New Adventures of Mark Twain: Coalopolis to Metropolis
The discovery of an original letter of gratitude sent by the famous author Mark Twain inspired a major cultural production featuring the work of 10 prominent artist / academics from The University of Newcastle and prominent Australian authors. The letter was sent to Mr Wells, a Newcastle dentist, in appreciation for the relief of a toothache suffered by Twain during his lecture tour of Australia in 1895.
Each artist and writer used this incidental find as a point of departure, creating a broader contemporary context for interpretation.
Themes of the work fall into three main groups:
- Travel, voyaging, and the landscape.
- Place/time, marking, writing and performance.
- Social commentary, gender, sexuality and politics.
The exhibition featured works from a broad range of disciplines created in response to Twain’s brief stopover in Newcastle while participating in his Australian lecture tour. This tour was enforced as a result of bad investment decisions in the USA that may have resulted in financial ruin, and therefore the need to take on a world speaking tour that included Australia.
This exhibition tour began in Newcastle or “Coalopolis”, as Twain described this city in his book Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World. It toured to the metropolis of New York before returning to Australia to tour galleries such as Albury, Bendigo, Horsham, Ballarat, Castlemaine, Geelong, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Building on Newcastle’s already successful export tradition, this cultural project highlighted the diversity of an established and nationally recognised creative community.
Project objectives included the following:
- Exploration of how artists interpret and visualise important historical moments
- Extending cross cultural contexts and networks
- Initiating new research frameworks and practice in the creative arts
- Extension of academic and historic knowledge
- Challenging current modes of research and dissemination of knowledge
This initial project was extended to encompass a broad cultural exchange program of research across the humanities looking at travel and cultural frameworks, to include such disciplines as creative writing, music and architecture. This research focus has links to the Arts Health Research and Practice Centre and the broader framework of the new Research Institute of Advanced Study for Humanity within the University of Newcastle.
The Twain project has now been published as a ‘Best practice’ example of research in Art Practice As Research- Inquiry in Visual Arts by Graeme Sullivan second edition Published 2010 by Sage. Along with the book there is a website http://artpracticeasresearch.com/ and blog : http://artasresearch.blogspot.com/
The Twain project has been cited in a chapter of another new book Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts by Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean, published in 2010 by Edinburgh University Press.
Brett’s series of works with homoerotlc implications subvert the bib and brace garment form by combining it wlth machine embroidered text from a variety of sources, including Twain.
Liz’s small paintings are based on Mark Twain’s comment that Australian history was “beautiful lies”. Depictlng lies such as “the continent was empty before Europeans arrived” to the present deceptions of “they threw their children overboard”. A Twain character will be an observer in each work.
Helen’s soundscape draws on historic concert programmes from the region and interweaves music, street sounds and preserved memories to create an imaginary sonic print of the Newcastle that Twain witnessed.
Professor Anne Graham
Anne’s work references Mark Twain’s multiple personas and his capacity to pack his bags, move location and reinvent himself. Twain used several different names and was, in a sense, a character of fiction.
Miranda is using Twain’s quote ”the air was balmy and delicious, the sunshine radiant; it was a charming excursion” to make photographic images that represent a journey with distortions to suggest displacement, and are framed into shapes reminiscent of train windows.
Philip’s work is informed by the dualities and paradoxes of Twain’s life and character, Twain’s America/Australia, the Mississippi/Australian rivers and his visit to Newcastle, and are mixed media works on paper.
Dr Pam Sinnott
Inspired by the stories of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Pam has created digital images of “others”, who as girls were “tomboys’ and are now lesbians wearing their favourite tomboy dress.
Twain’s journey has inspired Kris to produce digital prints and projections which comment on the passage of time as a catalyst for the accretion, evolution and dissemination of ideas.
Trevor’s graphic novel deals with Twain’s unscheduled visit to the local dentist, and the adventures he experiences during that visit.
Patricia took to heart Mark Twain’s observation that the cemetery he referred to at the western end of Hunter Street Newcastle had no bodies interred there. Her assemblages are grave markers for the silent: suicides, the still born, the indigenous, the itinerant, and the insane.
The Exhibition was funded by :
- The University of Newcastle
- Newcastle Innovation ™
The Opening in New York at the Pearl Street Gallery
The opening reception of “New Adventures of Mark Twain: Coalopolis to Metropolis” exhibition in the Pearl Street Gallery was held on October 6, 2007, 5-8 pm. The exhibition was on display from September 28 – November 4, 2007.
Download the Brochure (PDF)
Opening Remarks given by Benjamin Genocchio, Art Critic for the New York Times.
Ben was introduced by Graeme Sullivan, Chair of the Department of Arts & Humanities, Teachers College, Columbia University, who served as the exhibition coordinator for the New York exhibition of the New Adventures of Mark Twain: Coalopolis to Metropolis, October 6, 2007.
If there is any applause it should be for the artists who have not only made the work, but some of you have come here today, so let me add my congratulations and thanks to you. Let me also thank the gallery for hosting this exhibition–I appreciate that. It’s always important for venues in other parts of the world to support and show the work of Australian artists, so I want to thank the Pearl Street Gallery for that. And I also want to thank Graeme Sullivan for his tremendous work here on behalf of the show and the artists.
I don’t want to say too much because I do think, really, the work speaks for itself, and those that don’t there certainly is more than enough information in the catalogue. I did read the catalogue with great interest and dipped into some of my books at home on Mark Twain. I do have a little anecdote I want to share with you. I think it’s often forgotten that Mark Twain perhaps didn’t want to visit Australia, but he was broke and desperate. He only went there on a lecture tour to raise money to pay of his debts. No sooner had he stepped off the boat in Australia and a reporter asked him what seems to be now a very Australian question–he asked him immediately what he thought of the country. Evidently he replied, “I don’t know of course, but I’m ready to adopt any ideas that seems handy.”
And I guess by some madness he announced he intended to begin writing a book about Australia at once, and he said,”you know so much more about a country when you haven’t seen it.” And I think he was jesting, but at the same time knowing more about a country when you haven’t seen it was his way of talking about fiction and creativity. And I think for a creative mind often the absence of factual information, historical signposts if you will, can actually be a kind of blessing–it leaves more room for the imagination. It leaves room for you to make things up.
And so I think for the artists in this exhibition, who have almost magically, I think, created fresh, lively and entertaining visual stories from really what is the barest of prompts–a letter sent by Twain to a Newcastle dentist in gratitude for relief from a toothache. We know almost nothing about the dentist and in some ways that doesn’t really matter. Twain spent twenty minutes, maybe half an hour with him according to one of the catalogue essayists. And I think the dentist, in a way like Twain’s lecture tour was just a catalyst for something else, something bigger, and in this case the book and exhibition. So I think the moral from that, in a way, is that the organizers of the show and the artists, truly honor Twain and in their achievement of so much from so little. Thank you.
- Incongruous Incredibilities: New Adventures of Mark Twain
- Essay by Graeme Sullivan, Chair of the Department of Arts & Humanities, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Lovett Gallery – Photographs of Installation & Opening Night
The exhibition ran during April and May, 2007 at the Lovett Gallery in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. Some photographs of the installation of the exhibition, and its opening night are available on the Google Picasa website – http://picasaweb.google.com/Samuel.Clements.Mark.Twain/TwainLovettGalleryNewcastle
2nd Floor, Cultural Centre
Newcastle Region Library
Newcastle NSW 2300
Venues & Other Information
Lovett Gallery, Newcastle Australia: April/May 2007
Pearl Street Gallery, Brooklyn New York: September 28 – November 4, 2007
New Adventures of Mark Twain COALOPOLIS TO METROPOLIS
Contributing Editor: Miranda Lawry
Published by the University of Newcastle
Featured artists: Brett Alexander, Liz Ashburn, Helen English & Nathan Scott, Anne Graham, Miranda Lawry, Philip Schofield, Pam Sinnott, Kris Smith, Trevor Weekes, Patricia Wilson-Adams
Featured writers: Don Watson, Peter Hill, Tim Fischer, Gionni Di Gravio
This exhibition proposal attracted a great deal of interest and support from a diverse range of individuals and institutions including:
- The University of Newcastle
- Hon Tim Fischer – AC Chair Tourism Australia
- John Garran – Director Joint Research Group Pty Ltd International Business Solutions
- Gionni DiGravio – Archivist – Cultural Collections, the University of Newcastle
- Mike Scanlon – Journalist
- Professor Graeme Sullivan – Chair of the Department of Arts & Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University NY
- Boris Curatolo – Director and exhibition co-ordinator, Pearl Street Gallery NY.
- Dr Peter Hill – Artist, writer and critic
- Don Watson – Author
Our first exhibition venue was Newcastle Region Library’s Lovett Gallery. Newcastle Region Library is the largest lending library in NSW with over 2 million loans and over 1 million visitors each year.
The Lovett Gallery boasts a comprehensive range exhibitions and public programs. In 2006 80,000 people visited the Gallery.