Week #54 Caravan Story: a novel

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Wayne Macauley is one of my favourite authors. His writing has that daring capacity to capture the bizarre in the ordinary, the absurd in the everyday, and the laughable in the direst of circumstance. Simply put, it champions the urbane among the chaos. All this occurs, not at the expense of poignancy, but as its procurer. Navigating through spiky, offbeat scenes, the stories – all of which I recommend – cruise along the suburban streets of our wealthy and poor alike, conjuring the macabre while managing to do “absolute telling”.

Caravan Story is no exception. Like all his work, metaphor and menace play a part. The ideas are intrinsic from the beginning, and the prose, which is joyously full, creates a calm absurdity that slowly builds into a far darker momentum. Caught in a world of rules and regulations, the young couple at the centre of the narrative have no option but to carry on as things around them become increasingly difficult. This is writing that remains with you in the manifestation of warning bells. Put on your helmet and ride the wave. It’s cause and effect at its best.

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Week #53 Los Angeles Unmasked: a photographic series

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Mike Murphy is a photographer with an unfussed MO. His canvas is the raw and lacking streets of Los Angeles. Confronting, sometimes even brutal, his pictures nonetheless project a poetic synergy that makes these barren, even ugly views, quite beautiful. Taken with an iPhone that he sometimes straps to his car, Murphy has developed the canny idea of triggering the shutter with a selfie styled button.

But while his technique calls for spontaneity, equally what emerges is not slapdash. The best is purposely framed, shockingly clear, and pricelessly honest. We owe photographers like Murphy for showing us the backend of our polished lives, while giving us the form and the softness to want to look. This is beauty in the ugly. This is seeing in the miss-able. This is an uncut depiction that often tells a whole story.

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Week #52 Lost Boy: a dance

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Merrick Hanna is an 11-year-old who has perfected the art of expressing himself through dance. His is not a show of body-beauty or muscle-strength, and it’s certainly not a feat of repeated and perfected vigour and force. Rather it is a play of nuance, a subtle progression of movement that catches emotion and wraps it in a net.

The story of Lost Boy is simplistic. And the music is necessary for the experience to resonate. But the seamless ability of Hanna to pivot and pull, to hinge and swivel, to be sharp and fluid, is a portal into meaning. It feels precious and poignant. It feels rare and affectionate. It is defined by its residual buoyancy.

Week #51 Absence of Being: a series of photographs

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Susan Burnstine has that artistic touch. More than at arms-length, her photography is work that makes you think you’re inside the image, shifting through it, even as you claw to get closer. The shots are custodians of time and emotion, mirages of our dwindling capacity to hold onto the world while we walk through it. They are barely there and yet wholly haunting. They make perfect sense and yet defy the eye. They are full of depth and pull and clarity and distortion. They are harsh while blindingly gentle.

Dedicated to the pursuit of producing what she needs, Susan has built her own cameras, many of them from a mixture of household objects and second-hand camera parts. Is it any wonder then that the photographs have that loved feeling, that sense of uniqueness? They look crafted not shot, put together not triggered, and seem both created and found simultaneously.

Check out the entire Absence of Being series and her other series: On Waking Dreams, Between, Flight, Instinct, through the links on the same page.

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Week #50 Machine Tiger: wall art

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There’s a lot more wall art around these days: a lot that is created and a lot that disappears. When a painting doesn’t it could be said that it’s something of a miracle. It also gives me time to see if I really like it or not. I am, after all, a sucker for wall art, partly because of the grand scale of it, and partly because of its accessibility.

Machine Tiger (the name I’ve assigned this piece) has been on a wall behind Acland Street in St Kilda, Victoria, Australia, for years. It’s a bit faded, maybe even a bit dated. And no doubt there is other wall art that’s far more intricate, far better executed, and even, far grander in scale. No matter. In this way, wall art (like all art) doesn’t discriminate when it finds a target. I love this piece.

The reasons: I think it’s because of the juxtaposition of forces: the turbulent sea on which the small boat sits perilously; the tiger with its machine head which shines a light onto the little ship somewhat benevolently; the in-clawed paws of the animal, out for balance more than for aggression, its teeth bared but in-threatening. I love the idea of strength and protection swirled into one. I love the idea of nature and machinery being inextricably linked. I love the patterned churning sea against the great flat moon. The bricks uncovered, playing their part.

 

Week #49 Departure: a short story

Published in Review of Australian Fiction where the best of Australian fiction comes into your inbox at the rate of one a week for a dollar a week, Departure by Kim Scott is a story told in plain language that offers the best of everything that’s not said in order that it say so much. The un-story of Tilly is precisely what tells us of her predicament: the gap between two cultures that she is leaping, the curiosity and care (just a little bit voyeuristic) of those that see her journey as tricky, the parting suggestion that hers could be a departure of sinister outcome.

Everything is underscored by a lacking to convey fullness, by a physical to create feeling, by a calm to create tension. Like a hollow aching or a creeping anxiety the reader is put into a hold while the scene shimmers. We are with Tilly in her self-consciousness, in her observance, in her private teenage headspace. But we are also looking at her from a distance, knowing we can’t intervene.

Kim Scott is a writer known for layered and complex language. The control he shows in Departure, the clarity and slow, tense pace makes this story as tender as fresh bruises.

 

Week #48 In Treatment: a TV series

 

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Sometimes art is meant to imitate life. Occasionally, drama requires the kind of forensic eye, certainly after the first wave of emotion has passed, that art demands of us. In Treatment, staring Gabriel Byrne, manages to corner both life and art very well. Like good writing, which it is full of, In Treatment builds emotional scaffolding, constructing a wall of understanding, while producing a great rendition of the spiky, heartfelt process of therapy. Taken from an Israeli series (which is deserving of the lion’s share of accolade) called Be Tipul, or In Therapy, In Treatment, while scripted and condensed, gives a sense of what it’s like to be either client or therapist in any one session of psychotherapy.

Granted, this drama might interest therapists more than others, although I think it would be helpful for anyone wanting to embark on a series of counselling sessions. Certainly, from personal experience (I was a psychotherapist for twenty-five years, twelve of which were carried out in private practice) I recognise many of the scenes, much of the defensive and deflective dialogue, and all of the tiny nuanced queries and curiosities that shape therapy into the trade that it is.

Trust upon trust, In Treatment canvasses a fascinating scope of skills needed for the work: the requirement for an arc in a session, the wending of a client’s background into their actions, preoccupations and predicaments, the talent for listening and empathising and interpretation. Above all, however, In Treatment demonstrates the process of uncovering what lies behind an individual’s motivations. And it’s that that intrigues the viewer, that which makes it drama, that, just like in real life, that makes therapy so thrilling and a most valuable art form.