On Ghost Nets

By Vita Forest

Ghost nets – that’s what they call the lost and abandoned fishing nets that float the ocean, moving with the tides, travelling large distances and trapping fish and birds and dolphins, sharks and turtles.  At the Australian Museum, there is a display of Ghost Net Art, made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to raise awareness of this problem and to turn something destructive into something wonderful.

I visit the museum with a bunch of sketchers, fanning out through the rooms armed with sketchpads and pencils and watercolours and brushes.  I am attracted to texture, to roughness, to coarse surfaces, woven rope, splintered wood, twisted wire.  And so I find myself among the ghost nets, read the stories, read how these massive artworks came to find themselves suspended from the ceiling and crawling up the walls of the Australian Museum.

I stand in front of a giant crab, a huge disc of netting and woven spirals and multi-coloured ribbing stretched over wire.  I sketch out the outline and begin to map out its limbs and scribble and hatch the barnacles of its body as it hangs breathless against the wall.  I stand in front of it, where the light haze dims and brightens in time to the story on the screen beside me that starts up again and again at the touch of a child’s finger.  Across the way, a projection of Bangarra dancers twist and contort, and children shriek and try to catch the slippery bodies of fish made of light that dart beneath their feet across the floor.

And when I finish my scribbly, gnarled, ancient crab, I sit on the floorboards, too tired to stand now, not wanting the bench, the angle is just not right for the fish, the cod, floating high above our heads.  So I sit on the floor, out of the way, but still visible to the boy who slides down beside me to peer at my paper as his mother reads about the crocodile spirits, about the men who could hitch a ride on the back of a crocodile without fear.

‘That’s good,’ he whispers when it’s time to go, when he is called to stand up, to climb up and follow her away.

And I think about the legend of the cod and the crab who watched each other and fell in love.  And I think about the people combing those northern beaches for nets not shells.  And I think about them stretching and cutting and twisting the nylon into new shapes, new stories.  And how I am taking the ghost nets and stretching them out in a new way on my page.  And wondering if we could make something this shape, this size at school out of other thrown-away things.

And I think about the ghost net that caught me this week, floating unaware beneath the surface of everyday life, waiting, hovering beneath the flow of it.  And how I was gutted and let down, thrashing in my net, struggling to take a breath, to remember the good, until I was cut out in time, set free to slither out into the clear, warm water again.

And I think in the end, that’s all we can do – scoop up the ghost nets whenever we find them and take them out of the water so they won’t catch anyone else and try to turn them into something beautiful.

Advertisements

Cranking up the old Hill’s Hoist

By Vita Forest

The screech of machinery stops and out of the darkness of the shed, emerges the lanky bald man.  He blinks in the brightness of the afternoon sun and shifts the weight of the paint-splattered crate he carries.  It’s heavy in his arms.  Later he’ll use a trolley to shift it, but right now he can still manage carrying it this way.

He walks along the cracked uneven path to the clothes line at the bottom of the yard.  This garden is no thing of beauty.  Occasionally it bothers him and he thinks about putting in a few more plants.  Dolling the place up.  But so far it hasn’t happened.  It’s not his area of expertise after all.

Still, it’s big and useful for testing things out.

Like these boards.

He reaches the clothesline and squats down to place the crate amongst the little flares of grass that have somehow managed to grow up through the chinks in the concrete.  He stands up stretches his back, then cranks up the handle of the Hills Hoist, watching as the wires rise higher and higher.

It always reminds him of being a kid and swinging on the bars when his Mum wasn’t looking.  If he was caught, he’d get a wallop across the back of his legs.  But it was useful, this old relic in the yard.  An old metal thing, silver in colour, probably one of the originals, not one of the new-fangled bright green contraptions with their rubber coated wires.  But he did have to make sure that he kept away from the rusty spots when he was pegging up his clothes.

The handle whirrs then sticks and will move no further.  The kite-shaped frame is extended to its full height.  He reaches down into the crate and plunges his hands amongst the silky rectangles of wood.

Picking up a panel, he rubs a thumb over the grain of the wood, admiring the smoothed corners and enjoying the scent of the oils released from cutting and sanding the timber.  He taps a couple of pieces together. 

He’s still not sure about this.  Nothing for it but to give it a try. 

On the four sides of the clothes line, he has hung a line of metal hooks about five centimetres apart.  He stands with a handful of his shards of wood and threads them through the hooks. 

He waits and watches. 

They don’t swivel.

He goes back to the shed and returns with a ball of rough brown string and his scissors.  Sitting on the ground, he cuts lengths of the twine and threads a loop through the hole at the top of each wooden rectangle.  The dog potters over and nuzzles against his shoulder.  He rubs her head then returns to his work.

Soon there are a piles of paddles ready to go.  He stands and hangs them over the hooks as if he’s decorating a Christmas tree.  This time they swing.  He fills the wires with the pieces of wood, adjusts the distance between them and stands back to wait.

The wind arrives and he holds his breath.  It flickers along the edge of the wood and suddenly the air is filled with the chiming peals of the rods striking against each other.

Putting his hands on his hips, he grins as he watches the whole thing dinging and donging away.

He pulls out his phone from his back pocket, finds the number and hits the Call button.

‘Do you hear that?’ he says into it.  ‘I think it’s going to work!’

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!)

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.

The A to Z of my A to Z challenge 2016

By Vita Forest

The changing colours of Skyspace

The changing colours of Skyspace – for the letter S

Well, the April A to Z challenge finished just over a week ago and I am still processing the roller coaster that it was.  I learned a lot and spent the month fairly buzzing with creative juices.  Here are links to all my output.  Some travel, some artistic adventures and lots of flash fiction.

Enjoy!

IMG_4066[1]

A is for… Art

B is for… Bed

C is for… Cinderella

D is for… Doorknob

E is for… Everything

F is for… Flowers

IMG_4073[1]

G is for… Gabriel

H is for… Home

I is for… Ibis

J is for… Joy

K is for… Kiss

L is for… Love

IMG_4080[1]

M is for… Monolith

N is for… Narcissist

O is for… Old-school

P is for… Peak hour

Q is for… Quentin

R is for… Red

IMG_4086[1]

S is for… Skyspace

T is for… Train

U is for… Unconscious

V is for… Venice

W is for… Wedding

X is for… Xanthe

IMG_4092[1]

Y is for… Yearning

Z is for… Zone

 

S is for…Skyspace

By Vita Forest

IMG_4086[1]

While visiting our friend Fleur in Canberra, we made a pilgrimage to the National Gallery to experience once again James Turrell’s Skyspace. 

It is an art work but also an experience.  Although it is open during the day, it is best visited at dawn or dusk, as that is when you get the extra dimension of colour.

In the fading light of sunset, Fleur, Max, Lucy and I passed through the gate behind the gallery and across a paved bridge over some water.  The paved path continues across grass and descends down, becoming a ramp, down below the level of the tiny lake that encircles a grassy pyramid (nicely reflected on the surface of the water).  If you walk slowly, you can look out across the water at eye level – a vantage point I don’t normally see, so of course I stop and look and admire.

You descend below the water level, below ground level and pass across another boundary and enter the pyramid.  It is grassy on the outside, but inside, surprisingly coloured in a chalky, pink render, it’s sloping walls opening to the sky.  At this point, the feeling of passing into another zone is encouraged by the increasing sound of flowing water, which completely blocks the noise of outside, as the walls of the pyramid completely block the sight of it.  Inside the pyramid, the path splits and you walk either left or right around a turquoise-coloured infinity pool, over whose edges water pours continually.  And in the very centre of the pool, (again not visible until you have crossed the threshold and entered the pyramid) rises a domed building, completely enclosed within the pyramid.  It is build from shards of stone, slotted together cunningly without any obvious joining materials, like a dry stone wall or a ancient cairn.  You marvel at its walls, rising and curving upwards as you walk around the pool, before coming to another “bridge”, this one crossing the pool and leading you into the dome.

Another surprise.  You enter a large but cosy room, walls white with a generous ledge running the entire length of the walls from one side of the doorway to the other.  This is for sitting or even lying on.  You sit down on the bench and lean your back into the comforting curve of the dome and look up.

There appears to be a hole in the smoothly arching roof (or wall – where does one end and one begin?) or is it a disc?  But then a plane streaks a white line across the blue, and you realise that you are, in fact, looking up at the sky.

It’s very lovely at any time, but if you go at dawn or dusk you will also be treated to a subtle light show projected onto the roof of the dome, that changes as the sky outside lightens or darkens.  You have to slow down and watch and be right there to see the colours change from pink to blue to green to purple.

Max leaned his phone of the side of the bench and took a time-lapse film of it, but when you are there, you hardly see the change until it has happened.  One colour slowly and imperceptibly fades into another.

The changing colours of Skyspace

The changing colours of Skyspace

James Turrell’s art is all about colour and light.  He strips away all other distractions so you can focus on these elements.  Depending on who else is in the dome, it can be serene and spiritual or voluble and excited.  (Saskia was frustrated on a previous visit when she wanted the former and got the latter…)  Our experience this time was fairly silent – I took “silent” photos on my phone, raising my hand in salute every few minutes.  Fleur was amused and sent me a text –  It’s almost religious, even though we sat only a couple of metres apart.  Lucy wandered in and out of the dome, comparing the colour of the sky with and without its ring of colour.  Max slouched back against the wall and checked the progress of his filming.

Some of the colours of Skyspace

Some of the colours of Skyspace

All the mechanics are hidden.  The light source enclosed in a tiny lip that ran above our heads, the water draining away into a hidden cavity beneath the walls of the pool, and our way out lit by strip lights shining from deep in the recesses beneath the walls.  Best of all, in winter you are not distracted by the bitter temperatures because the bench inside the dome appears to be heated or insulated…  You feel warm and cosy despite sitting inside a stone building whose roof opens to the elements…

M is for… Monolith

By Vita Forest

IMG_4080[1]

Ewan sits still on the black-leather-excuse-for-a-couch.  Why did they choose it?  Certainly not for comfort.  His buttocks hardly make an indent in the seat, there is so much stuffing.  And the backrest is so far back that he has to sit forward, perched on the front, as if he is about to take off.  Which he is, he supposes.

The receptionist smiles at him again.  He nods to her.

No, she could not help him.  He’s just waiting.  No, he would not like a magazine or a glass of water.

He puzzles her obviously.  So be it.  He sits so still and stares out, past the mockery of an ikebana on its pedestal, through the glass doors to the people rushing by outside.  Marching up and down the street, eyes glued to their phones.  It was a wonder they didn’t bump into each other.  It was quite a skill really, when you thought about it.

He senses it to his right, just in front of the lifts.  Pride of place.  Why was it here in this sterile waiting room?  What did it add to the ambience?  But he would not look at it.  Not yet.  It might put him off his game.

He will sit and wait, thank you.  He will wait until the time is right.  Ewan is tall and thin and bald.  His cranium catches the light that bounces off the streaky marble floor.  Everything is so hard here, every surface, every face.  But perhaps he is just imagining that.  He feels a pulse throbbing in his left temple.  He rubs his knees with his hands and takes a deep breath.  He nudges the bag with his right foot, feels the hard edge of the axe with his shoe.

Steady on!

The lift dings.  He looks over and through his creation.  The lift door opens, but it is not him.  Not the doctor who walked around the gallery waving his important hands at Ewan’s work.  Not the one who chose his sculpture for this lobby (to go with the uncomfortable couch and the awful ikebana – what was he thinking?)  Not the one who took the sculpture and ignored the invoice.  The invoice that Ewan needs to be paid.  The doctor who is not available when Ewan calls, who will return his call soon.  The one who took his work, the work that is standing before the lift, like a dare.

Ewan blinks and sees that the waiting room is free of waitees.  It is just him and the receptionist now.  This is it, he thinks.  He bends down and slowly unzips the bag at his feet.  His eyes flick up but she is on the phone, tapping away at the slick computer on her desk.

He grasps the handle of the axe and with one fluid movement lifts it out of the bag and charges at the sculpture.  He sees it now, its beauty, its perfection, the love he poured into it.  He sees it all, just before the axe swings forward and hits home.