Thursday, April 1, 2010

a different take on easter and rabbits

Its that time of the year when many shops are loaded with chocolate eggs, people are dashing off for a getaway for 4 days and autumnal weather is usually reminding one that the summer is over... even in the sub-tropics where change is not so apparent. The air is different though... and the signs of change are there if one really looks.
Unlike the northern hemisphere where Easter comes with spring and the "new life" symbolism is amplified by nature doing its thing it has always been a much different story here. As a child family Easter trips to places on the northern tablelands of NSW where the climate was cooler, the trees lost their leaves and there was an eerieness about some of the geographical locations all had a very pronounced impact with the addition of tales of the adventures of famous bushrangers that haunted this rocky terrain and the odd references to Jesus being crucified that came with the season. Another curious tangent were the tartans of the Scottish clans that gathered for celebrations around Easter.
So ... not for me the images of chickens, daffodils, eggs, chocolate and springtime!
Easter was a trip to faux Scottish highlands, crucifixion images, almost wintery, quite foreign landscapes and Captain Thunderbolt - the famous bushranger. Children do inhabit a different imaginal realm and I certainly had a potent set of images bound up with Easter  - for some years at least.
I still love landscapes with rocky outcrops like in the image above though!

Country sun set
images : Armidale visitors information centre

Escarpment from Point Lookout

Now for some very curious paintings (with rabbits ... well its easter!) by an artist whose work I very much enjoyed seeing  a few years back at the Damien Minton Gallery in Redfern, Sydney. A contemporary commercial gallery exhibiting artists "who engage with the Australian cultural landscape" it features an eclectic stable of artists - Damien Minton is known for his keen eye and willingness to get behind an artist if he finds something strong to champion in their work above and beyond modish preoccupations in the contemporary art scene.

Paul Worstead  is described by musician Stephen Cummings as a "painter like few others - a pungent and unique sensibility.... he's never binged on consumerism ..... dont think he's bought any new clothes since 1977... what makes him so annoying and simultaneously so great to hang out with and also partly explains why his art is so important." By clicking on the artist's highlighted name above you can read more and see his work.
I seriously considered buying one of his works a few years ago. The $'s probably went to the mortgage instead...but his work certainly tempted me. Unfortunately its long sold so I cant revisit it at this website! But here are several I chose from the gallery website:

Paul Worstead | Insufficient superannuation syndrom

Paul Worstead | Delusions of grandeur by proxy

Ayers Rock Bread (below) is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia - a screenprint created by Paul Worstead in a 1985 collaboration for Jimmy Jones Souvineers. I remember the series of similar works which at the time were very distinctive and unusual for the included content about aspects of indigenous cultural heritage. Bush food and indigenous food sources were barely talked of in 1985 which no doubt added to the value of these as important graphics.
In fact in 1985 indigenous matters were still being completely sidelined in NSW Secondary Schools (where I was employed) and a seemingly 'landmark' Dept Of Education decision that year led to the placement of an Aboriginal Education officer for all the schools in the South Coast Region of NSW where I worked. One was virtually black-listed for arranging to speak with this Officer...even though one considered it part of the job given the number of indigenous students that were participating in school life.

Its sobering to recall the edge one could find oneself on for showing the slightest whiff of solidarity. I went on to invite a revered local aboriginal elder to talk with my senior class - organised through all the proper chanels. This was also viewed retrospectively as subversive. It was challenging to be identified with mainstream white australian ideology through this era of professional life. Consequently walking away from work that asked for this level of ignoring became a necessity. Essentially I identified far more profoundly with being an artist for the freedom it offered to navigate independantly, to find ones way though ideas and experiences, rather than toe-ing party lines for a wage. Working in an institution that required such a coerced, albeit not openly, degree of alignment with assumed 'correct' or 'appropriate' values was not remotely congruent as I saw it with being involved in education.

Well...that's the thing that an artist like Paul Worstead triggers...those quirky rabbits are bound to get one thinking! And Cummings, who is a hilarious raconteur (heard speaking at Brisbane Writers festival last year), has got a point when he says Worstead's art is important. This easter I'm going to be thankful we haven't as yet run down the world supply of cacao beens  - what i'm hearing about cacao beans is pause for thought though! I'm also going to be thankful for people who dont exist to follow trends but have enough courage to find their own pretty good story and stick with it!


Mlle Paradis said...

Great post Sophie. And good for you for taking/making a stand further to your school experience. Sounds appalling.

Still would love to come to Oz. More than, ever, based on your descriptions. To find enough see enough of it properly! That is the problem.

Sophie Munns said...

Thank you indeed Mlle Paradis.
I do hope you make it here before too long!

Curiously I think schools were and still are a critical interface between past, future and community. Historically there were programs one after another to inculturate indigenous children into "appropriate" ways (including the alarming and profoundly damaging fact of forcefully taking children away from their families) and then when the children were in the schools it was more than likely they'd be met with more alarming disinterest/racism for the fact they were indigenous.To succeed in these terms required huge skills of adaptation and personal overcoming -.
There would have been individual teachers and people around at times offering a crucial lifeline - quite able to see beyond and around these programs... but lone voices...or could they even raise their voices at all?
All indigenous issues met with a great silence. In my 20's, alert, fresh, with passion for the work it seemed I was being asked not to think.... "do not stir the pot" - what threatened me so much was that I had not even begun to stir the pot.
I moved to London to an extremely different you well know MP. It seemed that every son and daughter from every single colony that England had ever gone to was dropping in to ask a few questions. I met amazing people and attended so many different kinds of forums that fulfilled a need to get beyond the silence - the non-talking of home.
There's a popular image of Australians in London partying like there's no tomorrow. I kept coming across the ones who were there to think as much as anything else. Some articulated this - others did not. But it was an important rite of passage for many a young OZ person.
Fortunately consciousness of what was to like about where I came from was starting to shift whilst over there.... despite only rare homesickness and no desire to leave the fact I had no feasible way of extending my visa after 2 years unless I went into teaching in London or married there. I came home!
One job I'd worked in London was with a bunch of Sth Africans radicalised by the tensions of their home country...this was pre-Mandela being freed. They were asking harder questions than I. Australian day January 26, 1988, 200 years on since the first white settlement I gathered with many others outside Australia House in London in solidarity with indigenous Australians who still had no voice.
Things happened that Bicentenary year back in OZ. The shameful silence on all matters indigenous was observed around the globe. Party time was met with a growing sense that not all was fine - other could see what was being swept under the carpet.
When I went back into teaching in 2001 after 15 years absence I was standing in a different australia. Still with a l o n g way to go ... shifts were clear and they were going to keep getting clearer.
Text books now had the missing histories being addressed. How well staff could deliver this to their students depended on where the individual sat with this material I imagine. There are layers of omission.
The stars on the international art stage out of this country were now more likely indigenous - one could eavesdrop on envious discussions from non-indigenous artists over this fact. Times were a'changing. About bloody time!
thanks for engaging on this MP!

Mlle Paradis said...

!!!! Sophie! So much I could say. Unfortunately silence and pressure in that direction is all too pervasive these days and not just in your (former) profession. We made so much progress in the 80's and 90's and now so many steps back!

As to thoughtful/brainy Aussies, I certainly did learn alot about them in the UK just about the same time you were there - Robert Hughes, Clive James, Germaine Greer, not to mention Dame Edna! And we have tons of brainy Aussies over here too. You guys pop up almost as often as the Brits! I guess growing up in that "not talking" space for so long, it makes a person that much more keen when the talking opportunities come along. I know that from growing up in the U.S. midwest too.

So anyway toodles! I hope it IS getting better for everybody in Oz. Over here we're trying our very best to reinstate the stone age!

Oh and "energizer bunny" come from an advert for batteries showing a windup bunny with a drum and the slogan is ..... "the energizer bunny keeps going and going and going......" Wish I could be one but I seem to have inherited the Italian - Hawaiian sole, il mare - "what's the hurry what's the worry!?"

Sophie Munns said...

Oh Mlle Paradis...
always a tonic...that made me laugh!
I used to be the 'energiser bunny' type - ridiculously so at times ...but guess what ... the batteries did wear out. First nuking of overactive Battery (thyroid) mid 2000's.., then a strong case of "teaching-career-bad-choice" syndrome really kicked in, and after a trip to hospital to get new batteries installed (more or less) this bunny is slower but the mind is still pretty busy which is very good!

You are quite spot on with reference to requiring the "talking space" if its not been there when it would have been useful if not critical. Which reminds me....the batteries wore out when there was little vital talking space -the syndrome I spoke of is related to lack of 'quality engaging' space.

Speaking of the midwest - did you see that film...what its name? about the Pie Diner where the lead actress Keri Russell (?) let her pies do the talking - she was so supressed/repressed! Seeing that very quirky film reminded me that people actually do this... find peculiar, maybe life-saving means to express themselves indirectly when words fail them or courage does!
The problem with pie-baking as a form of communication is that the meaning is lost! People just gobble up the rewards of one's labour and are none the wiser that what you were really trying to say is ".....!"

No wonder the emminant thinker Theodore Zeldin put forward 'equal conversation' as the new frontier to explore in the 21st century. I know everyone is saying its research into the brain and yes....that is a truly amazing frontier but I can help thinking that it could be good if people could more ably do the "to and fro" between each other resulting in something more MUTUAL and vital (for both) being shared.

You'll be no doubt around for longer MP, swinging on your hammock on some Hawaiian Island in your old age! Thank you for great responses, always!

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Dear Sophie,

I am out of energy because I just spent time venting about the educational system in this country over at Angy's blog, as we are having sever cuts that I am glad my children are in college, even thought are many cut backs too.

So lets talk about the humorous images which I greatly enjoyed. They are certainly a different and yet appropriate way to celebrate Easter.

I thank you for sharing this with us.

Wishing you and your daughter a wonderful Easter ,

Sophie Munns said...

Dear Egmont,

How interesting that you also are finding the changes to your Education system in the US distressing -Mlle Paradis made similar references.

I'm appalled here by recent changes that effectively pit school against school - national tests to rate/compare "achievement" when many dedicated teachers working within education over years can see the deadly impact that may issue from this.

What I found so counter-productive (if not plain offensive) during my 2001-2007 teaching stint was the fact that major procedural and philosophical changes were flowing into schools at an alarming rate and no sooner had hard-working teachers gotten their heads around one change than along would come the next and the next - really it was ludicrous. Because I was in and out of faculty staff rooms as a substitute I was seeing the impact on this across curriculums and staff - and from my outside position sensed how much energy this was draining from these members of the community whose 'clients' - parents and children- often place extraordinary demands daily at their door. I dont think parents find it easy times to raise children. Some of them forget the logistics of the classroom though - big classes of not necessarily cooperative (sometimes profoundly uncooperative) students that come and ago through the day... fleeting contact - rarely one-to-one! Working casually I could be one day at a school where all classes were relatively quiet and courteous and the next day be somewhere where students might be climbing out windows, dismantling anything in their sight etc

We tinker so much these days with overly mechanised procedures and fail to honour the importance of relationship and the deeper stories and the all important fostering of genuine curiosity. I worry that the light goes out in the human being trying to perform within all this push and shove - passion deadened by bureaucratic overload!

Enough said!

I'm pleased you enjoyed the humour in these paintings Egmont which in no way relate to easter - but as you say make poignant comments! Easter and metaphors...perfect moment to comtemplate such things!- If you click on the link you will see another 11 paintings...some classics!
Pure whimsy on my part I must say to link this artist to my easter weekend post! Blame the rabbits!

Its been a delightful weekend so far...dinner last night with good friends on a deck surrounded by trees under the waning moon and starry sky. And a lovely friend over for brunch (and a good chat) outside under the trees!

enjoy your easter weekend on the other side of the Pacific Ocean Egmont!
ps I dont have a daughter - but have posted the occasional photographs of my wonderful students -maybe leading to confusion! Cheers for the good wishes!

Mlle Paradis said...

Hello again Sophie - just a quickie - I have a little guy who has to go to the Dr. soon this a.m. Thanks for stopping by again at P.P.!

So sorry to hear that you ended up with what sounds like a bad case of "burnout" ultimately with your school experience. Oh dear, I could say so much more about what is grievously wrong about the route that the U.S. has chosen in terms of priorities and expectations and misalignments thereof, and the tendancy lately for the rest of the (English speaking) world to ape our follies!

But what you said a couple posts/comments back is really the essential, for our brains as well as our bodies. Use it, or lose it! I have learned too, from much moving in life that having an environment that suits your temperament is more important than we'd like to think!

Sorry you couldn't stay in London back in the day. I married a Brit with that expectation and look where I ended up! Ya never know!........apparently the US suits him better. Oh never saw the pie movie but I get your point!

Google's word verification is telling me I've "woofflo-ed" on enough. Aren't these things a little like Magic 8 balls (is that what they were called? Did yo have them in Oz?) OK I'm off! See you again soon!

isabelle said...

what a beautiful Easter trip , I would love to visit this place one day ...

Sophie Munns said...

You caught me on route to bed MP...we've had a good chat this past day or so!
YES.....incredibly essential the environment to suit the temperament - if not exactly in terms of location - then absolutely in terms of scenarios you can fit with....conversations you can live in and grow with!

Dual passports? I have thought you were quite the global citizen my friend!

thanks for popping in and out this past little bit. Between umming and ahhing over my painting its been nice to hear the ting of "you've got mail!"

Enjoy the rest of the easter weekend! I'm painting cacao beans at the minute...better to paint them than eat them!
well...maybe not!
see you soon!

Sophie Munns said...

Hello Isabelle,
You absolutely have the best post I've seen this easter... celebrations in Poland!!!
I was most fascinated!
thanks for visiting this evening!

em said...

sophie, interesting and creepy! your description of local easter and the un-cute bunnies make for a great post. metaphors very good indeed!

Sophie Munns said...

Thank you Em!
Imagine if you got others to pull apart such times in their childhood... you'd have to get a lot of these peculiar assemblages of disparate ideas - quite fil-like or dream like really.
Spooky yes...!
I think my parents might have liked taking us away from the coastal fringe landscape - well we did live 40 miles inland from the coast actually - for these holidays in mountain terrain just to see us engage with it all. I seem to remember there was a sense of having landed on the moon. And the chilly winds, those bushrangers stories in particular had us a bit rattled and terrible excited all at once!
Thanks for the visit Em.
Hope you have enjoyed a quiet break over this long Weekend... no doubt in the garden if you've been home!