Boston, ICA/CRASHarts

Posted in Uncategorized | April 2, 2008 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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We arrived in Boston after the early flight from Chicago (where the van didn’t meet us at 4.30am.) We solved that by getting two taxis and that seemed to work okay. Boston is a 3 hours flight from Chicago and we went immediately to the theatre. It was called the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theatre and was situated at the new Institute of Contemporary Art building. Just one year old, the building is sited on the old waterfront. It looks quite isolated set in a parking lot, but there is future development planned for the site. The building itself is very nice, modern, full of views to the bay and the water, which some have said were distracting to the art, but I didn’t find that so. I liked their permanent collection, though not so much the temporary exhibition from the Tate Modern. It lacked guts.


The theatre was spanking new and the crew were terrific. Maggie, our contact there was helpful, the sort of person who would ring up to see if the restaurant she’d recommended was open. David Henry, the Director of Programs was extremely nice, and a down to earth person. He had seen the piece at Under the Radar in New York two years ago. He’d told a friend to see the show in Chicago and the friend had said they loved the show especially the music, to which David replied, “Was there music? I don’t remember any.” He told this to Colin in a kind of artless, straightforward way, which I found most amusing, although I don’t think Colin did.


The presentation was a partnership between ICA, who provided the venue and the production team, and CRASHarts, who did the marketing. They did occasional collaborations and CRASHarts presented programmes at other venues, mainly dance. I never met Maure Aronson, their director. He came to the show on the opening night, liked it, but had to rush off to another production. I thought it was a bit odd but David explained he didn’t always socialize with the artists.


The shows went very well, although it was quite odd performing on Good Friday, which isn’t even a holiday here and neither is Easter Monday. We got 84 on Friday and 113 on Saturday. They really liked it and most stayed for the question and answer. The standard of questions was high and there were black American people in the audience who asked questions which was really good for me. One of them said he thought Shadows should be taught in schools. There’s always a lot of interest in Colin’s instrument, the Great Island Mouth Bow, and David heard the music the second time around.

Later David told me that although they have a great building, they don’t have an endowment and they are struggling to put on performance pieces. They are still building up an audience. That said, he seemed amenable to having me back.

I talked to some students (4), they were students of photography. They were okay, although I struggled to comment on the work the teacher brought in to show me.


Nicholas Baume, the curator from MCA Sydney ten years ago, is senior curator here. I knew Nicholas in Sydney and he had commissioned a performance piece by me at the MCA when he was there. He took me to lunch, and after the show we went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant with a group of his gay friends whom he’d brought to the show. They were all quite erudite and had liked Shadows. Keith, the expert in Japanese literature had liked the tonality of the spoken word, which is a change from Australian critics saying it’s a monotone. (Actually the piece itself has improved with age and we are performing it better than ever before.) I enjoyed being with gay people. We drank Australian shiraz, which they pronounce “sherrah”.


On another night we went out with David to a restaurant, the Barking Crab, nice atmosphere. Boston is a fishy town, it’s on the sea, and we were staying in the area of the old fish markets. One shop had huge prehistoric live lobsters which came from Maine. I ate fish at every meal. We also ate at another cheaper restaurant, No Name, which had a set menu of more fish. They had Blue fish, a heavy, dark, oily fish, swordfish, salmon and a generic white fish called scrott or something. You could get them all on a platter, swordfish was the pick.



I enjoyed seeing seals swimming in the tank outside the aquarium. They were local harbour seals, unlike any other seals I had seen, shaped like a torpedo and they swam upside down.


We went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum which David had mentioned. It was the highlight of the trip. Isabella Gardner was a rich Bostonian who collected mostly European art – the old masters – Botticelli, Titian, Piero Della Francesca and wonderful Rembrandts, but also small pieces which were displayed in glass cupboards, and a collection of letters from famous people. There was something of a personal touch to each object. The four storied building was built around a beautiful garden, which with its geometric symmetry, obelisks and the arched colonnade in the background had something of an Islamic feel to it, reminding me of the famous Court of the Lions at the Alhambra in Spain. Although you weren’t allowed to walk through it, sitting by the garden and looking at it from the various floors was enchanting. She lived there too, on the fourth floor, and it had the intimacy of a home. Moreover it was famous for the biggest art theft in the USA. Five paintings were stolen in 1990 including a Vermeer (yes they actually had one, one of only 35 in existence), and the paintings have never been recovered. They were indicated by empty frames on the walls, as Isabella stipulated that the museum not be changed when she died in 1924. Oh and there was a wonderful café, very small, but it served old fashioned dishes which tasted home made. I had a wonderful apple crumble. Sorry, no pictures, as they weren’t allowed, but I’ve reproduced a postcard of the court.


So we liked Boston, even though there was a icy wind blowing the whole time, just another variation of cold.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Posted in Uncategorized | March 26, 2008 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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Our first days in Chicago were rushed as we came straight off the plane to the theatre. One case was lost but found again at the airport: it had fallen off the conveyor belt and fallen behind a curtain. Our hotel rooms were not available so Colin and I spent our waiting time at the Museum of Contemporary Art dressing rooms, which was fine, as I worked on my computer which was what I would have done at the hotel room.


The Chicago MCA is a non profit and educational institution. Like the Walker they have a strong performance art program showing, performance, music, theatre, dance and media arts. They feature experimental and emerging artists as well as established artists. Certainly in the USA, museums show quite a lot of performance which can be as mainstream as Merce Cunningham, and which contrasts strongly with Australian museums which shows very little, and is left up to commercial theatres or festivals to show. I think this museum audience, which doesn’t even exist in Australia, come along not expecting traditional forms.


Publicity had been good. Three articles. We got about 70 people the first night and 48 the second. Certainly not a disaster, but disappointing, since this was our biggest city. Sometimes it’s possible for me to fall through the cracks of a larger city where there is more going on. The people who came certainly enjoyed it and the discussion after the show was very positive.


Ann Rosenthal, our presenter from MAPP, had come over to show us some support, and it was great having her there. She took us to an excellent lunch at the CMCA restaurant. And Peter took us to an excellent dinner after the show at the restaurant at our hotel. Peter told me he liked the show.



Also present at dinner was my third cousin Shauna Quill who works at Chicago University in the music department, programming. Once she had been the booking agent for Pavarotti, ie not his actual agent but the person who booked the USA tour. She said Pavarotti was the easiest act she ever booked because no one argued the bookings. As Shauna told this story Ann’s face clouded slightly, as I know the tour of Shadows has been the opposite: she’s had to work really hard to make it happen. We do appreciate your effort and accomplishments, Ann.


Our extra curricular activity included a talk by me at Little Black Pearl Center, which is a large, impressive, community centre mostly for young people in a poor suburb. Although there was only a few people from the centre, a handful of loyal supporters who had seen the show a few nights before came along, and we were able to have an intimate discussion, about life, as it turned out. My cousin Shauna showed up and I went to have dinner with her so I missed Colin’s performance. He had a slot as part of a regular jazz evening at the centre, which was well attended, and went well.


Heidi, the art coordinator at Little Black Pearl took us under her wing, and the following night took Gordon and Colin to a jazz club. I had come down with a cold and was lying low, also I had a big article to write for Kunsten Festival. However I went with them the following day when she took us out for the afternoon, showing us around developing areas in West Chicago. She was extremely communally minded and knew the changing sociologies of the neighbourhoods. She showed us some interesting places, including a conservatory where she had worked, so it was nice to walk around in the hot atmosphere, and a good Mexican restaurant. We explained that Mexican restaurants in Australia were awful.



We didn’t get back until late, and so I missed seeing the collection at the MCA, which I wanted to see, so symbolically the MCA and I missed each other. This was born out at 4.30am the following morning when we were waiting for a van outside our hotel to catch the plane to Boston. The van didn’t arrive, they had booked it for 4.30PM.

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Posted in Uncategorized | March 19, 2008 | by emilyharney | (2) Comments

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The flight from Cedar Rapids via Chicago to Minneapolis was extremely frustrating. Firstly the woman at the check in told us the flight had been cancelled and there was no way of rescheduling us on later flights till the next day. There followed a heated conversation about whose responsibility it was with Gordon and Colin and the woman, and the manager was brought in. Finally after 15 minutes, it was discovered the woman had keyed in the wrong flight. The flight was late anyway and we worried about whether we would catch the connecting flight to Minneapolis. We prepared to do a sprint as Chicago’s airport is huge, but we had a break in that the departure lounge was close to our entry into the airport and the pilots from Cedar Rapids were the same pilots to fly the plane to Minneapolis, we didn’t know this. However the bags did not make it on to the flight. In Minneapolis they were located on a later flight and were delivered to the hotel.


We had braced ourselves for the cold weather as Minneapolis was considered our coldest destination, but it was warm. So warm that the snow began to melt. This caused pools to form in low lying footpaths, and the ground to turn boggy and mushy. The snow which had so seduced me with its brilliance and dazzlingly beauty now showed its other side, it could be slippery, sludgy and unattractive. I am not however complaining about the warmer weather.


The Walker Art Center has a tradition of strongly supporting the performing arts. I brought Sadness here in 1994, and Colin had performed here in 1986. Besides having a very good collection of contemporary art, it had several theatres which were extremely well crewed. There was a friendly, supportive feeling about the place. We set up in record time.



The two shows went very well, about 140 each night. One night there was a reception with Minnesota International Center at the theatre. They were supportive of the Walker; while not specifically giving money to my show, they had arranged a group to come. Colin and I did chat with them for quite a long time, and the feedback was positive. I chatted with some black Americans who like the issues in Shadows and they said the racism issue has not been properly addressed in America. They were a sophisticated audience, and like most Americans they like to give their opinions. Fortunately they liked the show. On another night there was a question and answer after the show with the same response. On that night, Philip Bither, the senior curator, took us to dinner at the 20/21 restaurant where we had a fabulous meal. Philip had seen Shadows at Under The Radar two years before and especially liked the new ending.


Our extra curricular activity was an event at Two Rivers Gallery, Insiders Looking Out: An Evening of Native Performance. The event had been organised by Allison Herrera and Michele Steinwald of the Walker, and the performers curated by Marcie Rendon, an artist herself. It was supposed to be a potluck but it was catered, and the menu was fried bread with a buffalo burger and rice salad. The desert was a sort of stewed berries with an artificial whipped cream.


The event was important to Walker Education as it was one of their first encounters with Native America. Colin and I performed as well; Colin played his eagle feather flute, his small conch shell, and a variety of flutes. I gave a slide show of my family history and current activities as an artist in Sydney. I worried how I should present my gay life, as I wanted to mention it, and decided on a vanilla version. However later in the evening another performer, Kristopher Kohl Miner, gave a flamboyant, Judy Garland referencing, totally over the top Kamp monologue, spiced with strong language and a sense of the melodramatic, where he told a story about going to a Native American wedding and at the end of the night ended up having sex with the groom, although the incident ended in tears. It went over really well. I thought – And I worried about saying I was gay.


Other performers included Sarah Agaton Howes, a poet, young, funky and of a very high standard, I thought; Mark Erickson, a traditional singer with a frame drum; Dorothy Lerma, a dancer; and Raphael Syzkowski, a singer in the style of Arlo Guthrie, who sang humorous songs of the outsider in society. It was all very enjoyable.


We had lunch with Marcie the following day and her I heard her story, how she had escaped from the reservation thirty years ago, with two young children and one on the way. She knew if she stayed she would succumb to a life of drinking. She taught at a school for Native Americans in Minneapolis and developed her skill as a writer. I liked her calm manner, one sensed she had survived a lot. She brought her two grandchildren to see Shadows and she told me the aboriginal story could easily have been a Native American story.

Minneapolis Welcome

Posted in Uncategorized | March 12, 2008 | by emilyharney | (2) Comments

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William Yang, Colin Offord and Gordon Rymer are now in Minneapolis getting ready for the performances of Shadows at the Walker Art Center in the McGuire Theater.

On Monday, March 10th at the Two Rivers Gallery, the Walker Art Center and sponsored an event with artists Marcie Rendon, Sarah Agaton Howes, Raphael Szykowski, Kristopher Kohl Miner, Mark Erickson, and Dorothy Lerma for an evening of performance, music, and poetry to welcome William Yang and Colin Offord. Below is a link to a video from the event: