By Chris Wallace
Lucy Quinn is an artist by day. By night she is Roulette Rouge, marauding jammer for Canberra’s Vice City Rollers. Roulette joined roller derby team mates including Freudian Slit, Short Stop, Speedin’ Seagal, Ova Bearing and captain Bambi von Smash’er in what turned into a ritual slaughter of them by Queensland’s Sun State Roller Girls at the AIS Arena on Saturday night.
Roller derby is a “fast contact sport played on old school quad roller skates…an athletic and skilled sport played mostly by women”, according to the program. Really it’s like a cross between a rugby game and a cycling race. Two teams block, tackle, dodge, weave and try to take each other out like rugby, except they’re racing in the same direction and aren’t carrying a ball. At the same time it’s like a cycling race on much smaller wheels where competing peletons try to advantage their lead rider – in roller derby, the jammer – and put them in a position to score. It’s all at breakneck speed like cycling but with plenty of hard-pounding body contact like rugby. It takes guts.
Like most sport, it’s a metaphor for life. You get knocked down. You get up again. The art life is like that too. Psychologically, you get knocked down and you get up again over and over again. It takes real endurance to keep going in the face of the knocks and knockbacks that the reaction of critics, paucity of pay checks and generally difficult working conditions experienced by artists represents.
The process of being down and getting up again at a deeper level was the prompt curator Helen Maxwell has given artists in the “Gleam of Light” show currently at M16 Gallery in Griffith. Maxwell asked artists including Pamela Lofts, Kim Mahood, Peter Vandermark, Patsy Payne, Ruth Waller and Dorte Conroy to contemplate a place so dark there seems no way forward. “But there must always be a way, some illumination,” Maxwell said. So the artists were asked to think as well about how we discover “for ourselves a glimmer within, or beyond, the darkness.”
Watching Roulette Rouge and thinking of her day job as artist Lucy Quinn, I couldn’t help but admire her conscious decision to learn how to build courage and resilience by taking up roller derby. Dodging and weaving round the other team’s blockers, getting up off the deck after getting smashed by one of them – hell, the art life must seem like a snack after an evening playing jammer for the Vice City Rollers.
Another person who might want to cultivate some jammer-style skills is new ACT Museum and Galleries director Shane Breynard, appointed to succeed Peter Haynes who has moved to the University of Canberra. The position is a critical one since it includes stewardship of Canberra Museum & Gallery (CMAG) at Civic Square on London Circuit.
Some fine exhibitions have been at CMAG during Haynes’ tenure, not least the excellent Deborah Clark-curated “Imitation of Life: Memory & Mimicry in Canberra Region Art” on right now. But there have been problems, too, not of Haynes’ making. Rather they flow from the rolling in of disparate arts facilities into one organisation, the Cultural Facilities Corporation (CFC), and the dead zone and therefore deadweight that Civic Square (where CMAG’s main entrance is) constitutes.
Under the CFC structure as it has operated so far, the CMAG chief as well as the head of the Canberra Theatre have been unnecessarily – I’d argue counterproductively – low profile. In other cities their equivalents would be well known, stimulating community thinking and debate about art and theatre respectively and, crucially, in the process capturing community attention for their institutions. It’s true of comparable national entities in Canberra: National Gallery chief Ron Radford and National Museum chief Andrew Sayers are household names. The chiefs of major local cultural institutions should be too.
The structure isn’t going to change any time soon so it must be made to work better. Shane Breynard, a distinguished graduate of the ANU School of Art with a strong arts policy background as well, should be given his head, encouraged to go out and make a big name for himself and thereby insert CMAG more centrally into the hearts and minds of Canberrans in the process. If Breynard isn’t explicity tasked to do so by the board and executive of the CFC, perhaps a few jammer moves would be in order to help him break free and cut a cultural dash. The days of CMAG being stellar but silent should end as soon as possible.
This first appeared in the Canberra Times on 13 August, 2011