December’s cheer

If you are a regular reader then you’ll recall the previous post about the magic of Christmas. However,  given yesterday’s events in Melbourne with another vehicle incident, this December will be harder than usual for some. The reckless abandon with which some strive to hurt others, as usual, saddens and mystifies me. If you can give something, give blood.

For me, this month is often a struggle beyond any thing else going on, due to what I call my Advent Calendar of Doom, which includes but is not limited to the anniversaries of the deaths of my mother, my nan, my grandma, and my cat. And this year, the unexpected stress of job searching! Despite becoming slightly phobic about bad things happening in December, the other weekend, I did go hunting for the Christmas spirit.

Sunny, warm, with cheer in the air. No, actually they are fake bells.

First up, I bothered to go see the annual Christmas Windows at Myer (a department store). They were not where I found the wonder. They were where I found queues, high pitch squealing over loud audio narration, and an intense desire to leave. So I did. I made for the National Gallery of Victoria at Federation Square to properly revisit Del Kathryn Barton’s exhibition The Highway is a Disco, and thence to the National Gallery of Victoria, International to see the first Triennial exhibit.

I didn’t mention the eyes, either.

And I found it. I found the wonder, and colour, and awe, and discomfort, and reflection and whimsy, and confusion. In short, I found art. In fact, I stumbled over some of it. Indeed, the purple and yellowing bruise above my ankle, and the line where I drew blood, can testify to the demands art makes even upon those who go to experience it. It felt a bit apt too, given I had just watched Barton’s film RED turn Cate Blanchett into a carnivorous and carnal red back spider. As a film it was both obvious, but also powerful, and made even more so by the score and editing techniques.

Spider Woman. Cate in RED.

You can read about Barton’s work and of her inspirations for her exhibition, but you are here, so I will give you mine. For one series of images Barton says she was inspired by Puff the Magic Dragon. Sure. I see it.

Barton’s magic dragon.

However, I also see an Australian, neo-psychedelic interpretation of European art’s use of unicorn imagery. This series is a dark-bright My Little Pony (above) interpretation of renaissance symbolism. That’s not a criticism either. I think it works. There are layers here. I noted the use of waratah flowers as a nod to ‘Australiana,’ while one portrait reminds me of Rachael (Sean Young) from Blade Runner.

Something a lil Blade Runner psychedelic.

Like artists of other times and movements Barton has developed a particular aesthetic, and I don’t just mean her colour palette or interest in motherhood/feminism/sexuality. Her ghostly white portraits, with their pinched noses, small mouths, and wide-set eyes are immediately familiar anywhere, and in their reappearance remind me of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s obsessions with Roman profiles, or the similarities between Leonardo Da Vinci’s rendering of different women.

Same faces, no matter the angle.

And while everything about her work is extravagant and ‘hyper’ they also form part of a continuation of traditional concerns in painting to do with the evocative use of symbolism (given her interest in flowers, and odd human/animal hybrid imagery) and the outward gaze, even as Barton’s works are personal dedications to motherhood and honouring her own mother.


After tripping over and receiving first aid from the kind NGV security staff (thank you), I limped down to see the NGV inaugural Triennial exhibition. It was astounding. I will need to devote more words than I care to spend here to it, but if you can, at all, do please visit. Some parts of this multi-platform, multi-artist, multi-experiential exhibit are obvious – just follow the hoards – but other parts are harder to find. However, each part is worthy of the journey. There is plenty to mystify, mess with, confound and confuse your senses, with a strong emphasis on sculptural forms, and interactive media.

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