Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last day 'At the Frontier' Friday 18 November 2011

My last morning at Room 418 at the Goodearth Hotel - I got up early (for me), cast a sad backwards glance at my light-flooded room, then jumped on Brian the bike. I cycled quite a ways towards Peppermint Grove - I got past Matilda Bay and the University of Western Australia and up a hill and looked back towards town

and realised, with a catch in my throat, that I wasn't going to be able to make my destination.  Not if I wanted to hear this guy

speak. And I did.  I really really did.  So I turned tail and rode back east along the north bank of the Swan and got to the Heath Ledger Theatre just in time to hear Ross Gibson in excellent form, speaking on 'Systems of Feeling':

How indeed. Art, according to Ross, taking his cue from other root words like 'articulation' and 'arthritis', is a joint, a place where a 'turn' occurs, a point at which some move on the part of the recipient/participant can take place, taking them from their received self to... something, somewhere, someone else. Perhaps museums can be organised, designed, articulated so that these halts can occur, these transformations can be given space.

He then used a bunch of lines from 'All Day Permanent Red' (2003, Faber and Faber) by the poet Christopher Logue, I think these lines:

     Drop into it.
Noise so clamourous it sucks.
You rush your pressed-flower hackles out
To the perimeter.
     And here it comes:
The unpremeditated joy as you
- The Uzi shuddering warm against your hip
Happy in danger in a dangerous place
Yourself another self you found at Troy -
Squeeze nickel through that rush of Greekoid scum!
Oh wonderful, most wonderful and then again more wonderful
a bond no word or lack of words can break,
Love above love!

(Which made me very happy, this book and Logue's 'War Music' being 2004 birthday presents from Mark Scillio and Bruce Woolley, back when we were reading The Iliad together)

The Logue shows the transformative experience - 'yourself another self you found at Troy' - and eloquently expresses its in-the-moment invulnerability to articulation - 'a bond no word or lack of words can break'.  Ross' question was, when the visitor/participant/audience returns from the sublime, 'What happens when the thinking starts again?'

What can be done for the turn from the aesthetic to the semantic?  How can it be supported, braced, held?

He gave us a lot more did Ross Gibson, and he left us with an image of Pablo Fernandes de Queiros, a Portuguese navigator who in 1606 went into a forest on a Pacific island and emerged transformed.

"What happened in that forest?"


Also speaking on this last morning was Masaaki Morishita, author of 'The Empty Museum', speaking about the beginning of the cultural rescue operation that has been happening in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of March of this year.

His talk was called 'Rescuing 'cultural properties, etcetera' after the tsumani in north-eastern Japan'.

I initially thought that the 'etcetera' was a bit unwieldy in that title but as Masaaki-san said:

In response to a question about the digitisation (that is, photographs and information about objects being recorded on-line) of the collections being rescued, his response was:

Another question was, 'how can we help?' and he seemed taken aback by that offer.  My hand is up.


I needed to miss the mid-morning sessions, for the arrival in Perth of three very good reasons:



And of course

So off we went to Alternating Currents at PICA, where the lads really enjoyed Taro Izumi's giant messy game.  Then they went off to find the first accommodation for our shared holiday, and I returned to the last afternoon of the conference.

In the last session, Frank Howarth mused on the possibility of

that is, a global one, with ICOM (the International Council of Museums) being one contender, and the AAM (the American Association of Museums) being the other.

And the last paper of the conference was very sobering - an account by Professor Peter Read of differing approaches taken in Chile to represent the years of terror under the Pinochet regime. The question being, how do representations help or hinder the process of reconciliation? He particularly looked at a location, 'Londres 38', where horrific torture and murder had taken place, and, post-Pinochet, the difference between the individual and state representations of what had occurred there.

He called for us to consider these complexities when faced with remembering and representing trauma in our local spaces, and reminded us of the message of the voiceless:

"Do not forget me."

This statement was relayed in this conference particularly strongly by Lily Hibberd (her focus is on prisoners and prisons), Andrea Witcomb, Maasaki Morishita, and Peter Read.  I salute them all.

Conference over, I sauntered off into the strong West Australian sun for the next adventure.

But that's another story.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Remaining 'At the Frontier' - day 3 Thursday

So.  Funny thing. This evening, after the conference session featuring John Ford (he makes light: see below), I cycled back here to the Goodearth hotel, phoned my favourite people in the world, then sauntered back outside and caught the (free!) Red Cat bus into the centre of town.  Carelessly, almost whistling, did I scoot a left off Beaufort, see this

(Nice, eh?) and then with a spring in my step, sashay up to the Western Australian Museum to enter the conference dinner being held there.  The pace is abuzz.  The girl on the door says, where's your green ticket?  Oh, I say, I don't got a green ticket.  Step inside, she says, and get your green ticket from my colleague inside (she doesn't really say 'colleague', I have just forgotten the name she did say.  Shame does that.)  Colleague inside checks my rego and says, well no actually, you were registered for the opening drinks, but not for the dinner. Ah.  Great Yap-sized stone penny drops.  Ah, that's right.  I hadn't registered for the dinner, just for the opening drinks, but by a sort of event dyslexia (tastes like Fruity Lexia) I'd hypnotised myself into believing I'd booked for the dinner as well.  And no wonder.

They were having a ball in there.

My subconscious jealousy took on physical form, but just for a moment, and became again a meek mouse just before biting this gentleman's happy drinking head off. So just as well.

So off I toddled.  Popped into 'Poppo Korean and Japanese', had a Sapporo and some quite nice tempura. And I gotta say, it's been pretty nice back here.

BUT.  What happened today, Bernard, at the actual conference?

Ah well - the Plenary session (ah, I just looked that up - it means that everyone is there, versus the other sessions where you make a choice and see one session of a bunch that are running concurrently - but not in Cloncurry) featured Andrea Witcomb talking first, about the difficulty of 1) 'dark tourism' -  sites of horror, depravity and terror (ie prisons, Holocaust memorials) and 2) the problems about roleplay at such sites, which aims for identification and empathy on the part of the audience but often

She spoke of the necessity of making sure that if the audience has the opportunity to FEEL, then that they also have the chance to THINK. That aesthetics and information in tandem can produce disquiet, and in that case, our institutions allow the possibility of transformation. Transformation.  Blimey, Andrea, that's what art does.


Susan Cross then gave a rousing mid-game talk to us assembled storytellers:

And then we heard from Denis Byrne

who is an archaeologist from the Office of Environment and Heritage in New South Wales. He had amazing things to say about Bali ('our Spain') and the dehistoricising that we practice when we go there for a holiday on 'paradise island', particularly the invisibility of Suharto's military coup which killed half a million people in anti-communist purges in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966. 

He also spoke of the mythologising Walter Spies and of his own mapping of Aboriginal alternative cartographies across colonised spaces in southern coastal New South Wales. Amazing stuff.

Around lunchtime I snuck off to the Art Gallery of Western Australia to use my free ticket to see Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600- 1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was great and really put me in mind of 'Yiwarra Kuju (One Road)', the Canning Stock Route Aboriginal art exhibition of yesterday, Similarly, as a visitor, you were piecing together people and art and families and dynasties, arranging the information and the art and the stories into a big picture of time and place, which, it just occurs to me know, is probably distance-wise the same sort of size in both exhibitions.

While I was there I thought I'd check out their sequential art, so I was tossed about by Sidney Nolan's epic comic strip Desert Storm and amused by David Hockney's 1960s retelling of Hogarth's A Rake's Progress.  I said hello to some old friends, William Blake's 'Book of Job' etchings and some ukiyo-e prints from the school of Aktagawa.

Back at the conference, I found out about an amazing web resource which is listing ALL theatre productions done in Australia. Yes, that's right.  What an amazing resource, yes?  Yes.  It's AusStage and it's here.  Have a look for that amdram (got that term from John Holden on Tuesday) show you did in the 80s.

Finally, as promised, I saw a session in which my old bud John Ford

who looks nothing like this, spoke about using daylight to illuminate museum and galleries.  Once upon a time it was the main light source of course, and it went out of fashion for a century or so but now it's back.  Brilliantly, John designed the lighting for the building in which the conference is being held, and these days he works for the great lighting company bluebottle.

And as you know, then I cycled off though the rain to get ready not to go to the conference dinner.  I wonder how it's all going over there.

Well, this means that I can go to bed now and hopefully I can get up early enough tomorrow morning for something of a pilgrimmage.  If this means something to you, then you might know where I'm off to.

Ah, the sweetest honey's here. Almost.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Still 'At the Frontier' - day 2 Wednesday

One of the amazing things about the city of block of Perth on which the conference is being held is that, looked at a certain way, EVERYTHING is on it: bordered by Roe, Williams, Francis and Beaufort streets, it contains the State Theatre Centre (where the conference sessions are), AND the Art Gallery of Western Australia AND the Western Australian Museum AND the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA, which I visited yesterday) AND the State Library of Western Australia and something called Arts House too, probably just for good measure.

Above, my afternoon coffee godzillas the Western Australian Museum, which is run by the bloke who spoke first today, Alec Coles. He has been the CEO at WAM for about 18 months, and spoke this morning

about a regional program for the many museums operating in WA, particularly from the viewpoint of his years of experience with a regional approach to museums in the north-east of England. In his talk he was really showing us the many models from which Western Australia might choose to develop the relationships between its museums, particularly those of differing sizes.  In this way it echoed John Holden's talk of yesterday, but with the engagement in this case being between museums, rather than museums-to-visitors.

Next up was Margaret Anderson, from the History Trust of South Australia, who spoke brilliantly about their work in raising the profile of history in South Australia, and their grand gamble in creating a 'History Week' program in the mid 1990s, which took off to such an extent that this year they needed to expand it to a history month (!) whose name you can find above.  She also spoke about an amazing web history project called Bound for South Australia, which is a blog from 1836.  True. Have a look.

I then attended a session about travelling exhibitions, featuring presentations by Catherine Czerw

Jane King, from the Museums Australia WA branch,(but not for very much longer) who delivered the best line I have heard thus far:

And Catherine Belcher from the Geraldton location of the Western Australia Museum whose great-sounding exhibition about mining in the mid-west is going to close on Sunday - I'm going to miss it! Gnn!

All of this talk about shows on the road and remote locations made my feet itchy, so I went over and crunched again on Fujimoto Yuri's 'Broom' at PICA

And checked out the very beautiful 'Perth Cultural Centre Play Space' which is outside the museum, featuring sittable-onnable sculpture and outside musical instruments (David Perkins, these shots are for you...)

And then I cycled Brian down to the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre (actually he and I got lost, and then trapped, in the bus car park underneath it for awhile, but we needn't dwell on that) to go and see

A really quite incredible exhibition which opened in Canberra at the National Museum of Australia earlier in the year, and now it's over here which is its home, because the Canning Stock Route is in WA and so is FORM.  These guys - and it turned out that I knew two of them, and how great to meet Carly Davenport and Monique La Fontaine again - have put six years into the Canning Stock Route project, out of which this major and massive exhibition has developed.  It features paintings from Aboriginal artists from the many language groups along the Route and their stories and songs and films and objects.  It's pretty immersive and amazing and the Canning Stock Route works brilliantly as a central braid that ties together so many stories.  Next it's going to Sydney to the Australian Museum 17 December 2011 - 22 April 2012, so all my easterly friends, plan your trip to Sydney. But really, you should see it here. You have until November 27.  And over here, it's free.

I reckon this exhibition will come to mind each morning that I cycle into Melbourne Museum along the Canning (Street) Bike Route.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

'At the Frontier' day 1 - Tuesday 15 November 2011

So today was the first day of the Museums Australia/ Interpretation Australia joint conference, 'At the Frontier' - all 500 or so of us delegates set off to sea together in the very new Heath Ledger Theatre in the State Theatre Centre (opened in January of this year).

The conference was introduced, we were welcomed to country, the Western Australian Minister for Culture and the Arts declared the conference open, and then we heard from this guy, John Holden, about 'Next Generation Cultures' - it's anarchy, folks, in the UK!

Yes, apparently everyone is.  And museums need less to deliver to their audiences than to find their relationship to their audiences.  In fact 'audience' might not be the right word any more,  What about 'participants'?  This next generation want to: 1) enjoy 2) talk and 3) do, according to John's friend Charlie Leadbeater. So there's that.

Morning tea time! Let's head down the stairs running parallel to Roe Street, shall we?  Yes, lets!

Later in the day I attended a panel called 'Ancient', which was brilliant. Kevin Thiele, the head of the WA Herbarium, hails from 'the east' and is always putting his foot in it with his Perth colleagues with statements like

But he was a great speaker about the challenges faced by herbaria in terms of becoming more open to their audiences/participants.

And Ken Mulvaney

spoke passionately and brilliantly about the rock art petroglyphs on the islands of the Dampier Archipelago - he estimates that there are probably about one million pieces, which would make the archipelago the richest area of such art in the world.  And he eloquently painted a picture of the destruction of such art that happens when we allow development to occur pell-mell.

In the next session, I delivered a petcha kutcha presentation (20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds) about our theatre work at Melbourne Museum over the last 10 years and rather think I stuffed too much in. Ah well.  Also in that session was the wonderful Lily Hibberd, though, talking about her research and writing and artwork interrogating the use of solitary confinement and the persistence of the 'model prison' system in the treatment of prisoners, refugees and mentally ill people for 150 years.  It was chilling stuff, Jeremy Bentham's rotting head being used for a football notwithstanding.

At the end of the day I went to PICA to hear the curators of the exhibition 'Alternating Currents: Japanese art after March 2011' talk about the works on show.  Above, someone 'plays' Fujimoto Yukio's giant record made of charcoal - you walk on it and it crunches. Great.  Curator Hashimoto Azusa commented that Fujimoto-san has said that 'listening is a very creative act'.  I tend to agree.

Looking down from the first floor onto Izumi Taro's massive sugoroku board installation - it was described as a game without beginning or end.  We ended our tour at the 'Yellow Cake Street' cafe, devised by Nadegata Instant Party, which was the PICA bar remade as a...

cafe place to buy yellow cake (delicious) and beer.  I drank and ate and then cycled Brian back home, only realising that I'd overlooked dinner after a phone call to Susan - it's time for a late night visit to the 2 minute noodle shop, folks!  Ahh.  That's better.

Ready for bed and a sleep and a dream and then day #2.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Norcia and talking papers

Artist unknown, early 18th century, head of Saint Benedict.  Wood.
Part of the exhibition, 'The Saints: Ancient + New' at the New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery

Today was my first day of conference-related activities - at 9am outside the brand spanking new State Theatre Centre I jumped into a bus, and Martin Moyle drove a bunch of us museum types (hi Edwina and Craig in the picture above) 130 kilometres north of Perth to a place he described as "a most surprising village out in the middle of the wheat belt".

And by gum but he was right.

We were most privileged to be met by Carmel, the CEO of New Norcia, Margie from the New Norcia Museum, and Dom Christopher Power, one of the monks in residence.

Here he is, telling us the story of the way pictorial representations of New Norcia proved a vital means for one of founders, Dom Rosendo Salvado to convince people back in Europe to donate to the monastery town.  And throughout his never less than charming, informative and funny narrative, Dom Chris kept reminding us that financial survival remains a constant challenge for the community.

He introduced us to New Norcia's full-time archivist, Peter.  Dom Chris explained that the archive was anything but a place for 'old moths', that indeed it was a 'glamour department' of the town.  Peter explained that he has plenty to work with because

Sound like my kinda guys.  We saw remarkably painted and appointed chapels, we saw an exhibition detailing the interactions of the monks with the local Aboriginal people, the Yuat (Moorara-Moorara) people, whose language Dom Bernard Rooney has compiled a dictionary for, we saw the olive press shed and the olive orchard, the restored blacksmithy, we ate lunch at the New Norcia Hotel (good ale!) and we scooted through the museum because we ran out of time.

And now I sip (swig, you mean!) at a VERY good New Norcia Abbey Vintage Port 2004 - thick and sweet and fruity - and reflect on some words from Dom Rosendo Salvado, really the main founder of the monastery in 1846 (recall that Perth itself was founded in 1829):

"This is an appropriate place to mention the kind of veneration which the natives have for books or any papers with writing - 'talking papers' as they call them.  They credit them with an almost magic power of revealing hidden things..."

The title of a plan drawing of the layout of the town - Norcia was the original birthplace of Saint Benedict, so here, two hours drive from Perth, would be the new one.

Back in Perth, it was time for the conference opening/welcome drinks at the Perth Town Hall, and boy, were they welcome!  Brian the bike and I swerved back down Adelaide Terrace to my hotel (the Goodearth - thanks Pearl S. Buck) to have a cuppa and prepare for the 'petcha kutcha' (Japanese for 'chit chat') presentation which I'm giving tomorrow afternoon and which is entitled, 'But is it Real?'


Is it?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Way out West

Yep, fresh from WA, here comes the news from Perth. I'm over here this week to attend a Museums Australia/ Interpretation Australia conference called 'At The Frontier' - I'm guessing a whole lot of people in the museum world have come to Perth for this, come over like Brownes' cows. I have been part-funded for this by Melbourne Museum, where I work part-time, so that makes sense.

Today was Sunday, and quite blowy - a westerly I think, coming up the Swan River.

I was looking to hire a bike to get me around, so I thought I'd ask at that tall pointy thing ahead.

 Turns out that it is The Bell Tower, home of the Swan Bells and "probably the largest musical instrument in the world", and furthermore, because this weekend is Heritage Perth's Heritage Days, it's free to go in.  So I go in.  It's a pretty amazing place, you can climb stairs all the way to the top of those sail things and look down over the river or over Perth

 and see what's been going on here recently - oh, I do love that word, CHOGM.

Some of the bells are pretty big. Pretty big.  And today they were ringing constantly, and the whole place was shaking, almost subliminally, underfoot.  It was great.  And, the people there knew where the bike hire place was!

I dropped into the Old Court House Law Museum to see painter Thomas Hoareau talk about his picture 'John Gaven Parkhurst boy #422 - Appears a very good lad' from the exhibition 'Heroes or Villains of the Swan?' which just opened there last week.  15 year old Gaven was the first European hanged in Western Australia.

There were lots of open public buildings, including the Perth Town Hall where there was an exhibition about Perth hosting the 1962 Commonwealth Games, and 'leaving the lights on' earlier in that year for astronaut John Glenn to glipse as he passed over in Friendship 7.

Some of the public art really grabbed me, too, like Anne Neil's 2006 'Memory Markers'

On the border of the Stirling Gardens on Barrack Street.

As a ink-dip nib user myself, to see these big ones

 was pretty exciting. And around the corner on St George's Terrace, I was really amused by these

Posted by PicasaFor which I couldn't find the name of the artist.  But look, the tip of the one lying on the ground

is even crumpled! - great, eh?  Well enough of all this art and culture and heritage - I need a way to get around, and David Byrne is always talking about how good it is to have a bike in a foreign land.  And you know?  He's right!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Brian.  As in, "a brown like Brian".

Tomorrow, New Norcia. But not by bike.