Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tune Into Art: National Gallery Performance for the Human Brochure

On 1 November, I was lucky to be part of a unique event at the National Gallery of Australia. Five other acts and I responded to works within the gallery with performances for #canberra Human Brochure "Humans". The "Humans" are local bloggers and social media heavyweights who have been treated through the year to Canberra experiences and encouraged to talk about them online. (I expect they also spend a significant amount of time trying to shake off their awkward moniker.)

I have recently felt compelled to write about my experiences and confusion with Australian masculinity. So, naturally, I was drawn to Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly series. As well as being a fantastic space for performance, the collection showcases many of the modern Australian man's hangups. I responded strongly to two paintings and have included some of my words below.

"Landscape", 1947*

"Landscape" embodies for me many of the symbols of Ned Kelly as the archetypal Australian male: the Aussie dam, beneath a faded sky, with a sunrise or perhaps sunset or maybe fire on the horizon.
Ned Kelly's Birthmark (excerpt)
He is a still top paddock dam at midday, reflecting hard the wheatened light. The hint of a hot wind his mind, ticking like a bush windmill.  
He keeps his vision not much further than his calloused hands, though his squint spans the horizon. He is not a poet; he is a man, a clearer of bush, a confident axe. He hacks stories out of this stump. 
He is a larrikin, a good laugh, and smiles sharp like a man, makes a lark from the misfortune of fools. 
Good with his hands and horses, a bareback rider, a bender of nature’s will. He is clothed in housepaint and built of tightly pressed fibre: big, bold, blocky form on patchy scrub. A post and rail body writing a tale larger than this land. 
A family man’s honour and pride; the mercy of a good, straight shot.
"Ned Kelly", 1946
"Ned Kelly" is probably the most recognisable of the series, consisting of bold shapes on an outback scene. It is also quintessentially Australian. To me, it represents (among other things) foreign settlers stamping their marks on an unmoved landscape.
This Land is Possessed 
What are we doing, plastered on this land? Belligerent, ignorant colours to make peacocks blush, we are Narcissus, fixed on our own image, ignoring the river that midwifed us, the wattle kneeling beside us, the towering ghost gums mouthlessly shouting “look! the sky!” behind us; tall in our own selves, blind to these timeless reminders. 
We have forgotten our roots, what it is to dig our toes into this earth. We limit time touching the dirt; we cover our feet; we run to speed up the globe, escape our shadows, see our faces in the mirror of the next day’s sun. 
Shouting to ourselves “look at this! It is me. Look at all I own and all I’ve done.”
Disdaining the outstretched hands of those who are one with this land, we look for trackers to trace the marks we make over this ground, not remind us of the narrative lines pulsing underground, the loudest story living without sound.
Brashly brandishing our minor edit as though it alone was an epic tome and not a footnote. We are a dot on an i in an infinite plot but we hog the light, covet front of stage. 
We do not create, we misappropriate, experts at switching brands on stock, we should be placing palms on rock, cheeks on bark, ears to the dirt, just
And listen. 
We know exactly where we are,  
and we’re lost.
The other amazing acts were:
The experience reminded me that I need to visit the NGA much, much more often and soak in the inspiration. I encourage everyone to do the same.

*I have sourced these images of Nolan's works from the NGA website and have included them only to make my post more complete. I strongly encourage you to go view them in person. If you have already, then do it again.

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