Monday, 24 October 2011

Guest post from Lyndon Riggall: Get to Robert McKee

His students have gone on to write stories as diverse as Sex and The City, Toy Story 3 and The Fighter, and include talents that range from William Goldman and Geoffrey Rush to Joan Rivers.  John Cleese has attended his course three times.  A few years ago, when Australia’s most popular children’s author Andy Griffiths was visiting the bookshop where I was working, I asked him if he had any advice for me, and perhaps I should have guessed what the answer would be.
“Get to Robert McKee.”

At the time I had no idea who McKee was, but after thorough research it became pretty clear that, as far as Hollywood was concerned, McKee was where it was at. He is  a ‘script doctor’ - he fixes stories and has made a living teaching people the craft of good writing.  He tours the world delivering his lectures - before my seminar in Sydney he had presented them in France and later in the year he was planning to head off to Russia.

Writing seminars are an expensive enterprise.  For me, the costs exceeded a grand to find accommodation and make it to four days of 9-hour sessions.  Luckily, it was worth every cent.  My writing has always been about the short-form.  If I had written a novel prior to the seminar, I would have, without a doubt, begin with a short story, then written another short story, and then another, attempting to string these smaller chapters together into an overall narrative.  McKee has corrected this method out of me.  The writing, he says, is the easy part.  The hard part is crafting a good story, a meticulous structure that turns up and down in such a way that the audience or the reader never tires of it.  To create an entire world of words, to keep ahead of the audience at every step and leave them begging, this is the art of the real writer.

McKee is often criticised for teaching a ‘formula’ for writing.  He’s defended his reputation for years, and rightly so.  He doesn’t teach ‘formula’, he  teaches  ‘form;’ the classical design structure that most narratives take.  Of course there are exceptions, but these exceptions are always marked by their knowing deviation from the classical design.  Regardless of what you wish to write, knowing the telltale signs of a good story is paramount.  It was impossible when listening to McKee not to recall my favourite pieces of work and align them with the structure.  No surprises - they fit perfectly.

To try and cram four massive days of lecture material in this blog post would be both impossible and an insult to McKee’s remarkable course, which imparted valuable wisdom not only about writing but life itself.  Certainly the 36 hours I spent in that lecture hall were among the most engaging I have ever had the pleasure to attend – at no point did I wish it would end sooner, which is no mean achievement in itself.   McKee is seventy, and while his energy seems to have no intention of flagging, it is certainly possible that he may retire soon.  For those interested, a good substitute to the lecture series would be to purchase a paper copy, and the audiobook of his text Story: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting.  If like me, the concept of the long-form fiction leaves you feeling unprepared, or if you have written a full work but feel that it’s missing something – McKee’s your man.  I firmly believe that no-one can teach you how to write - but the features of good writing can be taught, and moreover are a vital lesson to learn if you hope to create wonderful stories that make their mark, and one day prove your worth as a master of the craft.

Lyndon Riggall is a young writer and student, living in Hobart and studying English and Classical Literature at the University of Tasmania.  He tries to divide his time equally between writing works for pure enjoyment, and for rigorous artistic worth, but often can't remember which pile is which.
He can be found on Twitter, or at his blog A Quick Word

Monday, 17 October 2011

Guest post from Lesley Halm: The best things in life are free, but sometimes you have to pay for them.

The following blog post tells more of the story of Iteration:Again the geographically and creatively wide ranging public art exhibits we spoke to Sarah Jones, project manager and curator about earlier in year. You can listen to that interview here.

Going to 146 Elizabeth St in Hobart to speak to artist John Vella and curator Jane Stewart about Best Practice, their work for Iteration:Again, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d read the blurb, but what greeted me at the door was a sign that read
‘The best things in life are free, but sometimes you have to pay for them’. The room was a mess of art works which appeared to have been strewn around the floor, holes cut out of them, surrounded by workbenches and tools, debris and sad, deflated balloons. This was John and Jane’s slice of Iteration:Again, a work that was curated overall by David Cross. Iteration:Again spanned over four weeks in September and October, with works all around Tasmania in public spaces. The pieces changed (reiterated) each week.

What follows is the essence of a long conversation I had with Jane Stewart, curator and the artist curated John Vella their thoughts about Best Practice, and Iteration: Again. The words are John’s, unless otherwise specified.

The idea?
Getting people to think laterally about art and experiencing it in places that aren’t galleries, essentially. Because the works are changing every week you’re having to think of transformation within the context of the experience. That is particularly unusual.  It can take a lot of effort to assimilate.

The four iterations, or changes?
The changes are accumulative.  The four iterations of my work: first stage: a market stall where people get a helium balloon which is a voucher for a free piece of my art.  The three following iterations involved cutting out circular pieces of my previous artworks.  It is like reactivating an archive of my practice. Layered into this is the fact you can either purchase them, or get one free each week with a balloon voucher.  What are these things actually worth? It is seeing what the public response is, whether the message is getting out, whether the balloons are getting picked up.  It is making it richer.

The space?
A big thing about this is that it is halfway between a studio, a workshop, a gallery. Locked between something sophisticated and tacky, something precious and trashed.

(Jane) That’s where the energy comes from. It’s not just a gallery, it is the foyer for Arts Tasmania, a funding body. So if you want to think about value and art and money, there are layers built into that.  When the spruikers are here on the Friday and Saturday we get people coming in and looking at the work who have no idea why they’re looking at it and who aren’t familiar with contemporary art. It’s shamelessly commercial.

(John) Some people came in and bought some pieces knowing full well that it would be free the next day. That $500 means a hell of a lot, but not in a monetary sense. 

The dialogue?
 I am becoming increasingly interested in subjecting artwork to experiences. Whilst some people would say I was damaging them, I am actually adding to them. That really excites me.  I want to keep trying things like this. The ongoing thing is putting people in touch with each other.  Everyone who gets an artwork gets photographed holding the artwork, which has been signed. The photos are then sent to them. It is an official process. The people who are getting the artworks are then being put in contact with each other so they know who has the other pieces of the same artwork.

The Conception?
This project has evolved as a response to another project which I did for CAST called HANGBANG (nightshift) where all of my works were subjected to a situation where they could be destroyed or chipped, broken. It came about as an idea of reiteration.  How would I reiterate works that I had already made? Sure, you could photograph or copy them, but what would it mean to actually send them out and get them to break apart in a very orchestrated way?  Because I don’t know the answers to those questions I thought it was the right thing to try. For me, the most interesting artworks are the ones where I’m not sure. I was feeling pretty sick in my guts last week to see what would happen.  It turned out amazing.

The Subversion?
(Jane)What is subversive about this artwork is the non-subversive aspect of it. So that very promotional aspect – the glossy fliers, the spruiker, and the flaunting – seems to be undermining the subversiveness. 

(John) It is designed subversiveness. It is shifting things in ways that aren’t familiar.  It’s a good thing.  The illogical dimension of art is what makes it rich.  It is that tension which is at the heart of the project.  It is that tension between the experience, the performance, the intangible, the ephemeral, the values - whether they are monetary or cultural – that can be placed on it.  That’s it really.

…But it wasn’t it.  After collecting my balloon, I went back and got my art piece and had it signed.  I filled in my form. I shook hands with John in an uncomfortably official moment and pondered my choice of artwork.  I wondered what I would do with it.  I still don’t know.  But I’m glad I have it, to stare at, to wonder over, to remember.  Who has the other pieces?  What is this thing worth to me?

The experience is far from over.

The beginning of the dialogue?

Lesley's bio:
She likes to think she's tough, like Tom Waits rolled in gristle, but she really a big wimp hiding behind a bustle of big words.  She also thinks there is such a thing as a 'bustle of words'. Books, poetry, stories, and the occasional article are what she chiefly likes to dabble in. She can be found on Twitter here.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Guest blog from Lyndon Riggall: Portrait of a Palace

The instructions Scot has given me to reach ‘The Rat Palace’ make me feel a bit like I’m about to enter a secret society.  In fact, they’re necessary.  The building itself is large but quite hidden, and I’m sneaking past church cars and construction signs to reach it.
It’s five-thirty on a Thursday night, and most of Hobart will be at home, listening to the inane chatter of a background TV and cutting up carrots to get started on dinner.  These guys are smoking and creating.  A couple of them have been there all day, the others have jobs and they sneak in and out – it’s a clear vibe from all of them though that this isn’t work.  This is a place of experiment. 
The Rat Palace has been variously inhabited by a number of Hobart’s artists since at least seven years ago.  You can see the layers of paint on every surface of the place, making the room itself an artwork - like a massive scale version of a kindergarten marble painting.  There is a history of risk trickling in multi-coloured blood down the walls - and it’s a history that Scot, Matt, Callum, Joel, Rob and Nicola are now part of.  It doesn’t stop at this floor either, and downstairs local bands come in of an evening and practice.  The Frustrations play some nights,” Rob tells me.  “Those are good nights to be here.”
For now, the CD player is playing Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Storm Coming’:  I could paint a picture with a pen, but a song will only scratch the skin, and there’s still places I haven’t been, because I know what’s in there is already in the air.
I take a look around the place.  One of the things I love about the environment Scot has set up with these guys is its variety.  In one corner there are detailed paintings of Victorian-looking gentleman in coats and cravats.  In another, a mannequin of Jesus is weeping black tears – the church next door caught through the window behind it.  Matt is working on some collaborative drawings, and is sketching a series of long green tentacles down the page.  I wonder as I’m looking around what some of the more aging, antiquarian population of Hobart might say about the place.  I feel like they would probably say it’s ‘angry’.  I don’t buy that though - sure, some of the paintings have a brief flash of the middle finger about them, (I catch one out of the corner of my eye subtitled ‘Facebook is God’) but the more I look around the place the more I start to feel that each generation gets the art it deserves, and these guys are capturing beautifully the chaos which we’ve had to learn to accept about modern life, rather than the false sensibility that defined art for so many generations before them.  Callum is a great example of this – he is slowly and meticulously drawing a massive pile of auto parts and abandoned junk.  I’m stunned by the detail, and have to remind myself that this is rubbish; it’s the stuff we’re ashamed of - that we discard - turned into something beautiful.
Scot tells me they’ll be doing a new exhibition downstairs soon.  It’ll be called If I’d had more bullets I would’ve taken Warhol with me.  Matt laughs.  “That just about sums everything up”. 
They promise they’ll fling me an email when they send out the invitations.
“You’ll know when it’s from us,” Rob tells me, “It’ll be in French.”
I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Lyndon Riggall is a young writer and student, living in Hobart and studying English and Classical Literature at the University of Tasmania.  He tries to divide his time equally between writing works for pure enjoyment, and for rigorous artistic worth, but often can't remember which pile is which.
He can be found on Twitter, or at his blog A Quick Word
Claire Needham, photographer, can be contacted through her website here and also on Twitter
Scot Cotterell's work is inter-disciplinary and concerned with responses to technology and media. His work uses sound, video, image and object to create environments that reflect upon cultural phenomena. His website can be found here.