Reverberations

By Vita Forest

Papped by a sketch buddy at The Cutaway, Barangaroo

Last week sitting in The Cutaway at Barangaroo, a place that I’ve been so many times before and seen “dressed up” is many different ways – with a cardboard city, with hundreds of yogis, with thousands of white balls converting it into a dry beach.  But for Aurora Eora, the space was mostly physically empty and yet it was transformed.  It became a space to linger in, to reflect in, to close your eyes and be in (and in my case a space to get lost in a drawing in.)  What made it so?  What changed this big cavernous space, made people want to walk slowly to its centre and sit down?  Lie down?  Stop?

It was music.

The voices of the Australian Children’s Choir echoed through the vast interior reminding me of monks singing acapella incantations in a sacred space.  With speakers placed in a circle facing the centre of The Cutaway (to which we were encouraged by a pathway made up of strings of electric bulbs, like giant fairy lights, standing in for church candles), voices and rich harmonies washed over you from all directions.  People sat and looked about.  Looked up at the ceiling, looked at the rock cliff face, strolled quietly up and down.  There was nothing much to take a selfie with, it was just a quiet place to linger and reflect.


(Later as I wandered over the hilltop I heard the music again, this time drifting out of the large vent that opens at the top of The Cutaway.  Again, it altered the mood of the people who heard it, turning the Frisbee players into ballet dancers as they spun and leapt.  It called a gentle invitation to curious passers-by to try and locate the source of music – like a benign Pied Piper.)

And later, as I drove somewhere or other, I was listening to RN and caught the extraordinary story of Andrew Schulman who created Medical Musicians after music saved his life – literally.  He was deep in a coma with nothing more to be done when his wife played his favourite piece of music (Bach’s St Mathew’s Passion) and the medical team watched in amazement as his vital signs changed before their eyes.  They had verifiable and measurable scientific data that proved the power of music.  Schulman went on to create Medical Musicians playing Bach and other carefully selected pieces to patients in trauma wards as an “effective, non-invasive treatment” which “produced certain chemicals in the body” and “allowed the body to relax and heal”.

And I remember years ago, doing a meditation course and the teacher talking about “cleansing” your home by playing calming music in it – even if you were not there.  Leaving on some classical music and going out and letting the sound change the energy.

And think about my students over the years and how they love “doing Relaxation” where I put on some Vivaldi or Bach and they lay down on the floor and closed their eyes for a few minutes.  (If we missed it one day for some reason, they were quite put out).  How kids with behavioural problems would choose listening to music as one of their strategies for calming down, settling themselves.  They even started doing it at home, their parents reported back to me.

And even my cat Zadie, flopping down on this table on which I write, choosing to curl up right in front of the portable speaker from which Richard Tognetti plays the Bach Violin Concertos, the sound making the whole table reverberate, I can feel the physical sensation through my arms as I write.

There is something quite amazing about music.  You can’t listen to it in the past or the future, it makes you “be” here in the present.  Right here.  What is your soundtrack for calm?

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING Crow

READING my old novel in preparation to rework it.

LISTENING to an inspiring interview with Tim Smit on Radio National (he instigated The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall).

VISITING

  • with my old high school gang for a lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with Saskia and friends for another lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with family – to see my cousin up from Victoria.
  • a local national park with an Indigenous guide.

DANCING in the school hall for a very fun Zumba class.

MAKING 3D whimsical flowers with my class (potted up in strange receptacles in the style of Shaun Tan’s Eric).

STARTING our senior dance group’s rehearsals.

PREPARING for Parent/Teacher interviews next week…

 

Crow

By Vita Forest (based on a story of Pemulwuy’s escape)


He came out of the forest, across the river to fight them.  They were taking his land.  They were killing his country.  They had tried to kill him.  One time.  Two times.  And though the muskets had filled his leg with lead (they had seen it) he had gone back into country and re-emerged.  Alive.

But now he was locked in their dark cold cave.  The iron bands around his feet.  The iron bands around his hands.  Trapped.  They had him now.

He stared coldly into their hooting faces.  He turned himself inside.  And waited.

The cave got colder, the night got darker, the iron on his wrists, cutting into his skin.  They had his death in their minds.  They were hungry for it.  They wanted it like nothing else.  But they would wait for the morning, for the sun to rise and flood the valley with its light.  For the whole world to be full of light.  Illuminated.  They wanted to show everyone his broken body, his broken spirit.  They wanted to show his people he was gone.

He closed his eyes and turned himself inside.  Made himself part of the darkness.  The blackest black, the deepest crevice between the stones.  He called up his totem animal, buried into it, danced its dance, sang its song.  Whispered its name.

He snapped his beak, clawed at the gritty ground.  He breathed and blew the air down through his bones, down to his fingers, flattening, stretching, flicking them into shards of feathers.  He jerked his neck and shook out the collar of black across his skull, across his back, drew his claws in, slipped out of the circles of iron.  Folded back his wings, rattled out of the chains at his wrists.  Unrestrained.    

He swivelled his eye, cocked his head, listened to the snoring sentry and the whispered secrets of the moths at the lantern, the crying bats in the fig trees beyond.  The world was alive out there.  Waiting for him.  Waiting for him to leave this place. 

With a spring, he was up on the ledge, slipping through the bars, gripping the wall with his claws.  The world outside flooded him.  He drank it in, breathed it.  Rolled back his shoulders and was gone, back into the world, into the night.

Gone.

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING A stroll at twilight

READING two “old” books 

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (an actual old book – an old classic and this edition itself over one hundred years old, with very thin pages inside a  stiff, maroon hardcover, the pages sewn together and with black and white illustrations of key moments appearing at intervals through the text.  Something I really like about this book is its size and weight – you can easily hold it in one hand, perhaps as you take a walk, as Elizabeth Bennet liked to do).
  • Hamilton the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (enjoying the content and even the look of this book -it’s a pretend “old” book, looking as if it were made in the 18th century, complete with rough-edged, thick pages and coming encased in a parchment-coloured hardback cover complete with title in what looks like gold leaf. I am also admiring the chapter descriptions such as this one for “Chapter 1  – on the Origins of Revolution, Both National & Musical, with Reference to Opening Numbers & White House Raps” love it!)

DESIGNING costumes for our performance group 

SKETCHING inside at the Museum of Contemporary Art as the rain continued to come down


SEEING one of my old students visiting there too

LOOKING after Max, home from school on Friday after a miserable night during which he was sick about 9 times in 6 hours… Needless to say we both spent much of that day sleeping.

DRIVING Lucy all over Sydney for social engagements…

WATCHING Sherlock Season 3 (he’s alive!)

Summer sketching

By Vita Forest

 

I perched on the slope on my plastic bag seat and stared at the paperbark that Katrina had pointed out.  She knew my fondness for old trees, gnarled trees, trees that had lived a little.  The branches radiating out, the bark twisting and peeling.  My book balancing on my knee and my pencil sharp.  I started mapping and tracing, scribbling and hatching with Lucy beside me, laying back on the grass.

A light fall of rain forced us under the canopy of another tree.  I adjusted my layout and with a bit of artistic licence, the drawing continued.  Lucy curled up on her side, reading her book.


Then we crunched over the gravel drive where the carriages used to circle and admired the dense sprays of flowers, buzzing with butterflies, swallows swaying over the grass and even a duck paddling its feet in the fountain.  Sunflowers ripe, clutching their black seeds, petals losing grasp, rusty grass swinging in the welcome breeze come up from the harbour, through those leaning pines.  They reminded me of the ones I had drawn in Kiama, ringing the showground, sprayed by the sea.

We sat on the verandah, gentile in cane chairs and I sketched again and Lucy read again.  Katrina sitting symmetrical to the path to the fountain, us on the right, the immediate foreground a burst of sunflowers stretching up above the grasses.  And I wondered how the others could stand to stand out there in the sun to draw the house?  The heat that drew lines of sweat down my nose and back, that smeared Katrina’s paper as she leaned her arm against it.  We sat in the shade and welcomed that unreliable, capricious breeze that wound its way up from the water now and again.  Lucy tested the grass, the soft velvet grass with a couple of cartwheels, a couple of walkovers and decided it was “good”.


And later we all tramped back down to the pond, resplendent in pearly  lotus, in mauve waterlilies.  We posed for photos, sketches under our chins and admired each others’ efforts and swapped stories and made plans.   And later, as we left, Lucy and I noticed some seeds underfoot and looked up to see the overhanging branches of a pomegranate tree, positively dripping in scarlet baubles of fruit.

Southerly Buster

By Vita Forest

 

In the pool at dusk

shafts of sun break diagonal

through glitter-edged clouds hunkering in from the west.

I float in the pool and note how

Max swims like he talks

thrashing and splashing

dives designed to disturb the peace

with the biggest amount of bluster.

Lucy examines blue-shelled snails

strolling on slick black rock at water’s edge

peels one off and peers at its secret inside suction system

puts it back and it trundles on.

We burrow our fingers in the soft swaying strands of moss

green and warm from the sun

Alive.

 

The clouds rear over the hills and rain falls hard.

You almost can’t believe the change

The downpour

The ‘steady drum of rain’

Bucketing, pouring, pelting, crashing, smashing,

as I sit safe on the balcony

cocooned in my cage

a cage barred with falling water.

 

Then it’s over.

As quick as it began.

The world smells fresh and green

and I watch a man climb out of his car and

perform a magic trick

whipping off his boardies

in public

under a tucked-in towel

slinging them in the boot and

driving away.

And I wonder

could I manage that manoeuvre?

 

The blue is peering down through the grey again

at the black dog racing along the beach

kicking up clods of yellow sand as it goes.

Gargoyle

By Vita Forest


And Uriel says No, the man over there was not who we were waiting for.  A definitive NO, he was not a sketcher, he was full of rage and swearing and a moment ago, before we arrived, he had been shirtless, not a sensitive arty type, not one for contemplation.  No.  He was NOT part of the group.

Katerina sets up her stool smack in front of her subject.  She doesn’t look for a convenient corner or ledge or wall to lean against.  She doesn’t need a wall at her back to give her power, to give her anonymity, to blend into.  Katerina plants herself right in the middle of the stream, an island the curious will have to circle around it.  She owns it.

Who knew a stool could do that?

I crane up at a stone gargoyle gripping the wall with its six clenched toes.  It could be an owl, a bat, a creature from a nightmare.  Its toes are straining anyway, gripping that wall, about to launch, about to take off.  And a woman from over the sea, from another land, wants to capture me as I capture the gargoyle.  I am trapped on the ground with my sketchbook, mid-sketch, as it is trapped on the wall, about to take flight.  With gestures she makes her request and at my wry nod, comes to stand beside me, to embrace me, to drape her arm around me, as her friend takes the photo (quicker than my sketch), before she too, comes inside the camera’s view finder to stand with me and save the encounter for posterity.  What will they say about this moment?  My friend…  An artist… An Australian…  Will the caption and the tales told last longer than the time it took to take the photo, to construct this story of intimacy and relationship?  Was I like a wild animal momentarily tamed?  How brave to touch the now anaesthetized form of the king of the jungle.

I move to get a fresh perspective, and hear Tomas giving Winona a lesson in perspective.  He tells us that to be expressive, you don’t need to worry too much about perspective.  That’s lucky.  Buildings are hard for me, scare me a little.  I decide to scare myself and sit on the stone floor with the comforting bricks of sandstone at my back and look through an archway to my subject beyond.  My spot is cool and shady but people can and do stroll by, some nonchalantly glancing down at my sketch, surreptitious, furtive, curious without wanting to disturb or invade, playing it cool except for the small girl who peers down, leaning her hands on her knees unabashed and we smile at each other before she runs off, footfalls ringing on stone.

Around us, bells sing and chime.  Up in the tower, someone plays their song and sends it out over the rooftops, over the hills, how far?  The notes tumble and ring against the tiles and the glass and the stone, trickling down to the green green grass, emerald in its brightness, a stage we all face where tourists sprawl before drifting off again, before the heat of the sun becomes too much.

We skulk around the edges, in the shadows, looking in, looking up, looking through, looking past and measuring, recording, watching, the whisper of pencil on paper, the clench of finger muscles, the crick in the neck.  The buildings are at once intimidating and playful, orderly and rambunctious, authoritarian and welcoming.

This is where I came to see my friend’s choir, where I came for a lecture, where Josie Alibrandi raced John Barton in that movie (as Lucy reminded me), where students for years and years meet, and Tomas came in the past with his family on silent Saturdays and abandoned Sundays when they were the only ones around, and this is the place where brides and their entourages visit for the atmospheric backdrops to the beaded and brocaded.  And now we sit, facing in, around the periphery and study and record and express.

We draw.