Diary: A creative May in Sydney

By Penny Craswell

May is becoming the most inspiring month of the year in Sydney. In addition to the light show at Vivid, which I attended over a number of chilly nights and have reviewed on another post, I have also attended a number of panels and talks this month (in fact within the space of one week) on topics from architecture and design through to writing, gender, television, photography, publishing and business.

View of Darling Harbour, Sydney from Good Design Forum. Photo: Penny Craswell

Using my tweets as a prompt I thought I would share some of the most inspirational moments in a kind of mini diary of creative inspiration.

(By the way, these were by no means the best events, just the ones that fit into my schedule and seemed interesting. I’d love to hear about the events you saw and found inspiring in the comments below.)

Event 1: Beyond Dukes and Damsels, Sydney Writer’s Festival
Date: 23 May
Participants: Jodi McAlister (chair), Literary Historian specialising in romance fiction | Kate Cuthbert, Managing Editor of Escape Publishing | Victoria Purman, author | Avril Tremeyne, author
General gist: A fascinating discussion about the way that gender roles have shifted over the years in romance fiction – from the traditional bodice-rippers to contemporary stories with women front and centre as agents in control of their own lives. Men’s roles have changed too, gaining new dimensions – they are no longer merely mysterious. According to one author, falling in love allows our heroes to learn something about themselves.
My tweets: “Heroes used to be inscrutable – not any more.” “What makes us different? Self deprecating humour – a special kind of Australian humour,” Victoria Purman.
My reflections: I didn’t realise the discussion would be focused on romance fiction only and I don’t read any, but was tempted to after this session. Much passion for the subject (of passion) was exhibited on stage and was infectious, plus they really got down to what makes characters tick – my favourite sort of fiction.

Event 2: The Golden Age of Television, Sydney Writer’s Festival
Date: 23 May
Participants: Benjamin Law (chair), writer and journalist | Shaun Micallef, comedian, actor, host of ABC TV’s Mad as Hell | Daniel Mendelsohn, TV critic New York Review of Books | Debra Oswald, television writer, head writer of Offspring
General gist: Television shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and House of Cards are so good now they are calling this the Golden Age of Television. This panel explored who is calling it the golden age of television, and what it’s like to be a writer contributing to it. The discussion ranged across good shows and bad, with some fascinating insights into what it’s like to write for television.
My tweets: “Everybody’s talking about television including the New York Review of Books.” “There’s a rather callous assumption that writers are interchangeable,” Shaun Micallef. “Plot versus plottiness – television critic Daniel Mendelsohn on why Season 3 often fails.”
My reflections: The life of a TV writer, or TV critic for that matter, sounds pretty amazing! Daniel Mendelsohn said that Game of Thrones was a feminist story, Debra Oswald revealed the competitive nature of writers in the writer’s room, counting the best reaction to lines, Shaun Micallef revealed he watches the Walking Dead, and also the Dick Van Dyke Show, with his son/s. He also revealed he is working on a sitcom – sounds intriguing.

Event 3: Game-Changers, Tyler Brûlè, Vivid Ideas
Date: 25 May
Participants: Tyler Brûlè, journalist, entrepreneur, founder and publisher, Monocle and Wallpaper magazines
General gist: What an inspirational man. He grew up in Winnipeg, Canada and arrived in London as a young journalist hungry for a challenge and not afraid to enter into dangerous territory on assignment, which led to him being shot in Kabul – a fascinating story and he told it so well. On the day he was shot he bought some outrageous ashtrays – he never did say what happened to them. Then he started talking about Wallpaper and Monocle, what an empire he has built, and gave some invaluable advice for media people or anyone in business for that matter.
My tweets: “Apartment design – are we designing for brochures or are we designing for living?” Tyler Brûlè. “Advice from Tyler Brûlè: trust your gut, don’t hire arseholes, it’s a global marketplace.” “We’re forgetting the value of what a city is supposed to be: about humanity which is dirt, noise, not sanitised,” Tyler Brûlè. “The places that are a little more raw are the ones that are innovative,” Tyler Brûlè.
My reflections: I did not expect him to be so nice, especially after all the stories about how exacting he is (such as when he complains about how sloppy it looks when jackets are on the back of chairs in a workplace). I was really impressed and inspired to do more, not only with my own business, but also with the business I work for, Bijl Architecture.

Point Click Chat, Art Gallery of NSW
Point Click Chat, Art Gallery of NSW

Event 4: Point click chat with Fenella Kernebone, Art Gallery of NSW
Date: 27 May
Participants: Fenella Kernebone, arts journalist, presented Art Nation on ABC TV and By Design on ABC Radio National | Myf Warhurst, presenter of a new documentary on photography, presented Spicks and Specks on ABC TV, radio presenter | David Hunt, historian and humorist, author of Girt | Casey Hunt, performance artist and female male model | Alison Page, Indigenous interior designer and film maker
General gist: The discussion was about the exhibition currently at the gallery “The Photograph and Australia” and how it represents Australian identity. The selection of images was critiqued and the lack of disparate voices was lamented, particularly from the queer and Indigenous communities in Australian history.
My tweets: “What we don’t see says more about Australia,” Myf Warhurst. “The figurative human and an absence of agency, interesting concepts on photography,” Casey Legler. “Oldest living culture and yet are we truly mature?” Fenella Kernebone asks Alison Page. “Australia will be truly mature when everyone can look in the mirror and see their Aboriginality,” Alison Page.
My reflections: A fantastic panel, everyone on it was intelligent, witty and interesting, with Casey providing lateral thinking on the subject, Myf being the voice of truth, Alison providing passion and an interesting point of view and David being pithy and witty, while Fenella was in charge at all times. Quality stuff and free from the AGNSW.

Event 5: Good Design Forum
Date: 28 May
Participants: Selected participants include: Mark Burry, Professor of Urban Futures, Unvierstiy of Melbourne | Tim Horton, Registrar, NSW Architects Registration Board | Chris Wilkinson, founder of UK architecture firm Wilkinson Eyre | Jo Pretyman, social entrepreneur, founder of i-Manifest | Dick Power, director of UK product design agency Seymour Powell | Nicolas Hogias, Head of Design at Lexus Australia | full list here
General gist: The day was packed full of speakers from business, architecture and cities, to corporate social responsibility and product design. Most talks were interesting but some stood out, including Chris Wilkinson in particular who came across as a fascinating architect and generally good person.
My tweets: “It’s the local ingredients that create place,” Mark Burry on the Sagrada Familia. “Trying to create something that is aesthetically pleasing and uplifting,” Chris Wilkinson. “Part of making something that’s uplifting is about the relationship to nature and light,” Chris Wilkinson. “The Mary Rose was Henry XIII’s favourite warship which sank in 1545, Wilkinson Eyre has designed a box for this jewel raised from the seabed.” “Lived experience as a vital part of place,” Timothy Horton. “Adelaide is the town that thinks but never grows and Sydney is the town that grows but never thinks,” Timothy Horton. “Creativity is the new currency, creativity at schools does not reflect creative industries,” Jo Pretyman. “Design is about innovation – looking good is not enough,” Dick Powell. “The most creative people don’t have one single vision – they have bandwidth,” Dick Powell. “Innovation is rarely a big idea – usually a number of small ideas put together in a new way,” Dick Powell. “Eyebrows and mouth define facial expressions, Nicolas Hogias on facial expressions on a car.”
My reflections: The speakers were a little hit and miss. Even Dick Powell who was very good for most of his talk discussing product design for all sorts of great brands, strayed into bad territory when he resorted to sexist humour when discussing bra design which did not go down well to say the very least. An area I thought was missing is interior design which might have brought an added dimension.

I hope you found something inspiring in that lot, as I did.

2 thoughts on “Diary: A creative May in Sydney

  • June 5, 2015 at 1:48 am

    Thanks Penny for summarising these talks. I was interested to read about the discussion on The Photograph and Australia and particularly Warhurst’s comment regarding what was not included (whether that be deliberately or out of necessity) being reflective of Australian identity. Also what Tyler Brûlè had to say about the value of cities’ “dirt” I wholeheartedly agree with.

    • June 5, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks Richard – yes the curator has a vital job when it comes to selecting what to include in an exhibition called “The Photograph and Australia”. So full of ideology whether they know it or not.


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