Tag Archives: art

Creative echidna

My new years resolution for 2020 was to always have a creative project to work on. It started well. At Woodford Folk Festival I saw a naive drawing of an echidna on a woman’s t-shirt. In my little notebook, sketched in the style of what I had fleetingly seen. Back home, I took my resolution seriously. I drew three echidnas and loaded them into Photoshop, where I mirrored and swung the three drawings, and arranged them in a repeating pattern in a jig that would fit together, and printed an A4 transparency which I then exposed on a silk screen.

My friend and neighbour, Birgitte, took me to the Fabric Store in The Valley. I fell in love with a paprika-coloured linen, and imagined my echidnas roaming this fabric. I bought 2.4m of the fabric and immediately started printing, frame after painstaking frame, my pattern onto the fabric in white screen printing ink. The ink was thick and it took me a while to get the right viscosity for the print. It took me quite a number of weekends to fill the fabric with little white echidnas, because after squeezing ink through each frame it needed to dry before I could line up the the next section of the pattern without smudging the prior.

We went into covid lock-down before I was finished with printing the fabric. This was problematic because I felt I needed help with the next part of my project. You see, last year, I was at Artisan for the opening of an exhibition that was the outcome of a collaboration between printmakers from Hopevale and QUT fashion students. Hopevale happened to be one of the communities we were working with to develop State Library’s Spoken exhibition about Indigenous languages. I saw this amazing length of fabric, a straw coloured lined printed with large camp dogs in blue and yellow. Even though I had not sewn anything since I was 12 when I failed miserably at sewing a cotton skirt, I decided to buy this beautiful fabric for the purpose of sewing a dress for the opening of the exhibition. My mother-in-law had recently given me an old sewing machine, which promptly broke when I fired it up, but this gift had convinced me that I would be able to sew a dress. It was only because Birgitte, who is a fiend at sewing beautiful clothes, offered to help me that the camp dog dress ever became reality.

So when I was ready to sew the echidna dress, I felt a tad lost without Birgitte, though she was available on the telephone. I still had the pattern from the camp dog project, and emboldened I decided to modify it somewhat before I started cutting. Measure twice and cut once, Birgitte’s voice rang in my head. And it worked! I cut out the front and the back pieces, and two short sleeve pieces. Then I pieced them together, first with ample pins, and then with stitches on my new sewing machine.

I am proud of the result. Thanks to the artist whose work on a fellow festival goer’s t-shirt caught my eye, and inspired me to give it a go.

Art, bog people and sunburn

Silkeborg is a small town halfway between Aarhus and the town I grew up in, Herning. With the motorway now complete between Herning and Aarhus, it is no longer necessary to drive through the town – though the motorway is not without controversy. It was clever politicking by local government politicians that saw significant investment in road infrastructure to Herning, the Capital of the Heath. And though Silkeborg residents probably benefit from the connectivity created by Herning Motorvejen, I heard a fair amount of resentment for the rival town.

What Silkeborg has over Herning is natural beauty. When the ice receded during the last ice age, it created a flat corner, right down the middle of Jutland, from Viborg in the north to the German border in the south. While the heath landscape of this area was largely reclaimed and drained in the 19th century, it is still completely flat and windswept, and not particularly fertile.

The other side of this midline is a different story. The ice created hills (including the infamous Himmelbjerget ‘sky mountain’, all of 147m above sea level and the third highest point in Denmark), lakes and vallies with fertile soil, ripe for human habitation. The countryside around Silkeborg is particularly beautiful with lakes and dense forrest. It is no wonder that 10,000 years ago when the first human immigrants followed the deer north through Europe and into the Scandinavian peninsula they settled in the area we know as the ‘seahighland’. Archeological diggings at Bølling, near Silkeborg, has revealed a very old settlement from 9,600 b.c. Over the years, the Silkeborg area has been subject to many archeological digs, and treasures continue to emerge whenever a developer digs down into the rich soil.

The most famous inhabitant of Silkeborg is Tollundmanden, an extremely well-preserved corpse from the iron age around 200-300 b.c. He was discovered in 1950 and is thought to have been sacrificed at the bog. He can be seen at Silkeborg Museum.

Another famous guy, Grauballemanden, was also found near Silkeborg a couple of years later. His body can now be found in a fantastic shrine at Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus.

A third famous person to come from Silkeborg is the artist Asgar Jorn (1914-1973), one of the founding COBRA artists. It is fair to say that Jorn left his mark, not just in his hometown but on the art world, and still inspires budding artists today. He has his own museum in Silkeborg, which is well worth a visit if you are at all interested in art.

When we came to Silkeborg this time, we visited very live people, thankfully. We had new potatoes and barbequed meats, and walked around Almindsø. We also attended the opening of the newly surfaced town square, inspired by one of Jorn’s automation drawings. It was a sunny day and we enjoyed the jazz music and a couple of cold beers. Unfortunately, some of the people we shared it with ended up with quite a sunburn!


ARoS Triennial: The Garden – End of Times, Beginning of Times

A couple of years ago, we visited the very popular Sculpture by the Sea at Aarhus. Between 2009 and 2015, Aarhus was the only location outside Australia to stage Sculpture by the Sea, a concept by David Handley. In 2017, ARoS took over activation of Aarhus  Bay with art as part of the ARoS Triennial, The Garden. One morning we walked out to Tangkrogen to have a look at The Future displayed on the three kilometer stretch to Ballehagen. I love the way Bjarke Ingells Group’s Skum turned sculpture into cafe and place to sit at the beginning of the walk.

It is over a week we left Aarhus. The aim was to get to know this ancient town better, and to do that we walked. Not only to see the public art, but also to get a feel for the place, its people, its colours and its culture. It has been hailed as the new must do of Denmark, and it is easy to see why. A small concentrated centre with nature experiences so close by. I put together this little film about walking in Aarhus.


ARoS: Your Rainbow Panorama

Our best impression from Aarhus is that it is a fantastic town with a great cultural offer. But the very best experience is to walk Your Rainbow Panorama on the top of the art museum ARoS. It is a work conceived by the Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, whom Brisbanites will know for The cubic structural evolution project shown at GOMA several times. Danes will know his Circle Bridge in Copenhagen.

If you cannot make it to ARoS, here is the second best thing:

Infinite obliteration

Yayoi Kusama: Dots Obsession (2009), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Yayoi Kusama: Dots Obsession (2009), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Lone. 2015.

I first met Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929, Japan) in the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art 2011 exhibition Look Now, See Forever. I don’t mean met her in person, but I met her art. I recall best the dots. She must be the best dotter I have ever come across. I recall standing in the red dots obsession room feeling overjoyed at the audacity that this could be art. Kusama’s work provided an aesthetic affective experience and was surprising and delightful. Could art really be this much fun? At the time I admit I did not immerse myself in the Kusama’s story and her amazing feats as a female Japanese artist in a white men’s art world. I simply took in the colour and brightness as I lost myself in the immersive works, watched the video installations with amusement and was delighted by the enormous flowers that bloom at midnight.

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Trust and freedom of expression


Flowers at the synagogue in Krystalgade following the Copenhagen shootings. Photo: Lone 2015.

Flowers at the synagogue in Krystalgade following the Copenhagen shootings. Photo: Lone 2015.

We did not learn about the Copenhagen shootings until we lay in bed, checking facebook on the Ipad. We heard sirens when we strolled around the lakes after dinner, but this is normal given Riget (the hospital of Lars von Trier’s tv series) is quite close by. We saw nothing out of the ordinary to reveal the horror that was happing around us: three people, including the offender, killed and several wounded right here in our local area.

The first incident was on Østerbro at an event to debate art, blasphemy and freedom of speech to mark the 26th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Police attended due to participation of the Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who has given name to the organising body of the event, The Lars Vilks Committee. In 2007, a couple of years after the Danish Mohammad cartoons, Vilks drew a picture of Mohammad as a dog, following on from a participatory art installation movement in Linkjoping in Sweden, also known as Rondellhund. Following terror threats, his protection by police is now constant. This event followed a similar event last year and watching the YouTube clip of it is like watching a prophecy of what happened at 3.30 pm on Saturday 14 February 2015. A man with a machine gun shot randomly into the cafe and killed a man – Finn Nørgaard, a Danish filmmaker, who was attending the event. Three police officers were also wounded.

The second incident took place at the synagogue in Krystalgade in the inner city of Copenhagen. The Jewish community was celebrating a Bar Mitzvah. In the early hours of Sunday morning, a young man, seemingly drunk, walked up close to the 37-year-old guard, Dan Urzan, who was protecting the entrance of the synagogue. The young man shot Urzan with a gun and two police officers were wounded, while the offender escaped.

At about 5am on Sunday 15 February 2015, Police confronted a young man, 22, on Nørrebro. He opened fire against the police officers and was promptly killed. Police expect him to be the gun man and are still investigating if the actions were part of organised terror against the Danish people, or whether it was the actions of an unstable person acting alone.

A sense of solidarity outside the synagogue in Krystalgade in Copenhagen. Photo: Lone 2015.

A sense of solidarity outside the synagogue in Krystalgade in Copenhagen. Photo: Lone 2015.

As police continue to investigate, there are many reactions possible. As we walk the streets of Copenhagen, there is little evidence that anything is different. People still walk the streets, rush by on their bikes and stop to feed the swans at the lakes.

Like many others, I went past the Synagoge on Monday morning. I don’t know if it was the number of people, the masses of flowers and lit candles in front of the Synagoge, the eager news reporters and photographers reporting in a variety of languages, or the police officers with machine guns, but I was deeply affected by the mood, the situation. While machine guns displayed in public is disconcerting, I left with an overwhelming sense of solidarity and even security in this mass of people of very diverse backgrounds who came to show respect.

How do we react to protect this wonderful country from future threats? I believe we need to do three things:

  1. We stand up for freedom of expression. We cannot be bullied into fear and quiet. And we must not stand by silently when others are persecuted, no matter their religion or ethnic background. Freedom of expression, by the way, includes the right to wear religious or cultural symbols.
  2. We resist the temptation to engage in divisive Us and Them narratives. It is not Christians against Muslims. It is not immigrants against Danes with pedigree. It is not right against left politics. We need to embrace diversity with empathy, inclusion and solidarity.
  3. We hold on to the social trust that is Denmark’s greatest asset. All people living in Denmark must extend trust and hence respect to a greater diversity of people in the community. If we shift the Danish foundation from trust to fear, we could find ourselves in a very different community, with security gates, segregation, firearms for protection and rising inequality.

Denmark must not lose this trust that builds social capital. As French Ambassador to Denmark, Francois Zimeray, said our trust-based society is valuable and a role model to the world. It is what makes Denmark such a wonderful place to visit and make home.

Police officers with machine guns are not a common sight in Denmark. We need to make sure it remains so. Photo: Lone 2015.

Police officers with machine guns are not a common sight in Denmark. We need to make sure it remains so. Photo: Lone 2015.

Thank you to the dedicated police officers who protect us. Sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones. I wish speedy recovery to those who have been wounded.  And speedy recovery to this country, this town. I am sure we can grow it stronger, together. Peace.

Identity and Biography

Last chance to see Biography by Elmgreen and Dragset at Statens Museum for Kunst. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Last chance to see Biography by Elmgreen and Dragset at Statens Museum for Kunst. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Identity is a construction in progress at all times – you are not the person you were yesterday, nor the person you will be tomorrow, suggests experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe. To me the exhibition, Biography by artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset at Denmark’s Statens Museum for Kunst is all about constructing identity. We caught it last weekend before it closed.

Elmgreen & Dragset Andrea Candela, Fig. 3  2006 (Virtual Romeo) Voks, t.shirt, hættetrøje, sokker.  Courtesy: Andrea Thuile & Heinz Peter Hager. Foto: ONUK http://www.smk.dk/om-museet/presse/pressefotos/presse-udstilling/biography-elmgreen-dragset/

Elmgreen & Dragset, Andrea Candela, Fig. 3
2006 (Virtual Romeo), Voks, t.shirt, hættetrøje, sokker.
Courtesy: Andrea Thuile & Heinz Peter Hager. Foto: ONUK

In the hall of the gallery towered a tall concrete housing block – The One & The Many – which let us peer into the imaginary lives of people living there. So close to each other, yet so lonely. The living room with heavy-set and well-worn leather furniture, complete with a soccer match on tv and empty beer bottles on the tile-top table represents a particular masculinity of a generation and era – one associated with armchair sport and beer. The bedroom with the young man on the mattress with his computer open on a gay dating site – complete with a live profile that real people are contacting – represents a very different type of masculinity and maleness. And the kitchen with Asian noodles in the drawer, a plastic plant next to the Chinese cat, incessantly waving on the microwave, and karaoke playing on the television provides for a completely different cultural identity in an increasingly culturally diverse community. Each room is carefully constructed and portrays the individuality of its inhabitants, yet the common entrance is cold and uncared for with as little aesthetic quality as the anonymising grey construction that houses this diversity. The idea that The Ones make up The Many is inescapable and beautiful in its base concept of solidarity, yet the result is bleak, an uncomfortable and ill-fitted patchwork, rather than a unified whole.

To the right of the housing block, in a dark exhibition hall, several works are installed. A neon sign reading The One & The Many on the back wall (The One & The Many, 2011) reflects in a lit pool with a floating body (Death of a Collector, 2009). This pool is protected by a chain-wire fence, angrily guarded by a rottweiler (The Guardian, 2014) and overlooked by a boy sitting in a spot light on a fire escape stairway (The Future, 2013). In front of the room is Welcome (2014), a silver camper van stopped in its struck by a fallen Las Vegas neon sign – representing freedom and opportunity to win the great prize; a dream which is so violently crushed by the sign, now on the ground, but still blinking its shiny promise of an American dream.

There is a particular discomfort to this room, not just because of its darkness. Like some ill-fated character in Westside Story, the boy – the Future – overlooks a scene of broken dreams and segregation. Has he seen what came before? How will it affect his life? The deep connection between our individuality and society leaves us questioning whether we really have a chance at inventing our identity, our future. Bellevue, July 17, 1994 (2009) is a bronze sculpture, cast and painted to look just like an esky, forgotten and left behind after a picnic in the park. At first I did not even notice it in the dark room, and when I did, it took me a while to realise it was part of the exhibition. The valuable material is cast in the shape of an everyday household item which is neither functional nor aesthetically beautiful. What happens when we strive to be something we are not and can never be? Does the identity we construct belie our value?

The installation to the left of the housing block spoke directly to the experience we have had since coming to Denmark. The long labyrinth corridor was reminiscent of public institutions and let us experience a version of public service that is anything but welcoming. The waiting room (It’s the Small Things in Life That Really Matter, Blah, Blah, Blah, 2006), complete with the ubiquitous requirement to take a number, had a sad-looking dried out fig in a pot reflecting the uncared-for nature of the room and its users. The digital sign showing the number currently being served was permanently stuck on ‘000’: never will your turn come in this waiting room, even once you have discovered the need to take a number. This sense was reinforced by the clock face with its minute hand taped into eight minutes to the hour (Powerless Structures, Fig. 243, 2014), reflecting the sense of time standing still when waiting to be served in a public institution.

Elmgreen & Dragset Powerless Structures, Fig. 124 2001 Træ, maling, hængsler, beslag, dørhåndtag.  209,5 x 100,4 x 50,5 cm Courtesy: Galleri Nicolai Wallner. Foto: Anders Sune Berg http://www.smk.dk/om-museet/presse/pressefotos/presse-udstilling/biography-elmgreen-dragset/

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 124, 2001,
Træ, maling, hængsler, beslag, dørhåndtag, 209,5 x 100,4 x 50,5 cm
Courtesy: Galleri Nicolai Wallner. Foto: Anders Sune Berg

The doors in the Powerless Structures series promised openings of inclusion throughout the corridor, yet each one of them was dysfunctional in its own way. One was partially opened to reveal another closed door directly behind it (Powerless Structures, Fig. 124, 2001), another had its handle placed on the wall next to the door (Powerless Structures, Fig. 131, 2001). One straddles a corner (Powerless Structures, Fig. 129, 2001) and yet another is a version of a double door, one cradled within the other (Powerless Structures, Fig. 135, 2002). It seemed things happened behind the doors, yet they offered no opportunity to peer into this hive of public service activity.

Along the hall way we walked past a closed ticketing window (Back in Five, 2014), two pairs of identical Levi’s jeans and Calvin Klein underpants, clearly taken off quickly in one movement (Powerless Structures, Fig. 19, 1998), a strangely plumbed public toilet, complete with graffiti on the toilet doors (Marriage, 2004), a prison cell with a bunk bed where the beds and bedding face each other (Boy Scout, 2008), a morgue (Untitled, 2011) and a baby left in front of an automatic teller machine (Modern Moses, 2006). Was the stuffed rat peering down from a crooked ceiling tile also part of this dysfunctional public service?

In its completeness this corridor installation lets us see our institutionalised life – something the Danes are exceptionally good at, in spite of the staunch anti-authoritarian streak and loud complaints about the Nanny state. From cradle to grave, the state keeps tracking its citizens through the Central Person Register which allocates a number to each Dane on birth and consistently uses this number in every dealing with its citizens, as do many private companies such as mobile phone companies and banks. Yet the promise of inclusion is broken by the dysfunctional doors – it seems they are as much for keeping people out, as for letting people into Club Denmark.

In the booklet for the exhibition, curator Marianne Torp writes that the works reflect the era of self-portrayal and self-reinvention. The usual classification into family, class, profession, education and sexual orientation no longer suffices, so we create our own identity, solidarity and biography.

Biography selfie - a chance to reimagine ourselves? Photo: Mick. 2014.

Biography selfie – a chance to reimagine ourselves? Photo: Mick. 2014.

In returning to Denmark, I am very deliberately seeking to reconstruct an identity that is deeply connected with Danish culture. In doing so, I am not striving to rewrite my history of 23 years in Australia, but in a year’s time, I will be a different person to the one I am today. I, too, am rewriting my Biography.

Stuff and memory

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

There is only so much you can fit into the luggage limit of airline carriers. When you are packing your bags for a year-long sabbatical in Denmark you have to make harsh choices. Luckily we’ve secured a furnished apartment just outside the lakes in Copenhagen. This does reduce the amount of stuff we need to bring or acquire.

For years we have been trying to get rid of stuff – to declutter our lives. Somehow stuff just seems to accumulate and fill every surface, like dust whirling up in the swoosh of movement or encouraged by south easterly winds – and settling in the corners and on the skirtingboards until it is disturbed again.

I find that I hang on to stuff because it has a meaning for me. It may be a present given to me by someone I love. It may be something someone was made especially for me. Or it may be something useful one of us bought. The best stuff is stuff that is designed well and used often. These are the objects that last and also bring lasting memories.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Each time I sit in one of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chairs I am thankful that these beautiful chairs ended up in our house in Brisbane. My parents bought these chairs in the 1970s when we moved to Gjellerup. They sat in the tiled lounge room in the middle of the brand new house, together with the clunky, soft and deep modular couch. Like a casual prop in photos of my grandmother comfortably sitting at a family party. When we moved to the next house in Gjellerup on top of the hill, the chairs were incorporated into the combined kitchen and tv room – much more frequently used, but less elegant because they could not sit side by side in the space. Finally in my father’s last house in Herning they sat in the corner of the swimming pool room together with the buffalo leather couches, inviting one to perch a cup of coffee on the wide arm rests and pick up a book from the overflowing coffee table while listening to music blaring from the Bang&Olufsen sound system installed to fill the large room.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

Now, in the early hours of the morning, the chairs let me catch the weak rays of morning sun before they gain power and blaze onto the solar panels on the roof. The chairs sit with the cedar coffee table that Mick created from the beams left-over when we built the house on the hill in Bunya in the early 2000s. Inspired by a large, rustic coffee table from my childhood home, it is a robust table that is both functional and beautiful. On the other side of the table is one of the green Natussi leather couches we bought, one at a time, as a present from my parents when our boys were born. Those couches have been tough enough for babies, toddlers and teenagers, finally giving in to the direct sunlight on the deck, causing the leather to crack.

Over the table hangs a PH lamp – the classic lamp that was a wedding present from my parents’ business partners. It was second hand then, surplus to requirements, when they decorated the ground floor flat of the home that also housed the publishing business and my family. On the table sits a small dish that Mick wove out of tie wire during his first year of the fine arts degree. It accumulates stuff: ear phones, coins, a card. On the wall hangs Mick’s Takemine guitar, so often picked up by our younger son to strum a few chords or pick a few Spanish notes. It hangs next to a painting by artist Joanna Underhill, ‘Cellular Intelligence’. Following a bout of cancer, she studied cancer cells during a residence at the Brain Institute. The result is a series of work that explores the structure of cells which provides inspiration for quite intricate imagery and colour.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

On the other side hangs a piece my older son did in Year 12 Visual Art, ‘Waiting for skating’. Three skate boards form the canvas and three faces in various states of patience adorn them. Clearly, my son is not particularly patient. One day he screwed the wheels back on to one of the boards: he wanted to skate. When I realised, I promptly bought him a fresh board and the piece was restored to the wall. He promised to touch up the scratched board. However, in the intervening period I have grown quite fond of the authenticity of the green and pink paint that shines through and the edges that are worn down to the timber core of the board. Besides, it is a good story.

None of this stuff will fit in my suitcase. And this is part of the point. These objects are integral to the life world I have created in Brisbane with my family. This life is part of me, but only one part. With the chairs and the lamp – and many other objects – I have integrated my Danishness into my Australianness in physical manifestations. I have invented a self that combines my experiences, language and memories. One reason for going back is to refresh and reconnect with the Danish part. Together we will find new inspiration and create new memories for the next period of our lives, which integrates more of my Danish heritage.

My self is indivisible and when we are away, there will no doubt be things that I miss from this sunny part of the world. Stuff that I have grown used to.

Team Australia – and everybody else?

There is no I in team. Draft. Ink on paper. Mick 2013.

There is no I in team. Draft. Ink on paper. Mick 2013.

It is part of the Australian identity that we love sport. We love a good stouch. We support those who have a go – we even applaud those who cheekily bend the rules to win the game.

So it is probably no wonder that Australia’s leader has called for Australians to join Team Australia. That was in the context of abandoning proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which would have watered down the racial vilification provisions in the name of free speech. “You are entitled to be a bigot” was the policy rationale. While claiming to be a staunch supporter of free speech, our leader abandoned the proposal because of the risk it might cause national disunity.

‘‘I want the communities of the country to be our friend not our critic,” he said.

That is a promising position – after all, ‘the communities of the country’ are the communities who make up Australia. However, who is the in-group – the ‘our’ – that Australia’s Prime Minister was referring to? Clearly it is a group HE belongs to, but one is left wondering what communities in Australia are outside that group. He clarified by continuing:

“I want to work with the communities of our country as Team Australia.” Still not clear? Luckily for the slow Australians, he clarified even more:

“[Y]ou don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team,” he said.

Ah, thank you, Mr Abbot, it is about migrants! Oh… but isn’t he a migrant himself, born in the UK, staunch supporter of Queen Elizabeth, to the degree that he has reintroduced the archaic British system of honours to the colony, eh… country? No matter, our Prime Minister is clearly on Team Australia – it is his ‘we-group’ he is talking about here. It turns out Team Australia is about the Australian stance against terrorism. And, sadly, it is about muslims, too, because terrorism too often confused and conflated with Islam. The corollary to this, which our leader might understand, is to conflate paedophilia with christians, in particular catholic christians, is it not?

Team Australia makes us wonder who we are competing against. Rounders on the beach, Bornholm, Denmark. Photo: Lone. 2009

Team Australia makes us wonder who we are competing against. Rounders on the beach, Bornholm, Denmark. Photo: Lone. 2009

The notion of Team Australia is engendering divisive patriotism and nationalism. The Prime Minister’s call for ‘moderate muslims’ to speak out against radicalism is superfluous: they already are – the problem is that ‘moderate muslims’ simply cannot be heard in mainstream media. The response of the twittersphere to Team Australia is #TeamHumanity. That is promising, if embarrassing that Australia is pitted against humanity.

I wonder why none of his advisers told our leader about Team America: World Police, the puppet movie from 2004, which parodied American foreign policy and the war on terror. The best bit is where the officers in combat scream in horror: We have no intelligence!

But maybe the Prime Minister realises the fact that, apart from sport and competition, Australians love the arts and hence deliberately put Australia on the international comedy stage?

Emperor’s new clothes

Photo: Jim Lamberson, 2008, Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Jim Lamberson, 2008, Wikimedia Commons

This week I saw a live ballet for the first time. An arts experience for me yet to connect with, I had anticipated ballet for some time, wondering what made some people speak fondly, and others snivelling, about the artform. From my provincial, tomboy beginnings, I was not one of those girls in a tutu, dreaming to be the next ballarina. As a child, I used to quite enjoy snippets the xmas televising of the Royal Danish Ballet’s Nut Cracker – but that was in the 70s and 80s when daytime tv in Denmark was at a premium (so an attraction in and of itself), yet during the xmas break where time was filled with family visitors, food and goodies, card games and board games. So snippets at best.

My first live ballet was a well-known story, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a story I have engaged with – and enjoyed – in many different iterations over the years, in writing, on the screen and on stage (though it does not feature in the Danish high school curriculum).

As I sat in front of the draped stage in the deep seats, subdued conversation all around me, I enjoyed the curtain’s artwork; ochre and blue colours in the image of hills with two fortresses, complete with ramparts and spears, signalling a different time with different ways of expressing the deep and enduring distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’. The art was a kind of naive art style that indicated playfulness. I waited in anticipation as the lights dimmed and curtain was raised (to an unseemly clunk!) to uncover an imagined 16th century Italian town square.

Ballet is a form without words. The performance is full of graceful movement and colour to well-performed classical music; I could see that attention and inventfulness had gone into the set and costumes, full of velvety reds and brown hues. And, actually, I felt some envy of those shoes the female dancers wore. The dancers are exceptionally fit, young people, able to use their bodies with grace and precision. The girls paper thin and tiny, fluttering across the stage like butterflies in their flowing costumes; the boys bulky in all the right places and with tights that sit right up the backside, so when the tights are flesh coloured it looks like the emperor’s new clothes.

And I felt a little bit like all the adults in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale watching the emperor walking proud, but stark naked, under his marquis through his marvelling subjects. I felt like all of those adults, who saw nothing but naked skin, but dared not say anything because, they had been tricked into thinking they would expose themselves as stupid if they did: that the emperor’s new clothes was so fine and magical that only clever people could see them.

Unlike the fairy tale, no innocent little child spoke up. Around me was excited clapping in all the right places. The reviews proclaimed this the best performance ever by the company. And that may very well be so. But it still did not speak to me. I did not connect. I was not enraptured, not transformed. Even the playfulness promised by the naive art on the curtain only shone through in awkward in-jokes on the stage, delivered unmistakably in mime.

I respect that other people are fond of ballet – including a large number of little girls with ballarina dreams – but I hope you will forgive me for not understanding why. Some might suggest I lack culture, to which I say that I have plenty of culture, just not of that type.

I don’t think I have the patience to learn the language of ballet to ever appreciate it: there is so much else happening on stage which is more enjoyable and challenges my thinking in new ways. Perhaps this emperor’s new clothes is so magical that it is visible only to some, of particular social status and education, leaving the rest of us forever wondering what this European heritage art form is all about.