Reliquaries

My new exhibition, based on my trip to Burma to investigate my family history, is hung and ready for a lovely Sunday afternoon opening at Linton and Kay galleries Subiaco. The exhibition will run until the 9th of August.

 

Finch posterLayout 1Layout 1For information please go to http://www.lintonandkay.com.au/exhibitions/reliquaries-mikaela-castledine/

Melville Art Awards 2015

Very excited to have been awarded the Judges Choice  in the Melville Art Awards 2015 for the work The Little Flour Mill – New Norcia. The work has been purchased by the City of Melville for their collection. Below are the judges comments from which I deduce I am not as simple as I look…

Judges Comments:

This work is exquisite in its simplicity. A subtle and effective use of collage and mixed media, a careful and exacting technique coming together to give a sense of drama, isolation and melancholy in the finished work, which in turn talks of rural/wheatbelt Western Australia in an eloquent and empathetic way. The work shows that while an artwork may appear simple, this doesn’t have to equate to it being simplistic.

The Little Flour Mill - New Norcia

The Little Flour Mill – New Norcia

This is the second prize I have been awarded this year the first being the Lions Club of Kalamunda 2015 First Prize for Hooded.

Hooded

Hooded

The Rabbits – The Opera – a Review

The Rabbits, the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, is an almost perfect piece of art. The idea of using rabbits and marsupials as metaphors for colonisation is inspired and Tan’s illustrations are so superb that everything that needs to be conveyed is conveyed, with minimal explanatory text. It is subtle and haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful. Having said that and freely admitting that it is high on my list of all time favourite books, I have always been slightly conflicted about the message, and in particular, the last sentence which asks “Who will save us from the rabbits?”.

Taking an almost perfect piece of art and transforming it into another art form has always been problematic for fans of the original form and with this adaptation of The Rabbits into an opera, I have to ask the question – why would you do it? While the costume and set designers do a wonderful job trying to live up to Tan’s illustrations it is simply not possible to argue that the illustrations needed the embellishment of movement and three dimensions. Adding hundreds more words to Marsden’s pared back text and then putting that to music, removes all the haunting subtlety and depth of the original; simplifying the message and complicating the delivery. So the answer to the question must be that it is because the message needs enhancing.

The message in the book seems to be that colonisation is brutal and ugly and incredibly damaging and we should never forget the lessons we have subsequently learnt. This is, of course, my interpretation of the message but the book with its silences and pauses gives me room for my interpretation. In the opera the message is literally screamed at you from a mountain top. Colonisations is not only brutal and ugly, but wanton, irreversible and irredeemable. At the end of the piece you are left with the thought that there is absolutely no hope and certainly no redemption. I not only feel that this is perhaps an oversimplification of a complex issue but would question the point of telling an audience (of mostly rabbits) that nothing we have ever done or will ever do in the future will absolve us of our culpability. They have chosen the particularly Rabbity art form of opera to tell us that nothing the Rabbits ever do is any good.

The other question I would ask about this opera is – who is it for? The picture book is not simply a children’s book, but it is nevertheless easily accessible to children, whereas opera can be a difficult art form for children to understand. The music is complex and at times discordant and the words often hard to decipher. At some point someone decided that since the actors are dressed as cute animals, perhaps they should make it more appealing to children and so include a scene which portrays the Rabbits as malodorous, nauseated buffoons and throw in a bum joke for good measure. This not only undermines the serious message of the work but suggests that the marsupials were not defeated by an intelligent and pitiless foe with superior weapons but were subdued by staggering, vomiting idiots who could barely stand up. This is hardly a helpful idea.

And so we come to the last line, which in both book and opera is the question “Who will save us from the rabbits?” I have always felt this was the wrong question to ask because the unpalatable answer is that no one will. The question permanently casts the marsupials as victims in need of saving, which seems to me not only incorrect but detrimental. If the Rabbits are a representation of The Other, (Colonisation was never just a British idea) then there is no one else out there to hear the question. If the question is directed at the universe then the assumption is that the Rabbits do not belong to that same universe, that they are so alien that different laws apply. This is exactly the thinking that colonisers are accused of using to justify their actions and it completely ignores the main thrust of the story which is that rabbits and small marsupials are in fact very similar animals, just with a different set of adaptations.

Despite all this you might be surprised to discover that I did enjoy the performance and do understand and endorse the idea that the purpose of art is to make you feel uncomfortable. The costumes are marvellous and the performances are really wonderful and Kate Miller-Heidke’s score has some moments of genius – particularly the operatic trills and calls inspired by native bird song. Overall though, I have more reservations about this work than I have plaudits.

Sculpture by the Sea Bondi 2014

A big and busy year has almost gone past and I apologise for not posting anything interesting for some time. Sculpture by The Sea Bondi has come around again and my lovely big rhino is having a great time on Tamarama Beach. I recommend this fantastic exhibition to anyone who is in the area as it is a wonderful experience to wander amongst artworks and beautiful scenery. For those who have not yet met the rhino, he is hand crocheted out of 15km of plastic raffia and took a little over six months of very intense crocheting. He has an internal armature of aluminium and aluminium mesh and is hardened with a fabric hardener.

 

Driving home from Dom’s

The river has the moon on it

choppy little arcs of light

linking into a scaled skin

across the surface

strong enough that you could walk out on it

if the faith was upon you

Strong enough to hold below

all the tangled weedy dark

so fishermen must find dark holes of shadow

at the river bank

through which to draw their catch

And all the air above is lit twice

once from the top and once from under

until it is itself a solid thing

of motes and amber caught insects

Oarsmen dip and dip

and then are still

while we fly past

blurring like a comet on the bridge

Appendices

Did you know you can’t have your appendix taken out on a whim? Unless you are going to work in Antarctica or the moon the only way you can have your appendix removed is if you are doubled over in screaming agony in an emergency department. Even then it is not straight forward.

The thing about doctors is that in order to maintain the status quo they have to know more about you and your symptoms than you do. Mostly this is not a problem, but when you go in and say I have this sharp pain in my lower right abdomen and do they think it might be appendicitis, they will go to great lengths to tell you all the symptoms of appendicitis that are not a pain in the lower right abdomen. And if you say, between gritted teeth, ‘But I do have a pain in my lower right abdomen’ they will smile condescendingly as if to say ‘You’ve been googling again haven’t you?’

There are lots of tests and markers for appendicitis and almost all of them are inconclusive. Pretty much the only definitive marker is if the thing bursts, which is why they keep jabbing at it with their pointy fingers. What they like to do is put two fingers over the appropriate area and push with all their weight for an agonising few seconds and then leap back with a theatrical flourish and ask whether it hurts more when they poke or when they let go. At this point you need to make a decision (while resisting the urge to say let me try it on your eyeballs and see what you think). If you want them to remove your appendix then simply answer yes to the latter. If you wish to defer to their superior knowledge and experience (and truly you don’t know if the pain is to do with ovarian cysts or gall stones or contortions of your liver) then just tell the truth. However, if your pain does not increase when they let go they will not know what to do next.

If you find yourself in hospital with a rapidly diminishing, mysterious (lower right) abdominal pain but with no raised temperature, no heightened infection markers in your blood, no rebound pain when they stop poking you, nothing but blobby gray shapes on your ultrasound and a surgeon who says it is 50/50 and he usually doesn’t operate unless it is 60/40, then you have another decision to make. If you decide that since you are actually feeling fine now and since the hospital you are in is due for decommission in two years time and has threadbare carpet, broken light fittings and a bathroom which is half a kilometer up the shuffling corridor (and by the way, the cannula in your hand gives you the heebie jeebies,) then this is the point at which the surgeon will suddenly change tack and decide he is leaning towards 51/49. This is probably the time to whip out your copy of Catch 22 and bone up on some of the finer points.

Yes, clearly, looking back, you should have agreed to having your appendix out when the surgeon briefly wavered in that direction but it is entirely possible that if you had pushed to go ahead then he would have decided not to. Therefore it is quite likely that you still would have ended up doubled over in Sydney airport two month later with the choice of heading to emergency (in a city where you have no friends or family or change of clothes or copy of Catch 22) or waiting out the pain and then bluffing your way back onto a plane home to Perth. The trouble is that once the pain has subsided enough to fly home your GP won’t refer you to a surgeon to have your appendix removed because you no longer exactly have acute appendicitis.

‘But…’ you might say, ‘Surely it is better to book an appointment and pack your bag yourself and fast for the appropriate time and head to a nice hospital where thirty years of paying but not using private hospital cover might ensure a room with an ensuite shower, would be better than walking about for the next few months with the possibility of lurking peritonitis?’ But all your GP will do is shake her head sadly and suggest that maybe, if you are lucky, the thing will burst over the weekend and remove all doubt.

Mary’s Mount art exhibition speech November 2013

A few months ago I was talking to a woman in a shop and when she discovered I was an artist she said to me

“Oh I don’t have a creative bone in my body”
Now she was just making conversation and hoping I would buy something from her shop but I decided to give her a lecture and now I am going to give it to you.

Being creative is what makes us human. It is something all humans do and it is what makes us different from elephants and octopuses and gum trees and bacteria. It is not possible for you not to be creative unless you are, in fact, a bacteria.

The people who decided to stop chasing mammoths and start farming cattle were being creative. The people who invented numbers and writing were being creative. The people who came up with the wheel, the cart, the car, the Boing 747 were being creative. The people who thought of surgery and lasers and deep sea diving and flying to the moon were being creative.

Making art is learning to be creative for it’s very own sake. It is learning to trust your intuition. It is allowing yourself to stretch and grow and make mistakes and learn from them. Art is what makes us us. So never let anyone tell you that art is not important – it is the most important thing you can do.

Now I am not saying that everyone should aspire to be a professional artist. What I am saying is that you need to learn to be an artist in everything you do. Be an artist in your maths and your science, in your sport and your writing. Teachers should be artists in their teaching, parents should be artists in their parenting. Engineers, scientists, shop assistants, managers, doctors, cleaners, everybody should be an artist in what they do, partly because it will make you better at what you do but mostly because it will make you happy.

So having this exhibition, valuing the art work that you see here today is THE most important thing that this school has done this year. I am very happy to be part of it and invite you to enjoy the results of creativity.

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