Year to date: creatures, yarns, talks and field notes

After summer’s long tail autumn has settled in, and the view from my office is the best it gets all year. It’s been a busy start to the year. All the usual academic things have collided with events, conferences, deadlines, and let alone everything that was deferred, and deferred, because of COVID.

Here are a few highlights so far:

I’ve set up a new blog, Flat City Field Notes, to address in some small way the big gaps in performing arts criticism here in Ōtautahi Christchurch. So far it’s a mix of solicited reviews, unsolicited reviews, and general responses / reflections, with a growing group of contributors. I’m just throwing things to see what sticks, so let’s see what happens with it.

It was a privilege to review the tv edit of the doco When A City Rises, the sequel to When A City Falls, for The Spinoff, to mark the 10th anniversary of the February 2011 earthquakes. I won’t lie though – it messed with my head. Like many Cantabrians I found the commemorations, and the significant increase in retrospective (and often graphic) coverage, to be a pretty rough ride. Hard work in the first week of term, too!

Thanks to City Gallery Wellington I flew up to their Tuatara Open Late event in March, celebrating the opening of multidisciplinary artist Marianna Simnett’s terrific show CREATURE. Part of this was an episode(?) of novelist Pip Adam’s regular event Book Club, where I joined poet / artist Sam Duckor-Jones and poet Rebecca Hawkes in talking about the film Under the Skin, Charlie Fox’s collection of essays on monsters and graphic novelist Tara Black’s fascinating book This Is Not a Pipe . (You can listen to Pip’s excellent podcast on reading and writing, Better Off Read, here.)

I also gave an illustrated talk – lots of chat with pretty pictures – called Bodily Exchanges: Blondes Beasts and Body Swaps. You can read the text (with nice pictures) on the gallery’s blog; part one is here and part two is here. I have a piece about the show, called Creature Discomfort, coming out in the magazine Art News New Zealand in the next few weeks.

From Marianna Simnett, “Blood in my Milk” (2018)

Tara also illustrated the session; I’ve now got the hard copy of her account of my talk framed at home. Who needs citations when you have amazing doodles.

It’s been lovely to be invited back to live performances / recordings of Feminist Yarns with Kathleen Burns. The last episode, with comedian Audrey Porne and Māori and Indigenous Studies academic (and my colleague) Jess Maclean isn’t uploaded yet, but I hope it is soon as it got a bit fiery when an audience member kept making unsolicited comments.

I reviewed the first few episodes of season four of The Handmaid’s Tale for The Conversation, and had that particular sense of academic ennui when a popular press article gets literally fifty times more eyeballs that scholarship you spend months on! It was fun to write up, although less fun to watch, as I feel kinda gross about the way the show seems to luxuriate in images and stories abuse. It leans hard into an almost retro ‘torture porn’ aesthetic for a few episodes, and I hope it finds something more interesting to do soon.

The collection Women Make Horror is being nominated for and winning awards, and so it should – it’s terrific. I contributed a chapter on horror anthologies and gender, looking in part at XX and how its interesting content is undermined by its girly girl pinky pink promo material.

The next few months look a little less frenetic, and I’m looking forward to completing research that’s hovering in the ‘pending’ pile, moving onto a couple of bigger projects, and beginning to explore some online archives that might (perhaps?) inform some future work. Winter is coming, and that means more nights in watching films with my new research assistant. Introducing, Louis Prima:

Mā te wā!

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