Each year, GDS helps create ambitious new works by writers and artists, by way of the GDS commissions program. This program sees a range of artists produce long-form pieces with a twist, created especially for upcoming issues of Going Down Swinging. The idea is to help bring artworks into being that wouldn’t have otherwise existed, using ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
2012’s program will produce three spoken word performance commissions, one multimedia commission (for our digital edition, GDS #34), one non-fiction commission, and one fiction/visual art collaboration commission, meaning seven artists in all are part of the commission program.
The collaborative commission is designed to challenge both a writer and an artist by making them work together on an entirely new creation, to be published in a full-colour centrepiece in our print edition. This year, acclaimed author and poly-prizewinner Cate Kennedy joined up as our collaborative writer. Led by our visual arts expert Tai Snaith, we cast around for the right partner, and chose watercolour painter Simon MacEwan.
Cate’s wistful and fragmentary story involves flicking through an atlas as a child, discovering and bypassing greater meaning in each of its pages.
Pale yellow landmasses and continents, spidery inscribed rivers and placenames, pages crammed with millions of tiny dots depicting towns and cities across a planet that seems so populous, all of it claimed and named, other people’s towns crowding down coastlines. Then I flip to the front, and the topographic maps show those same continents with surfaces wrinkled like melted cheese, and I feel a small defensive jerk of sympathy for Australia, tinted drought-orange and faint lime green, nearly all desert and hardly any placenames filling its dull, empty surface, the huge oceans around it cement-grey, crumpled like paper discarded then smoothed out again.
Addressing each fragment, Simon’s illustrations respond in fragments of their own: small drawings of flowers and minerals as though plucked from atlas pages, cross-sections of lava-filled volcanoes melting into squares of creme-filled chocolate. He also produces several full-page illustrations of stunning vibrancy, like this.
Book designers Santangelo + Hall incorporate some aspects of the original 1961 atlas into the section, as well as throughout the book as an ongoing design feature. They lay out Cate’s paragraphs and Simon’s illustrations with great care, so that each plays with the other. The end result is ‘Atlas Dharma’, a triumph and a thing of beauty, that makes it well worth picking up GDS #33 for its sake alone.
An excerpt from the story was published here in The Age on September 25. Cate will also be reading the entire story at our #33 launch on Sunday September 2, at the Toff in Town, from 7pm. Tickets here, best book ‘em now.