Black Saturday Recollections

The Art of Response: fireman

Post by Gareth Hart.

The Art of Response: Recording and Collecting Black Saturday is the newest exhibition at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum.

As you enter the gallery, you are greeted with the following description:

This exhibition explores how artistic and collecting practices have been used across Yarra Ranges by some individuals, communities and institutions in response to Black Saturday. Through artworks and objects, many of the less tangible challenges faced by fire affected communities are revealed. The artefacts and artworks that are kept and created reflect part of the human side of the storyhow fire can transform not only objects and landscapes, but lives.

Balck Saturday exhibition at Yarra Ranges Regional Museum

It is a fascinating curatorial choice for an exhibition: placing found and artistic objects side by side, and considering how they can be used as signifiers and respondents for a tragic event of historical importance.

Works of mixed media, traditional art form and found objects fill the gallery space – and through their presence I am aware of a dense experience of scale – the gallery is relatively small in size, some of the work is large in scale, and the subject matter huge beyond comprehension.

As I wander through the gallery, I encounter pieces that catch my eye, not for their aesthetic value per se, but for the journey they have undergone to be a part of this exhibition. They are works of extreme beauty, I am particularly thinking upon a collage of rusty metal, glass fragments and ceramic pieces of crockery, which during the fire melted and fused themselves together. It is abstract art at its most profound – a piece of sculpture that owes much of its beauty to Mother Nature, whilst at the same time this environmental influence speaks bounds to a much darker experience.

Black Saturday exhibition at Yarra Ranges Regional Museum

I also encounter the profundity of simplicity – glass bottles that withstood intense amounts of heat recreating themselves as melted pieces of glass sculpture. I cannot help be reminded of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks.

Each piece of art on the walls, be that painting, film, felting, etc, was created by artists living locally, in response to the events of Black Saturday. As each piece has its own visual reference to that day, so do the stories behind the creations. One I was quite taken by was Ali Griffin’s description of her stunning piece ‘Acceptance 1’, which reads:

I went back to the studio and started writing these questions and my answers to them on the canvas. I wrote about accepting what happens, and learning from what I was writing. Then, as usual, I poured shellac over the top of the writing and it disappeared. I nearly cried. A few minutes later I realised I’d just learnt an incredibly valuable lesson. I just needed to accept what had happened.

And yet underneath all of this, is the strength of a community: the resilience of artists to use their practice as an expressive tool for complex emotions/experiences, and a way for the arts to provide an insight and context into a tragic event.

Black Saturday exhibition Yarra Ranges Regional Museum

I leave the gallery incredibly confused, but this is not a reflection of the work or the curation of the exhibition. I am deeply moved to confusion, pondering how such incredible devastation can produce such a culturally relevant and reflective appropriation of community values, events and spirit.

The Art of Response: Recording and Collecting Black Saturday is exhibiting until Sunday, June 15 at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, Castella Street, Lilydale

Black Saturday exhibition

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Melbourne Fringe Review

Top: Black Box theatre, Burrinja, Tegan Higginbotham, Emily Taylor

Top: Black Box theatre, Burrinja. Bottom (left to right): Tegan Higginbotham, Emily Taylor.

Review by Nadia Rankin the first young writer to join our mentoring program.

Upon seeing these two performances I have learned an important fact of life. I learned that first impressions are often wrong. For example when the sweet faced Tegan Higginbotham entered the stage, I prepared myself for family laughter and mean girls references. But I was soon to discover that I was in fact being told the blood curdling and somewhat disturbing tale of the time Ms. Higginbotham herself decided it might be fun if she attempted pro boxing.
And my first impression when I saw Emily Taylor, the kind faced young woman with a slightly droopy right eye, was that I would be experiencing the generic ‘Woman at front of the stage, talking.’ Stand up, but was faced with an eerie, yet extremely theatrical monologue, in which I was introduced to six slightly insane humans (and a creepy cabbage patch doll) all of which seemed to morph from the one woman’s body.

The Punch Line

So I will begin with ‘Million Dollar Tegan’. I must admit I was amazed by Tegan’s contrasting personality. She had a young, sugary feel to the way she told her story, letting out girlish giggles here and there. Yet she was highly aggressive, she had stunning energy and a warm enthusiastic vibe. She had a beautiful connection to the audience, responding to their comments and treating them as she would a close relative. Not only this, it also looked as though she was enjoying herself and felt more than comfortable talking up on stage about being beaten up by her friend and ex-model ‘Megan’ . I have no idea how she did it, but she almost made her horror story seem fun…  her little narrative provided crystal clear imagery the whole way through and the intimate way she described everything made me and hopefully the entire audience feel as though the people that guided her through her phase were close friends of ours. Her performance include a variety of styles, ranging from feminine, gentle techniques pulling the heart strings of the audience at the same time as calling her mother a whore for not packing her Tiny Teddies in her lunch box and describing the ‘arse’ like smell of boxing gloves.
Her performance was very relatable however and she was far too lady-like for being the Dandenong girl she labelled herself as.

Something To Crow About

I almost jumped in my seat when I heard the four year olds voice surfacing from the lips of the woman my first impression had told me would be telling tales and punch lines all night. And I was surprised when the little girl transformed into a cool, masculine business man, with a passion for zodiacs. And by the time Ms. Taylor was acting out ‘Miles’ the soulless window cleaner, with hereditary depression and a sad past, I could no longer see the woman on the stage, but six crazy people with psychological difficulties and a dark laundry. She had graceful alternations between characters and a flowing interaction between their conversations, so smooth I could see two people at once. Her performance was complemented by creative lighting and sound effects. The audience watched with jaw hanging fascination. I am not sure you can call this cynical monologue a comedy, but certainly a fine piece of theatre and a captivating outlook on life. There was 100% concentration on her behalf and 100% attention was given from the audience. The dark ending fitted all too well.  She honestly believed every word from every personality she acted of her over-the-top sufferers of neurosis, in her Tracey Ullman sketch style.

These performances were nearly opposites, making it interesting being put one after the other. Tegan showed herself to be very natural in character as though her show had never been performed, but rather she was telling a friend while getting her hair braided at the salon. And Emily’s approach was not herself, but perhaps demonstrating the psycho within us all.
Both used effective techniques and their words rolled off their tongues. A night of emotional excitement and a slight adrenalin rush is guaranteed for all those who go to see these two thrilling performances.