New Marvels, New Lenses: A Podcast

What can relatively young disciplines like information science and the allied health professions tell us about society and pop culture?

This weekend I hosted a podcast featuring scientist-turned-literary-editor Yen-Rong Wong, librarian Rachel Merrick, and occupational therapist Amelia DiTommaso, all based in Brisbane, Australia.

On the eve of a new exhibition at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art, these three creative professionals got together to explore Marvel’s superhero movies through new lenses informed by their expertise and experience.

Focusing on Doctor Strange (2016), the discussion embraced magic, mystery, science, history, identity, culture, politics, heroism, and lots of laughter.

From the history of Australian censorship to the dark side of healthcare, challenges in identity and representation, plus the arcane mysteries of  “readers’ advisory”, listen now for a mind-expanding journey.

Lake Mac GLAM

I’ll be speaking at the inaugural Lake Mac GLAM Symposium for museum, gallery, library, arts, and culture professionals in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales next month.

Lake Mac Glam logo

On 10th April, join me and other GLAMourpusses from across Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales to look at trends, challenges, and opportunities for Australia’s cultural sector.

Find out more & get your tickets here.

Marvellous, Electrical: Future Sea Punks

This week’s Marvellous, Electrical explores the Brisbane suburb of West End and its annual Kurilpa Derby, street art, social justice, censorship, and the ways communities get inside your head – for good and ill.

b51f9a26-c993-4b3c-99ca-34e02ff0cf38

Read Marvellous, Electrical: Future Sea Punks here.

Marvellous, Electrical: Forms of Myth

This week, in Marvellous, Electrical: storytelling, town planning, sculpture, and the smell of first rain on dry stone.

Read ‘Forms of Myth’ here.

Comic Makers at Brisbane Parking Day

Yesterday I took a team of staff from the State Library of Queensland to run a pop-up comic making stand in Brisbane’s West End.

Brisbane Parking Day - Comic Maker Stall

Drawing on previous experiences with comic book dice at Bermondsey Street Festival, we took over a car parking space to let Brisbane locals tell their own sidewalk stories using simple three-dimensional cartoons. Read more

Marvellous, Electrical: Hesam Fetrati

This week’s Marvellous, Electrical interviewee is Hesam Fetrati, an Iranian satirist based in Brisbane.

Read more

Science, Arts, and Community Engagement: Not Just For Wizards

A new interdisciplinary literacy is the only hope for finding a way to square our current arrangement of life with the continuation of human and planetary life as such. Scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, politicians, political theorists, historians, writers, and artists must gather their wisdom, develop a level of mutual literacy, and cross-pollinate their severed lineages.

Beth Povinelli, Interview for The Signal In Transition

I think there’s a lot of merit in Beth Povinelli’s words about science and the arts and different ways of knowing.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as momentum builds for this October’s Fun Palaces, the international community-led celebration of arts and sciences.

Fun Palaces can look like cuddly fluffy things, but they’re also events which are serious about acknowledging the talents and understanding which local communities already have. They’re very serious, too, about exploring what it means to say, as their motto does, “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.”

Those two terms can seem intimidating sometimes. “Artists” and “scientists” sound like privileged, elevated folk compared to you and I – so the way I always put it is this:

If a two-year-old ever handed you an imaginary phone and said “Ring ring”, and you answered it, you’re an artist – because you joined in their creative play.

And if you ever made soup from a recipe, tasted it, and said “needs more salt”, then added some, you’re a scientist – because you revised your belief in the face of evidence.

Eating soup!

Read more

No Longer at Ease / The Life of Lines – Interview with Beth Povinelli

Frontier Imaginaries Poster from QUT/IMA exhibition in Brisbane

Frontier Imaginaries is an exhibition currently being held across two sites in Brisbane: ‘No Longer at Ease‘ in the Institute of Modern Art and ‘The Life of Lines‘ at Queensland University of Technology.

Beth Povinelli is one of the artists featured in ‘The Life of Lines‘  – she is also Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University.

Beth’s research forms a critique of late liberalism – she dubs it an ‘anthropology of the otherwise’ – which I find vital to current debates about Australian identities and our visions of the future, both here and around the world.  At the launch of Frontier Imaginaries, she argued that Australia is on the front lines of a crisis in Western thought, brought about in part by the pressures of climate change and the rise of digital technology.

Originally a philosophy student, Beth’s love of Australian movies led her to visit the country on a grant application in 1984. She eventually found herself working as an anthropologist and advocate for Indigenous communities. As she says, her career has been less about “explaining” Indigenous culture and society to others, more about helping to analyze how late liberal power appears from an Indigenous perspective.

Read more

Dulwich Picture Gallery – 3D biographical comics

You can now see video from last month’s event “Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime” at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

Inspired by the work of M.C. Escher, the event saw teens exploring comics and biography through thirty boxes containing text and images from the life of a mysterious woman.

Teens discuss biographical comics at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Over the course of a two-hour session, participants transformed the thirty boxes into individual artworks which together formed a biographical installation: a three-dimensional comic book which used perspective and storytelling to respond to the facts and feelings of a stranger’s life.

Read more about Escher, Dulwich, and Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime here.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, “Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime”

Today I’m running an event for Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Off The Wall series of teen workshops. Dulwich is the oldest purpose-built public art gallery in the world and this year I’ve been working with them on outreach events which address 21st century challenges in making art with communities.

M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere
M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere

Today’s event, Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime, is linked to Dulwich’s current exhibition of M.C. Escher’s work, which was put together by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Escher is currently undergoing something of a reevaluation, as Darran Anderson captures in his review of the exhibition.  The artist, once seen as a creator of mere visual tricks, more suited to student-dorm posters and video game designs than critical interrogation, might now be recognised as influential and intriguing in ways we’d previously overlooked. This process of recognising the artist and his works afresh has parallels to the work of detectives re-opening a cold case; returning to the accumulated files, seeking new evidence, and trying to see it all from a fresh perspective.

Solving crimes is never really about arriving at a final truth; it’s about making a story which more closely and convincingly tends to the evidence at hand. This process also applies to the business of art history, and the activities which ran at Dulwich today.

Critical examination of Escher’s biography plays a part in our reopened investigation. Divorced from context, sold as a poster, used as the background of an old video game, an Escher landscape can look impersonal, technical, heartless. Nowadays, however, we recognise the ways in which Escher’s mindscapes are grounded in personal experience and observation. His youthful travels in Italy seem to have informed works like Belvedere; Escher’s visit to the Alhambra in Spain shaped his later explorations of pattern and tessellation. Micky Piller, curator of the Escher Museum in the Hague, recently discovered that many architectural elements from the artist’s “impossible worlds” can be found in the stairwells of Escher’s old high school.

For young people creating art, Escher offers a range of possible paths to explore. His Italian and Arabic influences demonstrate the way that leaving home for travel and adventure can provoke and inspire deeper reflection. At the same time, the fact that Escher returned to, and spent most of his life in, the Dutch town of Baarn reminds us that wonder can be generated in even the most ordinary of settings. In an age when we are increasingly preoccupied with the need for technological skills and scientific thinking, Escher reminds us that mathematics, science, and technology are always grounded in feeling, in human possibility, in a sense of wonder. As Anderson puts it:

The view of mathematics and science as purely and coldly intellectual exercises is exposed as inaccurate in Escher’s work; they are at work everywhere in nature; indeed, they are how we interpret the cosmos.

Countless books, movies, and shows from Harry Potter to Labyrinth and Doctor Who (which named an episode after Escher’s Castrovalva) have helped us to explore Escher’s cosmos by placing characters within their impossible architecture, lending life and motion to his precise, troubling geometries.

The figure of Escher, “modest yet colossal”, challenges our ongoing attempts to pigeonhole creative work. He is at once popular and ubiquitous to the point of banality, yet also marginal, his work set aside by the art-critical establishment. If his work has been dismissed on occasion as a “juvenile curiosity”, perhaps we should think on the current debate in which literary critics disparage YA literature, written for adolescents. Juvenilia has never been a weaker term of critical disparagement, in an era when young people are finally being accorded some of the power and voice to which they are entitled, and in which so many of us still feel the tensions and complications associated with adolescence. If Escher prints like Other World and Relativity are haunted by the traces of the artist’s high school experience, maybe he is the secret YA artist we never knew we had.

The contradictions abound. For the viewer, Escher made visual puzzles for which there was no solution; for artmakers, he found solutions to challenges in perspective which had no real-life equivalent. His work is “cold” and technical, yet steeped in personal experience and memory: the villages of Italy, the school of his youth, the tiles of the Alhambra where he imagined “a place of serenity where the universal laws of physics were everywhere and yet somehow might not apply.”

In Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime, visitors explore this blend of the personal and perspectival when they are given visual and textual clues from the life of a mysterious woman. These photographs and snippets of prose will form the basis for a collaborative 3D visual artwork, creatively reconstructing a life story from limited cues.

In solving the mystery of a stranger’s life, and the challenge of juxtaposing images in three dimensional space, our Dulwich detectives will discover that solutions are only ever provisional; that the neatest account of the cosmos may defy the laws of nature; and that your mind is always the scene of the crime.