"My dying wish is to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt, the man with whom I was united by every tie which could bind human friendship, we were one in hopes, in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms"
-Andrew George Scott, aka Captain Moonlight, 20 January, 1880
In the context of Australia's recent plebiscite, it is easy to think of the Australian Gay community as being a contemporary phenomenon. But on the peripheral of many of Australia's historically great myths and legends, lie untold stories of Australian Queer Histories. Captain Moonlite, a fierce bushranger who was arrested while cradling his dying younger male lover, is one such story. In January of 1995, 115 years after death, Captain Moonlite's body was exhumed from Rookwood Cemetary to be buried in Gundagai near the remains of his lover Nesbit.
Composition: Paul Smith
Overlooking Shelly Beach in Port Macquarie sits the iconic Harry’s Lookout. The site is known for its picturesque view and for the man whom it is named after. From 1959, until his death in 2000, Harry Thompson was the unofficial caretaker, a citizen of the year and later appointed Mayor of Shelly Beach. While on Residence with the Glasshouse Port Macquarie, Todd Fuller reimagined this iconic local story in a hand drawn animation.
Harry and his wife arrived in a caravan they purchased after winning the lottery. Getting bogged on the beach, that van would become their family home. Many locals remember Harry for his eccentricities, keeping the beach safe and clean, as well as disagreements with local authorities, while holidaymakers remember his festive installations such as the ‘thong tree’ for lost possessions. Fuller’s animation is a vehicle for those memories, drawn and painted by hand, it traces Harry’s story.
Cinematographer: Emma Conroy
Producer: Tyler Hawkins
Actors: Ian Roberts, Brandy Martignago
Composition: Paul Smith
In the face of the postal plebiscite, Todd Fuller made a third iteration of his video, "Unite Project", the first edition shown for Mardi Gras 2016. This project is a participatory artwork surveying a range of responses to same-sex love and marriage equality.
Fuller sent members of the public black + white drawings depicting two men engaged in a passionate kiss. The participants were encouraged to respond to the image by colouring in the figures, with the resulting images complied by Fuller into a mixed media video animation.
"The bulk of responses were overwhelmingly positive, although I did receive a few drawings that were torn up, crushed or with the eyes violently poked out, the vast majority of responses depicted love, support, rainbows and strength. It was a really important project for us when it started and in the face of the postal plebiscite, it felt more important than ever to illustrate the shift in views on this issue through art", says Fuller.
"In the end, nearly a thousand people engaged in the process of having received, responded and returned the drawings, each one becoming a single image in the thousands of stills edited together into the animation. The ritual used in the original process seems quite apt as our community faced a postal vote to decide our rights… and so "Unite Project - 3rd generation" was born".
In Peter Darling's choreography of the 'Dream Ballet' sequence for the musical Billy Elliot, a young Billy undertakes a Pas de deux with a chair. Set to the dramatic sound track of Tchaikovsky's Swan lake, Darling subverts the safety of the ballet barre replacing it with a mesmerising spinning chair balanced on pointe in an impossible manner. The chair loses its stability to become a menacing, uncanny obstacle to the dance. Yet, a young Billy flawlessly moves with strength, determination, control and grace, turning his spinning foe into an unlikely dance partner. Appropriating this choreography, the Artist creates a self portrait animated in pastel on paper. Through it, Fuller re-lives childhood experiences as a pseudo 'Billy Elliot' dancing in rural community. With fading technique, his hand drawn solo reflects on the relationship between gender, dance, and place and the ability for queer community to draw resilience, strength and beauty from the most chaotic of moments.
In March 2017 Todd participated in the Hill End Artist in Residence program. During this time he created the animation Icarus of the Hill, which combines his experiences with imagery from Australian Art History around the site and Greek mythology. The resulting body of work explores this significant place, its history and our relationship to it.
A Hill End Artists in Residence Program exhibition.
Created as a commission for Carl Sciberras’ dance piece, ‘Common Annomalies’ at Riverside Theatre, this film imagines migration stories from Malta and Italy to Western Sydney in the 1930’s.
Ode to Clarence creates an intimate domestic setting to watch an animation of the same name. The animation, Ode to Clarence is a hand drawn and painted film created during a residency at Grafton Regional Art Gallery. Grafton is currently undergoing a significant change due to the construction of a new bridge connecting the north and south of the town. This new construction has been in development for nearly thirty years and aims to replace an existing bridge which is no longer suitable for the towns needs. However the existing bridge is of significant heritage status and charm being one of two of its kind in the world. There is a bittersweetness to this towns progress as it watches a new concrete pilot structure grow alongside the beautiful iron bridge that it has both loved and loathed for many years. In this animation, a man arrives in town carrying a tiny piano, falling in love with the bridge, he plays his piano on the banks of the Clarence river while the new bridge is constructed. Like Nero fiddling while Rome burnt to the ground, Ode to Clarence explores changing rural identities and our relationships to them.
The pink eclipse
by Karin Chan and Todd Fuller
According to the North American Innu Nation, Kuekuatsheu was the original lover of the moon who was tricked into leaving the spirit world, taking the form of a dog and losing his partner. Similarly Chang’e and Hou Yi from the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival were destined to watch one another from afar after drinking a magical elixir. In both stories, two lovers, yearn for each other from afar. Starting with the Railway Roundabout Memorial fountain as a meeting place, Chan and Fuller offer these dispersed lovers an opportunity to reunite for one last duet; by the pink light of a tunnel in Tasmania.
Written byTai Spruyt, August 2016
The word ‘siren’ carries multiple meanings. It is an alarm: a loud prolonged sound signifying danger, a warning to all within earshot that something is amiss. Greek mythology depicts sirens as hybrid bird-woman creatures whose enchanting song lured unwary sailors to their deaths.At some point the lore of sirens merged with legends of Nereids or sea nymphs, giving rise to accounts of mermaids recorded in sailor’s logs for centuries.The term siren is also applied to another seemingly mythical creature that has historically been mistaken for the fabled mermaid – the dugong.A family of marine mammals belonging to the order of Sirenia, dugongs are more closely related to elephants than aquatic mammals such as dolphins or whales. Gentle beings, vulnerable to environmental change and the loss of their
habitat, they are almost comical in appearance. Despite a body the shape of a large, pale jellybean with fins and the head of a cow, the dugong improbably possess a sentient grace and familiarity of expression that carries echoes of humanity.
In How to raise a siren, 2016, multi-disciplinary artist Todd Fuller gives consideration to different interpretations of the term siren, while also using the dugong as a means to explore themes of conservation, innocence, naivety, imagination and love.The hand-drawn animation, set to a soundtrack of ocean waves, opens on a monochromatic coastal landscape tinted with a palette of blues that range from inky purple through to vibrant turquoise, occasionally balanced by warm gold tones that colour the sands of Sydney’s Bondi Beach.A vintage shark alarm indicates that there may be some kind of danger present, a notion soon compounded by the appearance of ominous shapes on the horizon – dark, threatening ships that cast lawnmowers into the pristine water.
A sense of nostalgia is palpable, the sound of waves evoking memories of days spent by the sea, hunting for treasures in rock pools at low tide.A child stands on a rock holding a jar, a tiny dugong falls from the sky and is captured, rescued, taken home
to be raised and nurtured.The ships return in different guises throughout the video – a menacing presence in a poster on the wall of the child’s room or as toys in the bathtub – infiltrating otherwise familiar scenes of security.A pervasive reminder of the effect we have on the marine environment, but also representative of the way the everyday reality of living can impact creativity and imagination. How to raise a siren isn’t just a narrative about environmental conservation, though the preservation of the natural world is an undeniably important theme. It is also a chronicle about the importance of safeguarding imagination in a world where reality often imposes limitations on our hopes and our dreams.
When the dugong falls from the sky, it is as a manifestation of inspiration and creativity, and a personification of the vulnerability of our aspirations. Despite the ever-present hazards and dangers of the world, the dugong is cared for and protected, swimming happily in fish bowls and bathtubs, growing and flourishing even as the child matures and becomes an adult. Eventually, outgrowing every vessel and receptacle, too large and exuberant to be limited or contained, the dugong is transported back to the ocean, and set free.
By night one way, by day another,
the spinning ball of blue and the others of light.
One falls from the sky.
To catch that ball, to be that star.
Zvezdochka, or Little Star, was the 11th dog to be sent into space by the Russians. Like the others in the program, she endured extreme conditions as a scientific experiment into the effects of orbital travel on a living creature. Fuller’s film addresses themes of loss, love, friendship, desire, ambition, and yearning while his Australianised Little Star invites you into the imaginings of a dog who dreams of space.
There’s no place like Rome
Written by Elin Howe
In There’s no place like Rome, Todd Fuller takes us to the city within the city, the Vatican. At its centre is Fuller’s pope. Burdened with the overwhelming responsibility of the papal office, he is the anxious protagonist in this exhibition which comprises a suite of drawings, installation, sculpture and two short animated films. The exhibition represents the fruits of Fuller’s recent stay in Rome. Awarded the 2013 William Fletcher Travelling Fellowship Residency to the British School at Rome, Fuller has steeped himself in the history and culture of the city, leading him eventually to focus on its most powerful living symbol – the pope.
Fuller, clearly inspired by William Kentridge’s hand-drawn animated films, has emulated his technique. Like Kentridge, Fuller is a strong draughtsman and uses this skill to unfold his narrative. From what appears to be a large body of work, Fuller has chosen eight drawings of different sizes to frame and exhibit. This selection establishes the context, mood and introduces key moments in the overall narrative, which is subtly revealed as one encounters the complete suite of work.
On entry the viewer is confronted with Untitled 7, one of the larger-scale drawings which immediately establishes a context for the story Fuller is about to unfold. Featuring a massive Roman head and the smaller figure of a seated pope, this image also introduces a mood of anxiety – the Roman head, albeit wearing cardinal-red robes, invokes its visual source, a well-known antique sculpture of Constantine from Capitoline Hill. Despite its massive power, it is sightless; and the much smaller seated, but leaning figure of the pope in the background turns to look warily out at us. Opposite this image is Untitled 1, another large scale drawing, this time featuring multiple images of a fleeing pope as he descends the Vatican spiral staircase. This image conjures a filmic reference: Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather III – the murder scene of the corrupt cardinal as he fearfully descends that same staircase. Fuller’s decision to leave, rather than erase, his multiple images of the pope as he makes his way down the stairs lends the drawing an appropriate cinematic quality, but it also invokes the medieval tradition of multiple images of the Christ figure, at different stages of the biblical story, but all within the one frame. Both of these drawings, speaking to one another across the gallery space, clearly locate the action in its context and set up narrative tension for the rest of the show.
The other drawings address key moments in the story – a pope busy at his desk dealing with the hundreds of prayers which arrive on postcards; the Vatican dome; a pope leaving his seclusion to venture into the outdoor precincts of the Vatican; and a poignant image, Untitled 2, of a pope overwhelmed by his responsibilities. In its economy and style, this drawing is reminiscent of another artist known for her drawing skills, Joy Hester. In her 1955 ink drawing, Mother, she conveys the same sense of vulnerability with the same pared-back style.
The central space of the gallery is populated with small terracotta figures on plinths – a curious pilgrim and a pair of conspiring cardinals whispering together – and a terracotta camera, Relic culture, from which one of the short films, Papal Pardon, plays. At the rear of the gallery, behind a black screen, Fuller has assembled a small dimly lit monastic cell featuring a simple timber table functioning as a desk for an antique typewriter, a chair and a spiral-bound church wall calendar. The sheet in the typewriter cleverly operates as the screen onto which Fuller projects his longer film,Postcards to the Pope.
It is in these two short films that we come to meet Fuller’s pope and start to understand his dilemma. In Postcards to the Pope, we see a pope isolated and alone, but nevertheless valiantly attempting to deal with the pressures of office. Prayer-postcards become Fuller’s visual device for conveying the weight of responsibility building on the papal shoulders. Prayers arrive, at first from one of his red-robed cardinals praying serenely in a chapel nearby to the accompaniment of a divine soprano voice. Then after the pope blesses the multitudes from the balcony in St Peter’s Square, their prayer-postcards fill the skies over the Vatican dome before floating through his window and accumulating around him in great drifts. Seated at his desk, he types diligently, attempting to deal with them. There is a brief moment when one of his cardinals appears to recognise the load his brother is bearing, but then his eyes close – to become the sightless Roman statue in Untitled 7. Fuller’s pope is alone again. Gradually the task becomes overwhelming, impossible. We see him on his knees adding his prayer to the mounting piles of postcards. Finally he flees down the spiral staircase, and aided by the vacillating cardinal, slips out a side door to drive off in a little blue car.
In Papal Pardon, Fuller’s pope, digital camera dangling from his neck, has joined the queue of tourists waiting to enter St Peter’s. We see his slow progress up the long line before he’s finally in. Once inside, the space explodes with noise and camera flashes. Through the staccato soundtrack and visuals we get a sense of his horror at this scene. People are speaking loudly and laughing in this sacred place; and their casual holiday clothes seem inappropriate and disrespectful. Even the cardinals’ unbothered behaviour offends him. Then he’s face-to-face with Michelangelo’s Pieta and, for a fleeting moment, the noise is drowned out by the sheer force of this work. The clamour evaporates. The screen goes still. Then again, the unstoppable presence of the crowd reasserts itself. Fuller’s holy man is torn – he wants to erect No Photography signs, but he succumbs to temptation and makes a short video instead. In play-back mode on his camera he shows us his ‘selfie’. He’s morphed into one of the tourists, smiling and gesturing to the camera with the ubiquitous two-fingered V sign as he makes his way into the basilica. The drawn camera screening this transformation is a clever device to illustrate the way our behaviour changes in front of a lens. This pope, like those around him, has been corrupted by the tourist environment.
These short films flesh out a familiar theme in Fuller’s work – his pope is masculine, human, frail and fallible. This story unfolds irrespective of the order in which one encounters the work – the mark of an adroit story-teller. The framed drawings appear as scenes within the films, but function to deepen the exhibition experience by allowing time to focus on the impressive draughtsmanship and skilful use of visual devices; after a viewing of Papal Pardon, the noise inside St Peter’s easily transfers to the terracotta figures, who seem to fit right into that motley crowd of tourists and pragmatic cardinals; and Fuller’s monastic cell creates an evocative viewing space for his longer film, thereby encouraging a more empathetic reading of his vulnerable pope. This is a show which needs an investment of the viewer’s time, but it will reward the patient. It’s an impressive and unified body of work which represents a fresh step in Fuller’s oeuvre.
I was always dissatisfied by the static nature of drawing. In my head my characters were alive but when channelled through the hands and forged onto the page, my imaginings could never be truly realised. With this in mind, animation was the logical next step. Through drawing, documenting and re drawing, I was able to breath life into the meandering of my subconscious. Starting with just a simple mark on a page, a camera, and no real plan or sense of direction, I layered marks one by one while photographing the process. With time, they collaborate to form a person, thing or a place and so begins a fierce negotiation with the drawing. This inevitably unfurls into an unplanned story.
In the case of adrift (2012) the figure who emerged from the cacophony of lines quickly asserted himself to be autobiographical. He was an alter ego representing myself at that moment in time. He clutches his bag and quietly endures the world while dreaming of something better. A red balloon offers solace and thus like an evolving sketchbook the pages snap to life to offer him a new direction…
Sound by Abby Smith
An umbrella is a very special thing:
It shields us from the rain,
keeping us warm and dry.
In the harsh or glorious sun,
it creates shade and comfort.
There is nothing sadder than a man clutching
an umbrella as it is ripped from his hands,
it tumbles and flips across the pavement ,
or is thrown from his grasp.
There is nothing sadder than a weary, withered umbrella,
alone in the gutter after a storm.