter today, the walls of Newsagency Gallery are laden with bright punk pop-art. You could be forgiven for thinking they were from the seventies, except for their relatively new condition.

But these colour soaked prints are in fact reflective of the ever changing politics of Australia’s closest neighbours - south-east Asia and China.

“Cambodia is having a cultural renaissance,” explains Bess, as she points to a bright red and blue Cambodian print, by artist Sticky Fingers. “They were in a real stasis in terms of their art - after Pol Pot. It's having a renaissance now.”

“It’s humorous, some of its naughty; it’s beautiful and intelligent.”

Credit:  Sticky Fingers  for Krack! Studios

Credit: Sticky Fingers for Krack! Studios

Bess O’Malley is the founder and director of the Petersham based gallery, with Jose Herrera acting as assistant curator. She shows Culture Scouts a work by Indonesian artist Bayo Widodo - a green hand reaching up, covered in vines and houses.

Wadodo, a celebrated artist originally from Sumatra, based in Yogyakarta and represented by Louis Vuitton, is one of her favourites that regularly appears in her collection.

Works from Newsagency Gallery, Hendra Harsona, Bayu Widodo, Restu Ratnaningtyas

“Indonesian artists works are anarchist, raw, politicised,” says Bess, pulling more of Widodo’s works from the drawers, filled with prints (which, like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, are seemingly bottomless. “They’re interested in the individual in Yogyakarta - it has a rigorous contemporary arts scene.”

Bess explains to Culture Scouts that this group has grown out of reformasi artists - part of the group that matured as artists during social upheaval at end of the Suharto military dictatorship in the 90’s - and are very heavily into social justice.

“Widodo runs a studio called SURVIVE!Garage which is full of  young anarchist kids in Indonesia who are really progressive,” says Bess.

“They had made artworks to protest the Suharto regime and now they look at  environmental protection in Indonesia, and workers rights and women's rights.”

When asked about the difference between how Australian and South-East Asian artists operate, Bess has a multifaceted answer - first of which is that the cheap cost of living is beneficial to artists growth - “they develop so quickly there!”

“Australia's a little bit lost in privilege.”

She also says that it is important for Australia to see itself in terms of its geographic location: “We’re so eurocentric and we’re not even in Europe - we’re in the middle of the Asia Pacific!”

“South-East Asia is in the most fascinating place politically, and has most interesting contemporary art world. Last decade it was China, now it’s there.”

Sophia de Mestre on Culture Scouts walking tour with Bess O'Malley

Sophia de Mestre on Culture Scouts walking tour with Bess O'Malley

As well as representing and selling works of artists, Newsagency is also heavily involved in Sydney cultural life.

They’ve been involved in Mardi Gras (organising artists Benoit and Bo’s ‘Sydney Love Map’ for their 2015 party).

They also hosts events and parties - perhaps the most exciting of which, is a planned light show soiree that will be celebrating Vivid 2018. Culture Scouts will be there will bells on.

Newsagency Gallery is part of Inner West Open Studio Tour 2018 (IWOST), one of the Sydney local tours run by Culture Scouts

Bo + Benoit 'Sydney Love Map' Credit: Newsagency Gallery

Bo + Benoit 'Sydney Love Map' Credit: Newsagency Gallery

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