What to read, watch & hear this week: The Culture Wrap

What to read, watch & hear this week: The Culture Wrap

Shea Diamond

Welcome to The Culture Wrap! Our Friday feature edited by Jessie Tu, that shares her pick of things to read, hear and watch. Just in time for the weekend.

What to watch: 

Disclosure (dir. Sam Feder), Netflix 

One of my best friends is a Toronto-based journalist who recommended this documentary to me. His partner is non-binary, and they are both heavily immersed in the language and community of LGBTQIA+ initiatives in their city. But watching Disclosure, my friend told me, still raptured some deep, painful truths for both of them.

“You. Have. To. Watch. This.” My friend said over Zoom last week.

I take recommendations seriously. I’m also always interested in learning about the damaging depictions of representation and media and the consequences of reductive, essentialising mechanisms. This documentary traces Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people and the impact of their stories on transgender lives and American culture. It’s a searing, burst-into-tears look at how visceral and violent these institutionalised cultural phenomenas have been inculcated into our lives. It’s one of the most important films I’ve seen all year

I love Hollywood films. But I’m also achingly aware of the ways in which it has taught me things that are just plain wrong – that Asians are submissive and personality-less and only merit side-roles, that black male sexuality is both a fetish and a threat; that straight white males are the most valuable and prized of all romantic partners, the list goes on and on. Watching this documentary feels like the necessary de-colonisation of my inculturation. It’s mandatory viewing for anyone wanting to get rid of their privileged blindspots.

What to hear:

Music: Shea Diamond, Album – Seen it All

In her boppy anthem “I am Her” Shea Diamond weaves her craft as a trans activist and singer-songwriter, turning stigma into an undeniably soulful and bold tune. “There’s an outcast in everybody’s life / And I am her,” she sings. This song is “for all those that felt shunned for simply being who they were.” Erm. That’s me.

Listening to her feels like sitting through an extremely compelling and delicious sermon.

Diamond was born into a gender role she did not accept. In 1999, she was sentenced to 10 years in a men’s prison after committing a crime, and while incarcerated, she found a community that shared her trans experience –
“It was there where I found my voice,” she told Billboard.

My personal favourites include “American Pie” ( “The world don’t like no freaks coming in their rooms”) which, listening to it, feels like having a conversation with an older, slightly wiser friend on a Sunday afternoon in a cozy wine bar) and “Don’t Shoot” (“Hands up, please don’t shoot / They say that you’ll love it if your mouth stay mute / They say they don’t see colour but the blood stain show the proof”) which conjures almost the opposite feeling of safety and education. It feels more like being crushed with the reality of what it means to live in a black body. This is what good music can do. Or any good art.

Good art is not lazy. It’s expansive, uncomfortable, and asks the right questions. It never seeks to find answers. Shea Diamond traverses all these spaces in an exciting new way I’ve never seen or heard.

Podcast: Bobo & Flex
Jada, Will, August & Predatory Behaviour

Lillian Ahenkan (AKA Flex Mami) and Bobo Matjila are two modern-day philosophers who rouse about love and sex. Episodes range from titles that include “are you morally obligated to love your family?”, “growing up in a black household”, “why is cultural appropriation prioritised over black genocide?” and “how your friends are impacting your success”. I don’t know about you, but these topics are issues my brain is starving for.

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have a good day tho!!! RP @memeuzby

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On this episode, Flex and Bobo use the marriage of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith to talk about what the difference is between ‘life partners’ and ‘romantic partners’

They discuss the traditional idea of romance and partnership and the formulaic ideas of long-term marriage. They unfurled these issues in a way I’d never heard and made me question my own ideas of what a ‘good’ long-term marriage looks like. I’m always looking for a more expansive, inclusive, infinite way of seeing love, friendship, marriage and relationships; so this episode of the podcast was extremely heart-warming and welcomed. 

What to read:

Sisters, Daisy Johnson 

Where do you know that name? Daisy Johnson made headlines in 2018 when she became the youngest ever writer to be shortlisted for the BOOKER PRIZE for her debut novel Everything Under. I didn’t read that, but I chugged her debut book, a collection of short stories, called FEN; which explores female hunger, agency, and the mythical personification of the house. (My favourite story was one where a house falls in love with a young woman).

Sisters is Johnson’s second novel; and, you know, second novels are interesting. I could write an essay on the sensibilities and effectiveness of second novels. Pride and Prejudice was Austen’s second novel. Giovanni’s Room was Baldwin’s second novel. It can crumble critically (there’s a reason you haven’t read of The Autograph Man) or become an author’s best known work (see note about Austen and Baldwin) I’m can’t make claims on Johnson’s second, because I haven’t read her first, but I can tell you that it’s a short book (under 200 pages) that left me feeling a dizzying sense of creep and eeriness.

The story follows a teenage girl named July as she moves into a haunted house with her sister September and their mother. They are running away from a past they don’t want to confront. They are sustained by an obscured veil of grief, trauma and isolation. I read this in two sittings, because the writing twirls on the page. You can’t look away. This is a story about sibling-love; the obsession, the jealousy, the violence, the hunger. It weaves in the affect of motherhood and depression, first-romances and the loss of innocence.

Johnson has this interesting obsession with the body and the house. I wonder whether it’s some comment she wants to make about historical attachments between the female body to the home, to domesticity. How up until the last few decades ago, a woman and her place was in the house. The house has this symbolism of the female body; traditional notions of motherhood, and of a woman’s mandatory trajectory towards that goal of sheltering people from home.

If, like me, you’re interested in what it means to love too great, too harsh, too violently, read this one. 

Where to visit:

White Rabbit Gallery

AND NOW (The second decade of the White Rabbit Gallery)
Curator: David Williams

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The title of the work, ‘100 Years of Repose’, comes from the first line of The Great Wall Will Never Fall. The theme song for the popular 1980s television series, The Legendary Fok, which was based on the life of ‘Huo Yuanjia’ – a legendary martial arts master of the late Qing Dynasty. The first line of the song reads “The Chinese people have been sleeping for 100 years. It’s time to wake up.” On the choice of title, Yu Hong says; “I chose ‘One Hundred Years of Repose’ because the television series suggested that in the 1980s – [thanks to the economic reform policies of Deng Xiaoping]- the Chinese people were finally waking up from a long sleep and stepping up onto the world stage. In 2011, when I painted this work, China was close to becoming the second largest economy in the world, but for me, China had not woken up at all. China was, and still is, asleep.” ​ ​ ​AND NOW is open today from 10am-5pm. As your safety is our main priority, we kindly ask for your understanding on new visiting procedures. Mandatory check in on arrival, no groups, no tours. Guests will be greeted on arrival and updated of visiting procedures. The exhibition has been extended to January 2021, so there is still plenty of time to visit! Thank you in advance for your patience! ​ ​ ​Yu Hong, One Hundred Years of Repose, 2011, golf leaf, acrylic on canvas, 418x600cm

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Lucky me, I live a jolly five-minute walk from this Sydney institution. But even if I lived across the bridge or somewhere that requires me to drive a substantial number of hours to get there, this 11-year old art establishment is worth the transit effort. 

I’ve always thought of art galleries (good ones) as secular cathedrals; spaces where I can meditate on what it means to be a human being and be gently nudged by images and sounds that make me question new ways of moving through the world.

If you don’t know, The White Rabbit Gallery exhibits a range of Chinese contemporary art and this latest exhibit opens with a wall-to-wall-mural-cum-figuresscape of Chinese bodies, rested against a wall, limbs flushed with exhaustion. They lie against a backdrop of illuminating golden paint. These ordinary figures look like priests or saints, minus the halos, monk-robes and palms clasped together. The walls of the gallery, normally various iterations of white, beige, grey; are now black; the lights are dimmed. Curator David Williams has created a space that wants to enclose you inside a cave, timeless, world-less. Lift your gaze from this opening piece to another monumental site on the adjacent wall and you are faced with a giant nude of a gorgeous Chinese elderly woman, whose grace and tenderness reminded me of my late grandmother.

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Let’s get to know the artists in our current exhibition AND NOW! ​Next up, a pivotal artist in Chinese contemporary art and a critical figure in video art worldwide, ZHANG PEILI ​ Zhang Peili graduated from the Oil Painting Department at the Zhejiang Academy of Art (Now China Academy of Art) in 1984, participated in the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition in 1989 and has exhibited in the Venice Biennale three times – 1999, 2003 and 2009. Whilst consistently pioneering artistic trends and at the forefront of the avant-garde, Zhang’s true significance comes from his role as an agitator. His position was established through sustained scepticism and questioning of new movements, philosophies and art market politics. Zhang Peili was a central character in the 85 New Wave movement, helping found the Pond Society collective which advocated a more rational style of painting, stripped of the sentimentality that categorised much of the painting during this period. In the early 90s, when Chinese painting started to become a commodity collected internationally, Zhang moved definitively to video production, simultaneously pushing the medium and staying loyal to his belief in art independent of commercial value. ​’The Endless Walkway’ is included in our current exhibition AND NOW. In ‘The Endless Walkway’, 14 transparent, white lace flags, operated by individual motors, shift up and down, to create a corridor that leads the viewer towards a video monitor. While Zhang prefers to leave his artworks open to interpretation, the core of ‘The Endless Walkway’ seeks to articulate the correlation between societal tragedies and vested political interests. ​ ​Images and Information courtesy of the Artist and the White Rabbit Collection @whiterabbitcollection_dangrove ​ ​ ​ ​Image 1: Artist Portrait ​Images 2-4, Video 5: In Current Exhibition: The Endless Walkway, 2016, Lace flags, electric motors, control system, steel, LCD monitor, 350 x 600 x 3200 cm Video 6: Happiness, 2006, 2-channel video (colour, sound), 6 min ​Video 7: Last Words, 2003, video (colour, sound), 5 min 32 sec

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Ascend the second and third floor for a shift in colours, tones and textures. Don’t miss my favourite piece; an installation by Zhang Peili called ‘The Endless Walkway’ – a series of semi-transparent white flags spread shoulder-length apart, rising and falling like an assembly line of bleachers at a football match. The flags are hung on black poles churned by individual motors – the soft thrum of moving machinery adds to the haunting nature of this piece.

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Zhang Peili’s installation ‘The Endless Walkway’ consists of a series of semi-transparent national flags made from white lace. The countries represented in the work were chosen due to the various contradictions and conflicts lying between them, which ensure they are always in the news. The 14 countries are Afghanistan, North Korea, Germany, Russia, France, United Nations, United States, Japan, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Israel, India, and China. Zhang Peili chose lace, he says, because they suggest a ‘dissolving’ of their political nature and the sometimes-antagonistic relationships between the nations represented. He sees their white colour as apolitical – but of course, a white flag also implies surrender. Operated by motors, they are continuously raised and lowered, and this activated ‘walkway’ leads the viewer towards a video monitor. The 17-minute video is a compilation of scenic stock images from around the world, depicting coveted tourism destinations, various places of natural beauty and a number of locations of religious, spiritual and cultural significance ​ ​⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ AND NOW is open today from 10am-5pm. As your safety is our main priority, we kindly ask for your understanding on new visiting procedures. Mandatory check in on arrival, no groups, no tours. Guests will be greeted on arrival and updated of visiting procedures. The exhibition has been extended to January 2021, so there is still plenty of time to visit! Thank you in advance for your patience! ​ ​⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Zhang Peili, The Endless Doorway, 2016, mechanical device, lace flags, electromotor, liquid crystal display, controller, iron pole, dimensions variable

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It’s forecast to be raining all weekend, so head to this galley for a cozy afternoon. It closes 2 August 2020 so don’t miss out. Watch your social distancing: My friends and I were asked several times by the gallery staff to keep our distance while we roamed the gallery. (And wear a mask!) 

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