Thursday, December 25, 2014

George Davis, master draftsman.

Essie Davis actress.
Charcoal drawing & pastel 1990.

Tasmanian artist George Davis’ exhibition currently showing at TMAG in Hobart covers a vast field of human visual experience. It covers sixty-five years of drawing from his early twenties the present. The survey of George’s drawings coincides with the release of Hendrik Kolenberg’s book on his work that may be purchases at TMAG.  This survey includes a number of portraits and landscape paintings as well as the drawings. The drawings reinforce Davis reputation as one of Australia’s finest draughtsman. Self-portraits of twenty year old George hang alongside a number of portraits of family and friends executed over a lifetime. Beautiful anatomical correct figure drawings from life class to atmospherically tonal rending of London houses and landscapes demonstrate his years of observation. In the 1950s George spent a few years studying on a Tasmanian scholarship at the Royal Academy in London. Davis learnt to draw in the now unfashionable manner of learning to see accurately, to work from plaster casts, seeing the world around you enables development of hand eye co-ordination so essential to fine art. I first meet George Davis some thirty to forty years ago, we have over the years spent many hours discussing different approaches to art practice, and at times despairing at the current direction of art training in this country. Too much old fashion discipline has been discarded and lost in the haste to incorporate new fashionable technology.

 

George Davis is more than simply an artist, but a scientist and collector of a vast array natural insects, shell fish and native wildlife as well, all of which he painstakingly draws in great detail. These drawings however are not the lifeless illustrations often found in science books, but images that at times live on the page. Over the years George has spent considerable time drawing and painting the bird life on the many islands off the Tasmanian coast once travelling to Macquarie Island on the Antarctic ship Nella Dam to draw albatross and other nesting sea birds, never willing to rely on  observations of others. Included in this exhibition are working drawings for the sixty foot mosaic mural adorning Hobart Conservatorium of Music, constructed with over 123,000 Italian glass tiles, the work took over two years to create.
Nella Dam, south wharf Melbourne
pencil 1978.
 

Among the detailed scientific drawings of shells, bones and animal parts are many delightful drawings of nesting seabirds, penguins that live in the present. These are not casual observations, but drawings that have a life of their own as they fight their way off the page into the living world of the viewer. Davis has the ability to take his work to a new level. It is not hard to understand that here is an artist who has learnt to see by accurate observation, an artist who looks carefully and then able to capture the essence of things with a few rapid strokes. Seeing is the key, a discipline that has almost become extinct from art schools. A particularly lovely drawing of newly hatcher Albatross chicks seem to dance before your eyes, truly a wonderful experience.

Gentoo penguins disturbed.
pencil 1987

Gentoo penguins at Bauer Bay, Macquarie Island.
pencil 1978
There are a number of paintings, some bordering on abstraction without losing the essence of the landscape. George has spent months on end on unhabituated islands off Tasmanian north coast, painting rookeries at times having to lash himself to the rock face in order to paint his subject. These paintings express more than the rocky outcrops of steep slopes that plunge into the sea below, but also express the abstract form and tone of nature herself. You feel the wind as it whistles off the surface into the face of the viewer. At times the colour borders on impressionistic, but contained within structured form. This is an exhibition well worth the effort to view it.

Pam, London. Reed pen & ink 1954

Tasmanian freshwater crayfish. Pencil 1984

Weddel seal pup. pencil 1983.

Forocactus peninsulae . pencil 1976..

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First World War, Begining of the Modern World.


Reflections on World War One:

 

As 2014 draws to a close, the centenary year that saw the beginning of that blood bath World War 1, it seems opportune to look back and consider those macabre events. To evaluate and analyse, whether the world has learnt anything from those experiences over the last one hundred years. Apart from the trauma many combatants experienced for the remainder of their lives, the senseless killings of thousands by long range artillery, death by injury and disease, the war saw the recreation of modern day Europe and the Near East. Empires fell, Russian, German, Austrian/Hungarian and Ottoman existed no more. The map of Europe was redrawn; Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and other smaller states once more appeared on the world map. The seeds of the current conflict in the near east were created with arbitrary borders showing little concern for the ethnic and religious beliefs of the inhabitants. Armenia despite all the good intentions of the Allies was driven from its historic homeland.

Reading through the diaries, soldiers’ letters, political slogans and speeches of the major players leave any impartial enquirer with a sense of the futile nature of war. Looking back, it seems the great hope of that age still remain unfulfilled today. History teaches us that greed and the pursuit of national self- interest always win. Reading a letter written by Valentine Fleming [ Grandfather of Ian Fleming, author of ‘James Bond’ novels.], who at the time was serving on the Western Front, the letter was written to Winston Churchill who later experience firsthand the hardship of trench warfare. Reading the letter it is impossible not to visualise the reality of a technical conflict. Fleming informed Winston of ‘the absolutely indescribable ravages of modern artillery fire, not only upon all men, animals and buildings within its zone, but upon the very face of nature itself. Imagine, he wrote ‘a broad belt, ten miles or so wide, stretching from the Channel to the German frontier near Basle, which is positively littered with bodies of men and scarified with their rude graves; in which farms, villages and cottages are shapeless heaps of blackened masonry; in which fields, roads and trees are pitted and torn and twisted by shells and disfigured by dead horses, cattle, sheep and goats, scattered in every attitude of repulsive distortion and dismemberment.’ A zone continually made ‘more hideous by the incessant crash and whistle and roar of every sort of projectile, by sinister columns of smoke and flame, by the cries of wounded men, by the piteous calls of animals of all sorts, abandoned, starved, wounded’.

Without being judgemental is it possible consider this new technology of conflict heroic? Firing an artillery shell from distances of up to 75 miles to kill combatants and civilians alike is not heroic. This is not to suggest that there were not many heroic acts carried out during the war, simply that such acts should be acts of personal valour and courage not impersonal killing.

It is hard to believe that any thinking person with knowledge of the carnage of this war, ten million soldiers dead would not understand the urgency for a better mechanism to resolve national political ambition .President Wilson’s fourteen points outlined in his January speech to the United State Congress in 1918 seems a good starting point many of these ideas were incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles,  but unbelievably the Senate failed to vote for the USA to become a member of the  League of Nations. Not that other political and military leaders on all sides had seemed to have  been in any hurry to advance the cause of peace through the war. As the Treaty was formed on the assumption that the US would be a  member its absents ensured to a great extent that the League would not be the success many hoped.

Wilson’s fourteen points outlined in his speech, suggest Diplomacy and treaty making should be ‘frank and in public view’. That freedom to navigate the high seas assured for all. Economic barriers removed and equality of trading conditions established among all nations. That the interests of all people whether colonial or not given equal weight in terms of sovereignty. Military armament to be reduced, all nationalities within the Ottoman Empire assured of a secure sovereignty and autonomous development. All nations guaranteed political independence, no matter how large or small. All fine ideas, but how many have been implemented over the last 100 years. It is a sad comment on humanity’s priorities that many of Wilson’s ideals are still just that, ideals. Would the current chaos in the Near East still exist if it had not been for national greed? Unfortunately the First World War resolved very little in how to build a better world. Hopefully as we remember the sacrifices made one hundred years ago over the next four years, serious thought will be given to all these outstanding issues or was it all only a dream.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mental Health and the role of Trauma.


Mental Health and the role of Trauma.

 

Collecting dead and wounded soldier from a battle field requires a spirit of steel. A personality able to look beyond the present towards a future of hope, a world that somehow will make meaningful the current carnage and loss of life, a belief in a better world. If you searched for an experience to change your life this surely would have to be it. Unfortunately such experiences often continue to haunt us making expulsion impossible. Memory has a habit of returning to inhabit the present.

There is a continuing debate among psychologists about the cause of mental distress, the nature-nurture dilemma. Whether mental health is the result of our biological genes or alternatively the product of daily circumstances. People behave differently, have different personalities resulting in different reactions to traumatic events.

An old friend from my youth had the misfortune to find himself in the middle of one of the last conventional wars, the Korean War, acting as a stretcher bearer. An experience that bordered at times on the inhuman not that all conflicts don't exemplify such. Stationed near a Turkish army unit, who’s members took turns each night to steal out and cut a few Chinese throats. The collection of the dead and dying by day coupled with this activity at night resulted in his developing a major alcohol problem. Unable to cope with everyday living he was condemned to a living hell, rarely being in a sober state.

Such are not uncommon problems with ex-servicemen, particularly historically were they were simper[y discharged and expected to re-enter normal life. Some are able to departmentise bad experiences, to shut them up in a secret cupboard and throw away the key, others never seem able to do so. With the current wave of throat cutting it seems reasonable to seek some understanding of the whys for such extreme actions.

Various psychological studies support the view that childhood trauma is substantially associated with an increased risk of psychosis. The study did not specify particular age groups, but as long as they were under 18years they were included. 41 studies [Filippo Varese and Colleagues] found evidence that childhood adversity is substantially associated with an increased risk for psychosis. The implication of these findings suggest that primary prevention is urgently needed in our detention centres in terms of policy towards refugee children. Specific types of adverse events include abuse, neglect, parental death, sexual abuse, not to mention exposure to war and parental separation.
It seems reasonable to suggest that current Australian Government policy of the detention of refugee children for extended periods of time often years is creating perfect conditions for psychosis. Is it not possible that this policy is encouraging possible future recruits for terrorist organizations. Social factors play the strongest role in the origin of mental health problems, this is a serious question that needs to be addressed by government

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to lead a calm life. Stoicism.


Stoicism:

Stoicism remains perhaps the most immediately relevant and useful philosophy in our time. Its ambition is to teach us how to be brave, how to remain calm in the face of today’s anxieties and possible disasters a dress rehearsal for catastrophe. Stoic teachings are dark and sober yet at the same time profoundly consoling making us defiant in the face of difficulty.


Our mind is a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection to solve problems faced by our ancestors in their foraging life style. We developed an understanding of how to outmanoeuvre objects, plants, and other people. This Darwinian process that has developed over time. Human existence has lived in such conditions for 99.5 % of its time on earth. It is little wonder that we unconsciously act the way we do. These historic conditions required bravery and calm in the face of overwhelming anxiety. It seems reasonable to suggest that Stoicism presents one of the more useful philosophies for this uncertain age.

When anxiety visits we need to remain calm, to systematically and intelligently crush the last visage of hope rather than tell ourselves that better times are near. If we think and prepare for the worst possible outcome, we enable ourselves to cope as we have envisaged the worst outcome. Generally we don’t dare to do this, any glimpse of horrible eventualities are banished. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote,

‘To reduce your worry, you must assume that what you fear may happen.’

He suggested we take time to practice worst case scenarios, sleep on the floor for a week and only eat stale bread. We must in order to be calm learn to expect less from life. It is natural for acquaintances to fail us, friends to lie, loved ones disappoint. The wise person needs to aim to reach a state where nothing suddenly disturbs their peace of mind. We naturally exaggerate our own importance; incidences in our lives loom large in our view of the world. We must learn to reduce their importance to regain composure. Life is always in the hands of fate, understanding this is the best philosophy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gestural Painting and the Zen connection.




 Gestural Painting, the marks of Zen.

 

Child at Play ink on paper 1995.
Currently I’m exhibiting a number of works drawn from examples of paintings I  produced over the years, four decades in fact, and as often happens you come across work that has not seen daylight for quite a long time. Work that has been in hiding in my studio behind more recent arrivals. One series of paintings I found were watercolours dating back to my time in Rome during the late 50’s, when like many young painters I became enamoured with Zen Buddhism, ideas that influenced abstract expressionism and other forms of minimum art.

My first experience attempting to produce drawings spontaneously, that is without any preconceived thought occurred during a life drawing session at Desiderius Orban Art School at Circular Quay, Sydney. Orban a Hungarian artist had deserted Europe during the 1930s’ to escape the Nazi Government backlash towards modern art. Australia at the time was fortunate in acquiring several European artists familiar with the latest artistic development. Orban insisted on immediate and spontaneous response to subject matter without preconceived ideas about the result. He would run up and down the studio shouting faster, faster as students attempted to produce fifteen, thirty, or sixty second drawings. Draw from the shoulder not the wrist he would say, only then will you produce spontaneous drawing. This approach to creativity eventual lead to Pollock’s action painting in America, and the gestural work of Motherwell and others.

 
During the immediate post-war period Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir existentialist philosophy became popular in intellectual circles. Artists influenced by the interchange between subjective perception and objective reality in the world, lead many artists to engage in exploration of abstraction. As far as I was concerned the idea of a total mediative state as a starting point for creative expression seemed like a great idea, Zen offered an encouraging entry point. This eventually lead to many gestural drawings and paintings were marks made on a surface by unconscious physical action becoming closed statements, where a viewer often could not interpret the resulting image in any meaningful way, this still remains a barrier for many people viewing abstract work.
 

My drawing during this period took on the appearance of Oriental calligraphy without any meaningful reference to any existing text or writing, they were calligraphy marks on coloured ground as simple as that. A Japanese artist Roy Kiyooka dismissed the idea as meaningless, which was fair enough being a highly structured painter and Japanese, but it seemed reasonable to me that the subconscious was able to connect with the objective world even if gestural association was not intended.

 
On later reflection I realised that some point of entry was required for a viewer beyond the decorative, this would enhance their experience and hopefully enjoyment. Thinking back this no doubt was what Orban was trying to instil in us as students while retaining the spontaneous approach. In re-engaging with this idea after rediscovering these early painting I have decided to reintroduce a gestural approach in my work. Such an approach is the closest a human being can give physical visual presence to their subconscious. Dancers often move to sounds without formal interpretation of the music, their movements a spontaneous reflex  response, so there seems no reason two dimensional work should not also.
 
Hanging figure ink on paper.1959.

 
 
Tsunami.
Wreck of the Laura. 1996.
 
Musical instrument. 1959




 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

ARCHIBALD PRIZE for Portrait painting. 2014




Each year the annual Archibald Portrait Prize seems to take another step backwards and this years is simply more of the same. Each year technology takes another step to the determent artistic skill. Far to many works seem to be based on photographs producing a display of lifeless portraits. The tell tale signs of photography copies are there, the use of casual attitudes, turned heads and lighting effects produce flat lifeless results. There is no substitute for drawing, whether academic or expressionistic. A portrait should tell us something about a living person, if possible their attitude to life. Kate Blanchett's portrait above illustrates the trend in this approach.

There are however a few bright spots, that in my opinion demonstrate a more creative method of painting. 'Here' by Quiang Zhang and 'Rox' by Paul Ryan are two paintings were the artist has attempted to present a living person. At least here we know the works are by living people, not a photo, not that I have anything against photography, it is simply not in the true spirit of portrait painting. Zhang's is a very strong work, while Ryan's expressionist work has a lively feel.

'Rox' by Paul Ryan.
Torah Bright by Zoe Young
'Not a sexpat cowboy painting by David Grigg.

'Here' by Quiang Zhang.


Two other paintings also caught my eye, David Griggs' 'Not a sexpat idiot cowboy painting' and Zoe Young's portrait of Torah Bright offered a little light relief from the photo brigand. I like Grigg's inclusion of supporting material offering a view into another world. Zoe Young is more straight forward with her exploration of what is possible with colour.







 


 

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Dance for the Forgotten.




Threefold Dance Experience.

 

‘A dance for the forgotten’ will not be forgotten quickly. Tasdance and Dancenorth turned on a stunning performance at The Theatre Royal, Hobart last night. The two modern dance companies preformed one of the most vigorous and sensual dance routines I have seen for quite some time. The choreography moved between the sensual and search for survive as waves of dancers throw themselves across the stage only to crash on rocks of disappointment. A shorten version of a piece first performed as part of Ten Days on the Island in 2007, a dance for the forgotten was all things to all people.

The vigour, beauty, and presence of the dancers as they fought for survival revealed a sense of pathos that moved between the medieval world and the present. Choreographed by Raewyn Hill, the two dance companies demanded total attention of their audience. The almost religious musical backdrop forced the viewer to dig deeply into their heart. All the dancers were superb, but Erynne Mulholland deserves special mention, her magic presence seemed to dominate and hold together the performance. This is not to dismiss the other dancers as all dug deep into their souls to produce an unforgettable night.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Robots and the future.


When the Robots take over.

Recently the Pew Research Centre asked some 1900 technology experts whether they thought automated intelligence robots would displace more jobs than they created by 2025. Well there was no prizes for knowing the answer, but what did surprise was that half felt white collar jobs were the next to go. We all know about driverless cars and factory production carried out automated machines, but few have thought that highly skilled jobs would be whittled away. According to the report only jobs requiring compassion such as nursing, primary school teaching and other forms of care employment will remain. Lawyers, accountants, surgeons, soldiers, and so on will all lose out to intelligent robots all in the name more free time.
The compassionate occupations have traditionally been performed by women, so well you may ask what is the male workforce going to do to earn a living in this new world. The driving force that automated machines are cheaper than human labour may suggest greater profits for the companies concerned, but one wonders who will have any money in their pockets to purchase anything. This is a major question about the future for all of us. State ownership has been tried and failed, so how will governments raise revenue if there is no one  working to tax resulting in no welfare. Are we all to grow our own food and return to hunting rabbits, personally I do not have a clue! There is always the option to take up art, unfortunately today it seems dominated by computers.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

School Days


First Day at School.

 

First days at school are generally fixed firmly in the back of our minds, mine is no different. My Mother always called me PJ .short for Peter John for as long as I can remember claiming I was called after a back page comic strip in the Daily Mirror. As a child I paid little attention to such nicknames accepting the title with some pride. Little did I realise that when I started school that the name when haunt me, other boys mocked the grandiose nature of PJ. an attitude that caused me no end of trouble.


Mr Allwork’s Primary School was located at the far end of our village, and being a fairly shy boy the shock of confronting strangers on that first school day proved traumatic. There was the gauntlet of aggressive boys that needed to be navigated opposite our house who took great delight in hurling abuse and throwing stones at those they consider different. I never have understood the hostility and even now thinking back it resembles similar experienced encounter between Catholic and Protestant school students later years.

The day inevitability developed into a push and shove between first dayers until someone’s finger found its way into an eye. Most of the boys had led isolated lives and were not terrible good at sharing. A fight developed resulting in my receiving a black eye from a rotund boy called Barany whose father owned the local soft drink factory. Thinking back it is hard to imagine what the disagreement was about, but we became good friends. This had the added advantage gaining access to the never ending supply of lemonade his father made a delicacy only available in my home on birthdays. The resulting fight led to our being made to stand outside in the school yard, noses pressed hard up against the stone wall.

It was only then that I remember the box of matches in my pocket I had ‘borrowed’ from my parents art deco cigarette boxes scattered around the house like wild mushroom after rain. It was September and the dry summer grass remained in abundance. I suggested to Barany that perhaps a little diversion was in order and much to our delight we soon had the grass on fire. Being five year old we had not taken into consideration that smoke quickly finds its way into any open window. Parents were called and another round of talks with the parish priest followed about the need to act responsible. Strangely no one ever enquired as to whether I had enjoyed my first day at school.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stephen Walker, Tasmanian Sculptor.






Stephen Walker.

With the recent death of Stephen Walker has lost its most celebrated artists. A sculptor of great technical talent, capable of casting monumental bronze works single handed in his studio. Over the sixty years or more Stephen studded the State with endless examples of his creative genius.

I first met Stephen during the years I ran the Harrington Street Gallery in Hobart, when his frequent visits often ended in long discussions on the state of current art practice in Australia. At the time I was conducting monthly reviews of our latest exhibitions of International Graphic Art. He would inevitably phone to make further points of view. Generally we were in agreement, his knowledge of art history and the legacy current practitioners owe to the past. During the 1950’s he had studied under Henry Moore and worked as his assistant were he had acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge of bronze casting.  A practice that today so many young sculptors consider dated, yet bronze casting has been with us almost as long as humans attempted to record their three dimensional images.

Stephan Walker’s creative works covers most visual interpretations of the world around us from abstraction to figurative, using natural materials, or casting at his Native Corner Studio at Campania. Unfortunately I did not meet up with Stephen during his eighteen month say in Rome and Florence as it would have been a delight to walk around Rome examining Bernie’s bronzes. I suspect his experience of Rome’s massive public sculpture spurred him on to make such a contribution to Tasmania’s sculptural stocks.

 
The range of his imagery can be gaged by comparing his wooden work ‘The Antipodean Voyage’, a memorial fountain to the French Explorers in Hobart’s Botanical Gardens to ‘Tidal Pools’ a bronze sculpture now located at Lower Sandy Bay. Then there is the Abel Tasman Fountain in Salamanca Place a highly figurative work. Over the years Walker has endowed Tasmania with many fine bronze tributes to both the creatures of the sea and air living in the Southern Ocean. Some are located in very remote regions, the bronze ‘Whale’ at Cockle Creek stands looking out towards Antarctica. His legacy will live on for future generations to enjoy.

 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Common Sence


 
What is meant by common-sense, is it public opinion, a reasonable and sensible attitude towards events, people’s actions, or individuals? The media love to quote common sense as the end product of what is correct and desirable. But all too often common-sense is full of error, prejudice or just plain daftness. When we submit such attitudes to philosophical examination we find all sorts of contradictions.

How true is what we think about love, money, children, work, religion, politics and the hundred and one attitudes that we imagine are held in common by everyone. To truly think is to know yourself. How logical are our answers to the above questions? Or are our opinions simply some established position we have learnt and accepted over time.

Philosophical answers to these questions require commitment to self-knowledge. Follow Socrates advice and know yourself. Humans spend the greater part of their lives searching for happiness, we over rate things that we think will improve our lives. We are guided by false hopes, false glamour. While we underestimate simple things, going to bed earlier to improve our health, taking daily walks or exercise, have a structured conservation with people we love or like. Pay attention to activities and attitudes that will improve your life. We need to analyse our emotional response to life’s events so they don’t impact on behaviour.

What matters and what doesn’t is our ability to undertake long term thinking.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

How to live a happy life.


How to be happy!

Some of the most frequently quoted regrets of dying people according to a palliative nurse are the following. The regrets contain considerable wisdom accumulated over the years are worth careful thought before we reach our final destination.

 

Firstly always have the courage to pursue your passion. Many people allow parents, teachers, friends, to influence the direction their lives take, to study subjects, or trades for which they have little deep love. It is important to choose a path of your choice and not one necessary for its status or money.

 
Many people become trapped into working so hard trying to improve their qualifications, to advance in their careers they become trapped in their jobs. They don’t enjoy their occupations, but do not have the courage to move on. Their lives revolve around the weekend or next year’s holiday rather than a sense of contentment in their life.

 
Have the ability to express your true feelings, your emotional state about things, have the courage to back your own ideas rather than always searching for new knowledge. Listen carefully to the advice of others, but trust yourself.

 
Keep in touch with your friends throughout your life. It is only when you begin to louse them towards the end of your life that you realise how important their contact was in your life.

 
Finally allow yourself to be happy. Don’t become obsessed with over planning, or allow finances, investments, dominate your every moment. Each day is precious and occurs only once . You may not agree with all of these suggestions, but they are the most common regrets of people on their death beds.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Art of Drawing.


Learn to Draw:

The rampant addiction of taking mobile and i-pad photos currently sweeping the world calls into question, how much detail do people notice in the world around them. All these photos destined for Facebook or twitter have approached plague proportions, do people really have the time to look, let alone examine them all.

 

What a great pity that the ancient skill of drawing seems to have vanished. A skill that started on the walls of caves by our ancestors and has been with us ever since. Practicing artists now also appear to rely on computer, digital, and other technical means to record their statements about the world.

 

To understanding anything visually around us we need to observe, and look for its detail, texture, tone, and patterns. It is the combination of these inferences that create visual memory. It is the best way to understand the world we observe daily. Yet we continual to i-pad the and hardly take time to look at our handy work.

 

John Ruskin claimed that the most important things in life are thought, and sight, not speed. Our goal should be to try to understand the wonderful world we live in by searching for the details. No postcard or momentary image will replace the skill of drawing, its not that difficulty.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Eurovision 2014, age of tolerence.


Eurovision 2014

As the last waving flag is put away, the amazing vote for tolerance exercised by Europe’s youth this year hopefully will puts to rest so much of the bitterness around the issue of gay rights. The victory of Austria’s transgender entertainer Conchita Wurst stands as a beacon, hopefully for a more tolerant world. How this annual event has changed and developed over the years is nothing short of amazing. The formal evening dress and orchestra long left behind speaks volumes about how informality  triumphed over correctness. Gyrating, minim skirted, tattooed performers have made sure of that. The Eurovision contest now has more of a football atmosphere, this sense of great excitement lights up the venue.

 
 With ballads, rock, and folk songs of the participating singers, accompanied by dancers and traipse artists  helped propel the event to an audience of 180 million viewers, to such an extent that over one million Australians tuned in. Intense activities of  performers at times pushing the boundaries with their acts, express a wonderful balance between different priorities, all intent in gaining  maximum exposure.

 
It is a credit to young and not so young, that they  voted this year's Austrian entry a victory. I’m sure many will feel this result is not in society’s best interest, but the issue of gay rights has to be addressed in a mature manner. To long it has been little more than a political football. Do we want to endorse middle ages legislation as in Putin’s Russia or some African states who have introduced the death penalty for homosexuality? The whole concept of Eurovision has been to draw the world together, not to separate it. The unity of today’s youth with their cultural icons is fully displayed in this contest, and they must be congratulated for their accepting attitude in voting for an accepting future. We live in one world of one people.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

War Crimes


Accumulated Evil of War Crime Law.

 

A recent lecture in Hobart on War Crime Law by Professor Gerry Simpson provided an informative overview, but somehow left me with too many unanswered questions. The whole idea of War Crimes is a very modern concept that grew out of events in the Great War. Until then wars were “natural” events that had occurred over the preceding several thousand years. Massacres had always occurred, populations wiped out, territory annexed by new masters. This was what Empire was all about.

Prof. Simpson suggested that the 1st W.W. could have been resolved diplomatically after the assassination of Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo, but such were the aggressive foreign policies of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire that they refused to negotiate a mutual settlement and preferred to declare war on Siberia, a typical 19th cent solution. When the war ended Germany was quite surprised at Allied attempts to allocate blame for the conflict giving rise to the whole idea of war crimes.

The issue of responsibility for acts of aggression are very close to my heart and I feel far too often such events are not dealt with in a satisfactory manner within our current legal system. The problem as far as my understanding is concerned, resolves around language, the attempt to define what is a “War Crime”. Legal language or the juryfication of war, [not sure whether there is such a word] revolves around the interpretation of the meaning of words in a legal sense, and attempts to require antagonistic parties to settle through negotiation becomes near impossible. Here in lies the major problem when parties are not interested in accepting responsibility for events and deflect their actions onto others. Did Hitler invade Poland or did Germany? Was the German Army simply carrying out orders and so on? How many war crime trials have travelled down this road. Lawyers love such banter, but does it lead to what I would call justice in any meaningful sense.

The league Nations and later the United Nations have never really been able to define what constitutes a legal war, let alone enforce justice in numerous instances of genocide over the last hundred years. The Armenian genocide in 1915, a trial run for the Jewish Holocaust that was to later follow, although the details of the events have never been addressed it seemed as though Western Powers at the time were more intent in dividing the spoils of the Ottoman Empire than address such issues, much I believe to their shame. Aggression may be defined as an unprovoked attack on another, but war, what does the word really mean. In recent years conflicts are no longer referred to as wars, it is as though the word has been abolished altogether. We now become involved in peace keeping operations, intervention only with the approval of the U.N, we need legal opinion to act, to stop blatant slaughter of innocent people. We attempt what is called regime change, but don’t call such acts war.

The reason for rephrasing the words war crime being that it is a social issue, a personal action and thus does not fall within the perimeter of war crimes. Wars require nations to undertake them, We no longer declare war, rather attempt to rectify wrongs in the name of humanity not states. After all we now all live in an International World. In a way we have declared war on death, not on men or flags. The struggle to make aggression a war crime in any true sense is not in the interest of nation states. When we view the aggression by governments or insurgents against their own people, cases such as Timor, Iraq, Cambodia, Syria, the list goes on, we are not able to define these issues as war crimes in any legal sense. There is no legal judgement for what is war, war is a political action not defined by law. This view allows every country to carry out any action it desires for ego or vanities sake, but never with without legal justification, this remains a major problem to creating a peaceful world.

What then is a war crime if not the massacre of innocent peoples. It is highly unlikely that current events in the Middle East or Africa will be dealt with in satisfactory way and proper punishment administered to those responsible. The issue of a legal definition of war crimes urgently needs addressing, not confined as at present to events between 1939 to 1945. Only then will any true justice prevail in this unequal world.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What is Happiness?


What do we mean by Happiness?

Every time there is a survey into how people feel about their life the question are you happy crops up, many people in the first world answer in the negative. I know any discussion about happiness is bound to be considered rather trite, but surely everyone wants to be happy and I’m sure they all know exactly what they mean by that desire.

Philosophically if we are to take Jeremy Bentham at his written word, happiness means the greatest good for the greatest number .A state of belief that underlines our modern sense of morality in terms of how we live. Strangely many in the first world do not consider themselves happy, so what do we mean by this desire to feel happy. There is no denying it is a state to which the vast majority of humankind strives.

Are we striving for a state of good health, being well fed, living in comfortable circumstances? Perusing the desire to live in a state of mind were we feel safe, prosperous and knowledgeable? Is it possible to be truly happy in a non-celibate relationship? We all need to be loved and respected to be happy. Perhaps happiness needs all of these states of mind and more.

 There have been many societies over the centuries that considered themselves happy without necessarily embracing all of these objectives. Should therefor happiness only be gaged by what is possible given the limited opportunities most people experience in this world. Most of us desire to be affluent and financially independent, but does happiness depend on such an achievement. Often a person is happy if their circumstances are simply better than their neighbours.

Before the age of mass media most people felt content living within the limits of their village or neighbourhood totally unaware of other peoples’ lives and circumstances. It sometimes seems that only when they compare their lot to others that dissatisfaction sets in. It has often puzzled me as to why so many in affluent societies consider themselves hard up or unhappy with their economic situation, they only need to compare their lives with how they would have been in the past to realise how well off they now are. Most people consider themselves content until they are exposed to more affluent societies.

 It seems that often what we are really seeking is a state of satisfaction and contentment within their personal lives. There are so many different levels of expectation and if people would put aside unrealistic desires maybe they would give themselves a chance to experience happiness. Happiness after all is no more than our individual state of mind.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Surealism, the driving force of 20th cent art movements.

Dali.
 

Surrealism:

Of all the isms of 20th cent art Surrealism remains central. A movement that to a great extent derives it force from Sigmund Freud, not in a strictly literal way, but rather than enabling the expression of that fifty percent of our hidden consciousness. Max Ernest in his text on the meaning of surrealism rejects the clich├ęd suggestion that the movement merely copied pictorial dreams, rather it presents a world in which neither morality nor reason prevail, the viewer has a dynamic perception of the world hidden in the subconscious.

It is a movement that extended its tentacles into numerous artistic activities. Literature, Cinema, Theatre, Photography,.Sculpture,.and Painting. All. have felt the impact of surrealism.
                                                                   Chagall

So why has surrealisms’ influence been so profound? The obvious answer lies in the desire to create a whole new concept of art. An art no longer subjected to reason, or any moral, spiritual, or aesthetic past. The early art movements of the 20th cent concerned themselves with problems such as colour, or geometric structure, experiments with expressionism or abstraction and so on. Only Surrealism attempted to create an artistic language of the subconscious, the random world of the imagination.A child of Dada, Surrealism did not desire to dismantle art, to create an anti-art, rather the movement sought to find an entirely new concept of art.
 
                                                             Detail. Max Ernst.

In order to build a new reality, untouched by logic the artist needed to inhabit a world free of the association of ideas. This allows the creator to peruse different direction without the limiting structure of any hard and fast rules of style. Images with illogical relationships were possible; a free association of a dream universe such as Dali’s or Magritte’s could impact on a viewer in a disturbing way.
 
                                                            Detail. Paul Delvaux.

The empty space and darkened shadows of de Chirico world moved the viewer to new levels of unknown existence. Miro and Max Ernst offered further random directions. There was no correct Surrealist style. There was no such thing, some visual artists displayed considerable academic skill, others such as Chagall preferred the world of childhood dreams. It allows the human spirit true freedom and that is what human expression is all about.
 
                                                                    de Chirio.
 
                                                                      Magritte.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Modern Dance Liisa Wilson's Lake



Lisa Wilson’s Lake.

Water in many ways defines us, after all we are 50% water, so when a chorographer decides to create  modern ballet to be performed in water the result must be anything but normal.

Lisa Wilson’s modern dance Lake requires the entire stage to be literally flooded to create an environment akin to an Australian outback lake. It creates a sense on one hand of the benign and at the same time fearful. The ballet like life itself mirrors and reflects our joys and disappointment.

Three dancers Kristina Chan, Hsin-Ju Chin and Timothy Ohl turn in stunning performances, both in their physical energy and grace. The entire ballet takes place in water to symbolise a lake  requiring considerable strength and as anyone who has walked through water will testify. Their movements create a new kind of texture and patterns with the displaced water their bodies create.

This dance company hails from Queensland, so dancing in water up there would be fine, how compatible the dance was in the terms of warmth here in Hobart’s Theatre Royal is another question. But they survived much to their credit.

This work is highly original in choreograph and action keeping the audience on their seats edge. At times I felt that they must be drinking a lot of water as the level went down as they threw each other vigorously around. It would be possible to drown even in this shallow water.

Lisa Wilson with twenty year international career behind her has yet again presented a distinctive and physically demanding piece of theatre

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tasmanian National Park, Fortescue Bay.

Base of Cape Hauy, Fortescue Bay.



Taman Peninsula, a Tasmanian Wonderland.

Driving down to the Tasman Peninsula last week I was struck by two immediate impressions, firstly the  amazing regrowth of our eucalyptus trees ability to start life afresh. Secondly, the spectacular coastal beauty of this southern coastlines which must rank as some of the best on the eastern coast line of Australia, with sandy beaches and dramatic sculptural cliffs. This is a far cry from the early days of settlement when there was a necessity to navigate lines of savage dogs and man traps at Eaglehawk neck. Security measure to keep convicts in the notorious Port Arthur Penal Settlement.

 

Today this part of Southern Tasmania offers some of the most scenic and specular walks in the state. My wife and I had decided to walk to Cape Huay and the lanterns, a track that takes the hiker up and over a plateau, down steep gullies and up on to the rocky cape. The walk will take a fit walker about four hours return. Along the way you can observe at close range the burnt forest trusting their grey bare arms ever skyward as though crying out for divine intervention, while new growth struggled to revive the trees for a new lease of life.

 
Stone track Cape Hauy Walk

Bridge over the creek.

Cape Hauy in the distance.

 This walk has recently been up graded by Parks and Wildlife to boast a stepped path of several thousand stone steps, not that I kept count but there were a lot. The track crosses small gullies and wet lands with little stone bridges until you arrive at some spectacular views out across the southern ocean. At times the walker needs to navigate around and along these cliff face, great care is called for, on the day we undertook this walk a strong southern winds was lashing the high cliffs and at times it seemed possible that we would be blown away
 
Mountain track.

             


                                                                              Nearing the top.
 
Towards the southern ocean.
 
Local visitor searching for ants.
 
Looking back towards Fortescue Bay.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Where do we find home?




What do we mean by Home:

 

With half the world’s population apparently in search of a new homeland, the question arises as to what qualities or lifestyle a human being seeks in finding a place they may call home.

Naturally most people consider home the place or country in which they were born as home, their motherland or fatherland as the case may be. Over the centuries peoples have travelled far and wide the search of some illusive quality they consider desirable. Historically it would be fair to claim most moved either for economic reasons [overcrowding,. better hunting or cultivation of crops, forced removal, ] and so on would cover most of the popular reasons for leaving your birth place for the unknown.

How applicable are all these reasons in the international world of the 21st cent., were we are witnessing the redistribution of ethnic or religious groups on an unprecedented scale.

Although it could be claimed that the relocation of an individual is less stressful than say a family group, the heartache is often the same. Moving in today’s world is often associated with conflict and assimilation not always assured.

To return to individuals on a more personal level, the meaning of home has different meanings. There are different words to describe this state, homelessness, homesickness, exile, alien are simply a few. To be homeless is self-explanatory to live on the street needs no explanation, but to be homeless may also mean stateless that to some extent means the same thing, you have nowhere to go.

Homesickness is entirely a different proposition, it presumes you have left your birth place for some reason, economic, adventure, or it just seemed a good idea at the time to go to some foreign or distant location, a place that does not qualify as the village down the road, somewhere exotic the unknown.

One of the strange conditions about homesickness is that there is often a reoccurring desire to return “home” in later life. This is particularly noticeable here in Australia were some 40% of the population are foreign born. You would imagine that regular visit to their homeland would quell this thirst for home, but this assumes that “home” remains the same, which of course it doesn’t.

 

Over the years I have spoken to many migrants who after living here in Australia for many years still don’t feel fully at home here. Sometimes due to cultural customs, the landscape, language, lack of contact with their stay at home relatives. Yet when they return home after years of absence, find they no longer relate to their mother country in the same way as before. Often due to new economic circumstances, migration or new political developments, nothing unfortunately ever remains the same. Some migrants who have taught their children their mother tongue find that their native language has moved on, and their version has become rather dated in their mother country. To some extent they have become stateless or citizens of the world belonging to no country in particular.

I often feel much of the dissatisfaction in their lives is due to this condition, that they no longer belong anywhere anymore. They belong to no country that they can truly call home, in the true meaning of the word. All of us set out on the adventure we call life without sufficient consideration of the long term consequences of our decisions. To further complicate our desire to belong somewhere there is the problem of marriage between different ethnic groups, now some 30% of the population marry into different ethnic groups, creating a new people a refinement that appears to focus immigrants on their new country, their new homeland as this is now the mother of your new life.