Sunday, 26 June 2022

A Riddle

'What is the Answer?' F. E. Outerbridge cover design for the magazine 'Judge', Volume LXVII, 11th July, 1914
This week I did in jest wonder aloud about a theme I am eminently unqualified to speak over at the home of sidebar resident and Comments Department habitué, Britta, viz. Cultural Appropriation and whether embracing Biedermeier furniture to one's heart when one is neither German nor living in the early nineteenth century is such a Crime? Can Cultural Appropriation be also applied to Home Furnishings, or, when you're hauled before the bench, will your criminal barrister be only probing into your hobbies, dress, hairstyles and penchant for parleying in patois when you've had too much rum punch? As I say, Your Correspondent is merely talking out of her (cloche) hat if allowed to expound on such subjects and will thereby desist but, instead, leave you with a Riddle:

What mysterious form of denounced cultural appropriation, marked [?] below, lies in the path of the latest instance of competitive offendedness?

To some extent, the denunciation of [?] is simply a function of the culture of competitive offendedness that plays so large a role in the culture of the well-to-do these days.  One of the best ways to outflank your fellow members of the comfortable classes, whether the rivalry is merely everyday one-upsmanship or aims at higher stakes, is to show that you’re more easily offended by invisible injustices than anyone else*. 

Answer: Tarot cards!

* From Archdruid John Michael Greer's Ecosophia blogpost, "Rice and Beans in the Outer Darkness".


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


Monday, 13 June 2022

Public Enemies Series: Darling v Wentworth


He is the kind of opponent who would stab you in front of your face and then stab you in the chest when your back is turned.

Sir Boyle Roche, C18th Irish Bull Perpetrator & MP

Nota bene: A Lesson follows, Dear Reader, so avert your gaze if your Queen's Birthday public holiday is typically free from such chores! 

Is there not something strangely appealing about eavesdropping on a public spat between two people you don't know? Be they politicians, for it is/was Election Time in this neck o' the woods*, or other figures of fun, with The Press aiding & abetting, it's a peculiar pastime. From the sidelines, complete strangers' perceived merits and faults are chewed over, sides are taken and relish is had in this chewing over of tidbits; there's always a warm welcome in the Court of Public Opinion! 

Never let it be said Your Correspondent, too, can't oblige to furnish you with a salacious anecdote or two about warring men from history's stage or, in this case today, just how far one will go in his condemnation of another. But, as I'd teased you with this promise of more shenanigans after glimpsing the raw emotion betwixt Colonial Australian Bigwigs and Public Enemies viz. Darling v Wentworth what, more than a year ago? [For shame!], you must feel ol' Pipistrello is herself behaving like a common politician with these unfulfilled promises promises ... 

Enough of the twittering and let's off to pick over the carcass!

General Sir Ralph Darling watercolour miniature, Henry Edridge, circa 1805
Miniature view of Tyrant Darling in his Youth,
Determinedly looking one way ...

A handy reminder of our Lesson 18-months ago: In one corner we have the British Sir Ralph Darling, who had from 1825 been the Tory-appointed Governor of the fledging New South Wales colony for a term. He swept through like a new broom, tidying up the Augean stables of corruption and bristled with Christian dourness and military humourlessness and other such kinds of disagreeableness, and thus earned through his martinet ways the moniker Tyrant.

William Charles Wentworth bronze bust by Terrance Plowright adorning Wentworth Falls railway station
... Bronze bust of Hero Wentworth in his Prime,
Looking t'other.

In the other corner we have first-generation Australian William Charles Wentworth, in a sense a Renaissance Man, with his bow stringed with such titles as explorer, barrister, newspaper founder and free-speaking champion of the emancipist and whatnot. Wentworth loathed Darling and constantly pilloried and derided him through his press and attempted to have him impeached. Naturally enough, this earned Wentworth the adoration of the grottier end of town and he was proclaimed Hero**. 

The Hooghley, circa 1840

And so it went for six years. Wentworth and his cronies chafed loudly and stridently through the press, whilst Darling fought back with endless libel cases, gave no concessions to the radicals and chided them with preferencing instead the upright citizenry. Eventually, Darling's so-called Reign of Terror was over, although not quite as a disgraceful recall as the pro-Wentworth camp liked to depict, and he was due to sail back to England onboard the Hooghley on the 22nd of October, 1831. 

The Hobart Town Courier opined of Wentworth & Chums in the fortnight prior, "Now that the General is really going they might we think allow him to take his departure peaceably and quietly and not harass him to the last like a parcel of yelping curs at the heels of a horseman." Alas, spoiler alert!, not to be.

Vaucluse Bay, painting by George Edwards Peacock, circa 1846-50
Vaucluse Bay, circa 1840s
The Gothic Revival Vaucluse House then sat on 515 acres.
Plenty big enough to host the Fête Champêtre of the Decade!

Imagine the glee of the "smutched crew" known as the Rabble of Sydney-town, as The Sydney Gazette and N.S.W. Advertiser - alleged peddler of inane twaddle and fulsome flattery of Government officials - so quaintly put it, upon perusing The Sydney Monitor, their scurrilous and polemical newspaper of choice, on the Wednesday morn prior when their eyes seize upon an open invitation that very day to a mighty Fête Champêtre at Vaucluse, the house of the people's Hero, to celebrate the departure of the outgoing Tyrant, whose good ship Hooghley was lying in Watson's Bay at the foot of Hero's mansion house, awaiting Saturday's fair winds.

The Fête Champêtre by Dirck Hals, 1627
How one might picture a civilised Garden Party at Vaucluse to look.

An ox, which had with great anticipatory fanfare been processed through the streets of Sydney the day before decked with ribbons, and a further half-a-dozen sheep were promised for roasting, as were "copious libations", entertainments galore and fireworks at this joyful event and with the p.s. that they must pack their own knives and tumblers and horse tethers if so lucky to own such transport, all decide (someone else's) wild horses could not keep them from this stupendous event and so clear the diary for the day and set about hoofing it out to Vaucluse with a ribbon in their hat, as per instructions.

Peasants Carousing, painting by Jan Miense Molenaer, 1662
But carousing peasants might better fit the picture?

Of an immigrant population then of 51,155, an estimated 4,000 carousers trudged and rode in every possible conveyance along the South Head-road to and fro Mr. Wentworth's house from morning till night, the last revellers straggling home the following dawn. While the select group of VIPs supped and imbibed within the sanctuary of the house, on the lawns the Rabble set upon the roasted beasts with their knives after elbowing aside the appointed carvers, devoured thousands of loaves, and drank generously from the bung-hole of the supplied Cooper's gin-cask and Wright's strong beer***. 

Drunk Monkeys peel & stick wallpaper can be yours to purchase from Astek Home
Some party stragglers, perhaps,
Thinking up a bit more fun?

Replete, lubricated and high-spirited, the crowd hoisted aloft and processed about the grounds the Hero and other grandees, lofty speeches were made and cheered, a band played and songs were sung, rustic sports and games played and a jolly good time was had by all. Later, bonfires were lit on the hill above and illuminations struck bearing the slogans "God Save The King" and "Down With The Tyrant" were reputed to be seen from across the town through the night. It was a splendid affair and Mr. Wentworth could not have planned a better party to tap into the sentiments of the victory camp in the battle of wills between the two adversaries.

The following night more illuminations were struck in the windows of partisan establishments and elaborate painted and lamp-lit transparencies depicting Darling in derogatory and degrading tones, shall we say, entertained passersby with their busy satirical details. But Sydney-town was also abuzz with a titillating coda to Mr. Wentworth's Fête: a small band of tippled youthful revellers absconded with the beribboned skull from the roasted ox and rowed out on one of the party boats moored in the bay at Vaucluse to the Hooghley, brandished it aloft at the sailors on duty and cheering lustily, "Down with the Tyrant!" tossed the skull into the bay with a harumph. And rowed away with much merriment.

Unbeknownst to the youths, the good Mrs. Darling and a Miss Darling were below deck on the Hooghley, inspecting their quarters before sailing on Saturday, and although apparently not direct witness to the insult to their Loved One, a great feast was subsequently made in the warring presses over the Incident. One camp cried, "Heinous Crime!", the other, "Innocent Exuberance!" &c. &c.

When Governor Darling quit Government House for the last time with a solemn gathering of Good Citizens lining his passage to the jetty and following his tender to the Hooghley, the pro-Wentworth opinion pieces declared the showing to be merely a reluctant and desultory populace who mistakenly felt they needed to repair any wounded feelings of the Darling Ladies, and if it weren't for the high-jinks of the Youths, of which No Apology Was Necessary, no soul beyond any Darling sycophant would have turned out to witness his departure. And then went to great lengths to "advise" the incoming Governor that the Press can make or break a ruler, having now drummed Darling out of town, and if he wanted their support he would need to operate from a sanctioned playbook.

The Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser, by contrast, in summing up with glowing terms the respectable and warm send off after the "Vaucluse farce" and "dastardly insults" earlier in the week, sympathised with Darling as having descended from his unenviable post as Governor, "without sufficient to remind him that Botany Bay has not yet entirely lost the peculiarities of its character." Unfortunately, the fair winds of Saturday failed to materialise so it took two hours to tow the Hooghley through Sydney Harbour out to open water, thus the Darlings had, as their last view of Sydney, the indignity of a long and lingering close look at Vaucluse.

More illuminations that evening with "Away Ye Despot!", "He's Off!", "Liberty to the Press Unfettered by the Darling Necklace!", & "Thank God!" &c. &c. echoed the jubilation as the Hooghley and Governor Darling receded over the horizon and away from these shores forever.

Naturally, the gleeful taking of sides continued as the fallout from Darling v Wentworth spread years later. In February 1836, upon news from England that Darling had all the Wentworth-promoted charges cleared against his name as both a Governor and a Gentleman, a Correspondent to The Sydney Herald remarked, 

The result of the appointment of a committee of the House of Commons [and a Whig committee, to boot], to enquire into the charges preferred against that much calumniated officer - General Darling - although it is merely confirmatory of the anticipations of the friends of good government in this Colony, must be felt as a stunning blow by the Convict faction who have for years continued to heap obloquy on the name of the only Governor since the foundation of the Colony, who had firmness enough to keep them in their proper places, and to condemn the popularity which could only be acquired by truckling to the very dregs of society.

And reinforced this, ahem, temperate view with the charge,

... the 'acclamations', of which so much has been said and written, [and here sit I, 200 years later, guilty as charged!] were confined to a mere handful of the scum of Sydney, whose exultation at His Excellency's embarkation for Europe ought to be viewed as one of the very strongest manifestations that could be afforded of the fitness of the measures adopted by him for the coercive government of the villainous class to which they belong.

This charmingly-put critique of the character of the colourful class was followed by a further Correspondent who quoted the good moralist Samuel Johnson's words on confusing Patriotism with Populism and set the new Governor Bourke to task for promoting Wentworth to the magistracy on the very same day as his persecutee was exonerated from the dastardly charges!

Darling thusly retired from the scene and since History is always written by the Victors, especially when they influence the Press, he is much maligned in the pages of Australia's Colonial History, notwithstanding his name peppering our maps. Wentworth, meanwhile, went to further and greater heights as a statesman and Man of Influence among the new breed of Australian-born citizens, and was arguably the most famous man in the country at the time of his death and was afforded the Colony's first State Funeral. He even looms large today in the lives of the Pipistrellos, as we reside in the Electorate of Wentworth. In the final wash up of public enemies Darling v Wentworth, it would appear that there was indeed no limit to how far one man would go.

And so endeth The Lesson.




* Not to mention, of course, Mr. P, as a dual Italian-Australian citizen living in the electorate of, ahem, 'Africa Asia Oceania & Antarctica', this week also performed his civic duty and voted in the thrilling Italian referendum with regard to the Severino Law! For the oh so curious, there are merely 2 elected representatives in this wholly manageable and Romanesquely-diverse electorate, one each in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic, both of whom presently are dual Australian citizens. Somehow this situation smacks of electoral shenanigans to me.

** Obv., there is much more to this story but, like a modern-era history lesson, you'll only be getting the barest of headlines and, anyways, I've taken sides in this story, as is proper, and I'm in the Darling camp and this tale is thus duly censored.

*** Extract from a poem in The Sydney Gazette and N.S.W. Advertiser, 21st September, 1830:
Hark'ee, friend, leave off that moan,
Persuading us you're all alone!!!
Brush up your hair, smooth down your chin,
Then take a vack of Cooper's gin!!
If for your purse that is too dear,
Then sip of Wright's Australian beer.

 

Image credits: 1, 3: Flying With Hands; 2: Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences; 4: State Library, South Australia 5: Vaucluse House Collection, 5: Rijksmuseum; 6: Museum of Fine Art, Boston 7: Astek Home Wallpaper



Friday, 6 May 2022

Kunstkamer: An Extravaganza

De Rariteitkamer van Levinus Vincent, Gerrit Rademaker drawing 1680 - 1711
The stage is set for a Cabinet of Curiosities

I can tell you how I felt, Dear Reader, about our night out this week at the Sydney Opera House to watch The Australian Ballet's performance of Kunstkamer. Overwhelmed. Stunned. Captivated. When I thought at one point it was finishing I was bereft it was nearly over. Then I was overjoyed when it kept going. And we joined in rapturous applause with the rest of the audience when it did finish.

But how does one go about describing the sensory extravaganza that is the treasured gem of Nederlands Dans Theater? Others have described it as "monumental", "a beautiful monster", "an experience of dance on another frequency", "an expression of the endless possibilities that exist at the intersection of art and science." 

Geboorte van Christus sculptures (anon.), c. 1850-1900
Flights of fancy

To start somewhere is to say that its eighteen component parts are the brainchildren of four renowned choreographers whose imaginations have taken flight - Sol León, Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke. But that's no help. 

Portrait of Albertus Seba, Jacob Houbraken, after Jan Maurits Quinkhard, engraving 1731 - 1780
Albertus Seba considers his Curiosities
and inspires a Ballet

Next, that the whole, Kunstkamer, literally Art Room, is inspired by the 18th-century book by Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, and Maria Sybilla Merian's C18th scientific illustrations of the natural world, and is reflected in the stage set of a dark grey contemporaneous gallery space wherein these images and objets might have once been housed by eccentric collectors. Again, you are none the wiser.

Bloemenrand met insecten, Maria Sibylla Merian etching 1657 - 1717
O, the Natural World as seen by Maria Sybilla Merian

How about enumerating the roll call of composers from whose works were plucked extracts from operas, symphonies, polkas, even recordings: Ludwig von Beethoven to Ólafur Arnalds, via Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten, Christoph W. Gluck and Joby Talbot, Johann Strauss Jr and Arvo Pärt, Franz Schubert and ... Janis Joplin.

It then needs to be said that showcased against the luscious backdrop of the gorgeous music, which includes piano, violin and tambourine (!) solos, is contemporary dance exquisitely and precisely executed, gracefully and movingly alongside spoken words, singing (!!) and even film, with costumes elegant and sleek.

Finally, that The Australian Ballet is the first dance company to be entrusted with staging it outside of The Netherlands goes some way to indicate how rare a treat it is to have seen it, with pieces danced variously by the full ensemble, solos and pas de deux, and David Hallberg taking to the stage for the first time since becoming Artistic Director to dance the rôle of the spirit or caretaker, or ghost, of the Kunstkamer.

Rariteitenkabinet, Jacob van der Schley etching 1725 - 1779
Oddities and wonders in order

While none of this can even hint at what kind of ballet should be expected, it does indicate its extraordinary ambition. And, like a Cabinet of Curiosities, Kunstkamer's discrete and disparate choreographies are each beautiful and sometimes strange, hinting at art and science and nature and all belonging together. And altogether rather mysterious. And fabulous.

The Phoenix, Cornelis Troost oil on canvas 1720 - 1750
A fabulous Phoenix



So what did see? 

Glimpsed through the kaleidoscope I saw Mandelbrot sets and fractals emerging from the chaos; DNA strands zipping and unzipping; swimmers in a pool; murmurations of starlings; tableaux vivants à la Delacroix's Liberty; Courtly dancing; puppets and paper cutout animation; moths and butterflies, both fluttering and pinned in their collection drawers; the slightly fast-motion of early silent film; preening and courting birds, and maybe even a phoenix.

But that's just me.

I see Murmurating Starlings
Merlyn Chesterman woodcut

Image credits: 1-6: Rijksmuseum; 7: MerlynChesterman.com


Bats In The Belfry