Breast Wishes

Column: Exhibitionist   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 19 May 09   |   Author: Catherine James   |   8 years, 1 month ago


Anne Looby has created a musical devoted to a subject close to our hearts - literally. Breast Wishes, opening at The Playhouse on Wednesday May 27, is an unconventional, fun-filled and curious approach to women’s experiences of their bodies throughout their lives. “I identify very strongly with Carol, the character I play,” Looby says, “given that much of her experience is based on my own life: growing up flat-chested, then being in midlife and grappling with the ravages of gravity!”

Breast Wishes is the collaborative effort of celebrated and accomplished writers, Merridy Eastmen, Jonathan Gavin, Richard Glover, Wendy Harmer, Sheridan Jobbins, James Millar, and Debra Oswald. Joining Looby on stage are Angela Kennedy, Gretel Scarlett, Chelsea Plumley, David Harris and Valerie Bader.  Highly respected Los-Angeles born musician and songwriter Bruce Brown was integral in crafting the musical pieces that drive the Breast Wishes narrative, but Looby struggles to pick a favourite song. “I love them all!” she says. “If forced to choose, I think the opening song would have to be one of the cleverest, cheekiest opening numbers in the history of musical theatre.”

Looby was inspired to create the show following her younger sister’s breast cancer survival. She approached the National Breast Cancer Foundation four years ago with the concept in mind and the show continues to raise awareness and funds for the NBCF. Looby hopes the musical leaves the audience with “a sense of hope, love and above all, acceptance of their bodies.” Looby relied on the openness and honesty of friends, family and colleagues to gather the unique experiences that are at the affecting heart of Breast Wishes. “I don’t think you can create a show about breasts and not deal with the issue of breast cancer, which touches so many thousands of people’s lives,” she says. Breast Wishes takes a journey through the issue with both sensitivity and humour, including the perspectives of the sufferers but also their husbands, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends – but the show is far from simply a sombre health message.

“I have always maintained that laughter is the best medicine and these wonderful scenes in Breast Wishes allow our audience to see the humour in the face of adversity.” So take this opportunity to gather your friends and family and celebrate that part of women’s bodies that is so fascinating and essential. “Everyone that sees the play will find something to identify with, whether it be that they are large breasted or small, real or enhanced, breast feeders or not,” Looby insists. “Breasts are many things: sexual, nurturing, a badge of femininity, motherhood, even survival.”

Breast Wishes flashes at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, from Wednesday May 27 to Saturday May 30 @ 8pm. Matinees Saturday and Sunday @ 2pm, twilight show Sunday May 31 @ 5pm. Tix $55/$48/$35. To book call Canberra Ticketing on 6275 2700 or visit the CTC website at

A Capsis Experience: Are You Experienced?

Paul Capsis has never performed in Canberra before, but he’s been to Queanbeyan. The mind boggles at this fabulous cabaret character even setting foot in Q-Town, but apparently the audience was responsive – so responsive that “they were urging me to be more political.” And did Capsis take that advice on, I ask? “Not really,” he admits. But, he replies, “sometimes just standing there singing is political.”

Capsis will be “standing there singing” in the Can this fortnight, performing his cabaret show, A Capsis Experience, at The Street Theatre. And he’s thrilled to be playing a city he’s never been to before. “I’m really, really excited.”

A Capsis Experience will give the audience a “quintessential cabaret show,” says the artist. “I’m going to present a mixture of work I’ve been performing for the last ten years,” including original songs, material by Lou Reed, Kate Bush and Paul Kelly, and what Capsis calls “channelling, presenting the dead divas” – exploring the work and lives of unique women like Janis Joplin, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Billie Holiday. Capsis explains that it is these women who he constantly turns back to for inspiration. “Performers are different today, in terms of how they’re packaged, and how they’re put out there. There’s something about those women that’s unique; their story, the particular way they performed, their history. I feel like [the act] is tributing them, tributing what they contributed to entertainment.”

Capsis explains the strength that he gets from channelling the power of “fascinating women and fascinating men” like Reed and Joplin, whose most enduring contribution – what makes art and entertainment great, in the end – was their individuality. “How does someone like Lou Reed get out there now, because he’s so against everything that is supposed to be talented and interesting now. And it’s just thank god for an era that was just so different. People like Janis Joplin and Lou Reed could get out there and be themselves.”

Luckily, Capsis has been granted that privilege in his own career. From creating original work in his cabaret shows and recording with Tim Freedman on his 2007 album, Everybody Wants to Touch Me, to performing as Riff Raff in the Gale Edwards-directed Rocky Horror Picture Show, Capsis has been able to mark out his own artistic path. “You can [get bored] if you keep doing the same thing, after a while the challenge isn’t there,” Capsis says. Luckily, he’s been able to find the right balance, of “working with different people, working in theatre and films and my own stuff.”

He was AFI-nominated for his supporting role in Ana Kokkinos’ Head On and has Helpmann and Green Room awards enough to sink a small boat. But the experience of working with artists like Edwards, Barrie Kosky, Jim Sharman and Marion Potts has been the greatest reward. “I’ve been very fortunate, incredibly blessed… I’ve worked with the best of our time,” says Capsis. “They’re great teachers and great brave artists, they don’t compromise their work.” Neither, luckily, does Capsis himself.

Paul Capsis brings A Capsis Experience to the Street Theatre on Saturday May 30 @ 8pm and Monday June 1 @ 7.30pm. Tickets $35. Call 6247 1223 to book.

Soft Sculpture: Soft Touch

"The 1960s saw a fundamental shift in thinking about sculpture," says curator Lucina Ward, who is showing me around the National Gallery of Australia's latest exhibition Soft Sculpture.

"Historically, sculpture meant carved wood or stone, or bronze cast from clay or wax models. In the early twentieth century, artists began to make constructions, incorporate found objects, and designate everyday items as art. Materials were increasingly diverse after the development of mass-produced synthetic polymer products in the 1950s."

Essentially, art discovered plastic, along with a new-found love for anything that could be moulded, modelled or reappropriated. Ward tells me that the idea for Soft Sculpture began back in 2000, when she and then co-worker Anthony White were working on a cataloguing project of the Gallery's extensive sculpture collection. They were particularly taken by works from the '60s and '70s that could be classed as being part of the 'anti-form' movement which sprang forth in the 1960s and reacted against traditional artistic forms, materials and methods.

From the minute you step foot into the NGA's exhibitions wing you can see why Ward is so excited about this show. The foyer has been transformed into a scene not unlike something out of Alice In Wonderland. A pile of oversized candy-coloured pills spill into the space from one corner, while a giant-size droplet of grey liquid oozes ominously from the ceiling. The whole while, a clear plastic lotus flower is waving hypnotically, beckoning you to enter the show.

Putting on an exhibition specialising in three dimensions is no mean feat. "This was one of our biggest installation jobs ever!" she laughs. Looking around at the sheer size, fragility and complexity of some of these pieces it's easy to see why. Eagle-eyed gallery fans will recognise that a few of these works have been on display previously to now, but Ward is excited that they are being seen here in a new light and a different context. A major exhibition such as this also gives curators the chance to purpose-build the exhibition rooms to house particular artworks so that they can finally be experienced just as the artist had intended.

One example is Penetration by French artist Annette Messager. A darkened room has been filled with handmade body parts suspended from the ceiling - a cloud of squishy bones and organs all painstakingly sewn out of wool and cotton. Visitors weave in and out through the organ maze as if touring their own insides. Ward is also grateful to have on full display the sprawling installation Stripes From The House of the Shaman by the uber-famous Joseph Beuys. This bizarre arrangement of seemingly unrelated materials - lengths of felt, animal skins and ground minerals - has been given a powerful symbolism by the artist's hand.

Sculptors are using soft materials to imitate hard, and hard materials are masquerading as soft. "These artists are completely de-constructing the idea of the sculpture as a monument - that monuments are historically what sculpture is."

Locals may also find Sheep On A Couch strangely familiar - artist Les Kossatz is the very same man responsible for everyone's favourite baffling public art piece Ainslie's Sheep, also known as 'those weird sheep in Civic'. "He's moved on from sheep now," Ward amusedly assures me.

Soft Sculpture may be a feast for the eyes, but the desire to touch is overwhelming. It will be hard to control yourself and any kids, little or big, that you take with you. Ward agrees, "this is a great exhibition for little people," and I wonder if there is something about sculpture, about objects, texture and movement, that sparks our imagination and appeals to the child inside of all of us.

This is an exhibition experience that leaves you feeling invigorated and inspired. Back in the outside world, you'll find yourself looking at things differently, and you may find you want to touch everything: hair, foam, fur, felt, plastic bags, feathers, breasts. What makes a sculpture a sculpture anyway? I ask Ward. "Exactly!" she replies enthusiastically.

Soft Sculpture is on show at the National Gallery of Australia until July 12 and is absolutely one hundred percent free.  

National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition: In Review

The National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition will not change your life. In fact, it will hardly make a blip in it. To be fair, the NPPP is only new on the art award scene – this year was only the second instalment – and awards do take some time to find their niche and gain momentum and all that. It is entirely possible that the National Portrait Gallery just didn’t get enough entries to be able to be overly selective – after all, the temporary exhibition wing in the new building has a lot of wall space to fill.

To start at the beginning, the prize was open to entries from all over the country, so long as they were photos and portraits. Easy enough criteria to fill, but one would like to think that like say, the Archibald Prize, artists would use this as an opportunity to push the limits of the medium and the notion of portraiture itself. No such luck. This is where the NPPP has me worried. There are some very, very average works in this show. No sooner had I stepped out of the exhibition had I forgotten pretty much everything that was in it.. I did a second round – concentrating as hard as possible, but same result. When I was later asked what my favourite piece was I came up with absolutely nothing.

That said, the judges have done a good job sorting through the chaff and picking a winner to take home the whopping $25,000 prize. Cormac and Callum, Ingvar Kenne’s portrait of his sons, is fairly interesting as these things go, quite dark and bizarre, and definitely one of the more accomplished works in the show. Interestingly it was bagged in all major newspapers the day after the prize was announced. Despite the exhibition’s pedestrian nature I would suggest a visit to the National Portrait Gallery anyway. Take your mother. The exhibition is free, the permanent collection is pretty satisfying and if you haven’t yet checked out the new building then it’s about time you did.



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