Saturday, 5 April 2008

Wendy Were has toned down her 'tude this year, as she promotes her second Sydney Writer' Festival. Against last year's 'argument' theme, this year she says "the idea of vision underpins" the new program.

Not all are agreeing on just what makes this year different. In yesterday's The Sydney Morning Herald, arts writer Angela Bennie wrote that "the subject of death and dying has emerged as a continuing threnody throughout Were's programming".

Were denies any deliberateness in this direction, and in today's paper it's the 'vision' thing. She lists a bunch of reasons for the concept, mainly two though: a new government here and a pending US election (with a Democrat set to take office).

Another list includes:

  • future imaginings
  • dystopian visions
  • fear of annihilation
  • the drive towards conservation
  • reconciliation
  • indigenous politics
  • an altered sense of personal and civic responsibility
  • mobilising
  • political activism
  • hope
  • optimism

These are strong concepts. Meaty, redolent with significance, potentially disruptive. And odd, considering that Were has chosen a label usually (a tired trope dating from the early 1990s) associated with management of companies: 'vision'.

Bennie's story also notes that two venues would be used this year instead of one. The pier next to the regular one has been refitted for the purpose. Clearly there's money involved, now, in a way that didn't apply even five years ago.

Dymocks' adjacent promo features a new, inviting design with author snaps accompanied by book-cover photos. The cool, lay-over labels with author name and book title add lustre to the design. It's a slick look and it's new this year.

Notable here is Susan Wyndham, who normally appears in the arts sphere as a books editor with the Herald, but whose new book, Life In His Hands (about a concert pianist, Aaron McMillan, whose brain surgery to remove a tumor she will discuss at Mosman Library this coming Wednesday) is subtitled 'The true story of a neurosurgeon and a pianist'.

Archaic and sonorous, reminding us of Peter Carey's lauded book on Ned Kelly, the title points to a resurgence of interest in the past. We saw a similar moment when the ads for the Royal Easter Show appeared on post-office LCD monitors. A fox hunter mounted on a thoroughbred, in full chase.

Were's bright orange bangles give her publicity a distinctly Asian cast, however. Are they yellow? (Yellow is a royal colour in many Asian countries.) The photos are by Edwina Pickles. Both are posed in a stylish, retro cast. In the first, Were highlights her arms and the accessories they carry. Here the bangles glow yellow in their centres, in contrast to her brown-and-black frock.

In the second, Were adopts a deliberately 60s pose. Her head and legs are angled to the left while her hips sway right. This draws our attention to her gender, but in a commanding way that plays with stereotypes of femininity.

Marieke Hardy's photo on the Herald's website today (along with a three-page story by Elicia Murray) also leverages cliches about female beauty.

Wyndham's book began with a story published in 2003.

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