The (100) things that sustain us

I’ve followed Austin Kleon’s blog for a while now, and have a copy of his book Steal like an Artist, which even made my 2012 Book of the Year Final Lists, on my stack of references for core texts about remaining creative.

This week, he released his exhaustive (and exhausting!) list of things that sustained him through the wild, pandemic year of 2020′ 100 Things that Made My Year. It includes things like making collages, re-mixing Peanuts comics, making music with his family and the black-out poetry that first grabbed my attention about his work.

It inspired me to think freshly about the things I enjoyed and sustained me through a challenging year. I often do summary kinds of lists of the year (the year in numbers) and, of course, my favourite books and music of the year, but Kleon’s eccentric, introspective list made me think again about those almost invisible things that makes life livable.

One of the ones in my 100, if I can manage that many, is living by the sea. There’s something about being able to walk to the edge of something, to find that thing that borders and shapes and defines and restores.

Now, for the next 99!

Bay Textures (another water)

Locked down, and perhaps about to be locked down even more securely, it seems more important than ever to focus on what’s right in front of you. As Victoria struggles to bring down the number of Coronavirus cases I’m grateful that I can still walk by the seaside and, through my mask, take in the shape of the world.

I’ve always been interested in the look of water from above; looking down into it from Avon, impenetrable mostly. I saw an exhibition of Roni Horn’s photography and bought a copy of Another Water, photographs looking down into the Thames.

Another Water (Roni Horn)
[no title] 1999 Roni Horn born 1955 Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the American Acquisitions Committee 2005, accessioned 2008

My little vignettes were taken on an afternoon walk near Mornington Pier this week after work. It was a beautiful winter day with so much to look at, but on this walk it was the textures on the water that attracted my interest: the differences between the two sides of the pier, the little swirls and swells of energy pulsing across the shallow sand, the sense of depth and cold with even the sun swirling on the water. I suggest watching them full-scree, on repeat! Shut out today’s news.

Self isolating

How strange it feels to be in the world at this moment. When even the most common and human interactions are frowned upon, or outright banned.

Thank goodness for the writers and artists who I can still connect with online, and for being allowed, still, to have a walk in the world once a day.

And, grateful to live where I can walk to the sea. Especially now.

A Place in the Country


So, it was back to WG Sebald this week and another book, A Place in the Country. You don’t have to have read this blog the very long to know that I’m a big fan of Sebald, so anything new, after his tragic early demise, is a bonus.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new novel, the but does Sebald even write novels anyway? They describe this book as ‘fusing biography essay, and finding, as ever, inspiration in place.’ In this text Seebaldt reflects on six of the figures who shaped him as a person and as a writer, including Rousseau, Robert Walser and Jan Peter Tripp

Like all good books, this one had me scurrying to the internet to find more about the people I was reading about, and sent me to some bookstores to order more books. I known about Rosseau and his terrible exible, but much of this text especially around Keller and Robert Walser was new to me.

But just as important for me was the way this text opened up new windows and new insight into Sebald’s own work. When talking about Robert Walsler Sebald writes: ‘I slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time … Walsler’s long walks with my own travels, dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history and history about industries…’ Sebald depicts artists, like himself, who have an interest in locality and exile. Sebald is fascinated by those who, like himself, devote their lives to literature, ‘the hapless writers trapped in a web of words’ who, in spite of everything, nevertheless ‘sometime succeed an opening up vistas of such beauty and intensity a life itself is scarcely able to provide’.

Place matters intensely for me too, but also very the ordinary detail of life that appeals to Sebald: the mundane, minute details of beauty and sadness are also here.


2013-07-14 12.41.02 2013-07-14 12.43.41 2013-07-14 12.43.54

I called in to the ‘Nest’ exhibition at the McLelland Gallery near Frankston this weekend, and was glad I did. It was a bit wet for a real walk around the sculpture garden, but the ‘Nest’ exhibition was good enough by itself.

It consisted of two parts: “Nests: the art of birds”, curated by Dr Janine Burke, which describes itself this way:

What are nests if not art created by nature? Guest curator Dr Janine Burke has devised an exhibition which explores the beauty, ingenuity and originality of birds’ nests – from magpies to honeyeaters, from chaffinches to parrots, from hummingbirds to African weavers. Sourced from the collections of Museum Victoria and from the private collection of Gay Bilson, these exquisite constructions reveal the lives and habits of our closest wild neighbours. They tell the story of birds’ survival and adaptation to our ecologically fragile planet.

Nest displays the architectural skill of birds, their consummate ability to make work that is both delicate and durable, as well as the astonishing array of materials they use. This exhibition invites audiences to connect with nature in a new way – observe nests in all their resourcefulness, diversity and elegance.

The actual nests are beautiful and diverse, sometimes haphazard looking as a pile of leaves, other times as precise as a piece of pottery. I loved one that was wrapped in silken spider web and lined like an elaborate cushion. They were presented in glass cases, labelled, like they were art. Which was the point I guess.

The accompanying exhibition is called ‘Air Born’ and is described as:

AIR BORN brings together a vibrant collection of 19 contemporary artists’ work who through their varying artistic disciplines are inspired by birds, either as subject or who emulate through their work aspects of avian habitats and rituals.

Birds have played a vivid role in the conceptual and spiritual life of many cultures. AIR BORN inspires an exploration of these cultural traditions and symbology by unravelling varying ideas surrounding the bird and our interaction with them. The themes presented in these works traverse art and cultural history as well as ideas of adornment, volatility, migration, environment, place and identity.

My favourite piece here was John Wolseley’s larger watercolour. I’ve seen his work before, and have a copy of ‘Lines for Birds’, a collaboration between Wolseley and writer Barry Hill, which I also really enjoyed. There’s a short profile of Wolseley here.

I also grabbed a copy of Burke’s book Nest (Allen & Unwin, 2012) while I was there. It was a nice way to spend an hour or so and really interesting blend of the natural, the art and the written word.


Lines for Birds

I took the opportunity this morning to head into Melbourne on a beautiful Sunday morning for a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I haven’t been in the last couple of years, and good poetry seems to be in scant supply in this age of fashionable fiction, but the collaboration between poet Barry Hill and artist John Wolseley on a book about birds did appeal to me.

I wasn’t disappointed. Lines for Birds is a beautiful collaboration. The poet and artist spoke for about an hour, showing images from the book and reading poems. It was an odd and amusing double-act and one of those rare occasions when the poet sounded sensible and rational alongside the artist who was eccentric and somewhat rambling and ill at ease with the workings of the projector, but whose work shone with vividness and lucidity that occasionally elicited audible gasps from the small but appreciative audience.

And the poems were good too, mostly it seems following the artist’s vision and responding to the works of arts even more directly than they were responding to the birds. It was well worth the short journey in and great too to see the long lines of Melburnians waiting to hear Jonathan Franzen in another venue. Writing, it seems, is alive and well despite our uneasiness about the rise of the e-book.

And this lovely looking book, with its colour illustrations and beautiful use of white space, is not any time soon going to be replaced with a digital version. I bought a copy and was happy to have it signed and happy too enjoy the delicate little ink drawings Wolseley had put around the title page of some of the copies for sale.

I should add too that it was interesting to hear the artist talk about John Shaw Neilson and his poetry given that I’ve just been thinking about Neilson and his work and that I’d even quoted from one of Neilson’s poems about birds in the previous blog post and that was before I even knew about this session. Birds, landscape, poetry, art, they all ripple out and echo in together somehow at the moment.