Sunday, 20 October 2019

Flashback to the GFC: ABC news and ‘7.30 Report’

On 31 October 2007, the All Ordinaries, an Australian equities index, was at 6873 and by 6 March 2009 it had fallen to 3111, losing almost half its value. Now, a decade later, it is sitting at around 6640.

How much has (slowly) changed. In the 10 photos below, which were taken on 8 May 2008 between 7.18pm and 7.31pm, you can see the US-dollar to Aussie-dollar exchange rate was, in May 2008, sitting at 94 US cents to the Aussie. The US stock market also lost about 50 percent of its value after the global financial crisis (GFC) began, or at least the S&P 500 index did. But as early as 28 March 2013 the S&P 500 surpassed the high it had hit in 2007, while the All Ordinaries is still, now, struggling to regain all the losses it suffered in the years since October 2007. The Aussie dollar is currently worth about 68 US cents.

These photos are just a few out of 122 taken between 7.04pm and 7.32pm while watching TV, starting with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) 30-minute news program and then its magazine current affairs program the ‘7.30 Report’ (the name has since been changed to just ‘7.30’). Kerry O’Brien was its host in those days and some people in the community miss him. Like the current host, Leigh Sales, O’Brien had a forthright interviewing style.

One of the images you can see below shows preparations for the hosting of the summer Olympics which, that year, were held in China. More significant however than Beijing’s optimistic PR stunt was what is shown in another photo that appears underneath the text you are reading. In this image, Australian artist Vincent Fantauzzo is standing in front of his portrait of Heath Ledger who had died, tragically for someone so young and with so much talent, in January of that year.

Ledger would have been a megastar if he had lived, a person with gravitas enough to rival any of the major male actors alive today. His death reminds me of how hard it must be to live with the kind of exposure that fame brings, and of the unique challenges that famous people face. It also reminds me of the need for men to be more open about their problems, and to talk through things rather than relying on themselves to pull through difficult times. We also need, I think, to treat substance abuse as a health problem, and to decriminalise illicit substances.

The actor had finished, not long before, the work needed for the movie ‘The Dark Knight’, which centres on the character of the Joker from the ‘Batman’ opus. The villain was played by Ledger. As usual, his performance was masterful. The movie was released in July 2008. In 2019, at the time this post was being written, the community was talking about another film in the same franchise, this time titled simply ‘Joker’. It had polarised people, many of whom thought it terrific and others who thought it terrible.

For his part, Fantauzzo is not earth-shatteringly original in his approach to painting but his work does, on the other hand, readily appeal to the broader public. His ideas seem, to me, to be strong and while his style is determinedly figurative (in other words, his works use realism to depict the things or ideas contained in them), his compositions are vigorous and suggestive.

When I was working on this blogpost I saw in my Twitter feed a quote from the artist Anselm Kiefer, in French, which went: « Je me méfie de la réalité, tout en sachant qu’à leur niveau les œuvres d’art sont également illusion. » This translates as: “I distrust reality, all the while knowing that at their level works of art are equally illusion.” It’s a very postmodern thing to say, and is typical of its time. But it illustrates the truth that, at the end of the day, even a figurative work is just a composition. It might give us an illusion of reality but its power lies in the disturbing effects produced by the artifice used to make it.

In recent years, figurative art has made a comeback but what is now produced in this mode is different from the types of figurative works that were made in the centuries before Modernism and Postmodernism emerged. Now, every mode that can be used for making art is acceptable, although prizes like the Archibald show us that figurative work never really ever went away.

‘Heath’ won the People’s Choice Award in 2008 and was subsequently acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which runs the Archibald Prize at around the same time every year. A decade later, in 2018, Fantauzzo, still entering paintings in the competition, won the same award, this time for a portrait of Julia Gillard, who had been the country’s prime minister.

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