What branches grow out of this stony rubbish? ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What branches grow out of this stony rubbish?

It used to be a Melbourne tradition to send reporters down to incoming ships at the docks and ask bewildered visitors what they thought of our fair city. And it seems that old habits die hard... today's Herald Sun has a bunch of European visitors (here for the International Committee of the History of Art congress) telling us that Melbourne is a cultural wasteland.

Like most superficial judgments, it's partially right. From certain elevations, Melbourne is a cultural wasteland. But from others, it's producing some of the most interesting art around.

Sometimes you have to go a long way away to see what's actually here. Sometimes the sludge obscures the vivid and unique creatures swimming luminously in its depths. That's the danger of living here. But in this case, it seems to me that those flinching against the scrubby newness of our culture are missing the strengths that exist in that very newness, the vigor that emerges from being freed of those very traditions we are dismissed for not having.

Myself, I've always had an ambivalent relationship to what is undoubtedly now my home city. It depends where I'm standing, and my feelings have run the whole gamut from pride in the richness and vitality of the art that's achieved here, to a tired despair springing from the smallness of the mindset that often greets (and has sometimes destroyed) it. I deeply dislike parochial breast-beating, but it has sometimes occurred to me that Melbourne is six times as big as Paris was when Alfred Jarry condemned its ignorance, incuriosity and philistinism.

What ruffles me most, though, is the question itself. Since when did the denizens of London or Paris anxiously ask others about their city? Or care what they said in reply?


ango said...

So true.

Berlin, gallery takes 50% of the price.
Theatre tickets cheap cheap cheap, but compared to Melbourne, shit shit shit.

London, why would you bother.

New York. A big woof. But their coffee is shit.

So, in closing, Melbourne kicks ass, and I back that statement up by saying a single thing:

Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Yarra Valley.


I will concur though that the fat, ugly, stupid TV watching Australian, racist and rapist, is a blight and a curse.

That's why you go to Berlin, so you can only meet two crushingly distressing wankers who are from Australia.

Oh, Chunky Move, woof.
And Australian dancers.
Woof woof.

And Australian singers.
Woof woof woof.

Our only problem is the scum and the waste of human life this continent produces.
See the last decade of waste surrounding us, and now, upon us, a new day, but we still have Berwick...

and yeah, the Victorian Arts Centre is better than the Sydney Opera House: The architecture, the staff, the ease of operation, the quality of programming.

Okay, Melbourne might well be having a supply side issue when it comes to cocaine right now, but baby, this city is a beauty.

Just thank your lucky stars you don't live in New Plymouth in NZ, or heaven forbid, LA, heck, while we're at it, the Biggest Festival In The World is CRAP.

You heard it right here from me.

The Edinburgh Festival and Fringe are shithouse, and while I'm here, let me tell you one more thing...

football is art, but not all art is good art.

In closing, in my opinion, Melbourne is the greatest city for the arts in the world, because it is cheaper to live, the pollution level is negligible, the art is of a standard envied by anyone who is dispassionate to really care, but we are let down by Australian Rules Football and Australians themselves and the high prices paid for theatre tickets and for mobile phone, internet and pay tv. No digital radio yet folks, I want Planet Rock in such a bad way, and shit, who really wants to know what wankers from America - the greatest closed insular nation on earth, 0r from England - the gretest culture in decline, or continental Europe - the biggest arrogant pimple on the arse of monogamy one has ever seen, not to mention anti semitic rubbish tip imaginable.

face it arts wankers, you suck, and I live in the greatest city on earth.

Now, I'm off to blow up the stock exchange, oh, it's in meltdown already. Sorry about that all you rich arseholes, looks like you'll have to sell the saab and give up the sixteen rental properties you have been fisting me with. Your name is scum, and I like that Nick Cave song.

Oh, that's right. Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Barry Humphries, and Lloyd Newsom, just to name a few.

For a city of 3 million people, geeze, we're not doing too bad after all.

Now bring on the dredging, I got me an ear to grow.


Alison Croggon said...

Heh. That's one impressive rant, Ango my boy. Btw, I'm beginning to think you deserve an award for imaginative website development...

Jana said...

I happened to have a wonderful conversation with the Dr Alain Touwaide from the end of the article (starting with the Padova Botanical Gardens and images of the universe, of all things) probably on the night that that article was written. So I would say that these art academics are a bit smarter than Herald Sun makes them appear.

The real politics, I believe, is in the eye of the reader, writer, editor. The politics of the published text. Everything these people said is fundamentally correct. No enormous art galleries or museums; young collections; 'comprehensive art collections from all historical periods and places' only happen through colonial expansion: Hungary or Norway wouldn't have them either. And American scholars, as expected, talk about the skyline and the architecture of the CBD because that's the sort of thing that matters in the US. As a prospective urbanist I assure you it does not, at all, not even minimally, matter whether the architecture of Fed Sq is too busy or Nicholas Building drab and grey, as long as they both serve their purposes reasonably well. For the purposes of vibrancy, it matters much more that the public transport system still converges on Flinders St.

The real problem, as usual, is in the way Herald Sun asks ('no art? then we should clearly be investing in sport!'), and the reader concludes with either A)Australia is a cultural backwater, or B)Melbourne is the best. Why should these things be at all compared? And why this belief that Melbourne needs to be better than London, Berlin or Paris? Does Oslo need to be London or New York? No, they're too different for that. New York and London are hellishly expensive places to live, centres of power, bla bla bla, of course the art gallery scene there is more exciting. So is the restaurant scene, the political scene, the mafia...

My new friend Dr Touwaide, I believe, gives the most measured assessment when he says Melbourne is among the best cities in the second tier. Among cities like Vienna, Zurich, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and such, Melbourne absolutely holds its own.

But no, we're not happy with being compared to Denmark and Hungary. Australians want to be as special as the French and the British, because this country is a colonial offspring. Australians want to claim some of the big sister's glory and importance. So we make these silly claims about Melbourne equaling Paris London New York. Which means little to nothing to most Australian readers of this blog anyway, for how many will have a serious chance of experiencing any of these cities properly?

And so the culture cringe is born. With due respect, I will go back to reading Chekhov.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Jana - art academics smarter than the Herald Sun? What is the world coming to?

Yes, the whinge of cringe was basically my point. Oh, I do get tired of Eurocentrism - don't we all? It's, well, old - but equally, or actually even more, I get tired of the forelock tugging that takes place this end. It's where Usher comes from in his questions about "proper" art, for instance, an abiding anxiety about whether we're allowed to exist. The arriviste anxiously being vulgarly proper in the drawings rooms of the monde. I guess we'll grow out of one day, and the news is that the more interesting bits of this fair city have; but wow. It gets me down sometimes.

naive theatre goer said...

As an example of the flip side of the cultural cringe mentality, maybe you could consider a friend of mine in New York. He's never been on an airplane. He was born and raised in New York, thinks he lives at the center of the universe, and sees no reason to visit the slums that exist everywhere else. He's taken a train a couple of times to New Jersey but that's the limit of his worldly experience. Come to think of it, if the only "other" experience I'd ever had in my life consisted of a tour of the industrial wastelands of New Jersey, maybe I'd hunker down in my Greenwich Village bunkter too....