Thursday, 7 June 2012

Strangely Violent Transit of Venus: melancholia and migraines

Was I the only one on the planet who experienced the twenty four hours around the Transit of Venus as strangely turbulent and violent?* There was a powerful chaotic energy in Sydney, the temperature plummeted it was freezing cold and the city was racked by fierce storms, coastline pounded by massive waves. The ocean beaches were closed, at Vaucluse waves crashed almost to the top of the cliffs, and at the normally placid harbour beach Balmoral, surfers dived into the waves.
It was coming from the sky, you could feel it like a magnet pulling at the filings of the living body, in an almost unbearable heavy metallic response,
and everything seemed to go wrong and wild,
pedestrians struggling down the icy streets as a cyclonic wind whipped my umbrella away and almost pushed me over.
The entire transit was visible from Sydney, yes and we felt it. In my office at the university, something  strange happened. I was looking at a facebook post of a photograph Lisa Anderson had taken of the eclipse about an hour before.
Just as I looked at the extraordinary photograph of a blinding white ball of white light , the same vision of white blinding intensity blazed through the venetian blinds! It looked exactly the same, filling the room with eerie electromagnetic rays.

Lisa Anderson 2012, Transit of Venus 

Nothing worked, the strangeness of trying to do something so simple as finding a local hotel room for the night was not I now think, so much a reflection on the local hotels, as a reflection of the extraordinary strangeness of what was happening in the skies above, pulling all energies and forces on earth out of alignment as we all succumbed to the unearthly power of Venus.
The light was eerie and the sun has never to me looked anything like it did on that day, huge silver white flare in the sky that illuminated the entire sky and air, in between the dark violence of the storms.
It felt like the Lars von Trier film, Melancholia, where the eponymous comet spins towards the earth
I could write, more critically, that it reminded me of the cinematography of the Lars von Trier film yet that implies critical detachment,  it was a closer experience than that.
By this, I mean that it had a profound and overwhelming affect, although I was aware at some points when it was happening (mainly before it happened) that it reminded me of the cinematography and the feeling of the film (which I have to say I love- I watched it on inflight movies flying back from Toronto to Sydney. 5 stars).
The transit of Venus, and her overpowering effects are a reminder of how close we are to the distant planets and galaxies we take for granted for our survival, we are part of the universe and subject to its movements in our cellular structures. Even our cells contain carbon, from dead stars, where does it come from, how did it get there? there is so much that we do not and cannot know- about our selves and who we are. Yet that day showed how much we are physically connected to the universe, and how real the other planets are.

*After writing this I went back to facebook to find the photograph of the Transit of Venus, and, instead strangely, found a comment by artist Bianca Beetson,  "Stoopid transit of venus gave me a headache I just can't shake." 
And a comment from a friend  "Must be something in the air - I have had a migraine for two days" (ie since the Transit of Venius).

So I am not alone in the way that it affected me... (though  the affects may not be exactly the same for each person of course)...Good to know one is not alone in how the planetary movements affect us on planet earth!

Ruth Skilbeck

Travelling Lady

"Travelling lady, stay a-while, until the night is over..." Leonard Cohen.

The night is a long time.

✩✩✩✩✩ for warmth, and good riddance to Venus

By ' Ruth Skilbeck

Well tonight I have a heartwarming story to share of a Lodge.

It's a good sign when I'm not nervous about writing the name of a budget hotel.

The name 'lodge' can be a deceptive moniker as I have found already. There are many shades of meaning that lurk within its monosyllable, and amongst the pleasant associations of constructive usefulness, there are the parasitical meanings that park themselves like bed bugs, in hard to see places, piercing the pale neck skin of the unsuspecting guest, as they sleep.  I encountered one of those in a recent hotel stay near Central Station. But my meandering tonight is triggered, not by a bed bug, but by the taxi driver who drove me here.
 I gave him the name when I got into the cab. When we pulled up outside the place he started to laugh as if in delight and relief (or is it just that I imagine everyone is always thinking about me?)
  Ah it's accommodation, he says in a lovely Asian enthusiastic smiling way.
Accomodation!! Accomodation!! (he repeats the word, several times,  I'm not writing this for effect.)
Yes I say looking for my purse.
It's accommodation, accommodation! Ha! I thought when you say lodge you mean a drinking lodge!!!
There a Lodge just down the road –for drinking  I thought you meant that!
I could practically hear the sweat of relief pouring out of his ears.

I paid him with a (bemused) smile as he sped off smiling more broadly than me.
No, I can say this lodge is far from a drinking lodge.
It's another world away from last night's horrors.
When I tried to stay at one Lodge, and ended up having to stay at the dis-lodged tavern.

Tonight, I was greeted at the door by a charming senior gentleman who courteously led me to my room. There was already a heater turned on in the room, to warm it up for me, he explained, and he told me how to use it. (Turn it on or off at the socket in the wall. Simple. Not like the kind of heater that is so complicated to use that you give up or it has an automatic timer that lasts a maximum of 2 minutes; as happened LAST NIGHT).

It's so cold today, it's been so cold I exclaimed conversationally.

After he'd shown me the room he left and came back twice.
Knocking discreetly on the door.
The first time he was carrying tea bags to give me, and a jar of sugar. Then a few minutes later, he knocked again.
When I opened the door I saw he was bearing a SECOND fan heater.
He brought it in and plugged it and turned it on.
"My wife." He said as he bent down and plugged in the second heater. "My wife is recovering from illness from cold".
That's all he said. The rich emphatic Eastern European vowels roll around my mind as I write this on a small umber formica table top. Next to both the whirring heaters.
It was as if he could read my mind (or the blogs I posted last night about the horrors of the frozen hotel room in the Randwick withheld to protect the author from the wrath of a million imaginary jockeys waving riding crops)...

Or maybe the universe has read my blogs and decided to show me that budget accommodation has a bright side after all.

That all comes down to human care.

So here I am now. Sitting in a clean, pleasantly furnished, non flashy, non trendy, non classic mahogany sled-bed freezing room; it's warm and cosy and there's lots of tea.

Tonight I will sleep.  I may have a hot shower and a mini bath in the deep shower basin. ..Venus has transited, she was causing some kind of mayhem last night down on Earth as she prepared to pass us by.

This haven on the highway is run by a family who have been running it for years, and who treat you, unobtrusively, like an honoured family guest.

So even though there's no shower hat or hair dryer, I give it 4.5 stars for a warm room and for treating a woman travelling alone with courtesy and consideration.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Meanwhile, on a flight to Dubai...

Meanwhile, on a flight to Dubai things are not so pacific...
in fact there seems to have been quite a bit of in-flight turbulence, inside the cabin, when 'a scuffle' broke out between air hostesses from Syria supporting their government and those against it.

Only last week, it seems,  it was Victoria Beckham in the 'naughty' headlines for playfully tweeting in the 'voice' of  captain as she used her celebrity status to elbow into the flight attendants seats and pretend to be at the controls, coming into China.

Ladies, I have a far better way to relieve the tedium and stress of the long haul flight. 

Look out the window.

Take a camera with you and photograph the sky, and the clouds....

Random image from my files:

Cloud Land #3,   2012

'Scuffle Between Syrian Air Hostesses Delays Saudi Flight to Dubai', The Daily Star, June 04, 2012.

The Daily Fugue

Watch the clouds....

We have a new name, playing with morphology; the Skilbeck Scrolls may well return

Watch this space, or, just watch space...

The clouds  in  space, or in this space....

We took hundreds of pictures of clouds on the flight from Sydney to the conference in Toronto, and back.

What a heavenly flight, there and back across the Pacific, nothing but blues on blue and fluffy white cloud lands in between...

Now is time to paper the walls with those heavenly skies, and drift into new lines of flight...

An image picked at random from the files:

Flight,  2012  Photo: Ruth Skilbeck

Looking in the Mirror

Ruth Skilbeck, Looking in the Mirror,  From  Last Things, a series of photographic images

Last Things

Ruth Skilbeck, Last Things, 2008

Cloud Land

Ruth Skilbeck, Cloud Land,  2012

Hair Clip

Ruth Skilbeck  Hair Clip, 2008,  From 'Last Things' a series of photographic images

Friday, 1 June 2012

White Lies: Myth of the Australian Cultural Cringe

By Ruth Skilbeck


The cultural cringe was a myth designed to stop Australians from defining their own identity, expressing themselves, and exploring their past and present conditions in cultural forms of expression and inquiry.
      The idea that Australians are culturally inadequate or cringe in front of dominant cultures is a part of the myth generated, one may surmise or hypothesize, by a dominant administration as a form of controlling stereotype and would-be self fulfilling prophesy - as the media is used …to construct realities through discourses that in Australia tend to support dominant groups.
      This fitted well and was an attempt to enable the necessary silence that was needed to enshroud the policies and practices of the stolen generation including the awful mothers history of rape.
      Instilling shame and guilt are known to psychologically instill silence in the one who feels ashamed, so by making Australians feel ashamed of their lack of cultural nous, was this ipso facto a means of keeping them silent?
      Too afraid to openly make cultural faux pas, in the wider world of cosmopolitan urbane sophisticated culture?
      This was an absolute nonsense of course: all that happened was that it led to another cliché:  the ‘brain drain’. Where the entire forces of the most talented intelligent creative Australians left the country en masse after finishing university so that they could continue their lively fervent confident cultural explorations in the very centres of dominant culture which, the myth would have us believe that as Australians, they should be cringing away from.

The Brain Drain

They left en masse and pursued successful careers in all kinds of fields that would never have been possible if they had stayed in Australia.
I speak from first hand experience as a daughter of parents who did just this (in the 1960s and 70s) and saw my father rise and rise in his career in a way inconceivable for a boy who grew up in Broken Hill, son of a civil engineer and quarry manager - if he’d stayed in his home country (albeit he took his first class Hons BA at the University of Sydney).
      No, Australia, we drove them away, our brightest and best.
      And now ironically perhaps with the changed world of globalization, government subsidies have been put into place to try to lure them back again our bright creative geniuses and talent – from the wider cultural world where they are able to explore their interests with passion and grow and develop surrounded by others. ‘Overseas researcher homecoming incentives’ they are called or something similar.
      There seems to be something a bit pathetic and futile about this policy of trying to lure back the brightest and it doesn’t seem to work well in many cases. (Many marriage break up and family breakdowns seem to follow according to statistics showing the turbulence that this kind of culture shock can bring).
      What appears to be far more promising and a positive sign of change is the proposed new policy of supporting the humanities and arts research – which apparently is about to start next year (Thompson 2012).
Readers may be surprised as I was to discover that (no I was not wrong, I was right all along I was not paranoid it really was as bad as I thought it was…) There has been no support, or very little, for arts and humanities research in Australia. At least by means of grant from the ARC.
      What this meant in practice is that multitude untold numbers of creative socially and culturally valuable projects that would undertake deep meaningful research into who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, and which would last three years and have all kinds of trickle- down effects and influences encouraging others to participate in arts culture and human interest projects, did not happen.
      Aborted, refused, denied. Sent away and buried. Silenced.
      I speak as one whose project on The Female Gaze was not funded four years ago. Since then I have seen versions and variations of my ideas appear here and there in Australian culture... At the 2010 Sydney Biennale where, just as in my conceptualization, a ‘fugal’ Australian contemporary women artist Fiona Foley and Yayoi Kusama were literally positioned next to each other juxtaposed as in my proposed curated show. I only wrote about Foley…and urban Indigenous women artists including Bianca Beetson, Jennifer Herd and Andrea Fisher. (Skilbeck 2011).
      My idea was part of the global wave of what is now called the mother art movement (a form of matricentric feminism), third wave feminism, I was ahead of the trend. (If I’d been able to curate the show last year as I’d wanted and publish my book in it I would have been right at the apex of this new global movement which has huge interest around the world).
      It’s too late to do it now; the time has past.  (Instead I went to a conference organized by a Canadian research institute, MIRCI, that rebadged itself last year in Canada and presented my paper this year). But that would have been a fantastic project for Australia if I’d been able to do it. Last year I would have curated an exhibition that would have brought people from around the world to Australia. As I said in my proposal it would have put Australia on the art world map. Well It would have.
      In the new field of global mother art movements in contemporary art where art is used as research into cultural and social environmental conditions as well as history and psychology as mode of necessary working through and processing, a global movement of postcolonial societies of which Australia is a prime example.
      My idea was silenced.
      The myth of the cultural cringe was a discourse that operated like an edict or a silencing order.

      Ye shall cringe away from expressing your self and views, making cultural productions or even thinking about what is going on in Australian culture. Anywhere else it’s ok.
      And if you’re the intelligent curious creative type who is likely to think about life and examine existence, especially if you like to examine the conditions of your own existence, then it’s better that you leave now, on a long overseas voyage. Preferably for the rest of your life.  Bye Bye!

      This has been borne out in my own experience here in the mother art movement. Extending from my failed bid at funding for my Female Gaze project I went on and continued my research.
      This resulted this year in my becoming involved as curator and media coordinator with a new mother hood art movement in Sydney, that co generated this movement. But this was in collusion with an international mother art movement based in North America.

 Refreshing change in ARC arts and humanities funding policies

So I read with some hope (although not unbridled joy as change does not come overnight) about the proposed changes to ARC research funding policy to include the arts and humanities, outlined in the National Research Priorities: 2012 Process to Refresh the Priorities Consultation Paper, Feb 2012.
     Hopefully this will come to show that times have changed and the reverse is now coming in (supported by new research policies): as it is imperative that we (want to) find out more about ourselves, our past, our identities, who we are, where we came from, so we can develop more self-knowledge and cultural understanding; a culture and stories we can share with the world, and be able to take more creative care over where we are going, including protecting and sustaining our environments for future life and new generations.
      We could hardly do any more damage to the overall environment than has been done over the past 200 years (short of a nuclear disaster)


The ideas of the myth, the discourse, were internalized and as with discourse achieved its own social construct, a form of ‘reality’.
So that that’s what people believe now, they continue to propagate and uphold the myth.
      Even those who think they are breaking away.
      Yet there has always been a tradition in Australia since the 1970s of change coming from with out – and Australian development of contemporary art in Australia only occurred in the process and as a result of active ongoing dialogue with art world centres (Skilbeck 2001)… as the result of very determined action by individuals acting alone and in groups; I am thinking of the pioneering curators who started up and kept the Biennale going Leo Paroissein, Bill Wright, Nick Waterlow, the latter two who came from England and re-linked to their connections there (Skilbeck 2003).
      Similarly with the women’s art and indigenous art movements in Australia, we have developed ‘out ‘ identity and in relation to communication with international art and cultural movements.
And from the start this was an intrinsic part of the Biennale content and focus.
      So that when Mary Kelly said to me when she first came to Australia it was for the 1981 Biennale. She was in the MCA gift shop, and was chatting about the 1981 Biennale, “and someone said that was the women’s Biennale and some else said it no was the Indigenous Biennale…” she laughed.  I was talking with her, interviewing her and her son Kelly Barry, at the 2008 Biennale where they had a collaborative video artwork in installation exhibition.
      Australians came to define themselves, their identity, in relation to international  art movements, that was a trend that continues as my ongoing experiences in the international Mother Art movement show and continue to show…

© Copyright Ruth Skilbeck, 2012

Skilbeck, Ruth, Mary Kelly and Kelly Barry (2011). 'Ruth Skilbeck in Conversation with Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie', Chapter 1 in Real Mothers in Contemporary Art. Demeter Press, York University, Toronto. 46-52

Skilbeck, Ruth (2011) 'Gazing Boldly Back and Forward: Urban Aboriginal Women Artists and New Global Feminisms in Transnational Art', International Journal of the Arts in Society. Vol.5, Issue 6: 261-276

Skilbeck, Ruth (2010). 'Re-viewing Feminist Influences in Transnational Art: A Multimodal, Fugal Analysis of Mary Kelly’s Texts of ‘Maternal Desire’'. International Journal of the Arts in Society, Vol. 4, Issue 5 2010, 15-28

Skilbeck, Ruth (2003) ‘Contemporary Australian Art Comes of Age’, 4- feature series, Australian Art Collector. Issue 25. 75-89.

Thompson, Matthew (2012) ‘Top cited academics honoured (but where’s the humanity?) The

Australian Research Council (2012). National Research Priorities: 2012 Process to Refresh the Priorities . Consultation Paper, Feb 2012.

Life Boat Bag

Ruth Skilbeck,  Boat Bag, 2008, plastic toiletries bag on plastic sheet. From 'Last Things' a series of photographic images.

Safety First

By Ruth Skilbeck

 New trends: fluoro safety-gear for Aussie workers spreads to ' Newcastle bottle shop workers' ... I was fascinated to notice on my recent return from Canada when the plane touched down at Sydney airport the eye catching yellow and orange fluoro gear of the airport crews on the landing strip...(how they stand out in contrast to the muted shades of the Canadian airport staff). Inside the airport I noticed that the airport officials were wearing the same fluoro gear.

Today when I called into my local bottle shop in Newcastle,
I was unable to not notice that the young man behind the counter was sporting a large padded fluoro orange vest - rather like a life saving jacket- emblazoned with the initials BWS - which stands for the name of the alcohol chain- Beer Wine Spirits. When I looked up their website, to check I had the right name, I found their tagline " We take responsible service of alcohol seriously".

Safety gear. Mum was, after the family returned to Australia, an education officer of the ACT Cancer Society -she introduced the Legionnaires Hat to Australian schools (she had someone design it according to her vision). But I don't recall that she wore it herself. She wore rather natty wide brimmed straw hats. To keep her safe from the sun.

Even so, even she who was so careful and educated so many about this very thing, contracted a melanoma on her calf.  Could it have been all the hours she spent gardening in the house we moved into in Kambah when the family first moved back to Australia? There was so much to do there to try to hurry the speed of progress and natural growth, to transform the surreal suburban moonscape into a functional pleasure garden. Who would not have felt burdened by that responsibility? that she took on, and maintained, even after Dad left. But it was more likely she explained to us to have been the result of a childhood in Sydney, at a time when the word melanoma had not even been invented. A time of happy innocence. On the edge of the gully.  It was after that diagnosis, and the subsequent operation that left a crater in the surface of her pale calf that, despite her condition of chronic fatigue syndrome, she defied Doctor’s orders and stoically packed up her house in Raymond Terrace and flew out of Australia, to the other side of the world, back to London. Never to return.

© Copyright Ruth Skilbeck, 2012

Surrogacy of Silence?

By Ruth Skilbeck

It comes as no surprise in a macho culture such as Australia (where historically mothers have been routinely excluded and devalued)  that it should – after a little debate in the upper house, be deemed acceptable and ‘legal’ that the ‘surrogate’ mother’s name be excluded from the birth certificate of the child of two male parents in a gay marriage (Two Dad's and a Surrogate Create Legal Landmark,'  Daily Telegraph, June 1, 2012).  

The motherhood issue is complex as it involves not only the vexed and contentious issue – and concept - of the ‘surrogate’ mother; it also involves the issue of gay marriage. Here my interest is on the motherhood issue and the concept and cultural practice of excluding motherhood and hiding mothers which was equally considered by Australian federal government to be acceptable and was practiced as policy throughout many decades of the twentieth century, that have since come to  be known as the stolen generations – as an allusion to the trauma this caused children, mothers and families.

The increase of  ‘surrogate’ mothers- who are often women who are already mothers who need to raise money to support their own children (and are therefore being used for their reproductive facilities)  should be very carefully examined and monitored, so that  women/mothers are not being used as disposable reproductive receptacles for men’s use: as this ultimately could lead to forms of subjugation of mothers every bit as painful and traumatic for children, and mothers, and society overall (including potentially the adoptive gay parents) as the policies and practices of the stolen generations turned out to be.

In all cases of surrogate parenting, including sperm donation, the names of the parents (“donors”) should be included on the birth certificate. The child has a right to know where they come from, their genetic origins and to make contact with their human reproductive parents. This does not undervalue adoptive or foster parents or the role they play in parenting, as mothers; yes, gay men can be mothers, mother is not necessarily a biological category (as poststructutralist matricentric feminism explains)  but to exclude the human reproductive mother and deny her existence, on a birth certificate,  is a mistake that leads to deep problems of identity.

 Excluding a mother's name from a birth certificate is a very strong message and official statement that the mother does not matter. Not only that she doesn't matter - but that she does not even exist. No child will ever really believe this- after all they have been nurtured into life in the matrix of her womb; and if they do come to believe that this means nothing - what does that say about how our society is being controlled?

Furthermore there is a larger social issue to do with social engineering and the increasingly controlled practices of reproduction where mother is being appropriated and subjugated, surrogate mothers follow in the line of ‘wet nurses’ and prostitutes, where women’s biological sexual and reproductive organs are being bought and used, very often by men supported by a patriarchal state agenda. If this sounds alarmist, look at history. 

Look at the Stolen Generation in Australia.  A history of white lies and cover ups. I have nothing against gay marriage - or gay parenting as such. I have everything against excluding and hiding mothers from the official records and from active participation in family and social  life.

I have been writing about the pain of  a hidden grandmother in my own family for the past year of my Blog, the Skilbeck Scrolls.  The suppression and hiding of mothers is a wrong that does not disappear,  hidden mothers do not vanish. The pain and trauma of the hidden mother lasts for generations. We should not forget this. 

 In gay and surrogate parenting all the parents, including the reproductive mother should be included in the family circle, and acknowledged in official records. If that seems too hard, or unacceptable, we need to change our way of thinking to become more inclusive, more diverse in our understanding of the meaning and reality of family, to develop new forms of extended family and family circles, rather than seeking to reproduce the nuclear family (and its 'white lies' and cover-ups) in differently gendered form.

© Copyright Ruth Skilbeck, 2012

O'Reilly, Andrea, ed. (2011) Maternal Theory- Essential Readings. Demeter Press, Toronto, Canada

Dale, Amy (2012) 'Two Dads and a Surrogate Create Legal Landmark', The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, June 1, 2012.