All posts by Lee Theodoros

Ho Ho Ho Hum

I’ve been mulling the whole Christmas thing en route to work each day. The bus takes North Terrace, a gorgeous boulevard of historic buildings – the cultural hub of this pretty city – and yet not a single red bow or decorated store front. There’s not a thing to indicate that Australia is still one of the countries where Christmas is a big deal, celebrated or at least recognised by the majority of the population.

New York, in contrast  (yeah here she goes again) is a decorating dream come the holidays. It’s all out warfare among window stylists at the big department stores as they compete for the glitziest, most innovative and cleverest store windows.

ABC Carpet & Home, where a lovely old-school Santa greeted our children for many years, twinkles with gazillions of sparkly decorations, and Rockefeller Center is a winter wonderland, with the massive lit tree and ice-skating rink front and center. Even in Brownstone Brooklyn, there were pop-up nativity scenes, inflatable Santas and light-up deer in people’s front yards and outside stores.

Interestingly, we were the only Christian family at most of the annual Christmas parties we hosted in Brooklyn. There were Jews and Muslims, and then us. We were also often the only Christians at the Jewish Hannukah parties that coincided with the Christmas festivities.

None of it mattered. It was the holidays and everyone was merry in one way or another, for one reason or another.

But in lovely Adelaide, where most of us are celebrating the same holiday, there’s nary a wreath or a red bow in sight, let alone a nativity scene. I read with interest Susan Mitchell’s column It’s a Christmas dark age in Adelaide in Indaily last week. She said exactly what I was thinking. For all the waffle about making our city vibrant by attracting people to live, work and play in the CBD, the lights are out and apparently nobody’s home.

sad and sorry snowflakes, the lone and seasonally inappropriate ode to Christmas on Gouger Street

Even in the office where I work, there is little in the way of festive cheer. Admittedly I have been here only a year, but even so a couple of Christmas cards and some tinsel strung about our desks is about it. There’s no crazy office party since apparently some anti-drinking chap moved to a top job and outlawed fun, not that we would necessarily expect him to come party with the plebs.

I fondly recall working for gritty newspapers in the days of long, boozy Christmas lunches and gifts of wine or leg hams or hampers arriving for staff.  Even at stitched up Bloomberg in New York, where we worked very hard, we played hard too. In the old days before the boss became the City Mayor,  Bloomberg marked the holidays with an extravagant soiree for staff and their partners at the Museum of Natural History. Sushi and caviar were served aplenty from beneath the huge suspended whale skeleton. Those were the days.

We do have an annual social club lunch at my current workplace but  even that requires arm twisting to convince people to come, and after a couple of hours feasting, we dutifully return to work.

Maybe it’s something about the mercury soaring here at Christmas that makes decorating too sweaty a prospect. But it was hot when I was kid too and yet I fondly remember my mother taking me for dusk strolls around the neighbourhood to see Christmas trees lit up in people’s front windows. We had a massive holly tree in our front yard and people would pull up and ask to pick a bunch.

It was friendly and neighbourly – and Christmassy.

We have a wreath on our door this year and the kids had a blast hanging everything but the kitchen sink on our Christmas tree. But ours is the only decorated house I have noticed on our street.

We do live in an unusually aged street but still – don’t people turn it on a bit for the grandchildren? Even the local shopping mall (if one is allowed to call Burnside Village a shopping mall …?) isn’t particularly festive. And as our kids noted when they visited Santa, he was kind of over it. He didn’t ask the obligatory ‘have you been good’ or ‘what would you like for Christmas’ questions, but rather chugged kids through for the obligatory photo op.

So what gives? Are we all hamstrung by the threat of the global financial rumblings finally reaching our shores, or does the prospect of a holiday that unites families to gather and feast just not do it for us anymore?

For the record, we will be gathering and feasting and hopefully having a lot of laughs on Christmas day. We light a candle or two in honour of the Jewish Hannukah celebrations which have just ended, we may even light one for Kwanza – the African American holiday that coincides with Christmas – and we recognize Eid for our Muslim friends. Never let it be said that we don’t like a party.



What I Like About You …

Our seven-year-old declared tonight that we all seemed happier living in America, and my heart broke a little bit.  She put into words what I know I’ve been thinking – observing – for awhile now. We moved to Australia for all the right reasons – family, space, and a good lifestyle – but I have to agree with the little one, we were more functional in our Brooklyn community.

The kids were well adjusted and generally happy.

Many of the things we moved here for now seem to have been a mirage, or just no longer exist: the extended family that congregated often for laughs and feasts and creating good memories; the big backyard, fishing and beach houses; seafood and generally terrific food aplenty.

The family is a soap opera in the making, we have a nice place in a good suburb but no big grassy backyard, and everything is ultra expensive. The cost of living in Australia is through the roof compared with the US and Adelaide can be mighty cliquey if you’re a newcomer.

Maybe we haven’t given it a fair go. Maybe things will get better. I hope so, because the thought of packing up and moving overseas AGAIN just makes my head hurt.

And if I leave again, I know I’m never coming back.

As the Brooklyn saying goes, ‘not for nothin’ I’ve decided to write a random list of what it is I miss about the US. Perhaps it will help give me some perspective and make it easier to just shutup and stick it out in Adelaide. If nothing else, it may be cathartic to at least think about what I miss. So here goes, in no particular order:

Friends and family, of course: the kids especially miss their paternal grandparents and their cousins, who are closer in age to them than their Adelaide relatives. We took for granted how well the kids all played together and the strength of the bonds they forged with their grandparents and aunt and uncle, even though we didn’t see them often enough.

My hairdresser: Michelle at Serendipity in Soho – you cannot be replaced. I have had three haircuts in Adelaide; one was a complete botch job, the other two were just ok. I went to Michelle for many years, from before I was even married to the week I left NY – she will be one of my first stops when I go back to visit.

Cheap manis/pedis: never underestimate an inexpensive mani/pedi from one of the hole-in-the-wall Korean nail joints in Manhattan or Brooklyn. For peanuts you can get your feet rubbed, scrubbed and toes polished and looking clean and shiny for weeks to come. I had one pedicure in Adelaide and besides the woman gouging my nail until it bled, the polish peeled off in a day – and it cost about $45.

Walking: it goes without saying that NY is a walking city. I walked the kids to school and back again everyday, I walked to the shops, I schlepped my groceries home. You walk and walk and walk – even when you ride the subway – you walk at either end. You don’t notice how much you are walking but your body notices when you stop walking and start getting into a car to run errands, to get to school or go around the corner.

To be sure, my husband and I have noticed a HUGE change in Adelaide since we first came here together to visit in 2000. People are getting heavier– there are more chubby folk than ever before squeezing themselves in and out of their enormous, sole-occupancy, gas-guzzling vehicles to go 15 minutes in any direction. I reckon it won’t be long before Australia was more heavy people per capita than the US.

Subway, Stoops + Street Noise

The subway; you can go anywhere at anytime. Enough said.

Stoops: there’s nothing nicer than hanging out on someone’s stoop – chatting to neighbors, watching the world go by, or holding a stoop sale. Stoops bring communities together. Front fences and gates and intercom-activated entry does nothing for community.

Street noise: even the occasional gunshots and police helicopters were okay. You knew you were living a city and there was life going on outside your four walls.

Neighbors: knowing that there were other people nearby whose door you could knock on it you needed to borrow a rolling pin, or a cup of sugar was comforting and handy. We could send the kids upstairs to a favourite neighbor’s apartment with a plate of cookies or some leftover dinner, without fearing they’d be abducted.

Cheap cabs: speaks for itself really. You could always find a way home, without breaking the bank.

Coffee: just a regular cup of joe from a street stand, with a splash of milk for a buck 25 – that’s $1.25 – not the average $4 you pay for a coffee here. I still haven’t worked out which coffee I actually like drinking here either. I just want a big cup of black coffee that I can pour milk into, godammit.

Delivery at all hours; one of the biggest issues with living in a small city like Adelaide is that you cannot eat after about 9pm. Kitchens close. Delivery is almost non existent. I miss the Spanish places on Smith Street that would bring beef stew, and rice, beans and plantains at 10pm for $12; I miss the pizza places that would deliver a piping hot pie at 11pm.

Pizza: there is no match for a good New York pizza. All the organic flours, handmade, flown-in-daily artisanal mozzarella and toppings in the world are no match for a plain NY pie.

That’s round one. I’ll add to the list as I think of things, but I already feel better for spilling my guts and remembering the good stuff.  I’m not trying to piss off anyone in Adelaide. This is a great place to live and raise a family – I wouldn’t have chosen to live here if I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t think for a New York minute that it would be so hard to settle back in.


Shhhh …where is your favourite quiet place?

Jason Sweeney chilling in a quiet place

In Japan they have pods; small, quiet cocoon like capsules where people can seek out silence. In Adelaide, a favourite quiet space might be a trickling fountain in Victoria Square, a non-descript city car park or a narrow thoroughfare off a main street.

Jason Sweeney, a self-described introvert, is morphing his search for safe, quiet places into an ever-evolving sound-art project. Stereopublic: Crowdsourcing the Quieta tech-savvy pursuit for web and smartphone, will launch at the 2013 Adelaide Festival.

With roots in music, from playing in bands to community radio, 41-year-old Sweeney calls himself an interdisciplinary artist these days. A composer for theatre, dance and film, he has worked with companies including State Theatre Company of SA, Vitalstatistix, Chunky Move, Belgium’s SOIT, Restless Dance Theatre, Tanja Liedtke, Closer Productions, Force Majeure and UK-based DV8.

He has been releasing his electronic music compositions internationally with bands Panoptique Electrical and Pretty Boy Crossover, via the record label Sensory Projects, and he is in the thick of creating a feature film The Dead Speak Back slated for 2013 release.

But Stereopublic is something “I’ve been working on for years in one form or another. I knew it would shape shift and have different incarnations. It’s just incredible how well received this incarnation of it has been,” said softly spoken Sweeney. He said he pitched the idea in an email to David Sefton, Artistic Director of the 2013 Festival and a fellow electronic and experimental music enthusiast,  and Sefton was quick to jump onboard.

Poster Child for Quiet

“This is one of the most important projects in my life. It’s hugely personal,” said Sweeney, who for all his music-making and current it boy status, is something of a poster child for quiet. The concept for ‘crowd-sourcing the quiet’ grew from Sweeney’s own inherent discomfort in crowded, noisy places.

He tells a story of a basement apartment he rented in Melbourne. “There was no natural light, no air – but when I stepped outside I was right on Flinders Lane, one of the busiest places in Melbourne. I lasted eight months there and then I had to come back to Adelaide. It was such a relief to come home.”

With support from the TED Prize-winning City 2.0 Award, Arts SA and the Australia Council’s Creative Australia New Art initiative – as well as Adelaide City Council –  Sweeney and a team from Freerange Future, a design studio made up of designers, web and app creators, are developing an online space where people can geo-locate and crowd-source quiet spaces.

Their aim is to increase the “sonic health” of the city— both for everyday introverts, and potentially for people with mental health issues or disabilities such as schizophrenia or autism, who crave less sensory stimuli.

Jason Sweeney seeking solitude

At a time when the Government and the Adelaide City Council are gung-ho about making Adelaide pulsate with activity and are encouraging pop-up creativity from the laneways to the parklands, a quest for solitude might seem off kilter.

Quietly Vibrant

But Sweeney says “quiet can have a vibrancy of its own.”

“This is a community-building project; I really want to connect it to the city as much as possible.” In Adelaide, for instance, a favourite quiet space could be beneath a tree in the Botanic Gardens, among the crowds in the Adelaide Central Market or in a department store restroom high above the hustle and bustle of Rundle Mall.

For someone unnerved by heavy-duty social contact, Sweeney interestingly has conceived an art project that relies on participation for it to work.

From 1 March, 2013, people will be invited to contribute to the sound map online at as part of the Adelaide Festival. There will be an Adelaide-centric app that includes a map of quiet spots around the city and the website will act as a portal to other relevant quiet events, including quiet walks, workshops and talks.

Ultimately, Sweeney says he’d like to implement a ‘quiet hour’ or even a full ‘hushday’ as part of the Festival. And down the track, he said it’s possible the Stereopublic model could be set up in other cities, with their own city-specific app.

One of the coolest features of the Stereopublic app draws on Sweeney’s musical talents.

Once participants find their quiet place, they can record the sound of that place, write about it, give it a mood through a colour chart or take an image and post it. As a reward for the input, Sweeney plans to offer a composition relating to their chosen quiet space.

‘I figure if I’m asking people to commit physically to finding a space, the composition is a reward of sorts.”

He says he expects the project will attract lots of young people because it’s about using technology in a very engaged way as a creative tool.

“I hope it will appeal to introverts too, and be unashamedly appealing to people who want to be antisocial,” said Sweeney, who is only just catching on to what a big year he has ahead. “I’m starting to realize how large scale this is and it’s starting to give me heart palpitations.”

And with that, Sweeney continues his search for a quiet place to recharge.


Helpless from afar

I know how my parents felt now.
Watching Hurricane Sandy rip through the East Coast of the United States from a comfortable, dry and unthreatened space in Adelaide, South Australia, has been a daunting experience. And not knowing if family and friends in the path of fierce winds and flooding were safe was stressful.
Now I know how my parents felt on the many occasions when I was in New York and bad things happened. Bad things like the 911 terrorist attacks on the city and bad things like tornadoes in Brooklyn and snowstorms that cut power, halted the subways and closed schools.
Or bad things like when I had to have emergency open-heart surgery without any warning to them that something might be up.
Unsurprisingly, I have slept with my cell phone close by the past few nights, monitoring Twitter and Facebook and keeping tabs on friends and family through email. Thankfully everyone in my world in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey is alive and well and by now, suffering from cabin fever and frustration by cuts to power or water, or both.
But many others have lost their homes and businesses. Neighbourhoods like the lovely Red Hook on Brooklyn’s waterfront are in soggy ruins. I’d like to be there to take the short stroll from our old apartment in Carroll Gardens to Red Hook to help toss ruined possessions onto the mounting trash heaps on the sidewalk, or to help bail water from residents’ flooded basements but I’m on the other side of the world.
I know how my parents felt now. Helpless.
Americans are tough, New Yorkers especially so, and I know they’ll pull together for the rebuild because there is no other way.
All I can do is send good vibes and support.


Bill Shannon: Crutch-Wielding Provocateur

Bill Shannon at Kumuwuki / Big Wave. Photographer: Chris Herzfeld

Bill Shannon had to change the wheels on his skateboard when he hit the rough textured streets of Goolwa. Surfaces are an occupational hazard for this American improv artist, who mixes street dance, skate and hip hop to create his own brand of creative expression.

Even more challenging; Shannon does it all on a pair of rocker-bottom crutches and with a tonne of don’t mess with me attitude.

He was in the river-port town of Goolwa south of Adelaide for the Regional Arts Australia National Conference, Kumuwuki/Big Wave. As Keynote Artist in Residence, Shannon was everywhere: he opened the four-day gathering of artists, arts workers, and regional and community specialists with an address that was both entertaining and provocative.

He hosted a masterclass and workshop for 10, exploring the idea of public space and its connection with personal identity, and led the ScrLK program. Featuring some of Australia’s best-known disability focused organisations including Back to Back and Restless Dance Theatre, the program presented screenings based around disability-led digital arts projects and discussions on how emerging digital technologies, cultures and the National Broadband Network will significantly affect disability culture in regional areas.

“I was interested in programming Bill Shannon to speak as his practice represented a form of creative resilience that was being discussed as a theme throughout the conference,” said Steve Mayhew, Artistic Director of the 2012 Regional Arts Australia National Conference.

“I was hoping that the experiences from this particular viewpoint and perspective would subtly inform people living in regional areas who are dealing with similar issues, access being a very large example of this,” said Mayhew.

In-Your-Face Choreography

Through his blend of energetic, in-your-face choreography and simple video techniques, Shannon deals with the public’s hopes, assumptions, fears and misinterpretations of what an artist with a disability is. He raises questions around how you engage with public space and how you use your own body as a canvas for performance art and experimentation.

He uncovers a world of prejudices that disabled people encounter daily and questions his methods – often involving a hidden camera – as he readily takes advantage of strangers’ good Samaritan impulses to make his point.

“Performance art grew out of my childhood experience. I was always a spectacle.” said Shannon, speaking at a Disability and Arts Transition Team gathering in Adelaide this week. He demonstrated how he had to walk in a semi squat as a child growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, to alleviate pressure on his malformed hip joints.

He had a brace and crutches and to top it off the leather squeaked when he walked. “It was a very intense spectacle. But I didn’t really have a big emotional reaction to it as a kid.”

Shannon was diagnosed at five with Legg-Calvé Perthes disease, a disorder of the hip joint in children that can limit the amount of high-impact activity that an otherwise healthy child can take part in.

The Crutch Master

One of a series of CRUTCH! videos on Bill Shannon, Directed and Produced by
Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans.

Now 42, that kid with crutches is known around New York’s dance scene as the Crutch Master, and is widely sought around the globe to showcase his flamboyant and seriously athletic dance style and to talk about it. He’s become a poster boy for disability, albeit reluctantly.

Shannon said “peer pressure to keep up with the other kids led to a relationship with creativity.”

“I call it creative necessity – creativity as survival to keep up with peers. I was challenged constantly with these hurdles like jumping through the hedge. All the kids would do it and I had to figure out how to do it with my crutches. I had to get creative to keep up.”

Shannon is a showman, to be sure. He’s a performance artist, melding street dance with the influences of skate and hip hop cultures. Armed with a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, he counts poetry and sculpture among his art forms.

And author: he’s working on an outline for a book that will lead readers from his beginnings to the development of the Shannon Technique, a how-to-guide for his style of dancing on the so-called rocker-bottom crutches with U-shaped tips.

He’s a bit of a psychologist too, creating names for some of the scenarios he has encountered when interacting with able-bodied people. There’s faker squared, a reference to the people who think he’s faking his need to use crutches to get around. He can actually walk unassisted but not for long periods or without pain.

“Sometimes I’ll lift up the crutches and do a little tiptoe to give people the satisfaction of thinking they’ve caught me faking. I have the satisfaction of hosting their discovery.”

“If I fake the faking, I take possession of the faking and that’s empowerment,” Shannon said.

And there’s the moment of projected narrative. In one video sequence, a hidden camera shows Shannon’s efforts to pick up a bottle at a marketplace in Russia, while an older local woman looks on, willing him to succeed.

Over the past two decades Shannon’s installations, performances, choreography and video work have been presented in the US and internationally at events, venues and festivals including Sydney Opera House, Tate Liverpool Museum, NYC Town Hall, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, The Holland Festival, Amsterdam and Temple Bar in Dublin.

Cirque du Soleil

Shannon also completed a project with Cirque du Soleil where he choreographed an aerial duet and a solo on crutches for their 2002 production Varekai.

It was an offer to tour with Cirque du Soleil that prompted Shannon to devise what he calls theShannon Technique. Unable to leave home base for months and endure a grueling performance schedule, Shannon said he started to name his dance moves so that he could pass them onto others.

The Shannon Technique “is a contribution to the history of dance. I never had a class to learn to dance on crutches – I never had the shoulder of the giant to stand on.”

“I decided to lay it all down so that in the future some other individual serious about dancing on crutches can use this as a guide.”

“It’s all about the economy of movement,” he said. As for skating in Goolwa, “it’s like skating on sandpaper. I had to change out the wheels on my skateboard.”

Fee Plumley on a Quest to Make reallybigroadtrip Pozible

Fee Plumley calls herself a geek artist, techno-evangelist and digital consultant. She hails from the United Kingdom and has become a permanent, if nomadic, resident of Australia.

Combine Fee’s geekery with her will to travel and you have reallybigroadtrip – her proposal to create and live in a truly mobile digital culture.

Fee’s plan is to get a bus, rig it with recording equipment and drive it around Australia, talking to people about how they engage with creative technology. It’s an artwork, a research project, plus a home, studio and workshop.

Among other things, this soon-to-be 39-year-old with cropped, dyed red hair and wearing a big, blingy ‘Geek’ nameplate around her neck (a gift from her sister), has co-founded a company that created a new genre of literature inspired by mobile phone technical limitations and started the Geek in Residence model that was adopted in Australia and abroad.

“It’s the stuff that breaks convention that I really love,” says Fee, speaking about theatre, where her career started years ago. But you get the idea that this is her metaphor for life too.

Anything is Pozible

Like many creatives with an idea but scant funding, Fee is tapping the crowd-sourcing site Pozible to raise money for her reallybigroadtrip. Her Pozible campaign is scheduled to end 12 July and she is anxious that it is lagging her target amounts.

“It’s the most exciting time in my life. It’s also the most terrifying,” says Fee. “I have never made myself so vulnerable and never felt so strong.”

Once she has ‘the bus’ – which incidentally will be styled-decorated-rigged out by none other than lighting, set, venue designer Geoff Cobham, also the man behind Barrio, – the plan is to hit the road and just keep driving; talking to people, documenting data, writing, and making stuff along the way.

All the traveling and talking will result in a huge amount of rich media, the best of which will be shared instantly via social networks. Follow @feesable on Twitter and you will notice two things pretty quickly: she tweets a lot and sleeps very little.

The rest of the information gathered on her journey will be stored for future development; a vast legacy of material for advocacy, data visualisation, conferences and festivals. There may also be a book or documentary in it too, or as Fee corrects – an e-book or interactive documentary.

Fee said the idea of buying a bus came up a few years back when she knew she wanted to apply for permanent residency in Australia and had to create an opportunity to make it happen.

“I adore travel, buses, creative play and geeks,” so the digital-mobile-bus combination seemed to fit together.

“I could have just traveled around from place to place on foot or by plane but the idea of a road trip seemed right. The bus is a symbol of the kind of digital community-based cloud that we exist in now.”

The bus will be Fee’s exhibition space, workshop, conference room, screening space, studio and her home, running on vegetable oil and the kindness of others. After couch-surfing for the past eight months in various Australian states, she says she looks forward to having a home, albeit mobile and on a bus.

The bigger picture – and there is always a ‘bigger picture’ when Fee’s mind starts ticking over – is to get a bus in every continent.

“The idea is to have all these spaces that become resources for other digital practitioners.

“I really want to dispel this myth that media arts are a niche or emerging. I’ve been doing it for years already and I wasn’t even there at the beginning.”

Fee recalls the day she met the Internet. She was moving into a share house in Brighton in the UKin 1996 and there was a free, online computer.

“I didn’t really know what I could do with the Internet but I knew I wanted to use it somehow.

“I went to the dole office and asked where I could learn about what the Internet was and what it meant for creative practice.” Of course, her enthusiasm met blank stares.

Wind forward some years and Fee eventually moved to Australia on a distinguished talent visa and got a job at the Australia Council, working in funding digital strategies. There she created the Geek in Residence program, which placed creative technicians with creative firms.

Just weeks shy of her Australia Council contract ending, Fee got the permanent residency status sought in Australia. Now for the bus, and her circle is almost complete.

To get this show on the road she needs funding – sponsorship, in-kind partnerships – whatever it takes to buy a bus, deck it out and keep it running from place to place. Plus, she’ll need money to cover internet access, living expenses, promotion and equipment.

“My life is this kind of ridiculous adventure,” says Fee.

Needless to say she’s not resting on her laurels waiting for money to roll in and a bus to materialise. She recently returned from Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival and already has conferences, speaking engagements and the like scheduled for coming months.

Among then, Fee is on the roster to give a keynote speech at the Regional Arts Australia Conference in Goolwa in October, touching on art and the economy and broadband – all sorts of things that she predicts will get her into trouble.

Find Fee’s Pozible crowd-sourcing campaign at

Peter Drew Takes Street Art to Gallery + Back

This could be the year of Peter Drew.

Most Adelaideans don’t know the name but chances are they’ve seen his work all over the city, from the huge posters of criminal mug shots to the Icarus motif atop a prominent city building, his personal favourite.

Peter has just opened his final solo exhibition at A P Bond Gallery in Stepney and in less than a week he’ll take part in the opening of South Australia Illustrated: From the Street at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

It’s not every street artist who finds their anti- institutional s scrawls hanging in the State’s premiere arts institution, but in keeping with the rebellious overtones of graffiti, this won’t be any regular exhibition.

There’s a twist.

Peter has donned his curatorial hat and invited 12 fellow artists to `respond’ to an unfinished portrait of Adelaide’s founder, Colonel William Light, which he will turn frame in heavy antique frames ready for the Gallery walls.

They’ll be there, beautifully lined up when the exhibition opens, but throughout the exhibition Peter will take a portrait and hang it someplace around Adelaide.

He’ll give clues on its location using social media, such as his Facebook page.

“It is really great that the Art Gallery has agreed to this – it turns the whole exhibition on its head,” said the softly spoken artist.

But it will be nicked, won’t it? And that is the whole point.

”It’s an experiment in opportunism,” said Peter.

“The idea of theft and opportunism – that impulse hasn’t changed since colonial times. If there’s something there and people think that they can get away with taking it, they will. There is definitely a link between colonialism and opportunism.”

Even exhibiting at the `big end’ of the city, as the Gallery and its North Terrace cultural neighbours are known, can’t curb the edge of a street artist.

Around town though, Peter – an Adelaide born and educated visual artist and writer – is best known for his uncommissioned art for the urban landscape – or street art – which can be found not only on home turf but around Berlin, Glasgow and London.

Criminal Element

Peter says that having made illegal street art for years without being caught, he started to forget that it was a crime.

“When I was finally arrested I began to think more seriously about its criminality. This interest grew into a side project, which quickly blew out into the largest street art campaign I’ve undertaken.”

Adelaide’s Forgotten Outlaws grew from Peter searching police documents at the South Australian State Records. Drawn to photos from the early 1920s, he began choosing mug shots based mostly on the immediate impact of the image.

“Whether through their defiant pride, amused irreverence or shamed humiliation – some faces drew me in,” said Peter.

And so began his self-funded, ‘uncommissioned’ public project. Peter pasted some 42 black and white posters, each standing 2.5 meters, on naked city walls and sides of buildings.

Initially he worked at night, rather like the criminals he iconised, but soon realized it would be safer during the day dressed as a legitimate worker.

“When I donned the high vis vest and went about my business I didn’t feel like a criminal, I felt as thought I was performing a public good,” he said.


While the man of the street has generally enjoyed Peter’s campaign, Adelaide City Council eventually traced the posters back to him and struck a deal.

The Council would stop removing the work so long as Peter legitimised the project through a ’pilot project’ scheme and removed the criminals’ surnames to protect surviving relatives.

Peter said he was just happy that people got to see the posters, as he’d intended. So impressed with his work were the folks at History SA that they let Peter loose on their photo archive.

He chose 10 portraits of everyday, extraordinary South Australians from the 1870s to the 1930s for use as part of the About Time: South Australian History Festival, which ran through May 2012.

Come August, Peter is heading abroad to study writing criticism at the Glasgow School of Art for a year or two. He wants to write a book, not surprisingly, about street art – comparing it to other artistic movements throughout history that were viewed as anti-institutional.

And while he’s away, he says he may have the urge to express himself artistically on a blank wall.

“I’m not sure that I can stop,” said Peter.

Peter Drew’s solo exhibition All you need is LIKE is currently running at AP Bond Gallery. South Australia Illustrated open at the Art Gallery of South Australia 1 June, 2012.


New York, New York – If You Can Make it There …

I just waved my eight-year-old son goodbye as he boarded a bus for his first ever school camp. One week into school in Australia and he was herded away to Aldinga Beach, an hour or so from the city, to run free and learn in the great outdoors. It’s all part of being an Aussie.

Every morning at school drop-off, these robust little kids are running and jumping and chasing each other, or playing one of many organised sports. Every girl in our daughter’s first-grade class has a skipping rope tucked beneath the desk to use before school and at recess. Sitting still isn’t an option.

It all fits the romantic notions about Australia, especially among Americans. From the worn out stereotypes of kangaroos bounding along city streets and Foster’s drinking blokes throwing shrimp on a barbie, Australia holds a sort of mystique from far away. Our New York friends, while sad to see us go, were excited for our brave move down under. Everyone wants to visit and everyone probably would, if it weren’t so far away.

But as recent arrivals – sit still, we do. So far it has rained almost daily since we got here in July, soaring electricity costs make us too scared to blast the heat as much as we’d like, and neither my husband nor I has found a job. With no income to speak of and no entitlement to assistance because apparently the Australian Government deems us rich, morale has its ups and downs.

We’ve endured reams of paperwork and probing questions only to be told that money in a bank, no matter how inaccessible, a part share in a house we  cannot live in yet and the fact that we could get jobs any day,  trump years of paying taxes in both Australia and the US and the absence of a pay check.

Sticker Shock

Every time we walk out of a store, sticker shock follows us. Everything costs a lot more than we’re use to paying. Even long-time Australia dwellers are balking at rising food, gas and utility prices. Basics like bananas  go for around $3 a piece and green beans top out around $18 a kilo – or almost  $9 a pound. The good life sure is pricey.

Still, here I am 40-something, married and mother of two back in my parents’ immaculate house after more than 20 years of independence. Perched at the dining room table, I feel a bit like an aged Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, banging out resume updates and introduction letters in improbable surrounds ( how did she ever afford a Manhattan studio and Jimmy Choos on a columnist’s wage?)

To be sure, the folks are thrilled to have us back in Adelaide – as delighted as they are petrified every time a beloved grandchild swings a  backpack and narrowly misses some pricey collectible or “accidentally”  picks all the unripe lemons and stomps the onion patch.

The question we’re asked by pretty much everyone we meet is, why? Why on earth would you move from New York City – bright lights, big city, songs written about it, movies made just to showcase its vibrancy – to Adelaide? Adelaide, a sleepy city barely bigger than a country town, with lots of green space and nearly as many churches as people. Why indeed?

For family and for lifestyle mostly. We figured it was time to slow life down a little, smell the roses that bloom in Adelaide gardens and let the kids run free in the parklands and on the beaches, with cousins and perhaps a dog in tow. We wanted to own a house and a have a garden where we could cook out on a warm evening, and all sit around the dinner table together.

All in Good Time

And soon enough the sun will shine and the kids will get the beach and park time they moved for. We’ll find jobs too, I’m sure of it. We just have to adjust our timing from New York standards where emails are answered pronto to Adelaide’s more relaxed schedule.  And soon enough we’ll be able to rip up old carpets, paint walls and move into our own little home.

For now, the coffee is good, the clean country air is a mere 15 minutes “up the hill” as the locals say, the kids are happily settling into a lovely school and we are still charmed by the many people we meet and the warmth and friendliness they show us; from the boys in the local coffee shop we’ve made part of our morning ritual,  to the toothless old man I met at the weekend farmers’ market. He explained to me the pros of eating Australian olive oil and beamed with pride talking about his famous ballerina daughter.

Our waterlogged son will have his own stories to share when he slumps home from three rainy days at the beach, where he was to learn to paint a boomerang, cook on an open fire and negotiate friendships with a new crew of teachers and classmates.

As the lyrics go if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.  Let’s see if Adelaide is our “anywhere”.



Der Kommissar Opening in South Slope

Der Kommissar, the newest kid on its South Slope block, swings open its doors tonight, promising to blend traditional Austrian eats with Brooklyn smarts. Artisanal Austrian-style sausages, craft beers and schnapps define the bar-restaurant-hangout on 5th Avenue, at 15th Street, which is loosely modeled on the outdoor sausage stands common in Vienna.

Three Park Slope locals – Gary Baldwin, his Austrian wife Monika Wuhrer, and neighborhood mixologist Alex Darsey – wanted to create a place where locals could kickback with drinks, chat or watch a game, while noshing on simple, high-quality, artisanal snacks. Der Kommissar ”brings a little bit of Vienna to 5th Ave,” touts the website.

Just like a Viennese Würstelstand, sausages feature high on Der Kommissar’s menu – from frankfurters and bratwurst to lesser known käsekrainer and weisswurst. There are also pretzels, potato salad, sauerkraut and the classic Austrian Liptauer, a spread made from quark, paprika, caraway, herbs, pickles, and anchovy. And for something sweet, the beloved Manner Schnitten – traditional Austrian wafers layered with hazelnut cream.

Food will be available at the bar, as well as through a window that opens onto the street, a leftover from its previous life as a Spanish take-out spot. The whole idea is to keep it simple and relaxed; a place you can stop-by with the kids for an afternoon snack, or hang with your mates late into the night.

Baldwin and Wuhrer are known around the hood as the owners of the nearby Open Source Gallery, which has been a nomadic art force since a five-alarm fire damaged it and the couple’s apartment in November. Since it began in 2008, the gallery has become an institution, offering everything from a soup kitchen through the holidays to summer camp for local kids. Business partner Darsey is a photographer and well-known bar tender.

Der Kommissar, which is hosting a “soft opening” tonight from 7pm to 10pm, is at 559 5th Avenue, phone 718. 788. 0789.