Stories from inside life's big top.

A Podcast about Precious Objects

Posted on May 15, 2017

“Objects should not ‘touch’ [us] because they are not alive. You use them, put them back in place, you live among them: they are useful, nothing more. But they touch me, it is unbearable. I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they were living beasts.”

Jean-Paul Sartre


Auspicious Plastic is a monthly podcast about ‘things’ that bring meaning to our lives, and even make us happy.

 

When using my Mum’s old Tupperware containers as “grief therapy” after she passed away, I discovered how such simple ‘pieces of plastic’ could hold so much meaning – and emotion. And how these objects touched me so profoundly, as if animated by something deeply mystical…

 

I wondered how my use of her beloved Tupperware – and other kitchen implements too – could be so powerful and therapeutic. And why we invest so much in ‘things’? How could a basic plastic container, a mere tool, make someone so happy? Help someone to grieve?

To quote Sartre again, don’t we become “possessed by the things we possess”? And Tupperware – it’s just a bunch of crappy old plastic containers bound for land-fill, right?

 

Or, might it be possible that they could be containers of fascinating, inter-generational stories? Something that connects us on a more profound level?

 

With my own experience as a starting point, I decided to find out, creating a podcast where I can talk to other people about their experiences with such “auspicious objects”. Through this world of dearly held things, I’m discovering a a plethora of stories about us: women, men, people, community, food, family, friendship, empowerment, and more. Sartre was right: objects aren’t just objects…

EPISODE ONE

Delma & Katherine (07.02.2017)

Delma & Katherine Calcagno

This is an interview with my lovely Aunty Delma and her daughter, my dear cousin Katherine. The former is a quinti-decade “obsessed” Tupperware user, collector and “party holder”; the latter a lifelong “Tupper-kid”, now a demonstrator and freelance employee with the Australian branch of the company. They talk candidly about how Tupperware has deeply touched their lives – and provide me with some answers as to why why it might have touched mine… (Dur. 18:30 | Tx 07. 02. 2017)

 

Listen here.

EPISODE TWO 

Anna (16.03.2017)

Anna Brownfield

Next an interview sitting around the kitchen table of my old friend Anna Brownfield. A feminist erotic filmmaker and a ‘gun’ crafter, we’ve known each other since 1995, working on each other’s films, knitting on couches far and wide, and occasionally following each to the other side of the world. Anna’s always amazed and inspired me with her resourcefulness, dedication to craft, DIY and making. In addition to the odd bit of Tupperware she owns, anywhere she goes she puts her sizeable plastic container collection to good use, especially now that she’s a mum. We began our chat marveling at her “magic” blue and white icy pole makers, which she bought at her very first Tupperware party ‘back in the day’. (Dur. 14:00 | Tx 16. 03. 2017)

 

Listen here.


EPISODE THREE

Michael Pieracci

In Episode Three you’ll meet Michael Pieracci, an American “installed” in Berlin. A talented and creative project manager, “photographer, presenter, traveller and drinker of tea”, I had previously listened to Michael give a moving and engaging talk about ‘tools’ at Creative Mornings Berlin. Inspired by his philosophy towards ‘things’ (and left-handed scissors!), I invited him to reveal more, and to share some of his favorite objects with me for Auspicious Plastic. (Dur. 18:35 | Tx 09. 04. 2017)

 

Listen here.


EPISODE FOUR

Robyn Overell

Robyn Overell and my Mum lived next door to each other for 35 years. Over the fence and around the kitchen table they shared a special friendship, many cups of tea, laughter and an appreciation for Tupperware – one of Mum’s passions. They also shared many stories, one of which involved Robyn’s only piece (a singular blue plastic bowl from the 1970s) and how it came to be ‘lone’ and ‘lidless’. It used to tickle Mum pink, and has to be heard to be believed… (Dur: 16:25 | Tx 20.05.2017)

 

Listen here.


 

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CREDITS

Auspicious Plastic podcast, theme, content & images (c) Megan Spencer 2017. Cannot be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved.

Sister art: Lucy and Molly Dyson. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Close To You: Lucy & Molly Dyson

Posted on May 9, 2017

History is littered with creative siblings, often in music, sometimes in film, occasionally in literature…

 

See the Sisters Bronte and Arquette; the Brothers Grimm and Gibb; the Coen Brothers, Baldwins, Wachowskis and Gershwins; soft-pop super-duo The Carpenters, hard-rock guitar heroes Malcolm and Angus. The families Corr, Barrymore, Boyd and Mora.

 

Then there are my personal faves, Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart. Seventies AM rock would have been nothing without these sisters, nor their songs Barracuda and Crazy On You. Nothing.

 

It’s come time to add a pair of visual artist sisters to the list: Lucy Dyson and Molly Dyson. Both are from Australia. Both live in Berlin. And both are starting to leave their mark in a serious way.

 

Landing in Berlin as a Neu wohnhaft in April 2015, Lucy’s was a name I kept coming across. Sounding terribly familiar I didn’t connect the dots until we finally met a year later, first at an exhibition opening and later at a mutual friend’s ‘going away’. She reminded me we’d first crossed paths in 2003: Lucy was 21 and just out of art school (we also share the same alma mater, RMIT Media Arts), and I was several years into a decade-long adventure as film critic for triple j.

 

‘Laika – Space Dog’ by Lucy Dyson

I’d seen her beautiful animated short, Laika – Space Dog. It melted my heart and burned itself into my memory, as had the little booklet she’d made to go with it, which I still have to this day.

 

I’d invited Lucy to do a radio interview with me and later to be a judge on a national shorts showcase and competition I was programming.

 

Since, Lucy has made a slew of music videos, album covers, prints and animations, now perhaps most well-known for her work in collagism, a form she is passionate about – both moving and still. She’s seriously in-demand as a filmmaker for some of Australia’s (and the world’s) biggest music artists: from Beyoncé, Sarah Blasko and Paul Kelly, to John Spencer Blues Explosion, Goyte, and most recently, former Powderfinger singer, Bernard Fanning.

 

Finding Lucy in Berlin was a happy accident – so was finding out she had a sister here! One humid Berlin summer’s night we literally bumped into each other at a huge open studio event at a labyrinthine former light factory, now re-purposed as an artists compound. Sweating in the crowd – and having been there for some time – I was about to go. Then there was Lucy. And Molly, who she quickly introduced me to. I lingered and learned she too was an artist equally immersed in her work, only an illustrator…

 

Poetry Is Dead cover by Molly Dyson.

Proficient in German and studying at one of Berlin’s best art schools (plus a Fine Arts graduate from VCA), Molly’s also becoming sought after – as an illustrator, exhibitor and poster artist.

 

Favoring “simplicity over realism”, she’s had illustrations featured in Yen and Frankie magazines, poster commissions from Mona Lisa Disco and Rhythm Machine, a book cover for Poetry Is Dead, a tea towel for Five Boroughs Melbourne and Covo Sportivo Coffee Lounge in East Brunswick sports her gorgeous custom-design on their coffee cups.

 

While their formats and methods might differ, both women love their work and the process of working. And while they do miss home they love living in Berlin, counting their blessings to have both 100% family support to be here and to live in a city that, while presenting distinct ‘challenges’ (eg. crap weather for 8 months of the year, gruff natives and an incredibly Orwellian bureaucracy), upholds and supports art and artistic practice in such a vociferous way.

 

For artists are its lifeblood. Especially if you contribute generous of mind and wild at heart…


At the open studio: Lucy & Molly. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Circus Folk: Both your dad Chris and mum Ann are artists, and your aunty, Cath Dyson, is a documentary maker and writer. Is it fair to say that creativity might be a ‘family trait’? And when did you both realise that creativity was a driving force in your lives?

 

Lucy: Ha, perhaps there is a sensitivity that has been passed down. I see it on both my mum and dad’s sides of the family – an appreciation for music, film, writing and visual arts – which has led to various [family] creative outputs. I also see it expressed through both extended sides of the family in other ways, be it in personal style, in the home, the children, and just the general feeling when everyone gets together. Cousins will get up to perform, there might be a sing-along… We’re just a big bunch of art lovers!

 

A far back as I can remember I have been making things. As a child I was always absorbed in drawing or writing stories, or building fun-park extensions for my “Guinea Pig World” corner of the back garden. I was given a lot of freedom and encouragement to express my interests, and a lot of free time come to think of it.

 

My older sister Marita and I would get really obsessed with our self-initiated projects – some would say nothing’s changed!

 

Molly: Like most kids I was always drawing. Mum has a good one I did when I was two or three, a completely scribbled mess with the title Molly Saving A Spider From A Fire. (I don’t remember drawing it but I like my sense of narrative – and kindness to spiders!) I also remember drawing naked people and then being embarrassed and scrunching them up when I was about 5 or 6. Then of course I went through a stage of only drawing people with Simpsons’ style eyes!

 

I think it was always something I felt that I was good at; I had trouble with maths and spelling and sport and learning the piano. So drawing and making things fitted best.

 

CF: Molly, what ‘draws’ (sorry!) you to illustration? Is it an enjoyable process for you?

 

Molly: As a teenager I made a lot of ‘zines and always tried to make comics, but found it hard to finish a page of sequential drawings. I still do. I studied art and found it hard to make things without a connection to narrative (the way illustration can have). I also love taking someone else’s story or idea, and bringing it into a visual realm or interpreting it.

Illustration by Molly Dyson. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

I love making posters too, it’s exciting for me: they get to go out there into the world and be connected to an event or an idea. I like illustration maybe because each project has a definitive end point most of the time, where as I felt artwork sort of goes on and on and has a life of its own after you make it or install it. I think I get satisfaction out of making things that have some definite purpose: that ‘sense of purpose’ is probably the most enjoyable part of the illustrative process. I’m not saying that art “has no purpose”; it’s just not that often defined by a brief or specific job request.

 

CF: Lucy, you and I first met when you were an animator just out of art school. We ‘communed’ over your beautiful, sweet short film, Laika, Space Dog. How and when did you move from animation to collagism? Or was it the other way around?

 

Lucy: Ever since I was a child I have always made collages, cutting up old encyclopedias – and family photographs! So when I started at Media Arts I was interested in animating these collages. The Laika film was an exercise in how to use Flash software, so part of that learning meant I used my own sketches.

 

I never consciously decided on animation or collage; they have always gone hand-in-hand for me. The subversive nature of collage has always appealed to my sense of humour: making new worlds, escapism, being left alone to work out ideas that fail when I try to put them down in words…

 

Also developing a sense of self through my work, as I often feel unsure about where I fit. I don’t make commercials or commercial music videos or short films, so I don’t entirely fit into the animation world or the big budget music video/commercial world. Or the design world – something that’s always very obvious to me when I attend film festivals or design conferences!

 

I also don’t really belong in the contemporary art world; I’ve somehow ended up carving out own very independent thing. In animation it’s very satisfying being able to control very specific elements, when in life there is so much one can’t control…

Collage by Lucy Dyson. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: Molly – what do you like to draw? And how would you describe your ‘relationshipwith drawing?

 

Molly: I like to draw people but also find it hard to settle on a particular thing. It’s still hard sometimes to think of “what-to-draw”, that’s why I do quite like having requests and specific jobs.

 

I would describe my work as some kind of quest to make a line work in a really particular way. I guess I’m on a quest to perfect that feeling of a single line doing its thing and making a shape. I really like effortless-looking doodles that sum up an object or space in swift movements, reductive impressions of things. I don’t have much interest in figuratively representing things.

 

I like to work some “personality” in there, but I guess I am always reducing my style. I also love printing, probably for that similar “reductive” element. I like working within some restrictions – such as colour and material – because it forces me to focus on one idea rather than being overwhelmed by too much choice.

 

I prefer drawing on paper to working digitally, and have been completely sucked into the Instagram cycle of making something: posting it and waiting for the ‘likes’, which has changed the way I work.

Sisters on the sofa: Lucy & Molly. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: Sisters in art, now sisters in Berlin: could you please give us a snapshot as to how you both came to be living and working in Berlin?

 

Lucy: I moved to Berlin in 2011 after two fun but kind of difficult years living in London. I met some great people there and made music videos while also working in a bookstore. When I had to leave London (because my visa was up) I was annoyed: it had taken two years to feel that I had just about adjusted to the city, and then it was time to go!

 

So, with my boyfriend at the time, and everything still packed up in Melbourne, I headed to Berlin. While I was in London I had visited friends living there and I had thought it was such a great city. Molly came to visit me a year later and got sucked in too!

 

Molly: I came here on holiday with the vague intention of staying for a year or so since Lucy was already there, and I had heard all about how fantastic Berlin was. So I did stay. I met a European boy, and went back and forth between Melbourne and Berlin for a few years.

 

Initially I tried to make it work as a freelance illustrator (while also working several jobs, as a nanny, in cafes, the usual…) Eventually I got a full time job which had its ‘positives’ (regular income and health insurance) and ‘negatives’ (40 hours a week standing in a 7×5 metre store selling notebooks to people…) Now, thank goodness, I am a student, which is a 1000% improvement on being a full time employee. I’m still working part time though!

 

CF: What do you like about being here in Berlin? Does it afford you opportunities that staying in Australia might not? And do you feel lucky and/or inspired to be here?

 

Lucy: As a self-employed artist the fact that I can support myself and live comfortably on my own in a lovely apartment and have a studio space feels lucky: it allows me time and space for the work that is most important to me. And the fact that I can so easily obtain a visa to live and work here makes me feel extremely lucky.

 

It goes without saying that the museums and galleries are great, that there is always something interesting to attend – endless art and film lectures, events and festivals, on all levels, on all subjects, happening everywhere. It is so inspiring.

Collage by Lucy Dyson. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Illustration by Molly Dyson. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

I also think being based in the northern hemisphere has been good for work opportunities. I still do work for Australian clients but I also get a lot of inquiries from the UK, Europe and the USA. I think being here makes me more accessible as it’s only one hour ahead of London, or six hours ahead of New York.

 

Berlin is full of incredibly talented people from all over the world. The creative network is broad and far-reaching, and it’s approachable. And if you participate in it you become available to many different people who might want to collaborate or support your practice in some way. I feel incredibly lucky to be here.

 

Molly: I feel super lucky to be here too! I know so many people who have struggled, whose countries don’t afford them the same privilege of movement and travel as Australians have, and I feel very aware of my of privilege in Germany as a white educated Anglo-Saxon. Even though my German is still improving – and I am balancing work and study by supporting myself financially – I do feel better off here than I would in Australia. I couldn’t afford to do another undergraduate [degree] in Australia. The thought of ending up with a European university degree in design just makes me go “Wow!” – I can’t believe its happening! It’s great.

Things from Lucy’s sill & shelf collections. Photos: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Lucy & Molly Dyson. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Also as a design student in Europe there are so many more design agencies to intern or work for – and some amazing competitions and scholarships to apply for too. I have friends from all over the world at uni, and opportunities for projects keep presenting themselves, which just keeps blowing my mind.

 

Lucy: The city is wonderful, I love it: I think Berlin is the best city in the world.

 

Molly: The city does inspire my work. Mostly friends who live here inspire me because I know so many people making such fantastic stuff, it’s motivating to be around them.

 

CF: Are there any downsides for you?

 

Lucy: Being away from family and friends! Also, I don’t speak German terribly well (I practice everyday, but it’s taking forever). So some days that gets me down, but I’ve managed so far. Berlin is a very accommodating, accepting and forgiving city.

 

Molly: I get homesick! Speaking German is hard. I feel so far way from Australia and financially getting back there is really hard. Financially in general things are probably harder than they would be in Australia, but it’s also fine. I have everything I need – bread, butter, a warm house, friends and internet!

Shadowlands: Lucy & Molly in Berlin. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: Is there anything in particular, that you have learned from your parents about being creative that you have never forgotten – that you have carried into your artistic practice and work?

 

Lucy: My Dad taught me to take as many opportunities as possible as they might not appear again, and this way you can work out what you’re really interested in. And to be resilient and humble, and to accept that not everything turns out as planned but that doesn’t mean you quit. You have to get over it, and practice everyday to improve and develop the skills – to hone in on something just the right way so that it works!

 

More recently my Mum told me not to “overthink things” or let my perfectionist tendencies take over, “as you probably don’t realise how good the work is”. Which was very nice of her – and a good reminder that it’s difficult to judge your own work.

 

Molly: I think self-belief is probably the key. When I tried to be a freelancer I just didn’t have the confidence, discipline or the skills to get it off the ground. I had some successes and made great work that I am totally proud of, but I didn’t have that particular drive that you really need if you’re going to make it work (like Lucy is!)

 

I feel way more confident now, and know that is something Mum and Dad always reminded all of the kids in the family to be. They totally support us and praise what we do whilst also giving very good critical advice and reality checks from time to time.

 

I know I am so lucky to have parents who don’t ask when I’m going to “buy a house” or “get married”. They are totally supportive of our decision to be creative even though they know how hard it is.

 

CF: Molly, youre studying here in Berlin at Weißensee Kunsthochschule (art school.) Why did you choose to study here? What kind of experience are you having, say in contrast to studying in Australia?

 

Molly: I’m studying Graphic Design (Visuelle Kommunikation). Luckily I have been able to go straight into the second year because of the Bachelor of Fine Art I have from VCA in Melbourne. It was a more intense experience to apply [to get in] here than in Australia. Since German universities take a lot of international students, it’s more competitive, so the standards are pretty high!

Lucy with her window sill cactus garden. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

There was a three-day-long ‘creative exam’ after the folios were selected, and that was super stressful. Not only because it (and the interview) was in German, but also because it was in a hall of about 30 people crafting away from nine-to-five for three days! I was sure I’d blown it, but I got in and I am very, very happy. The university is very self-oriented which suits me well since I had the learning curve of a freelance life. The uni has excellent workshops for printing, ceramics and woodwork, and has departments in Fine Art, Design, Fashion Design and Textiles.

 

The contrast to Australia is probably that Design and Fine Art feel more connected in Europe, whereas in Australia the worlds seem more separate. I know a lot of illustrators in Berlin who have practices that are very art-based, but they still work and refer to themselves as illustrators. Weißensee has this sort of mentality: that creative practice crosses many borders.

 

CF: What do you hope the degree at Kunsthochschule will give you in terms of opportunity? What is your “dream job”?

 

Molly: I hope to find a way to take what I do “to the next level”, in that I guess I’m just super-focused on getting more skills because part of the “failure” of my freelance illustration career (ha!) was my lack of skills to be able to refine what I was doing. That means refining my approach and becoming very aware – as a good designer should be – of all the elements of the project and pushing it all through to a super-high level of realisation.

 

As I said, being connected to an international community of creative people is amazing: watching what friends who are already pretty established designers and illustrators do is the best source of inspiration. I hope also to intern more and take advantage of the European student-bounty.

 

My “dream job” is probably in art direction. I am learning more and more how much I love working with other people and not so much alone at my computer (which is the lonely reality for most illustrators and designers). Seeing a project come together with a bunch of people is the best lesson I have learned in the last few years. So establishing an agency or working in a team of designers to produce large-scale projects is essentially “the dream”. I used to want to be a children’s book illustrator and I still do want to do that too! So I’m attracted to both huge and tiny projects.

Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: Lucy – you and I recently talked about the concept of “flow”, being “in the zone” when youre an artist. And you mentioned to me how elusive you feel it can be sometimes – that when it comes, you try to submerge yourself in it and stay there as long as you can, especially when youre working on an animation project.

Would you explain that a bit further – and what your approach is to making animations?

 

Lucy: Sometimes when I’m completely absorbed in what I’m animating, it can feel like a weird jolt being brought back into the ‘real world’; I might need a moment to recall where I am. It’s very satisfying to experience, however I don’t find it so easy to achieve. I’m still a massive procrastinator and am easily distracted by the most stupid things.

 

I suppose it takes a lot of discipline which is also why if I am up against a deadline I can’t be taking social breaks that disturb that sense of flow and progress. To maintain momentum can sometimes mean working in solitude, dead-focused, for several days. My animation approach for music videos is to try to find the right pieces, as if I am putting together a jigsaw puzzle of images I see in my head when I hear the music. Sometimes I can’t see the images clearly and can only feel them as colours/shapes/movement. The puzzle pieces can be scattered across hundreds of different pages in stacks of books and piles of magazines and I usually don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it.

 

I try not to ‘over plan’ my projects as things tend to develop intuitively while I’m playing around with various elements.

 

CF: Where do you find your materials for making collages?

 

Lucy: Flea markets, secondhand book stores, rubbish bins, things I pick up off the footpath… I was recently late meeting Molly for a coffee as I found lots of things out on my street that I thought would be useful for a project, which I then had to carry back to my apartment before meeting her! It wasn’t the first time it’s happened; she is very forgiving of this habit of mine, as was my ex-boyfriend.

 

CF: Molly – what kind of an approach to do you have towards “making”?

 

Molly: My method is also constantly changing but basically I just sketch and refine and repeat. And then, depending on the project, I end up digitally adjusting elements of the drawing.

 

CF: Who are your personal art heroes – who inspires each of you? And do you inspire each other?

 

Lucy: The pop artist Marisol Escobar, the German artist Hannah Hoch, the Paris-based Canadian writer Mavis Gallant; all the female animators from the last 70 years (Mary Ellen Bute, Sally Cruikshank, Lotte Reineger, Faith Hubley); my good friend Isobel Knowles, and so many remarkable women turning out exquisite work as independent animators and experimental film makers, who are relentlessly doing their thing!

 

Also my good friend Gemma Ray; she is a Berlin musician. We often discuss and share where we are at with our work and actually have similar approaches to creativity, and understand if the other has to isolate herself in the studio to make some headway on a project.

 

Of course Molly inspires me, not only for her brilliant artistic skills and the sense of humour in her work, but her German is so good (which makes me feel very lazy). And the fact she got into art school here – no easy accomplishment!

 

Molly: Yes, Lucy totally inspires me… I’m also inspired by other illustrators I have met in Berlin: Maren Karlson, Lasse Wandschneider and Aisha Franz are huge inspirations. I constantly refer back to Herve Leger’s paintings, Thomi Ungerer for his children’s books, and [Moomintroll author and illustrator] Tove Janson‘s artwork and writing.

 

CF: Lucy – last year you “got the call” from Beyoncé (well, her people I’m guessing!), who wanted to commission an animated collage projection from you, for her Formation world tour. Youve also worked with big names in Australia like Paul Kelly, Goyte, The Drones… When those calls finally come – after years of perhaps working isolation, wondering if anyone is even out there or taking notice – how does it feel?

 

Lucy: It’s validating. I work alone and without an agent. I can be quite passive about seeking out work (unless I discover something and it’s so on my wavelength I’m compelled to reach out.) I’m usually working on projects that come to me, so it is remarkable that simply by having my work online has brought in some of these opportunities.

 

I feel satisfaction, gratefulness and relief! But the moment I actually start working on whatever the brief is, or whatever I have proposed to do, I think “Hmmm, I wonder what we’ll actually end up with…” There is always the risk I could mess something up, and as the only person responsible – it can be a lot of pressure!

Photo from beyonce.com of Lucy’s projection work for the The Formation World Tour, Tampa, FL.

CF: What are some of your favourite projects you have done so far?

 

Lucy: In terms of scale obviously Beyoncé was my favourite. I would like to do more ‘monolithic world tour’ animations, and working with her huge creative team was exciting. Otherwise – all my projects! I love them all. They each remind me of what was going on in my life while making them: what was going wrong and right, what I didn’t know then that I know now, how one project led to something else…

 

For these reasons I don’t have a “favourite”: I’m still waiting to produce something that I think works perfectly and looks effortless. Ideally it will take the form of a short film.

 

CF: As sisters, how do you support each other in your artistic endeavours? Do you talk about your practice and work much?

 

Lucy: We talk about our practice, offer practical advice and sometimes aesthetic feedback. It’s useful to have a fresh pair of eyes take in your work. Molly and I know where each other is coming from, and while I don’t think it would be in either of our natures to say if we thought the other’s work was looking like rubbish, we can offer each other respectful and useful feedback. We’re nice to each other and supportive.

 

Molly: Yes, we often give each other advice and feedback, and we are always very excited to share our projects and progress with each other. Usually one of us can pick up on something the other one hadn’t noticed or thought about. So there is a lot of support.

 

CF: Have you worked together before – or thought about working together? If so, what project might you make together? What might – if I can call it – say, a ‘Dyson & Dyson’ exhibition look like here in Berlin?!

 

Lucy: No! I think we have considered it, but I think it’s also good that we are forging our own paths. I think it would be fun to collaborate with Molly on some collages and an animation.

 

I am intrigued by sibling collaborations, like The Beach Boys and animators The Brothers Quay. But I’m not sure Molly and I see it as a marketing angle that we would employ!

 

Sometimes it’s fun to not say anything and let people work out the sibling connection themselves, especially if they then ask who is older or younger…

 

Thank you Molly and Lucy for such an interesting interview, a generous, graceful shoot and the Saturday morning Vegemite on toast : )

 

* * *

  • Interviews: Lucy Dyson, Molly Dyson
  • Words/edit/photos: Megan Spencer
  • Visit: Lucy’s website to see her collages, videos and portfolio.
  • Visit: Molly’s website to her illustrations, projects and portfolio.
  • Follow: Lucy on Instagram
  • Follow: Molly on Instagram
  • Read an interview with Molly on Grilling Me Softly
  • Watch: Lucy’s music video for Bernard Fanning and her short Laika – Space Dog.
  • View: my full photo essay on SmugMug
  • Watch: this video by The Carpenters
  • Read: my interview with Australian collage artist Karen Lynch.

The Iceman Cometh: Cooperblack

Posted on April 3, 2017

The last time I interviewed Yuendemu-based musician Jeremy Conlon, he was about to release Return To The Big Eyes.

 

His ninth as Cooperblack – the “plug n’ play” personal music project he began in the 90s – EP ‘Big Eyes (2015) was an intimate journey through fat bass lines, intensely danceable beats and a relationship that had not long fallen through the ice…

 

Two years on, while the prolific musician, producer and composer’s heart has healed somewhat, his sense of reflection and musical exploration is as open and raw as ever.

 

2017 sees him back with No. 10, Capsule, a darker, sparser offering influenced as much by a second sojourn to Berlin as the soundscapes he discovered walking the icy climes of the northern hemisphere.

 

Working alone except for track ‘Suomenlinna’ (on which Finnish artist Heli Valkama plays piano), and the EP’s haunting cover photo (taken in the Paris catacombs by Zoe Curren), 6-track release Capsule sees Jeremy combine dark, synth-driven songs with “found sounds” he enthusiastically recorded underground and overground as Berlin and Helsinki sank deeper into their respective winters.

 

After returning home with his sonic ‘spoils’, the artist swiftly set about combining these brittle, frozen atmospheres with the music he’d been previously brewing under the hot tin roof of his Central Desert studio.

 

While Jeremy’s signature fat bass lines are still prominent – and his inimitable sense of playful lyricism –  the songs are tempered by a sense of spaciousness and patience not quite found in previous offerings.

 

The resulting Capsule is delicious, getting into that space just behind your eyes.

 

It’s a melancholic journey through sonic counterpoint, rhythm, poetic atmospheres and the scar tissue that comes with loss.

Jeremy Conlon is Cooperblack. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2017

Circus Folk: What was your process for making Capsule?

 

Cooperblack: I have an archive of tracks, about 50 or so that are constantly buzzing away at some level of  ‘completeness’. Some of these were hauled from that, and some were new.

 

Overall there was no specific “process” for Capsule, except to sustain a feel and sound that keeps the tracks together as one release. That sound and feel is the ultimate decision maker.

 

CF: What inspired the name of this release?

 

CB: Perhaps a “capsule” as it is small and easy to swallow?!

 

I feel like it is a release that really looks back at influences and feelings I have for music, emotion and aesthetic.

 

I also think of it as a ‘time capsule’. When I was at primary school we kids filled a time capsule with drawings and stories. But no one could find it in the building in which it was placed – by the stairs in the 3 Level red brick building at Antonio Primary in Adelaide!

 

I think maybe it’s a “time capsule” – meaning really me, now, yeah, a ‘time stamp’ of what I am into right now.

“Lovely lilting vocals, whispering regrets over snappy drums and super synth leads”.

Capsule cover photo by Zoe Curren

CF: Did you always want to have “found sounds” on this record?

 

CB: Lately I have really gotten into stereo environment recordings. I love the random nature of listening to those in different places, and the same places in which they were recorded.

 

Such as: the accidental sounds that pop out and make you feel like someone is in a room with you, or there is a dog barking outside, a train coming, or just people talking. I love how even the smallest sample of a place or atmosphere can bring up emotion, or make connections that were not intended.

 

With Capsule, as it was coming together, I spent a fair bit of time on the U-Bahn [underground railway system] in Berlin, recording the sounds underground.

 

I have this fantasy that all the people wearing headphones on the U-Bahn might hear tracks on Capsule and stand up for the train with there being nothing there, or hearing people in the cavernous underground while they are alone.

 

So many people were wearing headphones and travelling on the trains in a disconnected sonic state, it surprised me! When I wore them I felt vulnerable.

 

CF: Did you have a preconceived idea of the kinds of sounds you wanted to incorporate into the music? Or was it more a matter of turn up in Berlin, and see what took your fancy when you got here?

 

CB: No, no preconceived ideas really: I just wanted to capture sounds that I might like to hear later.

 

The flags waving in the wind were very intense: I was cold at the time and there felt some urgency about watching flags being pulled by the wind… Ultimately the words in that song ‘And The Flags Will Fall’ are partially about how I feel about borders and nationalism.

 

The bells in ‘You’re So Sure’ fell into place and sounded right: it was only afterwards I found a connection between the topic of a ‘failed marriage’ and the church bells I recorded and included in that song.

Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2017

Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2017

CF: What do you enjoy about sound recording in the field?

 

CB: The immersive nature of sound, the striving for better quality recording, the relaxing (or not relaxing!) sounds that we may listen to for a length of time…

 

I find field recording like swimming – or flying as I often do in dreams, where I run, trip and take off!

 

CF: John Cage and Brian Eno are two of your musical influences: both of those artists also worked with “found sounds” and “accidents” in their music, as you do… Specifically, what or who influenced your choice to include soundscape as part of Capsule?

CB: I feel like the found sounds or extended samples give an individual feel and flavour to the release. I love artists who mash up found sounds with electronic sounds – Christian Vogel and Adam Lamb for example.

 

So making a dense background similar to a large black heavy curtain, that places the music somewhere apart from where you are. And the fact that loads of people wear headphones nowadays: I feel as if I want to creep some of ‘the outside’ back in!

 

I feel as if soundscapes and ‘real sounds’ mixed with music add a level of ‘confusion’ for the listener. It also sets a place that the music is happening and possibly being performed in.

 

CF: You live in what many Europeans might consider an “alien landscape”, in a desert area of the Northern Territory. Then you travelled to Helsinki, a place that many Australians might consider “alien” with its icy landscape! What was that trip to Finland like for you? And could you draw any parallels between where you live in the desert (Yuendumu) and the ice (Helsinki)?

 

CB: I visited a friend in Helsinki so it was great to see how she lives, her house, what she eats and all the things that make her Finnish… The cold was even more of a shock than Berlin: deep snow and silence.

 

It was easier for me to find live music happening in Helsinki than Berlin, as there seemed to be a fair few rock n’ roll or punk bars with bands and loud music. There was also a piano at my friend’s – the artist Heli Valkama’s house. We pulled it apart and made it a live and responsive machine, sensitive to a sneeze or cough. That was great.

 

One day was spent travelling to an old fort just outside of Helsinki called Suomenlinna. The journey there was on a ferry; the gearing and engine noise was very interesting. I set up my recorder and through the headphones I could hear this sound, like concrete being smashed. I had never heard this before. I looked out the ferry window and it was ploughing through a frozen ocean – fantastic. On returning to Heli’s house, I composed a piece for “2 Humans and 1 Piano” (myself, Heli and the responsive machine). This dark piano piece and the sounds of the ferry seem to sum up the day.

 

The colour of Finland is so white; the desert of Yuendumu is so red (though right at the moment it’s rather green from all the rain). I would love to visit Lapland in the north of Finland one day. So the found sounds may sound “wintery”, but perhaps not to everyone. For people who hear them first on Capsule, they may think they are something totally unrelated. I enjoyed laying them in the compositions and creating space for the songs to live in.

 

CF: When it came to making the music for Capsule, you kind of went ‘dark’. What is this EP inspired by in particular? What if any themes might be running through it, or emotions are you mining, especially with reference to sound and lyrics?

 

CB: Right up into the final weeks of finishing the release, I was still writing lyrics. I tend to scat or ad lib nonsense in a song and carve out meaning from what I may be hearing.

 

I am mining past emotions that I thought had disappeared many years ago; they are not necessarily my own, but of those close to me.

 

I am mining the need to be ‘present’ and real to myself, and others.

 

Some songs lyrics are deeply emotional for me (‘You’re So Sure’) and some are a really free form about me at that particular moment in time – how I am physically and mentally (for example ‘When I’m Gone’).

 

Lately I have been delving into The Cure’s back catalogue: I really appreciate the songwriting and production, namely the albums Disintegration and Faith. This has also been an inspiration.

 

CF: You’ve been fascinated with – and drawn to – Berlin, its culture and music for some time. Since when did it kind of come across your radar? Do you recall that moment? (I’m guessing it might have been through music?!)

 

CB: Yes, through music: a lot of the musicians I love and have been influenced by, have worked or lived in Berlin and Germany: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Kaftwerk, Nina Hagen, Planningtorock, to name just a few…

 

I really appreciate the way the city influences new electronic music by having so many places for electronic musicians and DJs to perform. Plus an awesome, receptive audience who appreciates it, as well as some great music labels based there.

 

Berlin feels as if it’s in a state of flux: a new city coming of age in an old city with an insane history. I have to stop travelling there in only winter though – I want to see the sunny side!

 

CF: You’ve been to Berlin twice: can you articulate why it is you are so attracted to the city and culture here, especially given that your most recent trip was spent working on your new EP in Berlin?

 

CB: I feel like with the second journey I looked closer at the people, met people outside of my great friends already there, and took a few more risks by being adventurous.

 

I also saw more poverty, more extremes of classes of people.

 

I looked at the history and variations of buildings, and got lost in the streets. For some reason I feel navigationally confident in Berlin; this in turn made me feel more creative.

Cooperblack is Jeremy Conlon. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2017

The many voices and many accents you listen to there make the soundscape in the city unique. I just find getting to know a city fascinating, and Berlin is a city that I have dreamed about getting to know since I listened to [David Bowie’s] Low as a teenager.

 

Berlin seems to ‘own’ artists too, and recognise their influence and importance to the artistic character of the place. I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of the Berlin I want to – and hope to – discover. I think visiting again in the spring or summer will change that a bit.

 

CF: In the music of Capsule, I really enjoyed hearing resonances of “Berlin” artists, from Depeche Mode and Lou Reed to David Bowie and Brian Eno. All of them worked in Berlin, were influenced by the city, and left their mark here. But you’re also a fan of many women musicians and artists, some of whom live and work in Berlin – or have. Can you tell us a bit about your “female canon” of artists, particularly the ones who have a Berlin or European connection? And also why you love their music?

 

CB: I find voice manipulation fascinating, and there are some great women producers who I love for that reason.

 

Planningtorock is based in Berlin, and her music is spacious, questioning and totally interesting. The Knife (and their offside projects) often perform in Berlin; I find them a great influence, for their sound, voice manipulation, their political stance on gender and social issues.

 

And Chinawoman is fantastic, once again for the same reasons as the other artists I mentioned. She also delves deep into relationships, and has a particularly awesome bass guitar sound that I melt over.

 

CF: Do you find making music a healing or therapeutic process?

 

CB: Totally therapeutic – and totally necessary! Music is a massive tool for me, a way to process and contextualize what is happening to me, and the world. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether anyone likes it, hears it or whatever… It’s what I need to do.

 

* * *

 

Many thanks to Jeremy Conlon for the interview!

  • Interview: Jeremy Conlon
  • Words/edit/photos: Megan Spencer
  • Listen/download Capsule on Bandcamp and iTunes
  • Visit: Cooperblack on Bandcamp.
  • Read the Circus Folk interview with Jeremy about Return To The Big Eyes and the essay about losing David Bowie.
  • View: the Cooperblack promo photos on SmugMug.
  • Note: Megan Spencer has been friends with Jeremy Conlon since 2008 and produced & directed Cooperblack’s ‘Salted’ music video.

Gang of Film Berlin

Posted on March 16, 2017

Ninety-nine films, four per day, one month on your butt and no end in sight…

 

Film festivals are fun. Invigorating. Inspiring. But it has to be said, they are also hazardous to your health – especially if you’re a film critic covering one of the biggest in the world.

 

Marathon swathes of time are spent away from sunlight. You spend so much time sitting in the dark you worry about turning into a vampire and getting deep vein thrombosis. Kind of insane when you think about it…

 

I was comprehensively reminded at the recent 2017 Berlinale, the above being the ‘statistical’ outcome from my own ’embedded’ experience there. I covered the festival for three Australian media outlets: ABC Local Radio (Overnights with Rod Quinn: 3 x sprawling chats and tons of fun); ABC Radio National (film program ‘The Final Cut‘ with Jason Di Rosso. Great to ‘talk festivals’ with possibly the last remaining cinephile on Australian radio); and Guardian Australia (a feature about compassionate, Australian-made game changer, Casting JonBenét.)

 

True, I got to see a gigantic, excellent swag of films (Competition selection aside, the Berlinale programmers excelled themselves in Panorama, Generation, Forum, Retrospective and Shorts). And, after a “hiatus”, to re-inhabit one of the great passions of my life: cinema.

 

But that wasn’t the best bit. I also got to meet some lovely folk. Lovely film critic folk.

 

They became my community.

It’s been a while ‘between drinks’ for me at Berlinale: twelve years to be precise. (Eleven really – last year I dipped a toe back in, covering genre-blending Aboriginal TV series ‘Cleverman’ for Guardian Australia. Directed by Wayne Blair, it world premiered in ‘Berlinale Special Series’.)

 

The first time I hit the ground running at Potsdamer Platz – sampling my first curry wurst in sub-zero icy climes – was in 2005.

 

I was a critic and presenter for Australian TV program, ‘The Movie Show’. I got lucky: it was the year The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was in Competition – a dream come true to interview not only Wes Anderson but Angelica Huston *swoon*. (She had a cold and I told her about echinacea).

 

Ken Loach was there with film ‘compendium’ Tickets. (We chatted atop the not-long-completed, highly contentious Renzo Piano glass triangle, “Potsdamer Platz 11“.) I interviewed George Michael (vale) at the Adlon Hotel about documentary George Michael: A Different Story. (He was super lovely. We talked about the “difficulties of being Cancerian”.) Plus it was the season of mighty films Paradise Now, Thumbsucker, Sophie Scholl and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, blitzing at the festival awards all.

 

Two talented Aboriginal Australian filmmakers were also recognised: Warwick Thornton’s Green Bush took home the Panorama Best Short Film prize, and Wayne Blair’s The Djarn Djarns won the Kplus Crystal Bear for the Best Short Film.

 

Both starting out in their careers, we met for the first time in Berlin.  I remember standing in the middle of the (then) AFC Festival party, the three of us a bit dazed and confused from jet lag and the crazy energy of the night. Desert-hued snowflakes sprinkled down outside the window, tinged by the Festspiele‘s orange lights shining on from the platz below. It was a bit special.

 

It was a bit special again when I interviewed Wayne at Berlinale 2016, now years on with a smash hit under his belt (The Sapphires), not to mention an LA agent. Grinning back at me, he thought so too.

 

To paraphrase an old Deutsch theologian, nothing like “the magic of beginnings”…

 

* * *

Too many hours in the dark.. L-R: Yun-hua Chen, David Mouriquand & Teresa Vena.

2017 rolls around. I’m living in Berlin. I’m still a freelancer. And when it comes to festivals, Berlinale’s one of the “big three”. I’d be silly not to cover it again, right? In my adopted home town? This is where I live. Doubts arise.

 

Can I still do this? Cover a festival? This isn’t what I do now – well not  often, anyway. Do I still love film enough to watch four movies – FOUR! – a day, and surrender my life to it for an entire month?

 

Moreover, does film still love me?

 

The answer – like most things as I’m learning – lay in ‘finding community’. Enter three sweet souls: firstly David Mouriquand, “half-French, half-English” he tells me within moments of meeting, which we do by chance on Day Two of the pre-festival press screenings, waiting in the cold outside of the big-arse multiplex where films are being previewed.

 

Asking “whether the doors are open yet”, I apologise for assuming he speaks English and not German. He tells me he doesn’t speak German “just French and English”. Oh yeah, “and Spanish”. Whereupon I blush with the shame of my Antipodean mono-lingual upbringing.

 

He writes for English-language Berlin pop-culture mag EXBERLINER, and is steeling himself to blog daily once the Festival begins (read tight turnarounds between snatched snacks and three daily Competition screenings.) Within seconds he offers up his love for Tom Waits and helpful advice on how to navigate this freaking behemoth of a Festival. I sigh audibly in relief and watch the breath from my lungs freeze mid-air.

Out on the streets: Ava Gardner & Gregory Peck, ‘On The Beach’ (1959).

Day Three and David introduces me to Yun-hua Chen. From Taiwan and Berlin-based, she speaks Chinese, German, French and English (possibly even some Greek), writes reviews in all four, and works for the Goethe Institute’s international critic program. She’s a hardcore cinephile. I quiver in admiration.

Day Four, and anticipating a massive dose of home-sickness, I see On The Beach (1959), a movie set in and around the beaches of Melbourne, my home town. The titular “beach” –  Canadian Bay on the Mornington Peninsula – and the suburbs in which many of its dramatic scenes play out, feel so close. This beach was one of the the places my parents swam, socialised and formed the narrative of their early life together, in their 20s.

It’s at Arsenal, the cinema for cinephiles. Covered in classic posters (Herzog’s 70s masterpiece Stroszek among them, original creasefolds still visible), I bump into Yun-hua. She  introduces me to Teresa Vena. Teresa’s Swiss, speaks German, English and French (and most-probably Italian.) She writes in all three, and for online magazine Berliner Filmfestivals. I wind up seeing snippets of her reviews on my daily U-Bahn ride to and from the Festival. Playing to the sleep-deprived commuters, they cyclically flash onto the TV screens inside the crowded train carriages.

 

Teresa spots me after On The Beach: I’m a teary mess. Not just because I’ve just seen my home town (and the beaches where I grew up) rendered empty and soulless by an eerily-imagined atomic apocalypse, but grief has reared its familiar head. The fifth anniversary of my Mum’s passing was only days before. The sadness is still near. The film returns to me a memory of hers: the time she got to shake the hand of Gregory Peck when he was shooting the film in situ. It was the year before she and Dad married and she was working at the city’s iconic department store, Myer. The actor was paraded through the grand building as a token of goodwill towards the city of Melbourne for being so “hospitable” to the production (and it was.) So the story goes, the “ladies of the office”, of whom she was one, lined up to meet the 40-something Hollywood star.

 

Mum also proudly told me that one of her girlfriends was an extra at Canadian Bay, for the key scene where Ava Gardner and Peck get their romance on. It prompted one of the film’s best lines, uttered by Fred Astaire, who, watching the lovers cavort in the water with binoculars from the shore, declares “It’s like looking at a French movie!”

 

No matter: I think Teresa was impressed that I could feel so much in a movie. In a world that shuns vulnerability, perhaps that’s the currency cinephiles share, and value: an appreciation for the possibility of being moved to tears in the communal privacy of a darkened cinema.

 

Deeply inspired by film and energised at the prospect of Berlinale starting – I’d found my people. A Whats App group formed. So did this “gang of film”. With three weeks of previews over, we saddled up and rode into the sunset of the Festival proper: ten days including Competition.

Still from ‘Skins’ by Eduardo Casanova.

A month after meeting, the four of us emerge from the dark. We’ve spent countless hours together, watching countless films – also working, sharing stories, information and snacks, celeb spotting and ‘communing’ at screenings, a few parties, nightly knock-off drinks, and press conferences.

 

This caravan of critics attracts others. The community ebbs and flows as does the icy weather and occasional sunshine. We laugh stacks, argue kindly and listen deeply.

 

I’m astonished such a disparate group of people can share so much, so quickly. I’m not used to groups being so functional. Especially not in ‘the workplace’. At odds with today’s competitive click-bait eco-system, these were folk who took themselves lightly but the responsibility of reviewing films seriously. A dying breed.

 

Between the four of us we see close to five hundred films. Expats all, the  diversity of opinions is as fascinating as it is instructive. Listening to Yun-hua’s perspective on the Taiwanese and Chinese films was illuminating, especially around the nuances involved in the narratives (The Foolish Bird, Mr. Long, Almost Heaven, A Taste of Betel Nut.) Teresa takes no prisoners when it comes to attacking the cliched tropes of French cinema (see Strange Birds, Final Portrait), and recalling the ‘best of British’, David’s merciless take down of conceits, Return To Montauk and The Dinner, was nothing short of hilarious.

 

The culture of consensus – and nepotism – that so often riddles Australian criticism is mercifully absent. Taste-pusher Skins divides us. So does Golden Bear Winner On Body And Soul, and out-of-competition studio entry Logan, its central ten year-old ‘killing machine’ character racking up double-figures in grisly, bloody kills.

 

It’s the first time I really feel ‘close’ to European cinema, in all of its complicated, ancient, fraught, sprawling, borderless glory, now somehow less distant, less ‘other’. I kind of get it now. I have Berlin, Berlinale and the Gang Of Film to thank.

 

* * *

The last film I see at Berlinale is a lavish, big-budget popcorn flick, as happily high-camp as it is high-action. On the advice of David (thank you) I watch The Fifth Element (1997) on a massive screen with a massive sound system. It was so pleasurable: a great way to finish what had been, frankly, a marathon that had deprived me of the natural world, and the company of loved ones who I’m sure believed I’d joined witness protection.

 

Jammed into a packed cinema with five hundred ‘civilians’, intoxicated by its excesses, aesthetics and craziness, together we giggled, marveled and swooned as one giant hive-mind, happily under the influence of 1990s Luc Besson. He was so on fire with that film.

 

I was moved to tears again, this time feeling a palpable sense of community, as we sat there, strangers, connected by such an intense experience and not wanting the credits to end.

 

Either that, or Chris Tucker made me cry from laughing so much. He’s sooo funny (and “Lovesexy” in TFE). All hail.

‘Chris Tucker does Prince’. Still from ‘The Fifth Element’.

So. I ask the Gang Of Film if they’d like to commemorate our Berlinale ‘moment’ by making a podcast. So that we can ruminate over the great art we got to appreciate, consider, and write about – Top Tens. Bests. Worsts. Parties. Awards. And argue – especially over whether a) Aki Kaurismaki was in fact drunk when he won the Silver Bear for Best Director, b) His film The Other Side Of Hope was sorely ripped off by not winning the Golden Bear for Best Film, and c) The national drink of Finland is in fact Lakka or Mesimarja.

 

They say yes.

 

A quote to end this rant, by the aforementioned Herra Kaurismaki, one of Europe’s greatest filmmakers, chain smokers, lovers of Lakka and and riotous destroyers of vapid award ceremonies:

 

“When I was young, I would sit in the bath and ideas would come to me. But I’m not young any more, so now I just sit in the bath.”

 

* * *

  • Read: David Mouriquand‘s Top Ten Best Films from Berlinale 2017
  • Read: Yun-hua Chen‘s Top Ten Best Films from Berlinale 2017
  • Read: Teresa Vena‘s Top Ten Best Films from Berlinale 2017
  • Read: Megan Spencer‘s Top Ten Best Films from Berlinale 2017
  • Listen: to the Gang Of Film podcast
  • View: my Berlinale ‘Awards’ gallery
  • Big thanks to the others who saddled up: Paul, Mohamed, Sarah, Stephanie, Wellington, Susanne and Nathaneal.
  • And to the helpful team at Berlinale.
Still from 'Honeygiver Among The Dogs' by Dechen Roder

Top Ten Films From Berlinale: Megan Spencer

Posted on March 15, 2017

Megan Spencer, Guardian Australia, Radio National

 

 

1. Honeygiver Among The Dogs (Dechen Roder, BHUTAN)

 

Called the first ever “Buddhist film noir”, this is a breathtaking film set in the mountains of Bhutan. A policeman is sent to investigate the disappearance of a Buddhist nun, presumed murdered. Tailing the suspect – an impossibly beautiful woman deemed a “demon-ness” by the village bigots – the film becomes an ethereal treatise about the nature of reality – and  our relationship to what we ‘think’ we know. The natural and ‘sacred’ worlds crisscross at every opportunity. A profound, unpredictable, and thrilling cinematic achievement. (Panorama)

 

2. Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Mathieu Denis Simon Lavoie, CANADA)

 

An uncompromising, confronting and beautifully cinematic imagining on how a Baader-Meinhof-esque terrorist cell might develop out of Neo-Liberal, capitalist society. Straight-to-camera set pieces, political quotes and extended instrumental ‘interludes’ arrogantly punctuate this searing, 3-hour French-Canadian production. (Generation 14+)

 

3. Casting JonBenét (Kitty Green, AUSTRALIA)

 

A compassionate, innovative ‘documentary hybrid’ about a 20-year-old, unsolved child murder which gripped the world. Funny, moving and a decidedly kind take on the very human instinct to distract ourselves from our own pain and trauma, by focusing on the tragedies that befall others. Disrupting the documentary form by combining interviews with “camera confessional” and re-enactment, Panorama programmer Wieland Speck tells me, “By offering many different approaches to ‘the truth’, the complex.. non-calculable ways our remembrance works become transparent… We bear witness to something like the creation of a ‘swarm’ truth – which is not leading to new horizons, but sharpens and enriches our ability to be critical. More important than ever in times of – you name it – fake truths and alternative facts.” What he said. (Panorama)

 

4.On Body And Soul (Ildikó Enyedi, HUNGARY)

 

A deserving winner of the Golden Bear, with some of the most beautiful images ever put to screen. An ethereal, strangely moving and sweetly funny romantic ‘dramedy’ about a pair of office workers who can only find connection and intimacy through sharing dreams. Set against the backdrop of a slaughterhouse, it speaks volumes about work, the divide between ‘that which is man-made’ and ‘the natural world’, and what might become of us if we remove ourselves from caring about either. (Competition)

 

5. Requiem For Mrs J. (Bojan Vuletić, SERBIA)

 

A knockout of a film about a woman struggling to continue after the death of her husband. Everyone around her is hateful, nothing holds meaning any more and she is rendered numb, furthered also by an Orwellian, post-war bureaucracy with little time for empathy. At times drolly funny, it’s an unpredictable, redemptive and powerful portrait of contemporary life in a possible post-EU Europe. (Panorama Special)

 

6. The Other Side Of Hope (Aki Kaurismaki, FINLAND)

 

Director Aki Kaurismaki burst into song at the post-Competition-screening press conference for his film. He had a lot to sing about: this is a touching, deadpan funny and deadly serious look at the plight of of asylum seekers in ‘post-refugee crisis’ Europe. The second in Kaurismaki’s planned “refugee trilogy”, I loved it from start to finish. And the music. Silver Bear winner for ‘Best Director’. (Competition)

 

7. Wilde Maus (Josef Hader, AUSTRIA)

 

A beautifully-written, satirical comedy about the chattering classes, “polite society” and a mid-life crisis, talented Austrian cabaret artist and actor Josef Hader reportedly “gave” himself this film to direct as a 50th birthday present. He’s a brilliant clown. Not what you think, it’s one of the funniest films in the festival. Wilde Maus should have won a major award, plain and simple. (Competition)

 

8. Loving Pia (Daniel Borgman, DENMARK)

 

Casting mostly ‘non-actors’, and shot on 16mm, Borgman tells the story of Pia, an aging, intellectually disabled woman, yearning for romance and living in rural Denmark. Based on the central actress’s own life story, the film blossoms into an incredibly moving, sweet romantic comedy, with a pet goose stealing the show at every opportunity. A brave and compassionate portrait, courtesy of a unique collaboration between the actors and director. (Forum)

 

9. Untitled (Michael Glawogger, Monica Willi, AUSTRIA)

 

A big fan of Workingman’s Death, I was saddened to hear of iconoclast documentary maker Michael Glawogger’s own in 2014. Longtime editor Monica Willi took it upon herself to finish his final project, left unedited at the time of his demise, brought about by an infection while travelling.

Glawogger’s gaze upon the world is unique. Here he sets out to make a film with no premise other than to aimlessly, “intuitively”, wander the world in search of beauty and meaning. Willi helps him posthumously achieve his vision, fashioning a stark and poetic observation of a world simultaneously falling apart and resurrecting, courtesy of ‘man’ and nature. (Panorama)

 

10. Ghost Hunting (Raed Andoni, PALESTINE)

 

A controversial, courageous and at times tough to watch film, that, like Casting JonBenét, combines re-enactment and “role play” with documentary footage. Palestinian former inmates of an Israeli detention centre are invited to collaborate on a film about their incarceration. The director invites them to build a replica of the prison and ‘interrogates’ them about their experiences.

At times appearing cruel and at others cathartic, the film is poetic statement about human rights and the need to live in peace and with dignity. Winner of the Glasshutte Original Documentary Award. (Panorama Documentary)

 

Honor Roll: Call Me By Your Name, Poi E: The Story of Our Song, I Am Not Your Negro, Dream Boat, Somnilioquies, My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea, Emo The Musical, Have A Nice Day, The Wound, Insyriated, A Fantastic Woman, Beuys, Bones Of Contention, Joaquim, Wolfe (short).

 

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Still from 'Honeygiver Among The Dogs' by Dechen Roder.

Top Ten Films From Berlinale: Teresa Vena

Posted on March 15, 2017

Guest Post: Teresa Vena,  Berliner Filmfestivals.

 

 

  1. Honeygiver Among The Dogs by Dechen Roder

This is the first film completely shot in Bhutan, with all actors native from Bhutan. Female director Dechen Roder is able to show an intriguing story in beautiful pictures, with perfect rhythm. The plot is very intelligent evoking a constant menacing atmosphere, suggesting a crime that finally never happened.

 

  1. Centaur by Aktan Aryum Kubat

The second film by this director from Kyrgyzstan tells in an authentic way about the loss of connection between ‘man’ and ‘nature’. The main character is played by the director himself; he has a great charisma.

 

  1. Tiere (Animals) by Greg Zglinski

An intriguing roller coaster ride around the topics love, trust and jealousy. Reality and fiction are mixed up and the spectator needs to stay focused. At the end however, there is no explicit interpretation: it’s up to the spectator to find their own.

 

  1. ORG (1979) by Fernando Birri

A 177 minute film with more than 26,000 cuts! A kaleidoscope of pictures, text and sound loosely linked to the short story by Thomas Mann “Die vertauschten Köpfe”.

The project of this still-living, now 91-year-old Argentinian director was created between 1967 and 1978, and supported by Mario Girotti, better known as “Terence Hill”, who also plays one of the main characters.

An highly suggestive experiment, it’s a film with the ambition to invent a new film language and aesthetic. Birri himself said that it’s a “nightmare movie”, but definitely an unforgettable and enriching experience.

 

  1. El Bar (The Bar) by Alex de la Iglesia

Spain’s enfant terrible shot a horror comedy with great protagonists and a good sense of timing. While the last third gets a bit repetitive, the first part of the film is hilarious. Perfectly designed opening and closing titles.

 

 

 

 

  1. Obaltan by Yu Hyun-mok

A Korean film from 1961 in black and white reminiscent of Italian Neorealism. The film depicts a North Korean family left in the South after the war, struggling with unemployment and poverty. Emotions are shown coldly and laconically except in the the closing scene, where the main character, suffering from a tenacious toothache, drives a cab around the city losing his orientation. It’s a scene that reminds of Fellini’s closing scene from Roma.

 

  1. The Party by Sally Potter

A black comedy with perfect timing and great sense of humor. A tremendous cast.

 

  1. Untitled by Michael Glawogger and Monika Willi

The footage of this documentary was been shot by Austrian director Michael Glawogger on a trip around the world – a film he was unable to finish, as he died from malaria in 2014. [The job went to his longtime editor, Monica Willi]. Untitled shows his sensitivity and great curiosity about what surrounds him. His view is not one of a superior foreigner, but of a compassionate observer.

 

  1. Avanti Popolo by Rafi Bukaee

An Israeli film from 1986 about the Gaza war between Arabs and Israelis. The first film from Israel in which Arabs actually were personified by real Arab actors. It tells the story of a friendship between supposed enemies who share the same dreams, hopes and fears about misunderstandings and the absurdity of war.

 

  1. Last Witness by Lee Doo-yong

This film was restored by the Korean Film Archive and shown at the Berlinale Forum section at the full length of 155 minutes. Released in 1980, it is considered to be a precursor to all Korean gangster movies, which represent one of the biggest aspects of Korean film production.

The censors back then cut nearly an hour of the film, considering it too violent, and because the story sympathizes “too much” with North Koreans.

Despite its length, the film is really captivating, proposing an unusual morally upright and highly empathic policeman. There are strong pictures of rural Korea that evoke, through constant rain and muddy landscapes, a particular atmosphere.

 

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Still from 'Qiu/Inmates' by Ma Li

Top Ten Films From Berlinale: Yun-hua Chen

Posted on March 15, 2017

Guest Post: Yun-hua Chen, Goethe Institute, Mosaic Space And Mosaic Auteurs.

 

  1. Qiu / Inmates

Audacious, sensitive, contemplative, non-judgmental, gentle and very humane, it has definitely brought new perspectives and thoughts which will stay with me for a very long time.

 

  1. Small Talk

The most brutally candid conversation with oneself and love letter to one’s mother that I have ever seen. I truly admire the filmmaker’s remarkable courage, tenderness and strength. Tissues needed!

 

  1. Close-Knit

It’s such a sweet and heart-warming film, and beautifully acted by the trio. Tissues needed – again!

 

  1. Insyriated

An incredibly powerful chamber piece that shows as much the outside world in turmoil as the internal state of the distressed family, stranded somewhere in Syria. It left me breathless.

 

  1. The Bomb

Mind-blowing. Beauty in cruelty to the extreme. A must-watch for every human being on earth.

 

  1. Ghost in the Mountains

I love its cleverly orchestrated labyrinthine and trance-like narrative, intentionally eye-deceiving camerawork, and meditative mise-en-scène.

 

  1. Animals

A very powerful film. A lot of the scenes still haunt me now.

 

  1. Almost Heaven

A seemingly simple and straightforward film on the surface, it delves deep into issues of life and death, the transition in-between, and what living actually means.

 

  1. Somnilioques

A sublime journey across the boundaries of dim light and darkness, consciousness and subconsciousness, sound and silence

 

  1. Newton

In a humorous way the film exposes the absurdity ingrained in the democratic system, and asks some important, thought-provoking questions which cannot be easily answered.

 

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Still from Raoul Peck's 'I Am Not Your Negro'.

Top Ten Films From Berlinale: David Mouriquand

Posted on March 15, 2017

Guest Post: David Mouriquand, EXBERLINER, Before The Bombs Fall.

 

1) I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

 

An unmissable offering in this year’s Panorama selection was Raoul Peck’s timely, Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro. The filmmaker takes the words of the late novelist and social critic James Baldwin, who wanted the lives of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers “to bang up against each other”, and stylishly laces his prose with archival footage and modern clips.

The result is a concise, articulate and non-hectoring chronicle of black activism during the civil rights movement, which contains eerily prophetic aspects, and comes to life through the director’s status as a cinephile.

Peck uses a great number of film clips in order to create a fascinating correlation between the history of cinema and America’s race and class struggle. Hollywood here is essentially the eagle wounded by an arrow. It’s a riveting watch.

 

2) THE BOMB

 

Conceived as “an art installation with live music” for a soundtrack by the band The Acid, The Bomb transfers surprisingly well to the big screen. Screening in the Berlinale Special selection, it clocks in at 1 hour and features footage of the atomic bomb, from its inception to its use. Disturbing, insightful and immensely powerful, directors Kevin Ford, Smriti Keshari and Eric Schlosser show how truly terrifying it is that mankind is capable of the being the architects of our own worst fears and possibly, demise.

 

3) UNTITLED

 

This posthumous documentary by Michael Glawogger, edited by his longstanding collaborator Monika Willi, is a mesmeric cinematic experience. Composed of the Austrian director’s last footage, filmed in the Balkans, Italy, North and West Africa, it offers a contemplative journey that is as transportive as it is eye-opening.

 

4) ON BODY AND SOUL

 

Ildikó Enyedi’s return to the silver screen after an 18-year sabbatical proved to be successful: the writer/director scooped up the Golden Bear. Her film focuses on the nascent relationship between two lonely souls who work in an abattoir. Inhabiting a harsh world unconducive to tenderness, they forge an empathic connection in somnolence.

The affecting performances and the melancholic tone make it a weirdly inspired choice for this year’s top prize. It also clashes with last year’s rather obvious winner Fire At Sea, which was Berlinale-tailored. Not that aspects of On Body And Soul aren’t timely: maybe we need an unusual love story to see us through the strange times in which we currently live…

 

5) THE PARTY

 

Chameleonic British director Sally Potter’s eighth feature was the comedic highlight of this year’s Competition. It was also the streamlined and effective antidote to Oren Moverman’s bloated The Dinner, also selected in Competition.

This monochromatic chamber piece, dubbed by the director as “a light and loving look at a broken England”, is a lean, mean and wickedly mordant black comedy which frequently echoes the work of Yasmina Reza and John Boynton Priestly. The zingers land, the mystery works and the eye-watering cast have a blast, making this dysfunctional game of Cluedo a one-act play that happily stakes its claim in the pantheon of parties-gone-wrong films.

 

6) CASTING JONBENET

 

Kitty Green’s documentary about the unsolved murder of the titular 6-year old beauty queen is an excellent genre-bending hybrid, the thought-provoking antics of which echo Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine, screening at last year’s Berlinale. It is a compelling and darkly humorous look at our culture’s obsession with the sensational, as well as a study on our tendency towards schadenfreude, and the morbid fascination we all have when it comes to tragedy.

 

7) THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE

 

Aki Kaurismaki’s droll take on the immigration crisis is the surreal ‘yin’ to last year’s Golden Bear-winning ‘yang’, Fire At Sea. Beautifully acted and cinematically lush, this unpredictable film has heart to spare, deftly meshing deadpan humour with sincerity. Arguably this year’s Competition selection’s strongest offering.

 

8) EL PACTO DE ADRIANA (ADRIANA’S PACT)

 

This incredibly impactful and truly engrossing documentary is the Panorama selection’s gem. Lissette Orozco’s feature film debut tells the story of a revelation which causes a deep fracture within a family: the director’s favourite aunt, Adriana, is suddenly detained while visiting her family in Chile. She is accused of having worked for the DINA, Pinochet’s notorious secret police and faces horrifying charges of torture, which she denies.

Armed with a camera, her young niece takes it upon herself to uncover the truth about Adriana: a truth that could exonerate or incriminate her beloved aunt. Imagine if Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell had taken a more troubling turn, and you gauge the tone of this haunting documentary, the intrigue of which rivals the most immersive of conspiratorial spy dramas.

 

9) INSYRIATED

 

Belgian director Philippe Van Leew helms an incredibly tense chamber piece set in Damascus. As the world crumbles around a small group of people holed up in an apartment, one matriarch desperately tries to salvage her family and neighbours’ humanity.

It is one of the Panorama selection’s most thrilling offerings, boasting a superb and complex central performance from Israeli Arab actress Hiam Abbass, previously seen in Steven Spielberg’s Munich and recent Netflix hit, The OA.

 

10) SOMNILOQUIES

 

This experimental dreamscape from directors Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor screened in the Forum selection, is ideal for those who like their films destabilizing and hypnotic. It focuses on the late American songwriter Dion McGregor who made the history books as the world’s most prolific sleep-talker. Over the years his roommate and fellow songwriter Mike Barr would record his friend’s nocturnal diatribes, all at conversational volume. They oscillate between the surreally funny, impressively coherent and the poetically disturbing.

The filmmakers curated and compiled selections of his dream-speech recordings, and play them over the blurred exploration of naked bodies belonging to sleepers. The result is a lysergic mood poem that often feels like being in a sensory deprivation tank.

 

Honourable Mentions: God’s Own Country, Close-Knit, Pokot, El Bar, Call Me By Your Name.

 

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Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Pulse Of The Rhyme: Cedric Till

Posted on January 6, 2017

One of the most impressive things about Cedric Till is the respect that he has for words.

 

About to turn 28, the Berlin-born rapper and spoken word artist stills rowdy rooms with the power of his poetic expression. You know something special’s about to happen when he gets up on a stage, quietly smouldering with the intensity of not only having something to say, but having thought through how to say it a thousand times over…

 

Up there, he lights a fire, digging deep into the machinations of his experience and fashioning carefully-chosen phrases into rhyme, rhythm and reason. No-one draws a breath until he finishes his gentle speak-singing narratives, usually flashing a wry, shy grin in conclusion.

 

In “a world that can’t stop talking” Cedric is a rare orator, one who makes you shut up and listen. Deep. Words, he tells me, are the tools he uses “to touch life”. “They’re the tools I use to chisel a message”. I’m not surprised to find out that his ‘day job’ is as a translator: language is his business.

 

The day we meet for the Circus Folk photo shoot, brilliant sunshine dares to overthrow the bleak tyranny of a Berlin winter’s day. Squinting in the the dazzling rays, Cedric recounts more about his life, his writing practice, recordings, rapping and creativity, as we crunch our way across the glistening, silver-frosted tarmac of Tempelhofer Airfield, which flanks the neighbourhood he’s called home for much of his life.

 

I learn of his fearless rhyme battles as a teen; his ‘tenuous’ relationship with German hip hop (“let’s just say I’ve been ‘an observer and student of it’ since 2004”, he laughs), and the gratitude he feels towards hip hop and basketball. “They saved my life in the early years”, he says.

 

On this gleaming winter’s day, Cedric shoots hoops, I shoot photos, and we both shoot the breeze. A pleasure.


At the Feld: Cedric Till. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Circus Folk: Cedric – you are one of the rare Berlin-born ‘Berliners’ on Circus Folk!  But you also have Polynesian heritage: where do you hail from and what is your family background?

 

Cedric Till: I was born and raised in Berlin, in a former hospital for women and children, here in Neukölln. Last of a dying breed, or so I’m told.

 

I’ve lived in Berlin most of my life, in two different districts. I was born in Neukölln (Berlin’s now rapidly in-demand “eighth borough”), but spent three years in a group home in Geltow, a local center between Potsdam and Werder in Brandenburg. At age eleven, me and my mother moved to Reinickendorf [a north-western neighbourhood of Berlin]. I would go to school there. When the rent became unaffordable, I moved back to Neukölln, in 2011.

 

Ethnically speaking, my mother’s German, also born in Berlin. My father, a guitarist, composer and songwriter, is a more complicated case. He was born in Lübeck [Northern Germany], but his father, whom he only knew from a photograph and one brief phone conversation, appears to have had Polynesian and African-American ancestry, going back to Hawaii.

 

When I learned about my heritage at age 15, I began looking for connections out of curiosity. Problem is, there aren’t too many Polynesians [here in Germany]. So far I have only met one person with Tongan heritage in my life.

 

I’ve spent most of my life seeking a culture that felt like mine. I was raised in a German family, but even as a child I never related to German culture, opting to look for answers elsewhere. I’m still searching, really. Should create my own culture, perhaps?

 

CF: What do you like about living in Berlin? Is it good for young artists? And what might be some of the challenges?

 

CT: For one, it’s my hometown. As a Berliner, hometown pride is part of what makes us who we are. I’d say it’s comparable to that of the people of New York or Philadelphia. We love our city – dirty, noisy, green, rough and rugged as it is.

 

Is it good for young artists? It’s THE place to be, if you ask me. Whatever you do, you’ll find an audience and a community here. Some people may come here for a short spell, milk the city for some exposure and move on. Others arrive and make their home here.

 

The challenges? Rents are raised like middle fingers to the locals: the gentrification process is very real. When I moved back to Neukölln after all those years it was like everything but the names of the streets had been changed.

 

Also, Berlin is now an artistic “Mecca” of sorts, which means there are thousands of artists living here. This makes getting noticed much harder, especially if you’re a local. People come here for the ‘cultural melting pot’, but not really to experience local Berlin art, due to the language barrier. This makes it appear like there are parallel societies at times.

 

This is why I feel affirmed in my choice to use English as my language, not German.

As above and so below: Cedric, on stage at Lagari. Photos: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: When did you first realize that you wanted to write and perform? Was there a ‘light bulb’ moment for you? Or was it more of an organic process?

 

CT: When I was five my cousin had given me a tape with songs from rapper Ice-T‘s albums ‘Power’ and ‘Freedom of Speech’. That was when I fell in love with Hip Hop.

 

Five years later I was living in the group home I spoke of. The time there was difficult: I fought with the other kids every day, as well as the adult supervisors. Many of them came from broken homes. Some had mental illnesses, some girls were raped by their fathers. We even had a few children who were indoctrinated by their neo-Nazi parents.

 

I was there due to my hyperactivity disorder and a resulting hair-trigger temper. I needed some kind of outlet for the constant emotional and physical battery; sports wasn’t enough.

 

So on March 25th, 1999, I wrote my first rhyme. It was only self-therapy in the beginning but I was ambitious and wanted to become good at it. In the fall of 2004, I performed my first recorded song at a youth center. That was when I realized that I had talent and wanted to be seen and heard.

 

CF: Who are some of your artistic heroes or inspirations?

 

CT: I’ve already mentioned Ice-T: he’s practically responsible for me ever picking up the pen to write rhymes. As far as music goes, the most important inspirations include Björk, Sade, Miles Davis, MF Doom, Eminem, Z-Ro, The Wu-Tang Clan, Sean Price, Scarface, Joe Budden and Ka.

 

My artistic heroes are my creative friends.

 

CF: What is your relationship like to writing? Is it something that comes naturally to you? Or is it something that you have worked at over the years?

 

CT: I think, back to my elementary school days, I’ve always loved to write essays and do researched presentations. I think writing comes naturally to me now because I’ve been doing it for close to eighteen years. I have written more verses, poems, and songs than I could possibly remember.

 

As per Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of mastery [“ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in a field”], I consider myself a “master” of my craft. But I am still yearning for more growth and working towards ever-greater heights of creative proficiency. I will stop working when my body says it’s time to go.

 

CF: And also to performing: what does it feel like when you’re on a stage?

 

CT: The stage, much like the recording studio, is my confessional. It’s my shrink. It’s my sanctuary for when I simply must vent all these stockpiled thoughts and bottled feelings. It is pure catharsis I feel when I leave the stage, knowing I’ve left it all out there.

 

That said, the introvert in me enjoys creating more than performing. I don’t enjoy reiteration much, even though it is practically the vast majority of an artist’s work.

Straight shooter: Cedric Till. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: What kind of stories do you tell, on stage and/or in your music? How would you describe them?

 

CT: I never know if they are ‘stories’; [it’s for] other people [to] decide if they are.

 

I go through life, I think about ideas, people, events… I discuss them. I share everything that goes on in my mind. It is an inherent need of mine. A song, a story, or a poem: that is all but a mode of expression.

 

Some people respond to certain modes better than others. I just write what I feel I must express. Topically, only the inspiration I get from life and my imagination limit me. Just listen with an open mind and an open heart.

 

Hoop dreams. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Cedric Till. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: You also rap and make music quite prolifically, having released at least two recordings per year since 2010. Would you be so kind as to share a ‘snapshot’ of your journey through music so far, including origins and collaborators?

 

CT: I rap and I work with musicians and producers who provide me with the necessary musical canvas for my writing. Since my debut album ‘Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove’ in 2010, I have released seven EPs, the last one called ‘INFP’, being the first project released under my real name, Cedric Till. I dropped my former stage name “Concrete Cee” this year because I did not want to hide behind a made-up name anymore. My work is too personal and too attached to who I am for me not to use my real name.

 

I got into recording in 2004, when I took part in a youth project that sought to keep urban kids off the streets. A youth center happened to have a recording studio, and I recorded my first song there. I would later home-record at friends’ places, but in 2005, I had my first professional recording experience with my longtime friend Andy. Since then he and I have become an inseparable tandem.

 

I have worked with various artists, be they singers, musicians, producers or rappers from over twenty different countries. The most notable people from the United States are producer and filmmaker Jenova 7 from Boston; rapper and songwriter Chel Strong from Detroit; producer and teacher Erik Jackson from Florida; and producer Batsauce also from Florida.

 

In Europe I’ve worked with people like Bradata and VPD from Bulgaria who respectively run a TripHop radio show in Varna, and the net-label Dusted Wax Kingdom. Then there is Undogmatic from Portugal, Sick Rat from Italy and my Berlin comrade Marius Gold, who’s an engineer and producer.

 

CF: You recently told me you’re working on nine projects at the moment: what are they? And how can people access your work?

 

CT: Ha ha, yeah. Some of these projects are still in developmental stage, and need a real direction first. Others are beginning to form into shape and might only need one or two songs to complete – like my EP ‘El Nacimiento de Con Quixote’ with Buenos Aires producer Darkside.

 

I am currently finishing up an EP with Sick Rat called ‘Seeing Naples’, an EP with Erik Jackson called ‘The Learning Curve’ and one with Batsauce called ‘New Horizons’. All of these will be released in the first half of 2017. Everything else is too early to say. People can mostly access my work through Soundcloud and Bandcamp, though my first album [‘Iron Fist In A Velvet Glove’] appears to be on Spotify as well. My second album ‘Grimoire Capricornus’ will be out this month [January 2017].

On home turf in Neukölln. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: You often hear writers talk about “catching” stories as they pass close to them from seemingly out of nowhere: is this how it is for you? Or do your words and narratives well up inside you from deep within (rather than from ‘without’)?

 

CT: I never sit down to think about what I’m going to write. I live my life, walk the streets at night, think about ideas, people, events, relationships. I discuss these things with friends.

 

When my thoughts have formed and I’ve received the perfect canvas from one of my musical colleagues, only then do I begin writing. At this point the idea is already there, only the sentences need forming. Call it being “impulsively creative”. Random energy spikes instead of a continuous flow.

 

CF: What do you think makes a great story?

 

CT: Let them come from profound inspiration, and/or a real place. Let the characters be relatable and detailed, the sentences flow naturally and beautifully, and the scenery evoke images and memories to bring the story arc to life. Or, you could just tell it as it is, from your heart. The connection between storyteller and audience matters.

 

CF: What ambitions do you have with your music? And with your ‘spoken word’ performances?

 

CT: I’m still figuring that one out… As a youth, I wanted to be the greatest rapper ever. I was hyper-ambitious, obsessed with fame and greatness. I was also insecure behind my mask of boisterous confidence in my skill.

 

Today, after a myriad of setbacks and lessons, I would rather focus on the craft and the people I do this with and for: let them carry me where I am supposed to be. I am confident in my skill and power as an artist, but also humbled. I want to be seen and heard and felt, like everyone does.

 

I’d prefer to live from my art like everyone does. But really my work is more important than me or my ambitions: give me a million bucks and I’d probably invest all of it back into my art. I don’t care for material possessions or prestige. I would rather die poor than compromise my integrity. I guess I’m more Nikola Tesla than Thomas Edison!

 

As far as my spoken word exploits go, they go hand-in-hand with music – it’s all the same thing for me. My real ambition lies in my creative work, not its outcome.

 

CF: Can you share your experiences from some of your most memorable gigs?

 

CT: I remember a gig back in 2007 with a collective of people I used to run with called Styleworxxx. We performed at the Matrix/Narva Lounge [Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg area of Berlin]. It was an event run by different schools from Reinickendorf so all the bands were school bands except for us. I knew like 70 percent of the people who attended, none of whom to that point had taken me seriously as a rapper.

 

A former friend and I premiered a song called ‘Inhale, Exhale’, and by the second chorus everyone in the place was chanting it with us. I get goosebumps still thinking about that one! A lot of people would eat their previous sly remarks that day.

 

Then there are the monthly storytelling events at Lagari that Amelia runs [Australian comedian/producer Amelia Jane Hunter]. Those are always magical and cathartic for me as I get to experience different styles of orating and storytelling, and I can simply speak from my soul to people. And how could I forget some of the ‘Sunday Slips’ I’ve done! [Run by American-Colombian performer Liliana Velásquez]. Sometimes the level of talent is just mind-boggling, with the energy carried from performer-to-performer. I am looking forward to more memorable performances to come.

A place for contemplation: Stadtteilgarten Schillerkiez. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: What role do you think the spoken word performer has in Western culture? Is it growing or dying as an art form?

 

CT: When I say “spoken word” people always assume [I mean] “poetry slams”. While I respect the artists performing at slams, the competitive format does not hold the same intrigue for me as it did in my youth. I just want to connect with people through my work.

 

What’s the role of a spoken word performer? Prove that attention spans aren’t as short as people often lament, maybe? I think all artists essentially have the same role, no matter what vehicle of expression they use. Some are here to entertain, others to soothe troubled spirits, then some are here to rattle cages and shake the foundations of people’s belief systems.

 

Is it growing or dying? It’s here, still. That’s what matters. It’ll stay here, if I’ve anything to say about it.

 

CF: What is it that drives you to make music, produce art, get up on a stage?

 

CT: I simply must. If I do not record or perform for a month or so, I get cranky like people get “hangry”. I start to get pissed off at little things, snap at people, begin to dislike myself, begin to doubt my purpose. My brain is a perpetuum mobile: if I didn’t express everything that went on in my head I’d punch walls and scream out of the window or something.

 

I can wear people out during conversation, so to spare them I simply have to write, record and perform focused work. Creative expression frees me, rids me of negativity. Keeps me sane. I cannot survive without it.

 

CF: Finally: five of your favorite words – and why.

 

CT: 1.Motherfucker”. I say it at least ten times a day in different tones. Sometimes to express annoyance or admiration, sometimes as a nuclear punctuation mark. The “mother” part is often mouthed like a groan or muttered under my breath, and then the sharp “-fucker” part comes in like a flying guillotine. I just love this word, ha ha!

 

2.Person”. It is utterly neutral. It merely denotes a single entity of the human species. I get tired of the gender, race, faith and general identity wars people inflict upon each other on a daily basis: they discriminate against one another based on the category they either put themselves or others in, while disregarding the actual issues they face.

 

3. “Earth”. Earth: our home. Our foundation for life to grow in. The element of my sun sign, Capricorn. A resting place for deceased life forms. The smell of it after rainfall. The connotations we’ve added: “earthy”, “down-to-earth”. I love all of it.

 

4. “Craft”. The dedication to mastering a skill, the process of creating a piece derived from that skill, the “craftsmanship” of it and its appreciation, the attention to detail, the imagination, the execution. You cannot be a great craftsman without passion. I don’t do anything without passion because I have pride in my craft.

 

5. “Code”. It does not only describe a sequence to unlock or initiate something, it also means the tenets one lives by. At fifteen I devised my own personal code of conduct with people; I have never veered from it since. It’s brought me much hardship, but also filtered people. Those that didn’t belong stayed away from me. Those that did became my friends.

 

 With many thanks to Cedric Till for his words, time and the photo shoot.


 

Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Let Them Eat Cake: Lyndal Walker

Posted on January 3, 2017

I’ve always been fond of ‘goo’.

 

It’s the name of my favorite Sonic Youth album. It’s one of my favorite words, caught somewhere between “coo” and “gum”.

 

And ‘goo’ has always been one of my favorite things to eat, especially if it’s coloured pastel pink. Growing up in the 70s I consumed my fair share, especially ‘Junket‘, one of my mother’s specialties.

 

It would arrive as ‘sweets’ at dinner parties, often on the heels of pineapple ham steaks or chicken chow mein. It was the gelatinous, wobbly version of musk sticks, fridge-set, in tall curvy glasses on stems. A sugar coma in the making, us kids couldn’t get enough of it.

 

All these years later and on the other side of the world, Junket oozed its way back into my memory at a recent “work-in-progress” screening at the Australia Council’s residential artist studio in Berlin. It was for short video The End Of The Sausage Fest, made by Melbourne’s gleefully subversive art+craft collective, Hotham Street Ladies, with two members, Australian artists Lyndal Walker and Caroline Price, in situ.

 

Projected onto a wall of “international culture centre” Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Lyndal’s current base as a recipient of its artist-in-residency program), the film was an apt offering to the centre’s annual “open studio” menu. Made after a humid, heady afternoon at Thai Park (a local open-air foodie paradise), the Ladies’ luminescent symphony of goo certainly did “playfully explore patriarchy, decadence and male privilege.”

 

I was among the silhouetted group entranced by this silent visual loop, watching mounds of sticky pink icing unceremoniously plop onto of all manner of oral indulgence, the remnants of which can only be described as a disgracefully decadent dinner party. The phallus of a dead cigar included, it was as if Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover had been stuck in a blender, covered in pink icing and served up for our rapidly-diminishing attentions spans. It was enough to make you reach for a doggy bag or laugh-out-loud in gallows humour.

 

Eat The Rich. Repeat.

‘The End Of The Sausage Fest’ video by The Hotham Street Ladies. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Hotham Street Ladies in Berlin: Caroline Price & Lyndal Walker, Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016.

Clearly a fan of goo and its power to revolt, engage and entertain, Lyndal Walker is a photo-based artist with a penchant for “disruption”. As it says on the KB website, Lyndal’s work “emerges out of an ambivalent relationship to consumer culture.  She is fascinated by our voraciousness but also finds it deeply morbid. While she has often used photography in her work, she is interested in disrupting the role of the photographer.  She has extended her conceptual concerns to destabilise the photographic object by printing her images on silk scarves or mounting them on mirrors.”

 

After a long-time flirtation with Berlin – and spurred on by a chance meeting with a member of indie-pop royalty – Lyndal finally arrived to live in April 2015. She’s found the right city in which to make her art, one renowned for questioning norms and criticizing the ‘status quo’. And, embracing those who do.

 

Lyndal is interested in disturbing standards – especially entrenched ways of looking at the world. An artist with a long list of credits (her first solo show was in 1994), she’s working both on individual projects and collaborations during her 12-month Berlin residency, including one with painter Tony Clark, about Rowland S. Howard, the late Australian post-punk guitarist, himself a former Berliner. A solo exhibition in April 2017 is also on the cards as part of her residency.

 

The enormous Licht Fabrik building in which Lyndal’s studio is housed is a former light factory, re-purposed to support a myriad of progressive artists, gallery spaces and start-ups. The labyrinthine structure goes on for days.

 

It’s a spacious, historic and fertile place for making art, conversation and more, as I discovered when we met for Circus Folk.


Lyndal Walker in her Berlin studio. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Circus Folk: I believe it was a long time ambition to live and work in Berlin: what was your trajectory, and motivation to move here?

Lyndal Walker: I first came to Berlin in 1996, as part of a backpacking trip when I was 22. A good friend from Melbourne (now a gallerist here in Berlin) had moved here and I stayed with him in the then-very rough Neukölln.

 

Honestly I wonder why I loved it so much then: it was the middle of one of the coldest winters for decades –  minus 22 degrees – and Berlin was very different. It was very poor and not full of the bourgeois delights of bars, cafes and galleries that it is now.

 

I really would have loved to have moved then, but it wasn’t easy to get visas and learning a new language was a hurdle I wasn’t willing to jump at that time. I kept visiting. In 2014 I was here and I just had this thought going around my head, “why don’t I move to Berlin?”

 

I don’t usually tell this story because one of the nice things about Berlin is [that] celebrity culture isn’t really respected here. But here goes: by chance I met Michael Stipe at an exhibition opening. We got chatting and I said I was having this thought about moving to Berlin.

 

He said “how are your parents?” I told him my father was dead and my mother in good health. He said “well you must move to Berlin now,” and I knew he was totally right. It was a very well placed question.

 

CF: Has Berlin met your “expectations” so far? As a place for your practice and a culture in which to live?

LW: I couldn’t say what my expectations were, but what I can say is that I feel very stimulated here and I realised, once I’d decided to leave Melbourne, that I really hadn’t felt very stimulated there for some years.

 

I feel Berlin offers me lots of new information and life challenges as well as art to see and artists to meet, so as a culture and place for my practice, it’s great. It’s a very dynamic place but unlike other cultural capitals like London or New York, it’s not very consumerist.

 

It’s calm and cheap, but really exciting.

 

Lyndal Walker and ‘The Artist’s Model’. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: Sometimes people (especially ‘creative folk’) have romantic ideas about moving to Berlin: that it’s all ‘beer and skittles’, a 100% party town with arty types on every corner doing whatever they like with very little. What has the experience – and transition – been like so far for you?

LW: Having spent quite a lot of time here before, I had a pretty good idea [about] what living here would be like. I had dreaded the winter and it’s not easy but actually I like the way Berlin is a completely different city across the seasons.

 

As for “beer and skittles” and “creative people on every corner”, I’m glad it’s not like that. The jugglers are one of my least favourite aspects of the city and thankfully they are not around in winter!

 

It’s a great city for me. It’s very stimulating and a lot of the things I’m particularly interested in are really fundamental here. For example there is lots of experimentation with different ways for living, whether it be artist-led projects, communal living or polyamory. People really play with gender and its representation a lot here.

 

I’m not really sure what opportunities will come here. I’m still in the early days of establishing my practice in Europe. For one thing, being in the centre of Europe makes having an exhibition in Stockholm – as I did last year – a lot easier than if I was in Australia.

 

Berlin is just a great city to be an artist in very practical ways, because there are so many of us here. So when you front up to the glass cutters for example, they’re not surprised you’re an artist and they are happy to do things differently, or know that it’s important for things to be well finished. Even going to the accountant is a whole lot easier. Apparently there are even therapists here who only work with artists.

 

CF: For how long have you been an artist? And do you remember the moment when you realised – or decided – that this is what you wanted to do?

LW: I’m one of those rare people who always wanted to be an artist although in reality I didn’t know what that meant when I was a kid, because I never knew other artists until I went to art school.

 

Of course I was encouraged to do something more practical, and actually I had a lucky break when the then-Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, sacked so many teachers in the 90s, because I’d told my parents I would do teaching after my fine art degree and become a teacher.

 

By the time I graduated that was as impractical as being an artist!

Work by The Hotham Street Ladies. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

Lyndal Walker. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016.

CF: Last July you received your first grant from the Australia Council, which supports a unique artist residency in Berlin at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, a cultural institution “whose goal is to further contemporary art and contemporary artists”.

 

How difficult was it to get into, and what does it mean to you to receive this kind of support at this point in your career: is it encouraging?

 

LW: I first applied for the Künstlerhaus Bethanien studio in 1996. And while I haven’t applied every year, I’ve probably applied about six or seven times, and well, it’s been twenty years in the making.

 

There are nineteen other artists in the building from countries including Korea, Ethiopia, Iceland, Canada and Cyprus, so it is genuinely international.

 

Yes of course it’s encouraging. Most artists struggle with a sense of self-worth and wonder what the point of their practice is, particularly when it cost us so much financially and personally. I wasn’t getting very many opportunities in Australia in the last few years so this is a very positive development for me.

 

To be supported for a year in a beautiful studio surrounded by other artists is great in so many ways.

 

 

Artist Lyndal Walker with a work from her ‘Silk Cut’ series. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016

CF: As an artist you have developed a number of interests and ‘lines of inquiry’ in your work, and moved from painting to photography, combining both within your practice and image making. Could you please give us an idea as to where you started and where you’ve ended up in terms of themes you’ve explored? Especially with regard to your more recent projects?

LW: When I started exhibiting I was very interested in fashion and I was quite obsessed with the passing of time. I’ve also always been interested in the politics of representation, particularly as it relates to gender roles. My interests in fashion have moved towards a particular interest in the process of dressing and states of undress.

 

I’ve always been interested in the way women bond over clothing. It is both a way of expressing ourselves and a subject to communicate about. As my practice has developed, I’ve become more interested in the metaphorical aspects of dress and undress, so issues such as exposure, shame and vulnerability are of increasing interest to me.

 

I’m also really interested in materials related to fashion, like silk and mirrors. In ‘Modern Romance’ and ‘Silk Cut’, my interests in fashion and sexual imagery intersect. In ‘Silk Cut‘ I’ve printed images of men (images of erect penises) on silk scarves. It’s the first time I’ve made a wearable object.

 

My concern with representation has most recently manifested in my being present in my images, taking the photos of young men in the series ‘The Artist’s Model‘. I’ve also become more interested in contemporary images like those found in sexting and porn.

 

CF: There is an unabashed voyeuristic aspect to your work, in as much as you’re interested in the process of looking, and making that quite overt: from the subjects of your work looking directly at the viewer and you placing yourself in your work, to looking at (and making photos of) your subjects. Looking is something we do prolifically and often without much conscious thought or attention: so what is it about “looking” and the act of it that attracts you as an artist? And what are you trying to say to us about it?

LW: Interesting question! I am really interested in questioning images and drawing attention to the fact that you are looking at a picture, and that its relationship to reality is not entirely smooth.  Using frames, collage and including myself in my images, I hope to inspire people to ask questions about the images they see around them.

 

I’m also interested in truth and fiction and how we distinguish between them. I like storytelling, particularly when it challenges the nature of reality. I’m always been interested in communication, and ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ are forms of communication.

 

I often wonder about the value of art and how we might make any difference to the world with it. We are surrounded by images, and from early in my career I was interested in advertising. Although my work addresses that in less literal ways now, I think it’s important that we are constantly questioning the images which sell us not only products, but expectations about our lives and bodies.  The nature of visual art is that we are looking at it, so I think art is still a great place to explore the nature of beauty and if it is important.

 

Recently I’ve been thinking what a privilege it is for straight men to constantly see images of beautiful women often without much on. They have their sexuality and desire regularly reaffirmed and stimulated. And this is a way in which ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ are part of power relations in our lives.

 

CF: There is an undertone of ‘profanity’ (explicit nudity, sexuality) that has also popped up in your work too – from the “penis scarves” to images in the ‘Modern Romance’ series. When did you start to bring that into your work? And what ideas are you exploring in this arena?

LW: The profanity is relatively new, since a show I did in Melbourne in 2013. I’ve always rather delighted in the chasteness of my previous images of people in their underwear. But even with ‘Silk Cut’, the larger than life erect penis is usually hidden within the soft folds of the silk, so it’s not so explicit either.

 

Those images are inspired by sexting and as such continue my interest in the role of the photograph in our lives and to our identities. I’ve always been interested in identity so an aspect of that work is to wonder, if you receive an image of a penis, does it belong to the person who sent it? And how important is a man’s penis to his identity?

 

I’m also interested in the fact that men’s bodies are now being fragmented through imagery, in the same way that women’s have always been. As with most of my work, it’s an experiment: What is it for a woman to wear an image of a penis around her neck?

 

I have become more interested in porn and kink since I’ve been living in Berlin. In Australia I didn’t really think of porn as something that might inform my work, but in Berlin sexuality is taken seriously as an intellectual pursuit. Also there are things like the Berlin Porn Film Festival, which shows challenging, non-exploitative works so I’m more engaged with ‘profanity’ here. Kink is interesting to me because of the way it playfully explores power dynamics.

 

People are very open about their bodies here. You often see nude people in the park. I need to be more prepared next spring with good underwear because if it’s a sunny day, people will get down to their knickers at a picnic! There’s also such a massive kink scene so people are speaking very openly about their sexual desires.

 

I’m not sure how literally my work will reflect these interests, but for now they are inspiring lots of interesting thought.

In black & white: Lyndal Walker. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016.

CF: The Hotham Street Ladies have become a bit of an institution in Melbourne. For those who may not be familiar, could you please provide a ‘snapshot’ of the collective? And more of an insight into the new video project The End Of The Sausage Fest that was made at your Berlin studio?

LW: There are five Hotham Street Ladies and we all met living in a share household in Collingwood, Melbourne. We started by making a couple of recipe books for our friends and then we made some cakes that we submitted to the Royal Melbourne Show. Then some street art.

 

Then things got a bit more serious with a permanent public work on Hoddle Street in Melbourne and various installations, including a major work as part of ‘Melbourne Now‘ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2013.

 

These days, Caroline Price and I work together in Europe, and Cassandra Chilton, Molly O’Shaughnessy and Sarah Parkes work in Melbourne. When I was in Melbourne earlier in 2016, we brainstormed a work that the Melbourne crew made and which is currently on at The Johnston Collection in Melbourne. And in a rare moment all of us were together to install a work at Shepparton Art Museum in February.

 

The End of The Sausage Fest is a video that Caroline Price and I made in my Australia Council studio in July ’16. We set up a scene which we thought of as a kind of ‘power dinner’ but with a lot of stuff that was moldy and rotting. We had been talking with frustration about a lot of self-serving male leaders: we were thinking of some of the really rotting and rotten patriarchal values which are now being exposed and challenged. The video involves a flood of pink icing and glitter that subsumes all the rotten old leftovers.

 

CF: Was it a fun project?

LW: Although the last thing any of us want to do is eat icing, I think the nature of icing and cake is that it is fun and celebratory. Sometimes I feel when we’re developing ideas that we are on a sort of ‘sugar high’. What’s not to like about thinking up food metaphors for cunnilingus or making cigarette butts out of icing?!

 

As a solo artist, working in a group is very liberating. You can really delight in one another’s work, and the sort of doubts I struggle with in my solo practice are much more quickly resolved in a group. I think one of the things that’s great about HSL is that it does reflect the satisfaction a lot of women find in making things, and the fun and support you get from working with a community of other women.

 

 

CF: Speaking of collaborations, you’re in a long-term and long distance one with painter Tony Clark. It has tendrils in both Melbourne and Berlin, courtesy of the late Australian musician, Rowland S. Howard

LW: I saw Rowland Howard’s final gig in 2009 and he had this incredible quality which made me really want to photograph him. He was very frail, but kind of boyish at the same time, [and] in a way that was similar to the young men I’d photographed in ‘Stay Young’.

 

I mentioned this to Tony who said he wanted to paint Rowland’s portrait. Tony was an old friend of Rowland’s and arranged for us to make our portraits together but Rowland died before we could. I was devastated: I was a massive Birthday Party fan when I was a teen and always felt sort of ripped off that I hadn’t seen them because I was too young. So missing taking the photo echoed that experience.

 

Tony and I decided to do the work anyway but instead of a photographic portrait, I’ve written about Rowland and my own fandom and the nature of portraiture and the passing of time, while Tony has painted Rowland. It will be a book when we finalise it.

 

CF: As an artist, as it been a tough road to get to this point? What keeps you going?

LW: Sometimes I wonder: these days I feel very strongly that I just am an artist. That I don’t really have a choice. But I wasn’t always so romantic. There’s been two stages in my practice when I very seriously considered quitting and I think that is a really important process that I would encourage all artists to go through. I’ve come back from those periods with more resolve and a clearer sense of what I want to do and why.

 

As for it being a tough road, I’ve been fortunate to have had some great opportunities, but they don’t always lead to other opportunities. So there’s not much sense of your career ‘growing’ in the same way most people’s careers do with more status and more money. Of course it’s such a privilege to be able to spend time following your obsessions and developing something that is so personal. On the other hand, you have to constantly motivate yourself and face a lot of rejection. It’s good to be in Europe where being an artist is respected.

 

About ten years ago I had a really hard look at my practice and career and asked myself what I was getting from it and what I wanted from it. I think the community and friendships around my art practice are the best things. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel with my practice, and as travel has always been important to me, I decided to focus on getting more of those opportunities.

 

So those are some of the things that keep me going, friendship and travel.

 

CF: As a “Wahlberliner” (Berliner by choice), do you have an experience of Berlin that sums up why you enjoy being here?

LW: Recently I’ve noticed how easy it is to be alone here. I always spend a lot of time alone, and in a lot of places that makes you a bit of a pariah – people feel sorry for you or think you need to be talked to. Here, there are always lots of people alone: smoking a joint by the canal, reading a book in a café, eating a nice meal in a restaurant… And your privacy is totally respected and there aren’t needy people trying to engage you in conversation and distract you from your thoughts or books.

 

I think I’d really miss that respect for solitude that Berlin offers.

 

With many thanks to Lyndal Walker.

Fin: ‘The End Of The Sausage Fest’ by The Hotham Street Ladies. Photo: Megan Spencer (c) 2016