Blue art for all

Spoiler alert.

When’s the last time you saw a puppet show?

I saw one this morning. A Little Bit of Blue by Jenny Ellis. It looked like this:

A Little Bit of Blue 1 min Trailer from Jenny Ellis on Vimeo.

We’re at a childcare centre. We all watch Mrs Mavis Hooley, as cute an elderly stout lady puppet as you’ll ever see, search for her missing ten dollars. When she falls asleep, a blue bird (complete with robber mask) chuckles into her house and steals her knitting. The children cry out, ‘Wake up!’ and Mavis’s fluffy little dog, Mufti, has menace in his eye.



Mrs Hooley gets no assistance from police and the case goes to a keen Detective with glasses, moustache and rather unfortunate nose. First, seek clues! Then set a trap – with chippies and a hole in the floor – catching Mufti, of course. Once Mrs Hooley looses her hair, it’s back to the clues, the drawing board (can anyone draw the legs on the bird? What about the eyes?) and what do you know, the robber is caught. The ten dollars is blue, the knitting is blue and so is Mrs Hooley’s hair. The blue bird is a satin bower bird, building the stolen blue objects into his nest, as they do.

Male bird builds bower of blue objects

Given his freedom by Mavis and the Detective, the bower bird is able to attract a fetching young maiden-bird to his bower. With the assistance of the bopping/pogoing audience, the bird is able to do a persuasive dance and finally, their combined feathers are thrown together in the air, as they do.

female bower bird inspects the property

The child care attendants spent their half their time appreciating the show and the other half photographing the children.childcare-workers

Jenny Ellis performs the show single handed, adding an information session showing the children pictures of real bowers and bower birds, encouraging them to repeat the name of the bird (we’re talking some as young as eighteen months here) to stir a little bit of education into the hilarity.jenny-and-the-bird

Apart from her relationship with children – her relationship with real live humans and educational responsibilities, Jenny has taken her own childhood affiliation with birds and creatures into a degree in Social Ecology, Environmental Education and Environmental Biology. She’s enthusiastic about inspiring children about Australian birds and animals, believing most Aussie kids know more about lions and zebras than they do about echidnas, wallabies and satin bowerbirds. And what amazing birds they are. Check this World’s Weirdest Video:

But, really, the bird’s compulsion is not so weird. The creative drive essential to the bird is synonymous with the creativity of humans. Like the bowerbird we have to express ourselves, perhaps not just to get a mate, but in the case of Jenny, at least to pay her rent. Human artistic endeavour is, for most people, necessary. Those who have quashed their crafty urges lead unfulfilled, sad empty lives. Not kidding.

Here’s Sir Ken Robinson, Elizabeth Gilbert and David Kelley talking about creativity. We’ve all got it.

It’s never too late. Go collect blue bits! Learn from the birds! Why, you could even make a puppet!

Precious … my precious …

‘You will take good care of it, won’t you? Water is a precious resource.’

So says a six-year-old child, striking at the very heart of an artist. The child is a participant in The Catchments Project, an artwork by Debbie Symons and Jasmine Targett. I met Jasmine at the City of Melbourne’s Carlton Connect Initiative (CCI) LAB-14 and she was able to talk me through the mysterious collection on view. As with the previous Art+Climate=Change 2015 exhibtions I’ve visited, there is much to ponder beneath the surface of the artefacts shown.

With only a week of events left in Art+Climate=Change 2015 you will still find things to see here. I’ve been inspired by public talks, particularly William L. Fox Director Art+Environment Nevada Museum of Art, USA, (or Bill) and seen some fantastic art.

Four of the exhibitions can be discovered in and around Melbourne University and what a very pleasant afternoon’s stroll they make. I hopped off the tram outside the Ian Potter Museum of Art and strode immediately up to the 2nd floor to see Nature/Revelation. The first thing you see as you enter the space is a large whale taking up the entire wall. Oh, yeah. Big picture.

picture of a whale

Gallery attendant and my bag in front of a quite big picture of a whale

Moving on.

You admire the pictures of clouds floating in rooms (not the clouds themselves) by Berndnaut Smilde,

picture of a floating cloud

Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012

Terraforms by Jamie North,

Not a rolling stone

Not a rolling stone

and the Ansel Adams photos (one of those iconic people who changed the lens through which Americans viewed their environment),

“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”  ― Ansel Adams

“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”
― Ansel Adams

… and it’s only when you get a bit closer that you realise …

Good Grief! Hang on! Wait Up! What is it with the sperm whale?

That’s a charcoal drawing. By Jonathan Delafield Cook  This thing is HUGE. While there are certainly other provoking works (check the little man climbing a cliff) in the exhibition you really do need to see the WHALE!

I then wandered into the nearby Melbourne School of Design (a large net suspended around a library to trap humans). There you can find amazing videos by David Buckland in an exhibition called Discounting the Future.

picture of ice fiel

The very moment when the ice falls into the sea

Then seek out the ideas of the extremely provoking Amy Balkin in a small gallery directly opposite and sign a postcard to assist her attempt in protecting the air by getting our atmosphere listed by the UN World Heritage Convention.

Letter to UN World Heritage

Public smog will save the world

Balkin’s had a lot of scientific and legal assistance in drawing up this document and, tell you what, we all really want her to succeed.

Finally, meander down Swanston Street to LAB-14 to see Making Water Visible, a portrait of Melbourne’s water system. The sea and bay are rendered shiny mirror. The rivers, reservoirs and underwater table water are depicted in gorgeous colour shifting perspex. Amazingly this is the first time all this data has been brought together in one image. It just takes art to make sense of our world.

Another part of The Catchments Project is Getting Busy, a potential oyster farm to be planted around the docklands area.

This 3D printed oyster is not busy at all, as Jasmine  reflects

This 3D printed oyster is not busy at all, as Jasmine reflects

The native Angasi species of oyster is able to clean heavy metals and nitrates out of water without harming itself. When the oyster farm is established, the public can download an app to enable them to pledge some kind of assistance (pick up your dog poo, use gentle cleaners) to improve Melbourne’s water systems. Once a pledge is made, Barry White will be played to the oysters to encourage them to ‘get busy’ and clean the water. Art.

Ooooooh, yeeaaaayer …

Jasmine tells me that Melbourne City Council and Melbourne University had the foresight to connect artists to scientists and researchers thereby bringing data and creativity together. And Barry White.

Is yours there?

Is yours there?

The mirror bay reflects hundreds of engraved bottles – water collected and donated by well-meaning individuals. The bottles, The Water Harvest, are engraved with name, date and collection co-ordinates and are given to the donor at the end of the project. I met a woman who had come to see her donations in situ – water from her raintank and some grubby brown stuff from the horse’s dam. Delicious. And of course, our friend the six year old who collected rain water in a bucket and slept with the plastic bottle next to her bed because she really really cares. Jasmine was able to reassure her that yes, she really would look after her water.

Can we be sure that our politicians will?

Perceptive Power perceived

One of the twenty-five exhibitions currently showing in Melbourne under the umbrella of the Climarte Festival is Perceptive Power.signThe RMIT Design Hub in the centre of Melbourne’s CBD doesn’t look like it should suffer from too many doors (it certainly has too many corridors) but there you go – Perceptive Power has more than one entrance and it is possible to enter the exhibition the back way.

outside of Design Hub

Is there a right way to see this exhibition? Doesn’t matter. I am confident in predicting whichever way you enter, you will find yourself intrigued, engaged and I’m guessing, muttering a little ‘wow’ to yourself (more than once) as you negotiate the Hub’s corridors.

There are no paintings in this exhibition. This is a modern exhibition with modern media dealing with a modern problem. This is also a reading exhibition. Many of the pieces on view are fascinating, bewitching and somewhat bewildering. Watching flashing fluro tubes on a hill suddenly becomes chilling when you read the things are lighting up because of loose power surrounding power pylons. halo2


The artists are using scavenged power. They’re not even plugged in. Wow.halo-sign

This is one of the reading stations. You need to absorb the words before the video showing patterns of flashing tubes – which become very bright – make sense. Clearly a lot of thought and effort has gone into making these objets d’art signal stops so best admire them as you gather information.

This one explains the video of a toy car driving though the streets.toy-car

The video encourages the viewer to focus on a very small daring car emitting plumes of different coloured smoke tearing wildly through busy traffic. The video keeps the original sound (presumably) which includes gasps of recognition and laughter from passing cyclists.


Continuum Parts One and Two blends dancers and renewable energy in mesmerizing performance. One of my ‘wow’ moments came as I read about Continuum Part Two, based at the Carwarp Solar Facility, northwest of Mildura. This piece was filmed 2013/4 but when they returned in 2015, the film crew found the 40 solar dishes shrouded with black covers. The government refused to back the project further and the company has turned its attention to projects overseas. Wow.

In EurEco, Ash Keating turns the Eureka Flag green – which is taking serious liberties – but with governments like Australia’s – what is one to do?

“The issue of climate change needs persuasion rather than propaganda and art understands the psychology of persuasion.” Jay Griffiths, writer

This is a quote from the chalkboard in the middle of the exhibition space marks Carbon Arts in Residence. A place for conversation and encounters, this is an oasis where magazines, short films and salon discussions tempt the visitor. As much as I admire Jay Griffiths, I despair sometimes, I really do. Is saving the planet really a job for artists?

Get along and see Perceptive Power. It will make you think. You will admire corridors. You will see (and read about) a Natural State, made in the service of hydro-electric projects. So what is nature, where is wilderness?



Perceptive Power is provocative. And it’s just one exhibition of many.

Why, just across the road RMIT’s gallery is showing Japanese Art After Fukushima: Return of Godzilla, another beautiful and evocative collection.

Map of Japan surrounded by sand. Raked concentric circles radiate from Fukushima

Absorption Ripple by Yutaka Kobayashi

You’ll want to pick up a Climarte brochure and explore some of the other showings, forums and events on around Melbourne. Get some ‘wow’ in your life.

Bring on the bullfight – fiesta brava – the wild festival

Spanish flag with bull image

“It only takes one person to bear witness. One to share what they have seen.” Animals Australia Facebook page

Once upon a time I worked for a tv show. One day my boss called me in to her office to see some footage. She had obtained it from Spain to be included in an episode of the show. It was a bullfight. Her name was Lyn Bayonas. She learned about the bullfight from her old boss, Orson Welles. Mr Welles was an aficionado, up there with Hemmingway with his passion for things Spanish. I had absolutely no interest; rather I felt revulsion for the ghoulish spectacle on the screen. Lyn insisted, as only she could, that I sit down and learn something. She explained the bullfight is a ritual. It’s about our relationship with nature. Our relationship to death. Our relationship to meat.

cover of Death and the sunHer lecture came back to me recently when I found a copy of Death and the Sun; A matador’s season in the heart of Spain by Edward Lewine. It’s a great read. A page-turner. Will the matador die in the bullring, like his father before him?

wild bull free

There’s no doubt about the bulls, of course.

“Bulls suffer and die in the bullring. Either you believe this is justified, or balanced somehow by the supposed beauty, history, and cultural significance of the corrida, or you don’t. Cattle and other animals suffer and die in the food industry. Either you believe this is justified, or balanced somehow by the human desire for nourishment from meat and by the tradition of meat-eating, or you don’t.” pg 188

steers in feedlot

The Spanish don’t have a word for bullfighting, instead they use words such as, “the fiesta de los toros (festival of the bulls) or fiesta brava (wild festival) … What the matador (killer) ” … does with the bull is usually translated in English as “to fight” but the Spanish word for this is torear, which takes the word for bull and makes a verb out of it, “to bull”. The art or craft of bullfighting is called toreo — “bulling”.’ pg 25


bull turns around man

He explains that, ‘A single bullfight involving full-grown bulls is called a corrida de torros” … ‘The act of holding a corrida is indicated by the word celebrar, as in, “Yesterday they celebrated a corrida.’ pg 26. It’s like saying we celebrated mass or morning matins. It’s a ritual. It’s not a fight. The bull has no chance to live. The bull will die. The bull becomes meat. He represents all cattle, all meat. However, he does have a chance to take the matador out with him or at least give him a few weeks off and a decent scar to remember him by. Lewine again:

‘Bullfighting is easy to dismiss as an artefact of humanity’s savage and uncivilized history. But in its bloody way the bullfight is the essence of civilization, if by civilization we mean humanity’s subjugation of the natural world and the development of custom and ritual to replace violence as the governing principle of human interaction. A society that can mount a corrida is an advanced society, one that has tamed nature, met the basic needs of its people (to the extent that entertainment is a priority), and channeled the bloody impulses of its populace into ordered ritual. There is nothing more civilized than a bullfight. It is the sum of humankind’s fears and wordless needs contained in a spectacle of rigid control and elaborate ceremony.’ pg 227

Activist human packed into meat container for PETAThink about it. It’s too easy now to pick up that shrink-wrapped flesh from the meat aisle and sizzle it into some processed sauce and slap it between two calcium enriched buns without giving a second thought to the life given. It’s too easy to ignore empathy as the cows are stripped of their skin and twitch in their chorus-line of death on the way to their disembowelling. No. We must turn the spotlight on our food. We must face up to our responsibility. You must look. You must see.

‘Aficionados say there is a special feeling that comes when a great matador passes a bull low and slow around his body and the bull responds, charging hard at the cape and lending solemnity and danger to the matador’s movements. Hemmingway described it as a lump in the throat. Garcia Lorca called it “man’s finest anger, his finest melancholy and his finest grief.” It is an electric mixture of fear, pleasure in beauty, sadness, anger, horror, joy, tension, the feeling of victory over death, and the viewer’s relief that he or she is safe and not facing the bull.’ pg 32

man subjugates beast

This is far more than a cat playing with a mouse. Lewine describes the matador’s use of a bull as the painter’s use of a brush or a trumpet player’s use of the trumpet. The man makes art with the vanquished beast. The man is an artist, seeking beauty in the subjugation of the other life. The art lies in the domination. The wildcard is the bull. It may toss, gore or kill. But it will die in its turn. Certainly.

the bull dies

Of course it’s cruel. Of course the bull suffers. Right in front of your eyes.




Consider the conspiracy in modern farming. What is locked away behind hedges and walls? How many cows suffer every minute of every day in feedlots? How many pigs are shut up in sheds unable to move for their entire life? How many chickens were kicked to death in the last hour? All far, far away from the public gaze?

pigs in sow stalls

Today in most affluent countries, farming animals for meat is done out of sight. Billions of invisible creatures are bred and fed in close confinement and slaughtered on a conveyor belt. Their lives are lived in darkness, pain and terror. Humans peruse their hermetically sealed plastic packages of flesh without the faintest glimmer of awareness of how that beast lived and died to become a product. Now the agriculture industry seeks laws to protect their secrecy even further, laws known as ‘Ag Gags’ where it will be illegal for activists to visit and photograph factory or experimental farms or indeed any animal abuse. Sign a petition against them here.

Activists protest Ag Gag laws

This is the horror. That humans can have so little regard for life that they slaughter millions, nay, trillions of creatures (created by ?) to slice into pieces because they like the taste when it is no longer even necessary to eat meat. That the meat industry can seek protection to continue to devolve their systems is hideous. Dishonest. Deceitful.

man taunts bull

If you see the bullfight as a ritual then this modern denial of death seems weak. We become insipid and deceptive, hiding, cowering from the facts of life. We watch hideous news every day, rubber-neck at bloody car crashes and see extreme violence surrounded by fumes from chemical-laden popcorn and rumbles of high-performance Dolby. Pretending. Playing.

watching film

That six bulls should die in an afternoon in the full glare of the sun, witnessed by people who are at least emotionally sensitive to their existence, seems just and fair.

Bear witness to your meat.


Or, you know, you do have a choice …

Thirty species in thirty pieces is a wonderful website

I’m so impressed by this great collection of information and beautiful images, In Pieces. There’s a lot to look at and think about. What are you doing, hanging around here? Go on, click here!

Posters and wallpapers are available to download with proceeds going to

Posters and wallpapers are available to download with proceeds going to

Menangerie at ACCA – animals held captive by art

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art is a rusty, angular chunk in Melbourne’s growing Arts Precinct. It protruds from hard granitic sand between The Malthouse Theatre and The Victorian College of the Arts. The building is apparently built defiantly not to relate to nature – no tree or garden is envisaged by the architects – apart from the very human height-sized graffiti scrawled all around the base of the velvety surface.

Portrait of ACCA from

Portrait of ACCA from

Yet the latest exhibition devised by ACCA’s Artistic Director, Juliana Engberg, is wonderfully about nature; humans as they relate to animals. It is called Menangerie and it is an ambitious exhibition of animals held captive by art. At first impression, the exhibition feels a little like visiting an eccentric, art-loving Great Aunt. 

Menangerie is a sprawling collection of many artists from many places. Much of the work is familiar, which I found disarming. I had seen Robert Gligorov’s  (and his Tumblr) mouth releasing birds and Ricky Swallow’s comforting bird in a shoe in previous Melbourne shows. There is also history (see Great Aunt) in the darkened Highland stags and dogs oils of Edwin Landseer and the various aged horse and hound hunting paintings from the likes of Howitt, Orme, Hall and Vernet.

There’s humour in the pithy quotes written on the walls and in the images like Elliot Erwitt’s dog leaping into the grey Parisisan sky and the sculptures such as a cat staring at a fallen chandelier in The day the sky fell down by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah. There’s a covered bear and other melted ceramics by Paul Wood and endearing drawings of abandoned or lost animals by Anastasia Klose. The pieces are fun and engaging and reinforced my understanding of human superiority. There are some evocative fertility drawings by Patricia Piccinnini and some amusing horse impressions by Lucy Gunning.

I wandered around feeling safe for most of the time until I found myself looking at a video called Deeparture by Mircea Cantor. The name, Deeparture, is a pun, a play on words. The video is not play, at least I did not think so. A wolf, initally quite calm, and a deer, again, quite relaxed, are inside a white gallery cube. The creatures are not alone, of course, they are observed by the camera crew, presumably the artist. As the short piece continues, the audience sees that the creatures are in the same space at the same time and they are not happy about it. Both animals pant, perhaps from heat or lack of water, and perhaps because they are naturally not the best of companions.

The commentary in the catalogue suggests ‘we make attempts to relate to the animals both by drawing on our cultural knowledge of each and ascribing them with human characteristics.’ pg 42 Menangerie catalogue  2014 by Annika Kristensen.

As regular readers of this blog will understand, I am not a great believer in wide spread use of ‘anthropomorphism’, prefering instead the evidence of my own senses. I think most people have had enough contact with animals, their pets or creatures kept at school, to recognise basic animal mood signals. Why should a dog not have fear or a cat enjoy comfort? Why is it humans only who are allowed emotions? Clearly a dog wagging its tail is in a better frame of mind than one with its teeth bared, hackles risen and furious bark. If we dressed the dog in a suit and put a hat on the deer, that might be considered expecting the creatures to be acting as human. Yet, placing the two of them into an art gallery may be considered as anthropomorphism as we expect them to perform a piece of art for us much as any human performance artist must in the same surrounds.

Kristensen continues,

‘Unable to speak of their own accord, we instead seek to understand animals in anthropomorphic terms. Cantor’s use of close-up camera angles and his choice to present the film without sound heightens this inclination. The animals become a blank canvas upon which to project human emotions and our own psychological desires.’

But, Annika, these are living creatures. They are not empty blanks. They are not puppets. Both animals have observable reactions to being alive in this this space and this time and neither have any choice in the matter. They were transported to the gallery and filmed without their permission. There appears to be no reward of any kind – no steak for the wolf, no succulent fruit or grasses for the deer. They are prisoners for the sake of an artistic expression. I would guess they were filmed separately and that is what we see most of the time. Then they are introduced to each other and, as I said before, neither of the beasts look happy about it. Whether or no the viewer expects an attack, as AK surmises, this is not a suitable pairing for a caged show, a zoo exhibit or even a short video.

In an Initiartmagazine story about Cantor, the author writes and quotes Cantor himself,

‘ … inside a pristine white gallery space, what interests the artist is not scenes of bloodshed but a perpetual climax of “something-might-happen”, but then it would never happen.  “It’s the power of the humanity, the ability to control.  That’s why we are above other creatures, because we can control and sublimate the tension, turn it into something higher, let’s say love. But then the question is how.”  The encounter of the wild and the civilized reflects back on us as a conscious contained subject.’

Assuming the human control, the creatures are both fed and watered before transportation to the white cube. Their needs are sated and they wait for their release, not enjoying their situation but not desperate to escape. It is a fascinating video, unpleasant and shocking but completely compelling and provoking. Has the artist turned the tension into something else? Love? Perhaps not. Empathy? The need to write a piece for a blog and think about it? What have we learned? That humans are superior to animals because we can control them. Is that superiority or just bastardry?

Can we apply our human instincts and ascribe ideas into the head of the creator of this piece? I leave it to you!

Menagerie is a fantastic show missing only the bullfight, but then, one cannot have everything. Get along and see it if you can.

New! Prize for finding typo IN book! Excitement! Wow!

Paint by numbers kit of panda eating bamboo


Where are those typos? Find ’em and you’ll win this AMAZING painting kit! Banish boredom for at least ten minutes while you colour within the lines. A decent typo from within the pages of The Ektek Trilogy (obviously if it’s the panda then it might be better coming from the last one!)

Good luck.

And I’ll even send it to you!


Le Guinn reminds us to Make Good Art (thanks, Gaiman!)

Would love to write a searing diatribe about humanity’s lack of humanity to humanity and every other species but, hey, who wants to read that? So, instead, here’s Ursula Le Guinn.

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Thank you so much, Ms Le Guinn.


I can’t help feeling that I’d quite like my books to be sold like deodorant, or any commodity at all actually, but as they are quietly sitting unread, they must be ART!! Therefore, I am an artist. Whatever I make must be art and so on round the cycle. I art therefore I art.

And what’s more, I can honestly say I have not sold out. That’s reassuring.

And nothing to do with

Ursula Le Guinn

who is a great artist who has not sold out and completely deserves her Lifetime Award. I look forward to reading and rereading her work for many years to come.


Another ‘be the change you want to be in the world’ video

This video even includes masks and puppets. The call for a spiritual revolution seems such an incredible ambition I wonder how any of the featured thinkers can seriously proceed with their work. Still, we must do anything and everything we can to encourage people to think. If one person sees this and decides to change their life in the smallest way, then that’s got to be a good thing. We proceed. Throw another star fish.