Alice Gage (editor), Ampersand Magazine 4: From the Heart of the Forest to the Edge of the Road (Art & Australia 2011)
I’d seen earlier issues of Ampersand in coffee shops around Newtown and assumed it was a kind of zine with advertising – you know, quirky, poorly crafted stories about queerness, spiky incoherent poems and blurry photos, interspersed with slick promos for hip merchandise. A quick, lazy flip through one copy while waiting for a hot chocolate wasn’t enough to make me rethink,
Then the Art Student gave me this issue for Christmas, and I discovered I WAS WRONG. True, there are a couple of rap-influenced poems, and an over the top postmodernish necrophiliac horror story. But from the opening fold-out photograph, ‘Black Friday’ by John O’Neil, with John Forbes’s ‘Going North’ luxuriating in white space on the back, to the charming appendix noting things that happened when the magazine was in production, this is a delight.
I don’t have to describe the physical magazine because there’s a video of an elegant pair of hands flicking through it here. (Go on, have a look. It only takes about 90 seconds.)
Tommy Murphy (Holding the Man and Gwen in Purgatory playwright) writes about his father’s dementia. Bob Brown (the senator, not an obscure namesake) writes about Oura Oura, his shack retreat in rural Tasmania. Three pages of comics by Leigh Rigozzi tell sweet quotidian anecdotes about life in Newtown (I don’t know if that’s exactly a correct use of quotidian, but it’s a Harvey Pekar term, and seems to fit). Fabian Muir visits people living in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (and makes me wish he and Merilyn Fairskye had been in touch: his article and Plant Life, her recent exhibition of photographs from Chernobyl speak volumes of each other).
There are a couple of wonderful young fogey articles, one inveighing against proposed changes to Fisher Library at Sydney University, to make it more efficient by getting rid of half the books, an auto da fé on an unprecedented scale being conducted in secret, the other lamenting the passing of toll booth operators. An iconoclastic piece on iconoclasm argues that the restoration of works of art that have been vandalised sometimes does more damage than the vandalism. There are pages and pages of high quality colour reproductions of art by Tracy Moffatt and a clutch of Western Desert artists, among others.
I wish I’d read this magazine three months ago, because then I would have made sure to go to the Carriageworks for My Darling Patricia’s Posts in a Paddock, a theatre piece built around murder by Jimmy Governor of ancestors of one of the company: the piece about it here is a brilliant example of Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration, infinitely more interesting than February’s I Am Eora at the same venue.
And as a final note: accustomed as I am to thinking of Melbourne as the place where solid new literary ventures come into being, I was pleased to see that this is a Sydney publication. I Googled the editor, Alice Gage, and discovered that though she is indeed a Sydneysider, she produced the first issue of Ampersand while in Melbourne. Her reflections on the difference in the milieux are worth reading,
I’m posting this the day before the launch of Ampersand 5: Eleventh Hour (the link is to that issue’s YouTube teaser).