How a traumatic brain injury birthed an artist (and a passion for handstands)

Posted November 24, 2017 11:06:32

After a car accident left her with a traumatic brain injury, Larissa MacFarlane started to see the world differently.

Things like buildings, colours and flowers had taken on an unfamiliar shape. Her interests had shifted too.

She had been an avid reader, but had to relearn how to read. She’d loved music, but suddenly found music difficult to comprehend.

Instead, she discovered an interest in art.

“Before my brain injury I actually had no interest in visual art at all. I wagged art at school. I hated art,” she says.

“It’s like my brain took out the music bit and put in this visual art bit.”

MacFarlane says it was like being reborn. She has memories of her life before, but now has a different personality, identity, thoughts, feelings and abilities.

Managing her brain injury through handstands

MacFarlane was only able to start making art after securing housing, which took about seven years, and her initial work was concerned with her new home in Melbourne’s west.

While art is her main occupation, she considers managing her brain injury as another part-time job — as she deals with her fatigue and chronic pain through visits to the pool and other daily rituals.

Since 2004, one of the most important rituals has been doing handstands.

Inspired by a footballer’s post-goal handstand, she decided to set herself the aim of doing a handstand. It became a beacon of joy to reach for.

“I really thought this was going to help me, it was going to cure me of my brain injury,” she says.

MacFarlane lacked both strength and co-ordination. But with some help from a friend and the monkey bars at the park, she eventually got there.

“It took me months … I wrote in my journal: ‘I will do a handstand, I will do a handstand,’ every day for four months,” she says.

Success came on her 35th birthday, about 13 years ago — and almost every day since then she’s done a handstand.

Little wins all the time

For years she did her handstands in secret, in stairwells and alleyways and toilets.

While she walks and stands with the help of a walking stick, doing a handstand relieves her of the pain in her feet and legs.

“I’m actually using them [the handstands] to manage pain and … distress and I’m using them to give myself grounding,” she says.

MacFarlane lives with trauma, but by doing handstands she faces down terror every day.

“I’m just challenging the sort of fear I live with in my life on a daily basis. I get to challenge it and I get to have little wins all the time,” she says.

“I also want to challenge that stereotype of disability that says that you can’t do anything. People with disabilities have amazing skills and one of my amazing skills is doing handstands.”

Sharing her handstands with the world

What started as a private ritual later became a source of artistic exploration.

First, she began documenting the places around Melbourne she had done handstands — creating a kind of map of all the places she could do them in.

McFarlane says she eventually realised she’d been hiding her handstands, out of embarrassment that she still had to manage her brain injury.

“There is so much shame and stigma around disability,” she says.

“People with disabilities internalise that shame, so we’re ashamed of who we are. I extended that to this amazing thing called handstands — I was hiding them.”

In order to move forward, McFarlane says, she needed to be proud of what she did.

So she began taking photos of herself doing handstands, then blowing them up in black and white, and pasting them on street walls “to leave a mark — this is where I did a handstand and this is where I’ll be back”.

Education, access, value, and portrayal

MacFarlane wants to untangle the challenges facing artists with disabilities, including the widespread devaluation of their work, and the accessibility of educational institutions.

While studying visual arts at TAFE, she was encouraged to remove any mention of her brain injury in her artist statement, and told that including her disability would make her work less valued.

“I look back [at that] with horror, but I carried that with me for so long, because I really thought I needed to not refer to my brain injury,” she says.

“But it didn’t make sense, because I am only an artist because of my brain injury. I mean, that’s like the gift of [my] brain injury.”

MacFarlane sees people with disabilities too often portrayed as either an inspiration or as a tragedy, but her work asks the viewer to see beyond these two stereotypes.

Her artwork, most of which involves handstands, is now on display at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, contemporary-art, street-art, visual-art, disabilities, footscray-3011

Stories of regional Australia projected onto landscape along Murrumbidgee River

Posted October 28, 2017 16:08:00

On the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, the town of Narrandera has played an important role in the agricultural life of Australia with its rich pastoral land.

As a major travelling stock route the town became famous for transporting goods and produce, as well as the stories that linked the Riverina communities.

A new art installation called Shadow Places is set to highlight those stories as it stretches for a kilometre along the famous route featuring a spectacular display of lights, sound and textiles.

Audiences walking along the route can take in 15 different artworks, including video and light installations projected onto hay bales and trees.

Artistic Director of The CAD Factory Vic McEwan said the exhibition was inspired by the work of Australian environmental philosopher Val Plumwood who described Shadow Places as locations that we rely on, but don’t really know.

“The project is shining a spotlight on the importance of food and fibre production to Australia but also internationally,” he said.

“But also to say amongst that, there’s people, there’s a human story.”

Art exhibition years in the making

The event has been two years in the making, originally commissioned by the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Beryl Brain from the group said it was formed to better recognise women’s contribution to the land.

“It was started through women of the land wanting to get together and empower themselves and increase their knowledge and also network with other people of like minds.”

One of the video artworks by Wiradjuri elder Lorraine Tye tells the story of the creation of the Murrumbidgee River through the goanna — the local totem.

“How the Murrumbidgee got its name was through the strong goanna women,” she said.

“It’s so connected to country with art and art does connect people to country.”

Aim of the project is ‘communication’

Other artworks include hay bale projections designed by local school students, telling their stories about growing up on the land.

“It really tells the story of their life — their perspective of rural life.

“What it means to be growing up in an area that’s somewhat isolated,” Mr McEwan said.

“Those sorts of materials that they use — hay bales for example, which they see as very practical — all of a sudden they’re seeing them as a way that a story is being told and that something’s being shared with their community.”

The words of Wagga Wagga poet David Gilbey skim across the ripples of the water, accompanied by the natural soundscape.

“We went to install some sound just to accompany it but we noticed hidden under that water are just so many frogs that are just singing this song every night that we decided it would be easier for the frogs to do the soundtrack every night for that site,” Mr McEwan said.

But he resists comparisons to Vivid, the big artistic light show in the city.

“None of this work’s really about a wow factor… it’s really about slow ways of sharing deep stories that have come out of deep and long processes with people here,” Mr McEwan said.

“What the real aim of a project like this is, is it’s kind of about communication.

“It’s about allowing a space where people can talk about some of the issues that are confronting us about life in regional Australia.”

Topics: contemporary-art, arts-and-entertainment, street-art, visual-art, regional, narrandera-2700

Street art festival transforms West End, gives back to homeless

Posted October 18, 2017 09:00:00

Abstract murals, supersized portraits and vibrant panoramas are popping up around Brisbane amid preparations for a festival celebrating the city’s street art talent.

The West End Street Art Festival has seen several buildings transformed with huge murals by local artists, from those just starting out to international names like Sofles.

Organisers Ihab Imam and Jenna Williams said the festival was a celebration of the melting pot of culture that typifies the suburb.

“West End is a real hub of subcultural activities musically, artistically, poetically, politically,” Mr Imam said.

He said the plethora of spaces to paint in West End was a way to bring the work of Brisbane’s street artists, both emerging and established, together.

“So many of these guys do stuff but it’s in small, isolated areas — if you bring it all together, it’s just got such gravity,” he said.

Artists ‘overrepresented’ in homeless population

Ms Williams said the festival was also a chance to provide paid opportunities for emerging artists and highlight the link between street art and homelessness.

She and Mr Imam are aiming to raise $10,000 for Orange Sky Laundry, a charity providing assistance to homeless people across the country.

“The community doesn’t always see a great deal of value in the arts so some people really struggle to make a crust from doing things they’re really passionate about and are good at,” Ms Williams said.

The issue came into focus in Melbourne last year, when alcoves used by homeless people for shelter in the famous Hosier Lane were boarded up by a local developer.

“A lot of the guys that were sleeping rough there at the time had actually done the artwork there,” Ms Williams said.

“Artists are an overrepresented profession in the homeless population … we wanted to do something that was contributing to that issue in some way, which is why we picked Orange Sky Laundry.”

Mr Imam said the festival was also a rare opportunity for the artists who worked commercially to express themselves however they chose to.

“When you get a commission you do what the commission asks — you don’t get as much creative freedom as you’d like,” he said.

“In this circumstance we’ve just said, ‘You can do whatever you like’, [and] what’s come out of this has been really cool and fascinating.”

Laneway to ‘change here and there’ over time

One laneway off Boundary Street was opened up as a “free-for-all” for artists and has come to life with colourful murals by artists including Sofles, RND creative, Reuben Stocks and SQUIDTANK, the alias of Shaun Campbell.

“I wanted to get my little Squiddy character out there — he’s a fun guy to have around,” Campbell said.

Mr Imam said the laneway would fill up and change over time.

“It’s going to be an awesome tourist attraction and a lot of fun to see — it’ll change here and there as things get added,” he said.

The festival, which will also include an arts and design market and live music, will take place on October 22, with members of the public invited to watch the artists at work on the day.

Topics: street-art, arts-and-entertainment, events, human-interest, homelessness, community-and-society, west-end-4101, brisbane-4000

Surry Hills laneway art project speaks the language of Sydney

Posted August 11, 2017 07:54:26

Perhaps somewhat recognisable as the face of this year’s Archibald Prize winning portrait, artist Agatha Gothe-Snape is making a permanent mark of her own on Sydney’s streets.

She has been awarded the second Sydney Biennale Legacy Artwork commission for a large text-based installation, titled Here, an Echo.

The giant lettering runs down the length of Wemyss Lane in Surry Hills and touches on the history and geography of the site.

“It’s a lane that is used, it’s a service laneway, there’s garages here there’s people sleeping here, a pub down there a hotel up there; and it’s a living laneway and I didn’t want to undermine that or impose anything on that,” she said.

“And I always want it to exist in that way. The bins, the grime, the dirt, the craziness of night time here… it’s all absorbed into the work.”

The text is printed on the lane using road marking materials and is part of the City of Sydney’s maintenance schedule.

“I guess I always wanted to think about public art as something that is in the world, in the city, that speaks in the city’s language. It’s really part of the fabric of the city.”

Gothe-Snape’s conceptual artworks include performance, workshops and even slideshow presentations which are attracting widespread recognition at home and overseas.

Artspace Sydney’s executive director Alexie Glass-Kantor said Gothe-Snape was redefining Australia’s contemporary art scene.

“She’s highly regarded by institutions, museums, biennials, collectors as a really extraordinary artist with a breadth of practice and one to watch,” Ms Glass-Kantor said.

Gothe-Snape and Cairns don’t compete

Gothe-Snape is the first Australian artist to have a curated solo work at the prestigious Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and a show coming up at the Frieze Art Show in London.

“She really has forged something of a unique path. She carries a huge amount of esteem and weight,” Glass-Kantor said.

“She’s someone who’s is highly regarded by artists and peers as a leader of contemporary art in Australia.”

Still shell-shocked after the attention she and her partner Mitch Cairns received after his painting of her won this year’s Archibald Prize, Gothe-Snape said she is not worried about her own practice being upstaged.

“I don’t feel threatened by it. We weren’t expecting to win and we weren’t expecting the full onslaught of attention,” she said.

“But really I just feel excited. It’s a real honour to be painted, to have all that time spent on an image of you.”

Despite their vastly different styles of art practice, the pair say they come from the same basic approach.

“Even though our works are completely different to the outside eye, kind of the same logic is used to make them both which I think is amazing,” Gothe-Snape said.

Cairns said: “Ultimately there’s a similar sense and goal in mind that you’re trying to crystallise something or that you’re trying to arrive at a point of clarity through all of the mess, and talk, and reference points.”

But they both stop short of using each other’s form of media to create art.

“Agatha works collaboratively with many, many people and I’m the person that wants to be in the room and shut the door,” Cairns said.

“I dipped my toe in that water and I think I realise that it wasn’t necessarily for me so much.”

“He’s not really a team player,” Agatha says.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, contemporary-art, street-art, visual-art, surry-hills-2010

Street art ‘dating service’ keeps brushing aside problem graffiti

Posted August 07, 2017 13:38:40

Brad Gough and Flavia Deoliveira have had to spend many a weekend in the past few years painting over the graffiti and tags sprayed onto the side of their terrace house in Marrickville.

But that will hopefully now change after they signed up to the Inner West Council’s Perfect Match initiative.

On the weekend they unveiled four arresting mural portraits painted on the wall by artist Brad Robson.

“This laneway is really dodgy and it was really boring and grey and it gets tagged a lot — we were really sick of painting it,” Mr Gough said.

“We really like the mural. We’re not quite sure of the vibe of the neighbourhood yet but we’re really happy with it.”

The artwork, on the corner of Philpott Street and Stevens Lane, is closely tied to the suburb.

The figures in the mural — drag queen Betty Grumble, athlete Annette Kellerman, poet Henry Lawson and fashion designer Akira Isogawa — all lived or worked in Marrickville at some point.

Robson, who likes to be called a muralist, also lives in the suburb.

“I just wanted to bring across the diversity and the culture that Marrickville brings in Sydney, and these are figures that speak volumes of Marrickville,” he said.

“Something on the street like this is for the community so it reminds people of what is around here and what we’re part of.”

‘Community dating service’ aimed at reducing graffiti

Perfect Match, now in its fourth year, was initiated to tackle problem graffiti.

The council invited property owners to volunteer their properties and paired them with a street artist in the manner of a “community dating service”, Victoria Johnstone, the council’s arts and cultural development coordinator, said.

At the weekend locals celebrated 16 new artworks across the inner west including Newtown, Stanmore Petersham, St Peters, Dulwich Hill and Sydenham.

Ms Johnstone told ABC Radio Sydney the council gave artists “a good fee” for their work.

“Obviously councils across the country and the world spend a lot of money on graffiti prevention,” she said.

“What is gorgeous about this project is it’s not just slapping up a beautiful contemporary artwork, it’s the sharing of understanding between artist and the community that you develop.

“Each artwork has a special story.”

Ms Johnstone said she had received calls from about 10 other councils interested in designing similar projects.

In March the City of Sydney passed a proposal allowing murals and artwork to be produced without need for council approval.

But Robson said using street art as a method for preventing graffiti was “confusing”.

“Graffiti, street art, it’s all the same thing,” he said.

“If you’re spending a bit more time on a mural, everyone seems to respect that and I’m sure a lot of graffiti artists do small jobs and bigger works … so I think we should just respect each other.”

Topics: street-art, arts-and-entertainment, visual-art, local-government, vandalism, painting, sydney-2000

Two huge Trump murals by Lushsux appear on West Bank barrier

Updated August 05, 2017 14:52:19

Two murals believed to be by Australian graffiti artist Lushsux — the artist behind a controversial mural in Melbourne of a sexed-up Hillary Clinton — showing an oversized US President Donald Trump have appeared on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.

The new drawings popped up on the edge of Bethlehem, the Palestinian city where the barrier largely consists of a wall of towering slabs of concrete.

In one scene, Mr Trump is shown hugging and kissing a real Israeli army watchtower built into the wall, as his left arm reaches around the tower — and little pink hearts flutter from Mr Trump’s mouth.

In another drawing, he is depicted wearing a Jewish skullcap and placing a hand a wall — a scene taken from the President’s May visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

A cartoon thought bubble next to him reads, “I’m going to build you a brother”, a possible reference to Trump’s plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

The murals were signed “lushsux”, and the artist has shared photos from the mural site on social media.

Several media outlets earlier speculated the murals may have been the work on Banksy — they are just metres from where the elusive artist decorated a hotel earlier this year.

“The Walled Off Hotel” is a Palestinian-run guest house that sarcastically bills itself as having the “worst view in the world”.

Lushsux has courted controversy in Australia — his graffiti walls of celebrity memes and nude selfies have fallen foul of council authorities, who regularly paint over his work in the name of public decency.

Trump yet to offer promised way forward

Israel began building the West Bank separation barrier a decade ago, at the height of an armed Palestinian uprising, saying the divider is needed to keep suicide bombers and gunmen from entering Israel.

Palestinians say the barrier, which slices off about 10 per cent of the West Bank, amounts to a land grab.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967.

Several US-led Israeli-Palestinian attempts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state on these lands have failed.

Mr Trump said early on in his term that he would try to broker a deal, but has not offered a way forward.


Topics: street-art, arts-and-entertainment, world-politics, government-and-politics, israel, palestinian-territory-occupied

First posted August 05, 2017 14:32:40

Police stop anti-Palaszczuk graffiti despite ‘permission’

Posted August 02, 2017 14:45:45

A Brisbane graffiti artist says he is being politically censored after police stopped him painting a mural he had permission to do, about the Queensland Premier failing the reef.

Artist Scott Marsh said the mural, in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, is a take-off of the satirical publication Betoota Advocate claiming Annastacia Palaszczuk cares little about the coral bleaching on the reef and attacks her support for coal mining in the state.

He said he had received permission from the operators of the bar in the building the mural is painted on.

But he was interrupted by police before he could finish the work.

“Two officers came down and told me I had to stop otherwise I was going to be arrested for trespass,” he said.

“I was finishing off the image of Annastacia Palaszczuk and I got it to a point luckily that you can kind of tell it is her.

“I think it’s kind of strange that within hours of her face going on the wall the cops are down here kind of shutting me down.”

In a decade of being a graffiti artist, Marsh said he had never been stopped and believes it was linked to the political nature of the work.

“I think graffiti is the last kind of true place where you can kind of voice free speech,” he said.

“We are supposed to live in a democracy and have free speech, but yet I can’t paint a wall in Brisbane without being interviewed by police, twice I think over the course of two hours.”

Marsh said he was happy with the public’s response.

“Everyone loves it,” he said.

“They either know that it is satirical and kind of have a real good laugh about, it or they fall for it and get super angry so I guess that’s the wanted response.

“I’m not a policy maker but it’s important for me to keep these conversations alive.”

The Premier said she was happy to facilitate other works elsewhere.

“As Arts Minister, I’d be happy to find something for them to do in my electorate of Inala,” she said.

Marsh said: “If she wants to find me a wall in Inala, I’m happy to come paint something down there.”

Police said they did not receive any complaint about the matter, or are taking it further.

“Inquiries by police ascertained that the man had permission from the business owner to paint the wall,” they said.

Topics: street-art, police, state-parliament, great-barrier-reef, fortitude-valley-4006, qld, brisbane-4000