Poppy © Samantha Groenestyn

(Illustration Friday)

Media: Gouache, pen and ink.
Listening to: Regina Spektor; The Rolling Stones.



Tweed sketches

And now for some textile / bicycle eye candy.

J, Nathan and I spent all Sunday afternoon gadding about on our bicycles in some fine specimens of tweed, as part of a mob / organised social event.

Plenty of pants tucked into argyle socks.

Time traveller.

No really. This guy built his penny-farthing. You can take courses and build your own if you live in Brisbane!

After a minor altercation with the police, we picnicked. (The police suspected us of protesting, and were anxious to ascertain whether or not we had a permit to do so. ‘No, officer, we are but an oversized group of people enjoying the sunshine together.’ ‘Nonetheless, I shall fine you, sir, for not wearing a helmet, and thus make an example out of you.’ A collection was taken–in a tweed hat–and the fine was paid and a profit was made and no one learned anything.)

(Frilly blouse, knitted cape and bifurcated tweed skirt, ftw.)


Australia and the arts

Grey day © Samantha Groenestyn

At first glance, it would seem that with wealth comes leisure and the ability to procure artefacts of taste, and that a thriving arts culture can only emerge once basic needs are satisfied. Impoverished, we seek only food and shelter. Fed and housed, we seek out objects for their aesthetic appeal as well. We attend the opera and visit the art gallery.

Argued Max, a French comrade: Australia is the counter-argument to this claim. Australians have a high standard of living, but they don’t respect the arts the way the French—for example—do. While the French have a long history of lauding literature and lavish paintings, in spite of bouts of poverty, and even especially during these times as a refuge, Australians don’t find the arts to be central to their identity, or as utterly enthralling.

This is, of course, a generalisation, but I think there is something in it. While summer brings with it a swag of music festivals, religiously attended by tent-laden Aussies from the scattered corners, and while Brisbane’s creatives are banding together to breathe cultural life into our city, it would be hard to argue that these are examples of an ingrained love for the arts in our country. Yesterday I dropped in to the University of Queensland Art Gallery’s exhibition Return to Sender, a collection of artworks from the late seventies and early eighties, a time when Queensland was under the iron rule of one Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. The artists were from Brisbane or rural Queensland, moved to the city to study, and generally found themselves hunted, spending nights in the watch-house and making their exit to Sydney and to the world beyond as quickly as possible. Australia is, historically, a place for creatives and intellectuals to leave.

Queensland is a freshly-mulched nursery for the creative type today, but only as recently as within my lifetime. And perhaps only Brisbane. A peculiar state capital, located at the bottom far right corner, young people such as myself commonly migrate as far as two thousand kilometres from the rural areas of this state to pursue a university education. Yep, my parents live in the same state as me, but our physical distance is such that if they lived in London, I would live in Budapest. That’s a lot of ground to cover to find a little pocket of arts-friendliness. And let me tell you: There’s no stopping for a pint in Brussels, seeing the continent’s largest gothic cathedral in Cologne, or checking out astronomical clocks in Prague along the way.

It’s pretty impressive.

This is a large part of the reason I won’t stay in Australia, and why once I leave, I probably won’t return. It’s not the lack of historic curiosities, but the absence of the arts as a relevant, authentic, impassioned part of our collective identity. Australia permits the arts, and carefully delineates its role, and pockets its tourism dollars, but its heart is not in it. And money can’t buy that.

Culcha, get it up ya.

We might well breathlessly implore Europe, as the young Lambert implores his hero Henri in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins*(p. 182): ‘You have a sense of what is real. You ought to teach us how to live for the moment … I wasn’t thinking of any theoretical treatise. But there are things that you consider important, there are values you believe in. You ought to show us the pleasant things on earth. And you could also make it a little more livable by writing beautiful books. It seems to me that that is what literature should do … Even things that are sad become pleasant when they’re done artistically.’


* De Beauvoir, Simone. 1982. The Mandarins. Trans. Leonard M Friedman. Fontana: Glasgow.


Grey day depicts a bleak but beautiful street in Budapest, a favourite city of mine. Ravaged by war and poverty, Budapest wears the scars of its history, but with surprising grace. The Austro-Hungarian Empire’s shadow remains in the grandness of the city in spite of its traumas.



A collective

Coniston Lane © Samantha Groenestyn

Lost Movements is a ramshackle collective of artists, musicians, photographers, zine-makers and all-around warehouse-partiers. We’re gathering again soon to make magic, breathe paint and rock and roll fumes and to improvise new creative pieces. Lost Movements is thoroughly independent, built from the ground up, unconstrained; a hotpot of complete creative freedom.

It’s not just the warehouse parties that bring us together, but the connections forged on the night between people of different talents but with a united vision. Brisbane creatives are breaking down the compartmentalisation of their crafts and dreaming up collaborative projects during daylight hours, trading skills, cross-pollinating and building each other up. And one can’t go to an art show or gig or market without running into a (now) friendly face.

A couple of new projects have emerged out of this heady mix for me—more on this later!




Heavy with history

Reading Nozick © Samantha Groenestyn

Sometimes it feels good to clear out a bunch of old things—it’s refreshing to remove the weight of things that hang on you, and which you must carry around with you. I’ve been culling my collection of earthly possessions which, while not especially extravagant, seems to consist in a lot of things I don’t want (old paperwork, anyone?). Sometimes, though, those things are imbued with so much history that it’s hard to let them go.

Winter sunrise, Brisbane–biking to work at 6am

I sometimes speculate whether this is a function of having little money. The value of each item, when finally attained, is vastly inflated. Old, stretching clothes don’t seem like they are at the end of their useful lives. Dresses from the markets that I lusted over for weeks and finally bought though they never quite fit. Old, broken jewellery of my mum’s from the eighties. Then there are the cherished things that I have made. The first skirt I sewed, and the many dresses since, faded from ceaseless wear, or in an impossibly beautiful shade of green.

J hates missing out on a good sunrise, especially from the bridge.

I’m going to part with them, because they are old and heavy with history, and in spite of that. When I visited the national museum in Denmark, I spent a whole day tracing the chronology of Danish history, and at the end I sat down, exhausted at the heaviness we human beings create and leave behind us. The world is riddled with our artefacts, and they collect dust and smell musty and leave historic dirt on our hands. Yes, they mean something, but they also mean nothing. And when I remember the things already parted with—impossibly green knit shirts stretched out of shape, and carefully constructed homemade skirts with diamond panels in retro fabric—I feel a fondness but not a sadness. Those things had their day, and I loved them dearly while I used them, and I used them until they were beyond use.

Playing in the fog

It’s good to remember that even the most precious things are still things, and whether they live on in someone else’s possession, like my treasured old rustbucket car, or meet their end, our lives are still rich and our histories remain in our memories.

I was reading Reading Nozick in Edinburgh, and am now reading my own secondhand copy of Anarchy, State and Utopia. In the painting I’m wearing a treasured $5 skirt which flounced over woollen tights in Edinburgh winter, and brushed my bare legs in Italian summer, and visited Einstein’s birthplace of Ulm, and never came home. Which is to say nothing of my green army seconds satchel that saw me through my entire university career before meeting its demise!



Ready or not © Samantha Groenestyn

What’s been on your mind lately? I’ve been thinking about poverty, and whether it has any intrinsic morality. I haven’t been reading anything that overtly argues as much, only old French novels (by Simone de Beauvoir) populated with guilty petit bourgeois intellectuals and tough millionaires imposing their will on the former, and environmental science flavoured books (by Jared Diamond) that posit the correct functioning of business as to make a profit and not to hinder itself with social concerns. Those with money look out for their own interests, and take care to ensure that their money achieves what they desire. It’s therefore easy to paint them as the bad guys, forgetting about the rest of us, forgetting that they are acting rationally given their position. This realisation that it’s perfectly rational to act in certain ways when one has money—most notably, in one’s own interest—leads me to wonder whether having money is somehow connected to one’s moral downfall.

I’ve always viewed money as an enabler. I’m absolutely not the kind of person to argue that money is the root of all evil. But perhaps, money being the enabler that it is, once you have it you are able to act as yourself, unimpeded by poverty or lack of access to resources. And in so acting, you reveal your true nature. Some people will help others with their money. Some will spend it selfishly—not in itself a bad thing. I’ve seen plenty of others feel uncomfortable with it.

Testing out J’s new picnic blanket today at New Farm Park. Yep, you can sit on it. It also buckles onto his bike in a tidy little package, and it’s also homemade by me!

I started to wonder if my personality is best suited to poverty. Can such a notion make sense in the modern world, in which everyone is aspiring to earn and multiply their wealth? When I was on a salary, I could and did buy many things. I could eat more meals out, drink fancier wine and travel, and I picked up some very nice shoes. But I did these things haphazardly, and in something of a fog of not being sure what I liked or wanted. I had the means to do things, so I did them and thought about them later. Now I’m in no such position, I do all the thinking beforehand and make carefully calculated decisions and finally, when I’ve saved up enough, execute them. Is this a virtue—being discerning in your decision-making? Lack of money somehow clears my head and enables me to see straight. It imposes discipline.

Discipline in itself may not be virtuous, but it works for me—I can better order my life and achieve what I want to achieve, resources be damned.

Freight train sunset

I recently knit these Scandinavian mittens with some tweedy Harris wool sent over from Scotland from my dear friend Anna. Brisbane doesn’t get much of a winter, but fortunately I get up at 5am a couple of times a week to go open a cafe, and I open my eyes in the dark and hope that it’s freezing, and am often rewarded with 8 or 9 degree mornings, which warm up to well above 20 C. These mittens keep my hands toasty on the longish bike-ride down.