Biennale on film

My visit to the Venice Biennale 2017

So (or allora as they say here in Venice) there is barely a pavilion in the Giardini which isn’t showing a video of some description. Some are explanatory and accompany the art, which is fine, but so much of it is the art and that’s when I start getting twitchy. Sorry to all my artist friends who make video installations but they do not engage me in any way, clearly I am missing something and may indeed be a Philistine but you probably shouldn’t read any further. I have no problem watching television or going to the cinema so I am not sure why I find this medium so devoid of interest and I have been spending some time trying to puzzle it out.

I was thinking that when a film is made of a book it always becomes one (or maybe several) person’s vision of that book. You as the viewer are saved the trouble of taking in the words and imagining the world that is being conjured up. In this way is video art an easy option? Is it art for the masses, the bored, the lazy? Is it doing all the work for you? I’m not sure it is because they are so often difficult, repetitious and confounding.

One pavilion, I have not bothered to remember which, has changing faces of people reciting the word apologise, apologise in different pitches – I don’t find this clever or even interesting and if it is significant and meaningful then it passed me by. Is it that I am too clever and resent having the work of thinking done for me or am I not clever enough to get it? I know that films can be moving and inspirational but perhaps that is because of the story and art videos are maybe not about story in that explicit way.

This afternoon over an alarmingly orange and slightly bitter Aperol spritz I conjectured that it might be about place. I have flown thousands of miles to walk into a space to experience an artist’s creative vision and a video immediately takes me elsewhere. A film, unless it is filming me interacting with the work in the space is absolutely not present – it is aggressively elsewhere and maybe the point of art should be to be present, to have the viewer experience it in a very real way. I could watch any of these videos at home in my lounge room with my Aperol spritz made just how I like it to pretty much the same effect.

France’s pavilion has been transformed into a music studio, all wood and sound deadening panels with instruments strewn about (and, while I was there, no performers) The walls were not the only thing baffling. Denmark has a performance work about darkness which has you sit in complete blackness (and then some not very illuminating light displays) while three women’s voices narrate or recite some very trite nonsense about darkness and light for 30 minutes and I think there was a talking seed. Poetry! I can sit in the dark and listen to poetry for hours but not at an art fair and not if it is not good poetry. Germany has a performance piece below a clear floor with the audience above which I have yet to brave the queue for so I am not sure if it is dance or theatre or a little from column A and a little from column B. It is supposed to be really good but that is not my actual point. Egypt has built a mud brick facade inside which they are showing a film on five screens. Poland is showing an impenetrable slo-mo film in a blacked out room so dark that everyone entering falls over the foot high platform on which the seating is arranged – now if they were filming that and replaying it on the screen that would have been something. Art people! I want art! I don’t want your solemn, performative, experiential, interpretive dance with your constantly depressing falling cadences and atonal music.

I would be more than happy to watch any of these works at, lets say, The Venice Film Festival, The Venice international Contemporary Music Festival, The Venice International Theatre Festival, or the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Dance (except I don’t think many of them would make the cut) but until it is ok for me to show sculptures or paintings at any of these other affairs I think they should be restricted severely at the ART Biennale and visual artists should be able to show up and make art and have the audience interpret it in their own heads without a fucking screen!

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Sculpture at Bather’s Beach Fremantle 2017

Thanks to the brilliant photographer Richard Gale for these lovely shots of my turtle at Sculptures at Bathers

This exhibition is on until Sunday 12th March.

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If the weather is bedding

If weather is bedding

and it so often is

cloud pillows

blanketing heat

sheets of lightning

then the continental

coverlet of February

has slipped sideways

as if after a kicking night

in which all came untucked

and we wake in the dark

coldly exposed to a damp chill wind

groping for even the ruffled edge

to get our fingers gripped

and haul back the warm

while on the other side

they toss feverish

in the unaccustomed heat

of the doubled over weight

of summer’s quilt

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‘Damage’ Bankwest Art Prize 2016

The 2016 Bankwest Art Prize opened last night. This is Western Australia’s most prestigious award for WA artists. I am extremely happy to be a finalist amongst some very august company.


My piece for this exhibition is called Damage.

This work is my attempt to understand child suicide. Having been distressed by news reports of children as young as ten committing suicide and hearing talk of tiny triggers distracting from extensive accumulated damage, the idea for this piece came to me as a way to make sense of the senseless and to honour every day in a life. Each circle represents a year with 365 stitches in the outer edge and the stack of ten circles echoes a life of a child. The damage is represented by a diminishing series of circles cut and melted through each disc forming an asymmetrical cone. This will take on a cumulative shape, which is both a presence and an absence, symbolising abuse and neglect.

Early in 2016 I completed a residency at PMH hospital where the cords and ropes I use for my crochet sculptures and teaching had to be carefully managed. Many of the children I was working with had mental health issues and it was important to recognise that the materials I see as creative and useful are often used to commit suicide. Making this piece using cord with a high breaking strain, one which you could trust to hold you seems appropriate.

The piece has a significantly human density, a dead weight. It weighs about 70 kilograms, making it difficult for one person to carry.

Most importantly the piece is beautiful. The colours, starting from a bright, clear neon green, grading through to a deep blue like a darkening aura, can be read in the most manifest way as green innocence moving to blue depression, but the darkening spectrum can also simply indicate growth and change and the gathering of knowledge that every child displays.

Due to our profound abhorrence of crimes against children and our understanding of the long term effects on many people, we have tendency to believe that a child who has been abused is permanently and irredeemably damaged. This must lead to an overwhelming hopelessness for which suicide may seem the only solution. I wanted to make a piece which was intensely beautiful and  damaged, not beautiful because of the damage or beautiful despite the damage, simply beautiful in and of itself.

Deliberately cutting into the discs with their hundreds of hours of careful work is an act of brutality designed to evoke similar feelings in the viewer. Making a work that is both beautiful and damaged shows the possibility of redemption and allows contemplation of this terrible subject in a way that is bearable.

Damage detail

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Sculpture by the Sea Bondi 2016: Big Intentions

So for the last two weeks I have been enjoying another wonderful Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi. There is a great line up of works and some fabulous artists from all over the world. My stupas have settled in really nicely on the headland at Mark’s Park and I think they will be sorry to have to leave at the end.

Big Intentions BondiBig Intentions – Crocheted paracord and steel. Mikaela Castledine sxs Bondi 2016

While I have been here I have done many workshops and talks for the superb education program that Sculpture by the Sea run for local schools and today I participated in a live virtual tour of the exhibition for remote schools and the distance education team. The video starts about a minute in so don’t panic and my section is about half way through. Enjoy!

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Short Story Published

Last night the latest book of short stories from Margaret River Press was launched at the Centre for Stories in Northbridge. Shibboleth and Other Stories is a great collection of work edited by Laurie Steed, it contains my story All the Devil’s Weed Plants in some very good company. The book can be purchased through the Margaret River Press website and selected bookshops.


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Installation: Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2016

Big Intention: Inspired by the Buddhist Stupas from Myanmar. Medium: Crocheted nylon Para cord over steel frames. Artist: Mikaela Castledine. Video Production: Josh Hopkins. Music: Andy Hopkins.

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