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25 June 2017

Another Winter Festival

Dark Mofo finished last weekend – but that's not the only festival that brightens up a Tasmanian winter.


It was a chilly evening, but a large group of people turned out at Cornelian Bay for the Multicultural Council of Tasmania's celebration of Refugee Week. 

Earlier this month I spent two Sundays at the Red Cross office in Melville Street with a horde of enthusiastic lantern-making volunteers. 

Naomi, designer, instructor, and terrifyingly efficient person, managed to organise a motley crowd of all ages and levels of ability wielding strips of gaffer tape, five-metre lengths of cane, and various sharp implements in a confined space.

The following weekend we came back and worked with buckets and brushes of glue, grease-proof paper and lots of people milling around in the same confined space. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, somehow nobody ended up seriously injured or wallpapered to the ceiling, nobody put their foot in a bucket of water, and we succeeded in transforming cane and paper into five big lanterns – a leafy sea dragon, lighthouse, sea turtle, dove and pelican.

I've been looking forward to seeing them in action – and tonight it happened. Here are the pictures:

the choir

ready for the onslaught


the drummers

the dancers
so here's the lantern I worked on - with many other people, I hasten to add

and here are the rest of them

lit up - it's almost dark enough to see the pretty lights

Lucie Cutting, who did all the organising, opens proceedings
My camera doesn't have a lot of fancy settings, being the cheapest one I could buy (within reason) so I had to take an awful lot of photos to get these two. They're still not very good, but you get a bit of an idea.

oh look - the pelican again!
And last of all, this:


14 June 2017

DARK MOFO 2017 - I make my debut as a performer

Two Performances

Imagine. You are brought to an open field on the edge of an island on the edge of the Southern Ocean. In the centre of the field stand eight rows of black plastic chairs in a cleared rectangle of dark earth but you are not invited to sit. Your group, people you have never met, assembles in a semicircle around the chairs. It is long past midnight. The moon, just past its full, slides behind a dark cloud. You can hear waves breaking on the beach. Nobody speaks. You begin to wait.

Lights are bobbing across the field, approaching. A chant, distant on the breeze: “One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.” The voice calling cadence is cracked, the timing irregular. A cloud passes and sudden moonlight reveals a ragged column of people, four abreast, not shuffling, but not marching either; no-one could march to that uneven beat. The crowd parts to let them through and the caller falls silent. 

Quietly, people file in to occupy the chairs, and now you see they are old. Senior citizens in their night clothes, dark dressing gowns over regulation striped pyjamas, grey hair escaping from identical black beanies. Grandmothers and grandfathers dragged from their institutional beds to confront the Hour of the Wolf in a windswept field. Another cloud drifts across the moon as the lights go out. Waiting resumes.

There is a click, tentative. Another, hesitant. A third, then a rising clatter of percussive sound. Sparks flash between the ancient fingers. Seventy two pairs of wrinkled hands, seventy two pairs of quartz pebbles from the seashore rise and fall. A rhythm builds, accelerates, breaks apart, a new one forms. Light follows shadow as clouds obscure and reveal the waning moon. The clack of rock striking rock goes on, and on, relentless as the waves striking the beach. Patterns of light and sound are mesmerising, primal. The old folk are absorbed in their pointless occupation, striking sparks from stones. Minutes pass, become an hour.

A shock when the noise suddenly ceases. Carefully, reverently, the performers place their white stones on the dark soil in front of them, rise and file silently away. The caller resumes - “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four”; a better cadence this time. As the column vanishes into the darkness you are left with the moonlight and the ocean.

A passing speedboat shatters the mood.

It's winter again, and that means Dark MoFo, Hobart's feast of noise and light, of music, film, theatre, art exhibitions and amazing food. The performance on Bruny Island was Empty Ocean, Mike Parr's latest creation. I was one of the seventy two participants.

At MONA a new exhibition opened on Saturday – The Museum of Everything. It is a maze of gallery spaces chock full of sculpture and painting created by so-called “outsider” artists, by artists who are intent on expressing their opinions and emotions regardless of prevailing movements and fashions in contemporary art. Here are no self-conscious intellectuals rebelling against their art-school training; these artists are totally serious and sincere. For many of them theories of art, traditional art making materials and techniques, and often the entire “art world”, are simply irrelevant. Some don't even think of themselves as artists; they just make stuff. Like the best punk rock, it's often raw and confronting. Some pieces are incredibly beautiful; some so bad they're brilliant. All are fascinating, challenging and thought-provoking.

The entertainment at the opening must have followed this do-it-yourself aesthetic for I was invited to perform as part of Gunshy Polyphony, a group of seven singers. 

I am the old lady in the front pew who sings all the hymns very loudly, out of tune and probably in the wrong key, but today the emphasis was on dissonance. I can do that. We improvised vocal polyphonies while strolling around showing off the most fabulous luxury fake-fur coats from Melbourne designer Kathryn Jamieson. 

Her Gunshy label is attracting attention world wide and fans include Wutang Clan and Conchita Wurst. This collection certainly attracted attention on the MONA tennis court. Not me in the photo, I hasten to add – but I was lucky enough to wear this coat.

These two experiences could not have been more different. Those of you who are actors or performance artists no doubt take all this in your stride, but I am a visual artist. I spend my time locked away alone in the studio, only occasionally emerging to show myself at an exhibition of my paintings.

Performing in public is a new and exciting experience, not least the “dressing up” part. Kathryn's coats lift the spirits; they are so frivolous and extravagant they just made me happy. In one of her coats I could do anything – even sing! Getting into costume in the hall on Bruny Island had the opposite effect. I suddenly felt uncomfortably diminished, institutionalised; nobody is a hero in striped flannelette pyjamas.

Several of the performers were fellow members of the Hobart Walking Club. We are used to seeing each other with backpacks and stout boots, covered in mud and leeches, scrambling over rocks and logs half way up a mountain. Now we looked like a lot of non-descript geriatrics and I kept thinking of Art Spiegelman's famous graphic novel Maus. In fact, Mike Parr made a point of reminding us we were all born around the end of the Second World War, and referred to Nazi death marches. However, he also talked about positive things, like the significance of the number seventy two - it's Mike's age – and being a child playing games with his brother, striking sparks from pieces of flint. And he exhorted us to go out there proudly. We did. And it felt great.

08 June 2017

The Falls in Winter

Winter in Tasmania is THE BEST time to go walking; the days are short, but the sun shines and the sky is blue. There is a crispness in the air that makes you want to get out and stretch your legs.

Today's stroll from Bennetts Road to Kermandie Falls along the old Hartz Track certainly stretched everything.

Here is the walk description from the Hobart Walking Club circular:
This is the middle section of the historic Kermandie Track which goes from Geeveston to Hartz Peak. Damaged forestry roads have been a problem so our approach to this middle section ending at Kermandie Falls will be from Bennetts Road going downhill to the falls. When we are feeling weary, we will return uphill to the cars. The track goes through magnificent forest with mosses, fungi and even lyrebirds. The final kilometre of the track has a number of fallen trees to negotiate but the forests and the falls make it all worthwhile.

Every word of it is true, right down to the lyrebirds - not only spotted crossing the road as we drove into the forest, but keeping us entertained with a rich variety of melodious calls.

plunging into the forest from Bennetts Road

Many of the logs we encountered had been cut nicely - but many more had not. For some reason every photograph I took of people climbing over logs had a bad case of camera wobble, so you'll just have to believe me when I tell you much of the walk consisted of crawling under or scrambling over fallen logs of varying degrees of slipperiness and complexity.

A stretch of cutting grass and mud

Some very soggy button grass

there's still ice on the water . . .

and frost on the button grass where the sun has only just reached it

We are back in the forest

out of the creek and over a log

late in the season, but a bit of Climbing Heath (Prionotes Cerenthoides) is still hanging in there

morning tea

I believe there was once a tramway for hauling logs through here

Here and there a huge stump still shows a scarf cut by early twentieth century loggers

this stump has built itself a palisade

for the fungi lovers

Leaving the main track, we plunge off down a steep slope to the falls. Lots of tree roots to slip on, plenty of things to scramble over, under and through.

Towards the bottom an even steeper, slippery track along the side of a deep, dark gully brings us to our destination.

lunch at Kermandie Falls

tangled logs at the foot of the falls

Terrifying to imagine the force that swept these logs into the valley.

Having lunched, we retraced our steps. Up the hills, over and under the logs, across the creeks, through the mud . . .

emerging from the forest - afternoon sun on the button grass

Hartz Peak

It was a welcome sight - our cars waiting for us at the end of the track. And the afternoon sun showed traces of snow still lingering on Hartz Peak.

What a wonderful winter walk. Now for a long, hot bath with lots of scented bubbly stuff and a good book.

23 January 2017


My exhibition Excursions and Adventures at Freehand Gallery has proved so popular the gallery is keeping it up for another week. They're open every day until next Sunday, 29th January 2017, so you haven't missed your chance to see this painting before it goes off to its new home:

Bandwagon; 77 cm x 102 cm; oil on canvas
And you can admire this one (it's still available):

Eyes Of The Forest 76 cm x 60 cm oil on canvas  

Freehand Gallery, 212 Elizabeth St., Hobart, Tasmania
open daily. Exhibition finishes close of business Sunday 29 January 2017

gallery website:

Interview with the Artist

 "Elizabeth Barsham paints incredible scenes combining familiar Tasmanian landscapes with parades of fantastical creatures. ABC Producer Joel Rheinberger asked her when she first put brush to paper"


14 January 2017

Excursions and Adventures 

Friday 13th – the only date to open an exhibition of new Tasmanian Gothic paintings.
I'm pleased to say the evening went very well; lots of friendly people and some nice red dots

Exhibition title: Excursions and Adventures
Many thanks to Comrad Xero, musician, songwriter and all-round talented person, in this instance an apparently disembodied voice emanating from beneath a dark veil, who spoke at the opening.

Several people have asked for a transcript and the author has kindly sent me a copy. Here it is.


When I think of Gothic, I think of those structures put up by late Middle Age builders - stone by stone. They enclosed a space yet to become sacred - reaching for a better Eternity. Here are dark and mysterious recesses. Here are Crypts. Here, the underworld of these spaces hold their own significance. These spaces are transformative - all sort of creatures live here.

When I think of Gothic, I think of Percy B. Shelly and his crowd, sitting around a fire telling horrifying tales of ‘different possibilities’ - of resurrections. Hearts beating in anticipation of the coming next word - how will it drop? Conjuring visions that could lift you or slam you down.
I think of Percy Shelley facing off with the gale force winds of Italian beaches….

Oh, wild west wind,
thou breath of autumns’ being,
thou from whose unseen presence
the leaves, dead are driven,
like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing”
(Ode to the West Wind)

When I think of Gothic I think of Germany, of Caspar David Friedrich standing on that precipice, looking down into a sea of mist, fog and cloud - alone - high in the mountains - a solitary figure.

I think of early film noir - the silent film - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari where duality between the bright and dark sides of our nature is played. Where the sets and the lighting exaggerated the ‘chiaroscuro’ technique of the Mannerist period of art … adding ‘the unseen’ as an element.

I think of The Tale of Ruby Rose a film based on a Tasmanian story told by an old woman - Mrs. Miles of Mole Creek Valley. It is a tragic dark tale of a young woman living alone in a hut in the Highlands, waiting for her husband to come back - but he has died. She waited alone for four years. Four long years, alone, in this wilderness. The character Ruby, begins to create her own world, it comes out of her interaction with the landscape and its flora and fauna. She fears the night - ‘darkness is following me.’ She layers flour on her face to resist it.

All these artists, these builders, these film-makers, these writers create spaces for us to inhabit. Spaces where we find shelter from the mundanity of Consume - Work - Die.

When I think of Gothic, I think of musicians who take us there in an instant. The organist of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, one Ash Wednesday evening - who played the dirgiest music that filled that great stone enclosure with swirling sound leaving me in anticipation as if on a ledge - a precipice.
I think of music of bands like ‘Dead can Dance’ - ‘SPK’ - ‘The Sisters of Mercy' . . . 

Hey, now, hey now now now….sing this corrosion to me . . .

When I think of Gothic, I am slammed in the face with the spookiness that inhabits the Tasmanian Landscape. You may take a trip up Kunyani on a beautiful day, breathe in the cold sweet fresh air, stand there like Caspar David Friedrich - and take in the vista of human existence below. You may see Sisyphus coming up towards the summit, you may certainly feel that you have reached the realm of the Gods - but then, decide to go for a stroll from Thark Ridge to Devils Throne and never be seen again!

That dark blue of spaces, that jagged rock landscape, the hostility of a burnt out pine forest, where nothing grows there again naturally.

The isolation of the lonely places that shaped peoples' lives in the past and still continues to shape ours. Here, ironically, on this heart shaped Island a dark, eerie, cold and bracing history, climate and landscape, has infused our imaginations - and we do embrace that darkness, we know the clouds, the mists that hang heavy in the valleys, we know the colours of winter that pervade the recesses of the voids as we drive past them - we know spooky.

Elizabeth Barsham comes from this place,
this landscape,
this history,
this knowing.
Observing the details of this inheritance, Elizabeth creates unique works that interrogate the haunting and unusual aspects of this Landscape on this Island.

When I look at Elizabeth’s paintings, I feel like I have just woken up in a beautifully strange and a totally new world, where every detail, every object - needs to be investigated and rediscovered and where surprises flourish in abundance. Welcome to Tasmanian Gothic.

Written and delivered by Comrad Xero at the opening of
Excursions and Adventures”
an exhibition of paintings
by Elizabeth Barsham
Friday 13 January , 2017.
(World Goth Day) Exhibition ends 22 Jan.