Interview with ABC Capricornia: Adventure, experience, participation

Rockhampton riverside, Central Queensland
On my last trip to Rockhampton in Central Queensland, I was interviewed by Chrissy Arthur of ABC Capricornia. We talked about some of my projects in Australia and New Zealand, the role of public libraries in 2016, and this year’s upcoming Fun Palaces across Queensland and worldwide.

The best part was talking about how creativity isn’t determined by your pay grade – anyone can have a bright idea, and a role like mine is as much about listening to organisations and their communities as it is ‘thinking up cool stuff to do’.

You can hear ‘Zombies, Burlesque, Cardboard, and Coffee’ on ABC Capricornia’s Soundcloud account here.

Curious, Mysterious, Marvellous, Electrical: Night of the Ibis

This week’s Marvellous, Electrical explores the intersection of urban ecology and Brisbane burlesque.

Read ‘Night of the Ibis’ here.

Life after Dark Night: Auckland’s barroom librarians

Some projects make a big splash right away. With others, it’s something of a slow burn.

Just as the sun sets on this year’s Fun Palaces, I was pleased to see an old programme finally achieving its potential back in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Auckland Libraries have just launched Reading Between the Wines, a monthly book club which tours bars in the central suburbs of New Zealand’s biggest city. Librarians bring a selection of books to the bar for patrons to check out and discuss on the first Thursday of each month.

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Complete control: New Zealand censorship, security, space, word, and image

For a while now I’ve been fascinated about the links between space, word, and image – starting with a talk I gave to the State Library of New South Wales about the comics medium last year.

Our recent panel on censorship at Auckland Libraries opened up some more explicit links between space and media – in the way New Zealand polices its physical borders and its cultural ones.

NZ Censorship Images
Did you know that New Zealand’s chief censor, Andrew Jack, comes from a background as a legal adviser to New Zealand police and customs?

That the man he replaced, Bill Hastings, left censorship to run the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which decides on issues of residency, deportation, and refugees?

Or that New Zealand’s censorship began in the 1850s, more than thirty years before the first Offensive Publications legislation, when customs officers began to regulate importation of material they saw as indecent?

It’s as if the business of policing material and cultural boundaries were interchangeable in the eyes of the Kiwi state. Coming to New Zealand as a foreigner and a native of that other Island Nation, so implicated in NZ’s colonial and postcolonial history, it’s interesting to see the tensions between the country’s physical and cultural border controls, even when the tradition of censorship is relatively liberal.

NZ Censor's StampIn the interwar years of the 20th century, American comics and movies were the boogeyman feared by the New Zealand state. Comic imports were banned from 1938 under regulations which considered US comics to place an “undue emphasis” on “sex, obscenity, horror, crime, and cruelty”, while in the 1920s the Manawatu Daily Times had expressed concern that US films were showing Kiwi youth “life through the artificial, spurious, and meretricious glare of Broadway, New York.” But material which the state finds objectionable comes from within NZ’s borders, as well as without – from undesirable persons to controversial teen literature.

Our panel last week was part of a broader event which looked at the history of the sex industry in Auckland’s Karangahape Road, urban development in New Zealand’s largest city, and the ways in which women’s bodies are policed and controlled in Kiwi culture. It felt timely, as it seems the tensions around policing cultural and physical boundaries in New Zealand are rising once again.

The Kiwis might just have celebrated their first gay marriages, but at the same time women are being told that tampons are a luxury item – the female body as the object of state control.

New Zealand censored reportage from the First and Second World Wars in the interests of national morale. Now a government communications security bill and questions around reporting on the NZ SAS link restrictions on Kiwi media to the surveillance state.

Culturally, too, the issue of censorship is beginning to bubble over in this small Pacific nation. The winner of New Zealand’s most prestigious children’s book award has been submitted for age classification.There’s also a growing debate over the legal status of Alan Moore’s controversial but widely acclaimed comic Lost Girls.

As part of my legacy work at Auckland Libraries, I’ve set up a teen feminism working group in collaboration with Auckland University of Technology. This project, run by female librarians for teenage girls, will help to develop a media literacy curriculum with a focus on gender, sexuality, and their representation in the media: exploring everything from an infamous (and awesome) Bodyform advert to Adventure Time‘s gender-flipped episodes with Fionna and Cake, and beyond.

In doing so, it chimes with the best of the liberal tradition in the Kiwi state, recalling a 1989 ministerial inquiry which found: “A media-literate public, well-educated about human sexuality, sex stereotyping, the demeaning treatment of women and minorities, and the misuse of violence in entertainment is the best defence against the harmful effects of the media. This is especially important in the face of fast developing communications technologies.”

Public libraries, with their principle of free public access to all human knowledge and culture, have a key role to play in arming and empowering the public to make their own decisions about the material they read or watch. It will be interesting to see how the debate moves forward in 21st century New Zealand…

For more on the history of Kiwi censorship, visit A Brief History of Censorship in New Zealand.

See coverage of Auckland’s protest against the GCSB online.

Tuesday at Method and Manners: Auckland Libraries Panel Discussion

As part of a fringe art festival exploring sex and sexuality in the media, and a sequel to June’s successful Dark Night festival, Auckland Libraries presents a panel discussion with creators and commentators looking at controversial literature in New Zealand.

We’ll be supporting Auckland’s artists by contributing a panel discussion on the boundaries of acceptability in literature – from the history of censorship in Aotearoa to the scandal around Ted Dawe’s Into The River – the prize-winning NZ teen book which has now been been submitted for age-restricted classification!

The panel will feature cartoonist Dylan Horrocks and literary columnist Craig Ranapia alongside librarian Karen Craig. Aucklanders can catch that dream team of literati walking the boundaries of scandal and culture on Tuesday, 6pm-8pm at Method and Manners on Level 2, 6 Upper Queen Street, Auckland.
See more about the upcoming festival events here.

Dark Night at Auckland Libraries
Image by Dylan Horrocks

Still pushing boundaries: creative discomfort, adventure, and change in Auckland and beyond

Well, it’s been another busy old week in Auckland, bookended by presentations to Auckland Council’s Democracy Services team and the Rotarians of Auckland’s North Shore, on making the civic life of New Zealand’s largest city more creative and daring.

There’ll be more on that in the next few days, but in the meantime here’s a quick plug for a fringe festival at which I’ll be speaking on Wednesday night – I’ll be at St. Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road from 7pm, performing a short piece on illness, age, and sexuality called “There’s no terror in the carelessness of flesh”.

The festival ties in with Auckland Libraries’ own successful Dark Night season in June, which pushed the boundaries of library services to over-18s with events that explored, challenged, and celebrated sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen.

This time round we’ll be supporting Auckland’s artists by contributing a panel discussion about the boundaries of acceptability in literature – from the scandal around Ted Dawe’s Into The River – the prize-winning NZ teen book which has now been been submitted for age-restricted classification! – to the legal status in New Zealand of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. The panel will be moderated by’s literary maven Karen Tay, and feature cartoonist Dylan Horrocks and literary columnist Craig Ranapia alongisde badass librarian Karen Craig.

Aucklanders can catch that dream team of literati walking the boundaries of scandal and culture on Tuesday, 6pm-8pm at Method and Manners on Queen Street. Then there’s more at St. Kevin’s Arcade on the Wednesday night. Hope to see you then!

Dark Night: Bromance Coda – Carol Borden on Superman and Masculinity

As a coda to my series  for Auckland Libraries’ Dark Night, I’m reposting a great essay on the Man of Steel from Carol Borden, editor of Canada’s great online arts journal The Cultural Gutter.

As Man of Steel hits our screens and offers us a pretty brutal take on the boy from Krypton, Carol finds new and exciting ways to affectionately explore gender identity in…“Loving the Alien”.

Read Loving the Alien: Superman and Masculinity at Carol’s website, Monstrous Industry.

Dark Night: Bromance, 3 – “I’m Taking A Ride With My Best Friend”

This is my final piece looking at bromance in the context of Auckland Libraries’ Dark Night festival exploring sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen.

The first time we hung out together, he pissed me off and I threw my bike at a tree.

The last time I saw him, we went out for my birthday, overindulged, and I ended up passing out at some godawful steampunk gig in Oxford.

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Dark Night: Bromance, 2 – Jules

Julio Iglesias, I started writing about that awful word “bromance” after the launch of Auckland Libraries’ Dark Night festival exploring sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen. Our guest speaker, Dr. Pani Farvid, introduced the movie Shame by pointing out that it many ways it wasn’t about sex at all. Its topic was addiction, and more broadly than that, the ways in which society disciplines all of our feelings, not just our sexuality; telling us that these are the permissible ways in which to have and express emotions.

In the pub afterwards, we talked about how heterosexual men define themselves as much through their relationships with other men as those with women. And after that, I knew I would spend this week of Dark Nights writing about Mike, and Jules, and J. That, if I could write about sexual relationships of varying intensity and duration, I could do the same for three varieties of “bromance”.
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