A brief round-up on All Hallows’ Eve

I’m just back from Manila after flitting around Australia and the Philippines for a couple of weeks, running various events for libraries and art galleries. 7 flights in 8 days…that’s more than enough!

Zombies are people too - a survivor tries to escape the zombie hordes in Tullamore with a disguise
Zombies are people too – a survivor tries to escape the zombie hordes in Tullamore with a disguise and some pro-zombie sentiments

On the 10th and 11th of October, Parkes Shire Library ran our biggest and best zombie roleplay event to date, working in collaboration with three local schools, police, firefighters, and student volunteers from Charles Sturt University. We had two days of around 70 people taking part in a 4 1/2 hour unbroken zombie-fighting roleplay with real emergency services. You can see video from the news coverage at the ABC website. 

That event was the culmination of about a month’s work creating immersive theatre and learning activities in country libraries; you can find out more under the Finding Library Futures tag at this site. As the zombie dust settled, I spent a week training librarians around the region before flying to Sydney during the bushfires, which give the city a rather unnervingly apocalyptic skyline:

Sydney skyline - image via @peteresho's Twitter account
Sydney skyline – image via @peteresho’s Twitter account

The next day, I was off to Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design to give a talk and run another day of events. This included activities like making storytelling dice with comic-book panels on each face:

Teens make comic book storytelling dice at Manila's MCAD art museum
Teens make comic book storytelling dice at Manila’s MCAD art museum

The kids were very cool but it was pretty intense work – in fact, just walking down the street was pretty intense! Tho’ I’ve been to bustling cities in Peru and Indonesia, this was another level of wild traffic, wealth disparity, and sheer volume of humanity. Five minute taxi rides generated impressions that will take a long time to process. I felt privileged to be invited to work with the talented staff at MCAD and the youth museum Museo Pambata.

On my last night in the city, I went to a gallery launch but ended up sneaking off with another artist, Leeroy New (designer of a Lady Gaga dress, not the infamous meat one), to see his exhibition Gates of Hell, which I found utterly wonderful:

Leeroy New as Buddha encased in expanding foam
Leeroy New as Buddha encased in expanding foam

Leeroy’s transgressive, playful, pop-cultural take on the sacred had an impact as soon as you entered the room, yet when you ventured beneath the carapace of oozy foam which encased many of his holy subjects, there was a serious engagement with the numinous and transcendent. Gates of Hell reminded me of one of my favourite novels, Toby Litt’s troubling, surrealist fairytale-for-adults Hospital. With its psychopomps and defiantly rebellious bodies, its unyielding but indefinable laws of magic, It’s one of those flawed yet lingering novels – see this Telegraph review for a decent skewering of the flaws – which, despite it all, I can’t recommend enough.

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I loved Leeroy’s work for recalling the grotesquerie of Bosch as much as the claymation splurge of the British 1980s cartoon Trap Door. Gates of Hell marked a perfect balance between pop culture and traditional spirituality, those two rival paths towards a world beyond the everyday. No wonder Lady Gaga had Leeroy make wearable art for her.

After escaping the Gates of Hell, I chaired an evening panel on monsters in children’s literature for the New South Wales Writers’ Centre (you can see a great write-up here from panellist Nyssa Harkness) before finally flying home (my 7th flight in 8 days)…

To recover from all that adventure, I spent a long weekend in a darkened room with too many comics and now I’m back in the game. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s big interview/discussion piece on e-books, publishing, and the future of libraries…

Update: just to round off the festivities on this ghoulish night, you can find a six-minute recording of my piece There’s No Terror In The Carelessness of Flesh online at Soundcloud. Strictly NSFW – an adult exploration of blood, bodies, desire, and dismay. Happy Hallowe’en!

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