How an essay on whales caught my attention, & other things to hear, watch & read this weekend

How an essay on whales caught my attention, & other things to hear, watch & read this weekend

Welcome to The Culture Wrap Jessie Tu’s weekly look at top things to read, hear and watch.


READ: What Have We Done to the Whale? by Amia Srinivasan
Article published in The New Yorker, August 24, 2020 Issue


Earlier this week on my birthday morning, I stayed in bed listening to a professional actress read aloud an article from The New Yorker about whales.

The article was written by Amia Srinivasan, perhaps my favourite critic at the London Review of Books and the app is called AUDM. If you haven’t heard of it, get onto it. There is nothing quite like having a terrific piece of writing being read aloud by a very good voice artist. 

Amia’s essay examines the publication of Rebecca Giggs’ masterly book “Fathoms: The World in the Whale” (Scribe) which I’m about to dig into this weekend. Giggs is a Perth-based journalist and writer, whose book I’ve been looking forward to since reading her essay on whales in the Best Australian Essays collection in 2018.

I started my day with this article because I have always been fascinated by whales; not in the 12-year-old-horse-phrase kind of way. More like the Pinocchio-related-nightmares I still have every once in a while, coupled with the haunting image of the lone killer whale in a SeaWorld bathtub I’ve been suffering from since watching Blackfish, three times in one week, back in 2013.

Srinivasan’s article looks through the centuries of whaling that has seen our oceans disfigured by human activity. The evolutionary age of the whale is almost incomprehensible and this article competently surveys the history of the human relationship to these ancient mammals. 

“When whales exhale through their blowholes, the vapour is so dense that it produces rainbows,” Srinivasan writes, reminding us of one of the countless enigmas that remain of these species.


WATCH: 22nd Biennale of Sydney, CarriageWorks
Teresa Margolles “Aproximación al lugar de los hechos, 2020” 

This week, I wanted to review an art exhibit instead of a film, because it felt important to teach myself how to engage with a physical entity that has a body, surface and texture of its own, beyond the screen.

Sunday morning might be the best time to visit Carriageworks. The bike paths along Wilson Street are beautiful, green, and straight — there’s also plenty of bike stations under what is probably, in my opinion, Australia’s best work of art at the moment: Reko Rennie’s REMEMBER ME illuminated text work. (Return in the evening to see this explode in blood red) 

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Commissioned by @carriageworks curator @beatricegralton, @danmudcun and @tidda_puffs as part of the summer program – REMEMBER ME is a monumental illuminated text work by Melbourne- based Kamilaroi /Gamilaroi artist Reko Rennie. Located prominently at the Wilson Street entrance to Carriageworks, REMEMBER ME references Rennie’s history as a graffiti artist whose adaption of urban spaces created sites of protest, politics and poetry. 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first landfall at Botany Bay and the HMB Endeavour’s charting of the East Coast of Australia. In a national climate currently marred by tension and division as to how this history is acknowledged, Rennie’s work is a searing reminder of the frontier wars, the massacres and the survival of the real sovereigns of this country, the Aboriginal people of Australia. I’m showing work with @d_a_n_b_o_y_d , @rebecca_baumann and @kate____mitchell #carriageworks #redfern #gadigalland #eoranation #alwayswasalwayswillbe #rekorennie #art #led #neon #text #contemporaryart

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I rode my bike and arrived at 10am sharp when the former Eveleigh Railway Workshop facility opens. In the large space, I was greeted by mask-faced gallery assistants, and saw only one other gallery visitor. I timed my visit so I wouldn’t be distracted with social distance etiquette while trying to engage with the artworks.

I went to see Giselle Stanborough’s immersive performance installation, Cinopticon; a work that examines Internet narcissism, corporate surveillance and the manipulation of social media algorithms; subjects I have an almost unhealthy obsession with. Stanborough’s use of space however lacked the austerity and intrusiveness I was expecting, since the subject she tackles demands something of a subversive, perhaps, transgressive practice. I saw very little of that.

What impressed me most was not Stanborough’s work but another artist’s in the Biennale exhibit — that of Teresa Margolles.’ Margolles a Mexico-based artist who uses performance art and installations to question aspects of social conflict.

In this work, “Aproximación al lugar de los hechos, 2020”, the sound installation involves 20 hot plates conjoined below a dripping system, with water extracted from the sites where violent events took place in Sydney. 

At the door, a woman with a facemask told me to walk slowly in and to be careful – “It’s really dark in there,” she said. Inside, I walked through a narrow corridor that led me into a large room doused in black and then a floor to ceiling enclosed partitioned off space walled by butcher’s plastic. The red was striking — meant to resemble blood?

You step through the panels of plastic and see a cat-walk-like lineup — a row of iron plates, each the size of a coffee table book, and stage lamps strategically placed to illuminate the panels. Immediately, you sense a creepy silence.

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@Carriageworks, one of Australia’s largest and most significant contemporary multi-arts centres, reopens to the public today with an array of major visual art installations by international and local artists for the @biennalesydney’s acclaimed 22nd edition, curated by @brook_andrew_artist, and major works by Australian artists @gisellestanborough and @rekorennie. Pictured is Mexican artist Teresa Margolles’ Aproximación al lugar de los hechos (Approximations to the Scenes of the Facts) – a powerful and complex memorial to lives lost and to sites where trauma continues to resonate and bare material traces of violent acts, presented as part of the #Biennaleofsydney. #carriageworks is open free to the public Wed-Sun 10am-5pm and the #carriageworksfarmersmarket returns tomorrow from 8am-1pm. 📸 @zanwimberley

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The panels were square, ankle-height – each one a slightly different iteration of tear that ranged from a slight discolouration to larger scars.

The most haunting, uncomfortable feature of being there was the silence. Each step you took made a loud noise on the floorboard, so you were always careful of how you walked. Each drop of water made a sound like the ticking of a grandfather clock. It was ominous and made me confront the ubiquitousness of violence against women.

The moment a drop landed on the metal surface, a black spot would explode and immediately disappear. Is this what women are in the world? Quick splashes of bodies that collide, then disappear?

Listen (Music): Teenage Joans

One of my latest discoveries is Luke Penman’s play/pause/play, an essay music podcast that showcases the new bands from South Australia. And there are so many incredible bands coming out of the festival/wine state.

This week’s episode exposed me to Teenage Joans, a female indie pop-punk duo from Adelaide with a too-cool-for-school vibe. Cahli Blakers is vocalist and guitarist, backed by her friend Tahlia Borg – a stunner of a drummer. Blakers graduated high school just last year and Tahlia Borg is completing her Certificate III in Music Industry at Adelaide’s St Paul’s Creative Centre.

The duo describe their sound as punk-cum-modernistic-Blink 182-cum-Thirty Seconds To Mars. Think grungy-guitar paired with contagious beats and casually measured lyrics, mixed with the tender, hollowed youthfulness of a spirited teenage voice.

Last year, the two friends said in an interview that they’re not often liked by the girls in their school. “Girls don’t really like me at school so I don’t really like them either,” Borg said. “When we played Laneway one of them came and saw us and couldn’t handle it so she turned around and looked away.”

Borg said that pour these feelings of “typical teenage delinquent vibes” into their music. The pair released their first recorded single, ‘By The Way’, in November last year, and already have a growing list of fans.

LISTEN (Podcast): Call your Girlfriend

I saw Aminatou Sow last November at the Broadside Festival, where she was chatting in a casual, late-night convo with Jan Fran and Jia Tolentino. I spent the entire hour and a half gushing over the gorgeous dynamic happening on stage between the trio — I couldn’t stop laughing. Everyone in the audience was love-drunk on the charisma, intelligence and general joyfulness of the speakers.

The vibe is generally what you get when you listen to Aminatou Sow chat each week with her best friend Ann Friedman on their very famous pod, Call Your Girlfriend. Did you know it’s normal to seek therapy when a friendship breaks down? That’s the kind of thing you’ll learn when you listen to these two fiercely intelligent women.

This week, they talk to Zadie Smith, who also made an appearance at Broadside last year (though not with Aminatou). Smith talks about her latest collection of essays “Intimations” which she wrote during the last few months as the world’s order was unbalanced in blurringly devastating ways. She questions her role about a writer during these trying times and deliberates on how she manages the anxiety of the status of her work as a writer.

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tbt! Happy Thursday y’all 💕💕

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