Monday, September 29, 2008

Miss Showgirl...

Miss Goulburn Showgirl 2008.

With the Melbourne Show finishing on the weekend, it made me think about my childhood in regional Victoria. I used to visit the local show, enter craft and cooked items into the displays, even take my pets to win $2.50 for a first prize for the cutest guinea pig. I then began to wonder if the Miss Showgirl still existed, or was it passe and not politically correct?

Though after some googling to find the old regulations of 'Miss Showgirl', I discovered that it is well and alive. Here are the regulations for Miss Showgirl Mildura.
The Award is conducted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria Limited and Victorian Agricultural Societies Association Incorporated to select the winner of the Junior Show Ambassador Award.
These rules and regulations apply to all aspects of the Award. Applicants who enter the Award are to be bound by the rules and Regulations for the Junior Show Ambassador Award and to abide by all decisions of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria Limited in relation to all matters in connection with or arising out of the Award.
Entrants must:
• Apply and complete the application/entry form
• Provide an article on their hobbies which are relevant to the competition and their
current involvement with Agricultural Shows.
• Be available to attend Regional interviews, State Final interviews and announcement
of Awards at the Royal Melbourne Show.
• Aged between 17 - 20 years inclusive at the time of their local Show.
• Enthusiastic and knowledgeable about rural life and affairs, and Agricultural Shows.

Entrants must wear smart, casual, tailored clothing and will be judged in accordance
with the following guidelines:
Community Involvement = 5 points
Country Show involvement = 25 points
General & Rural Knowledge = 20 points
Personality = 10 points
Ambitions/Goals = 20 points
Communication Skills = 10 points
Style, Grooming and Deportment = 10 points
Public Presentation (3 Minute Oral Presentation = 20 points
TOTAL . . . . . . . . . 120 points

I remember seeing that all applicants must be 'single' as well, was this a hang over from having to be a virgin? hmmm.... I wonder why I never got involved in such contests?!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

After watching the film 'Reds' again recently I have been wanting to find out more about Americans who decided to leave America to go and be in Russia during communist times. After reading this article on the Moscow Times, I'm very interested to get a hold of this book!
The Soviet Dream
Tim Tzouliadis bears witness to the thousands of Americans who were swept up in Stalin's Terror.
By Pang-Mei Natasha Chang
Published: September 19, 2008

Hindsight -- especially historical -- is twenty-twenty. Knowing what we do today, we can easily forget the glittering promise that communism held out to a world gripped by poverty and high unemployment in the 1930s: food for all, a worker's paradise. A new, well-researched group biography of Americans who left the United States for the Soviet Union during the Great Depression highlights the extent of the attraction. It also underscores the tragic timing of their choice, as these same hopeful Americans became captives of the Soviet system and were killed in the whirlwind of Stalin's terror.
In "The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia," documentary filmmaker Tim Tzouliadis takes us on the sorrowful but engaging journey of the thousands of Americans who were first let down by the American dream, only to perish in the Soviet nightmare. Adding to the tragedy, not all of the Americans who came to the Soviet Union in the 1930s were political fanatics. "Few paused to distinguish whether they were being pulled by an ideology or pushed by their need," Tzouliadis writes. "Theirs was a reaction to the actuality and future threat of poverty, and to understand them we must place ourselves momentarily in a similar position of unknowing: when the idea of the Soviet Revolution was still filled with hope, and only the most perspicacious could discern the truth that lay beneath that promise."
In the early 1930s, Stalin was rapidly industrializing the Soviet Union, largely according to an American design. Upon arrival, most of the Americans -- among them, African-Americans accustomed to being treated as second-class citizens in their homeland -- were given jobs in factories. They settled not only in Moscow, but also in places as far-flung as Gorky, where the Ford Motor Company had built a giant auto plant, or Stalingrad, where the Detroit architect Albert Kahn had built a mammoth tractor factory. Set apart by their accents, novelty and the quality of their clothing, most Americans enjoyed quasi-celebrity status. Whereas back home they had been "regular assembly-line Joes," they were now welcomed as "experts" to fledgling Russian industries, and gave lectures on the United States -- usually the evils of American unemployment -- to Soviet factory clubs. They also pursued familiar expatriate activities -- reading their own English-language paper, the Moscow Daily News, sending their children to English-language schools, singing in the Anglo-American chorus and playing baseball. But any change of heart about coming to the Soviet Union brought a realization of how difficult it was for them to leave.
Tzouliadis tells of one group of American factory workers who were told upon their arrival in December 1931 to hand over their passports for registration, given registration forms to fill out, and then "abruptly informed that they had all become Soviet citizens." Others accepted working contracts in the Soviet Union only to be accused of espionage and required to take up Soviet citizenship to clear their names. Before November 1933, the United States had no diplomatic presence in Russia, and the main recourse for "captured Americans" was the power and pressure of the foreign press. But the revocation of U.S. passports was a touchy subject among journalists facing censors and expulsion, and this issue was among many that were under-reported. Even the existence of Ukraine's mass famine, which killed millions in the early 1930s, was in question for such reporters as Walter Duranty, the longtime New York Times Moscow bureau chief who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his reporting.The U.S. Embassy opened in 1933 to a deluge of requests by Americans desperate to leave. But many of the would-be emigrants no longer held U.S. passports, or had become Soviet citizens, forcing diplomats to turn to the labyrinthine Soviet bureaucracy for answers that never came.
Through extensive archival research, including internal embassy memorandums, correspondences and files, Tzouliadis shows how hundreds of Americans were essentially forsaken by a government unable to protect them. Although the State Department had information concerning the theft of U.S. passports for the fraudulent entry of communists into the United States, and was aware of numerous reports that the Soviet authorities were issuing residency permits for ever shorter periods to force Americans to accept Soviet citizenship, Tzouliadis writes that its staff did little to negotiate with the Soviet Foreign Ministry even in the "honeymoon" years. By 1938, many Americans were simply being picked up by secret police officials just outside the embassy gates. A young officer by the name of George Kennan, later the architect of the U.S. policy of "containment" of Soviet communism, attached the following note in 1938 to the file of an American stuck in the camps. His ideas fell on deaf ears:

The Soviet Government has the administrative power to arrest and hold incommunicado indefinitely any American citizen in the Soviet Union ... Should this person have at the time of his arrest only American nationality the Soviet authorities apparently have only to notify us that he has been admitted to Soviet citizenship in order to create a situation in which under our usual practice we would not press further representations in his behalf ... The upshot is that in reality no American citizen resident in the Soviet Union has any assurance that we will be able to help him in case the Soviet authorities should take repressive action again him. The situation is such that these people are virtually at the mercy of the Soviet authorities ... Logically we should refuse to recognize the naturalization of Americans in the Soviet Union as voluntary and valid in the absence of confirmation of the voluntary character of the act on the part of the person concerned ... An alternative would be to give publicity to the real situation, with a view to relieving the Department and the Embassy at Moscow of further responsibility for the protection of our citizens resident in the Soviet Union.

Reading "The Forsaken," I was reminded of a comment that a Russian girlfriend of mine once made about the "naivety" of Americans, who "have values and think they can live by them." Oftentimes, history is more powerful than the people caught up in it. Perhaps Thomas Sgovio, who survived 16 years of imprisonment, most of them spent in Kolyma, relays this idea best when quoted at the end of Tzouliadis' book. Having learned from his newly-released file that his American sweetheart in Moscow had informed on him, Sgovio said, "She was not a very courageous person. It was a frightening time for everyone."Pang-Mei Natasha Chang is the author of the memoir "Bound Feet & Western Dress." She is currently writing a book on expats in China

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Questions about me!

Natalie Portman Wears (detail)

detail of tapestry "What Natalie Portman Wears"

I had an email from a student at ANU Canberra today who is studying tapestry with Valerie Kirk. She had to complete an assignment on tapestry weavers who use the human image or form in their work. She had discovered me and sent me a list of questions for me to respond to for her assignment. It's always interesting doing these exercises as it makes me think back to why I do this stuff and what I think about.

So here are my responses to her... yes, I did feel like I was starting to write a thesis again!

1. What is your background? What led you to pursue tapestry as an art form?

I have completed a Bachelor of Fine Art majoring in tapestry at Monash University Melbourne in 1998 and have also completed my honours and then a Masters of Fine Art by Research all primarily working in woven tapestry. Kate Derum was my supervisor during that time.

I pursued tapestry mostly as I saw it as a challenge. I had previously worked in painting and printmaking and had initially thought that I would major in one of those disciplines at university. I had seen tapestry but had thought I knew how to do it to major in it! However after a discussion with Kate Derum out in a corridor who claimed that my work and style would lend itself to tapestry well, I decided to take the plunge and move into a new discipline. I should mention that I had always had a strong history with textiles. My parents owned a Singer sewing machine store, were boot makers, milliners and pattern makers so I had always worked with textiles, even when I was printmaking, so it seemed a natural progression for my work.

When it comes to being an artist, in particular an artist working in woven tapestry, I love being part of a very old tradition but showing contemporary imagery. I also like the fact that it’s a skill based art that not everyone does, so it makes it a little special - it has a bit of ‘wow’ factor. When it comes to motivation and inspiration, the everyday is what inspires me. Now that I don’t have much time to spend on my artwork, I make things that I want to make and that I feel strongly about or have a connection with. I don’t make work that is controlled by what may sell or what other people want. The imagery I create is made very intuitively but the selection of what will be woven is selected on aesthetic basis and because it has something to say, either about me or because there is a narrative I want to share. I’m heavily influenced by artists such as Karen Kilimnik and Elizabeth Peyton with whom I share a love of figurative works that have a quiet narrative and who also put the viewer and artist into a range of characters.

2. Do you practice other art forms, and if so, what would they be?

Although I primarily work in woven tapestry I do work across a wide range of media. Most of my tapestries have a collage starting point and mostly I will work on paper, either collaging, mixed media or drawing. Often I will work with objects as well and during my honours year I was making 3D dolls to add to tapestries and also bags that held objects and tapestries, primarily looking at new ways to display tapestry as well as ways to get my ideas across.

I still work on paper constantly, mostly as my tapestries are big and it’s a quick way to get ideas down. I am still working with objects and the idea of the doll as well as creating artist books of images. I’ve always been very interested in artist books as I’m heavily influenced by popular culture and fashion magazines and liked the idea of creating my own.

3. I notice that your work features young, attractive women. Is there a particular reason for your work taking this direction?

I have always worked with the figure and when it comes to what inspires me to create my imagery I stick with things that I know and that relate to my own personal experience. More and more now I find that I am intuitively drawn to selecting figures (or characters) that seem very much like me; that they become the vehicle of my statements within the tapestry. Although it seems very egotistical to say that I am a ‘young and attractive woman’, the works are very much about my view on the world or an imaginary character that I would like to play at some point. The works for my Masters thesis titled ‘Outfit’ talked about our obsession with celebrity and the role of the fan. I can relate to the role of the fan and in some ways idolise and fanaticize about the role of celebrity.

I am interested in the notion of ‘people-watching’ and find it an important inspirational tool to capturing the essence of the everyday for me and my work. I think that people watching can be used for static forms such as magazines also and that this crosses over into my work whereby the images created through weaving are static. I also enjoy the strong history of portraiture in art and think that most people are obsessed with looking at others and situating themselves within how others appear.

Often viewers have asked if the girls in the tapestries are me. From a resource point of view they are not. The original images are often found from fashion magazines or advertisements. Though I think even when I was still painting and creating portraits and figures, they inevitably ended up with qualities similar to my own. Now, they have dark hair, big eyes and a fringe, which most people would say are my own features.

4. I'm interested in the career paths that a Fine Arts degree can lead to. I see that besides being a practising artist, you are also the curator at the Town Hall Gallery in Hawthorn. Could you comment on your choice of career in the arts field?
I usually describe myself as a full time curator and part time artist these days.
I always had an interest in how exhibitions were constructed and the role of the gallery in educating, inspiring and challenging people. Becoming a curator is something that I fell into. I started working as a volunteer in a regional art gallery at a very young age and then was mentored by the Director. I had been given the opportunity to curate an exhibition in my final year of VCE and found that I loved the balance of creating my own work and working with other artists and being inspired by their ideas.

Although I had always thought that I would do a Fine Arts degree, I continued with curating and being heavily involved in the behind the scenes in exhibitions mostly as I felt that it allowed me to become a better artist. Many curators have gone on to do Museum or Arts Management studies, though I believe that the continual hands on work has allowed me to become the curator I am today, along with being an artist as well, gives me insight into dealing with other artists, their aspirations and when they will panic!

Being a tapestry weaver and a curator also has allowed me to continue with my passion of tapestry being seen as a contemporary art form. Working in the industry allows me to push the envelope, so to speak and to put it into a critical context with other works. Most people say that I’m very lucky to work within the arts but I think that the curating and creating feed off each other in the way that I think and approach both my works.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

There is hope for my dreams


"Ending months of speculation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reached into its ranks on Tuesday and chose Thomas P. Campbell, a 46-year-old British-born tapestries curator, to succeed Philippe de Montebello as director and chief executive. The appointment, effective January 1, was approved in an afternoon vote of the museum’s board of trustees after a suspenseful eight-month search that began after Mr. Montebello, 72, announced plans to retire after 31 years in the post. "

For more information go here.

Ah, there is some hope for me still to be a head honcho at one of my all time favourite galleries/museums, the Metropolitan in NYC. It is fantastic to see that a tapestries curator has been appointed to lead the way at the Met. Though he is quite young, I wonder how long I would have to wait to take over (wink, wink, nudge nudge!) I do expect some fantastic tapestry exhibitions and hopefully some new, innovative and contemporary works!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sometimes I don't know where the time goes...

Pretty often the weeks fly by for me and I had realized that I hadn't made any posts of recent times. I may of been recovering from Mark's birthday party!

Some common themes have been occuring in my last few weeks. For starters I've played the role of 'art critic' by being the judge at two exhibitions; one at a posh girls school and the other for a mosaic exhibition at the my gallery. Being a judge is always an interesting experience. I think that I'm super quick and look for works that jump out to me immediately, that are innovative and interesting and also well executed. Judging the mosaic exhibition was a little more challenging as I haven't really had to judge the medium before, but I just approached it as any other contemporary art - hopefully the mosaic folk were happy with the results!

I also went to Brisbane (Brisvegas as many know it as, we call it Brismoe now) to see the Picasso and his collection exhibition. It had been a while since I'd visited the sunshine state and was glad that I wen't with my fabulous two husbands! In a nutshell, the food was kinda crappy, the art was great, the markets so-so. Though we went on ferries and walked around. I ended up getting sore feet and had to buy a pair of very patriotic thongs at a souvenier store. (see below)

I did get 'gallery envy'. Both the State Library of Queensland and the galleries were fantastic, very beautiful architecture, easy to walk around, great feel as a curator and patron. I will definitely go for other shows for the weekend!

I also went along for the first time to Baranows Whiskey Tasting evening. They've had quite a few but I haven't managed to make it until now. I'm not a huge whiskey drinker, naturally I love my vodka but it was a very informative and fun night. And I didn't get too tipsy after sampling 8 whiskeys!

Now I just need to get my butt into some weaving... so stay tuned!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fidel Castro & Miss Mollie Moscow party on!

Mark's  bday Nat's pics 002
Fidel Castro & Miss Mollie Moscow

It was my partner's birthday on the weekend and we decided to party on at our favourite local bar, Baranows which is also a great (although non-smoking) cigar bar. It never really was going to be a fancy dress party but it ended up with the theme of Cuban/communist/ or dictator like. Mark with his impressive facial hair decided to go as Fidel Castro and me, as my made-up Russian communist character, Miss Mollie Moscow.

Mark's  bday Mardis picture 001
The Cigar Cake!

Much organization went in, with me making the claim that I was going to make a cake in the shape of a cigar and also the time that went into making our outfits. I went back into a sewing frenzy making Miss Mollie's dress as well as decorating Mark's Fidel shirt and making the Castro cap for his 'largish' head!

Mark's  bday Nat's pics 010
Our Comrades, Miss Mollie Moscow & martini, Lenin, Mao supporter & Fidel

A great night was had with the last people (Miss Mollie, Fidel and our SS officer Miss Nat) all going to bed around 6am the next morning. I think even our cat Nina had a hangover!

Now all I have to decide on is what I'll do for MY birthday!!!
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