24/02/2010 at 10:09 am 1 comment

This is another inspiring retrospective presented by Performance Space, looking back at the Sydney Art scene of a bygone era. William Yang gives an evocative spoken word and photographic history of his experiences emerging as an artist in the seventies and eighties; hanging out with the likes of Brett Whiteley, Rex Cramphorn, Jim Sharman, Robyn Nevin, Kate Fitzpatrick & Patrick White (among many others). A personal memoir of an era that heralded a certain coming of age for Sydney, as fringe fashion and alternative culture began to emerge into its own right. The gay community was making an indelible mark on Oxford St with the first festive Mardi Gras parades, as well as struggling with the impact of AIDS. Covering an eclectic range of parties, events and characters, Yang’s gentle nostalgic narration gives us a glimpse of an irreverent scene.

It almost seems innocent (discount the wild parties & drug abuse). The marvels of the digital era might open up accessibility to the craft; but at the same time, we are so media-conscious now that a photographer would scarcely gain access to the dinner parties of artists, actors and authors of world-renown. The tabloid economy rivals some small island nations so the privacy of our celebrities comes at a premium rate. As such insight of Yang’s lens bring a rarity of candid moments to complement a vital chapter in Sydney’s creative history.

It’s clear these people are not just creative contemporaries, but close friends. I’m not sure if there’s a modern parallel with which to compare. Undoubtedly the various fringe movements currently milling throughout Newtown and Chippendale have their own photographic records. So you can never tell when you’re having a photo taken at such a party if you’re grinning with the next Patrick White. I’m thinking of the dozens of snaps taken at events like Underbelly, This Is Not Art, or Imperial Panda gigs, where the people are relaxed enough so the photography is a social element. Here there is room for creative interpretation of the photo-medium, but if you look at freelance social photography in the papers it’s obsessively targeted toward nightclub owners and the F-Grade celebrities who flock to be seen with them. All terribly posed and formal and I can’t imagine the appeal but apparently it sells… but I digress.

While this journey glances on Yang’s photojournalist work, the real emphasis is on his relationships with the people. There are many anecdotes and tales of personal struggle, many corners to explore of this world as he follows the lives of more than a few seminal figures in art, theatre and literature. Contrast, colour, light and shadow appropriately reflect the triumphs and tragedy of a bygone era. Artists should find this fascinating as we can see into the lives of some of Australia’s greatest creators, some of who are familiar, others less so. While it’s always enigmatic looking into the visage of Whiteley – I loved the insight into the frantic art-making of one artist who had been given two weeks to live. This is work I’m unfamiliar with but the passion on display, the urgency is inspiring.

Nowadays we point, shoot and upload with the flick of a fingertip. Your snap is instantly on facebook and henceforth owned by the CIA (or whichever shady government organisation is behind that site). But none of these photos are taken for granted, it shows the care with which Yang has undertaken his craft that these stories can be told with humour and empathy. Like Mike Mullins’ presentation last week, it’s also a vital record for the new crop emerging through to see what came before. We need to cherish these stories.

William Yang: My Generation is at Carriageworks, Bay 20 until March 6

Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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