Art and About – ‘I Think I Can’ Review


I Think I Can places a thoroughly modern concept: avatars, onto a nostalgic frame. The interactive artwork, being exhibited as part of the Art and About Sydney Festival, allows individuals to create avatars that live and interact in a large scale model railway named Springfield Junction.

Taking it’s name from popular children’s book The Little Engine That Could’, I Think I Can focuses on creation and storytelling. The work is the brainchild of Terrapin Puppet Theatre artistic director Sam Routledge and artist Martyn Coutts and is presented by Performance Space and Art and About Sydney.

I found I Think I Can at the Central Station Concourse on the opening night of Art and About Sydney, and quickly decided I wanted to experience it. After an informative chat with a volunteer I decided that I would get an avatar. The first step was a personality test. Then I was presented with a selection of different avatars that I could choose from. I chose an ‘Activist’. Other avatars that you could be assigned included the Queen, a vandal, a reality TV star, or President Obama.

I Think I Can

My ‘I Think I Can’ Passport and my selected avatar.

The next step was figuring out where he would be placed in Springfield Junction. I decided my little man should be hanging by the abattoir. Next his back story had to be established. I decided the activist was visiting friends who work at the abattoir and coming for a spot of protesting. The guy, let’s call him Ned, had decided to protest at the abattoir because he had found an embryo in a can from the factory. He’d only been an activist for about a week. This back story was recorded in an iPad.

My tiny avatar was then animated by a puppeteer and broadcast live onto a screen above the model town.


The puppeteer animates the Activist.


The Activist has become part of Springfield Junction.

I have been told that each time I come back I can change what my activist is up to and I can follow his adventures if he pops up in the ‘I Think I Can Times’: an online publication of the scandals and news of Springfield Junction.

I enjoyed the artwork on many levels. On one level, the process evoked nostalgia of model train stations and made me appreciate the enormous capacity we have as children to create fictional worlds. This element allows the work to be family friendly, it’s great for kids and it’s cheap (free to participate)!  On another level, I enjoyed the art work for all statements that it was making. I Think I Can made me consider how much we try escape our own lives through building hyperreal (often better) versions of ourselves, and our lives. I Think I Can felt like a tangible version of Second Life that was framed in a nostalgic way, making such virtual worlds that are traditionally seen as strange and deviant, playful and natural. It made me realise that this identification with a character is something that we are drawn to even as children.

What statements do you think I Think I Can is making?

Springfield Junction

Little avatars hard at work.


Springfield Junction is a hot bed of activity.

ATYP Fresh Ink National Studio


How’s the serenity?

Three weeks ago I went away to the ATYP National Studio. I met talented people, took in beautiful scenery and churned out some writing I’m pretty stoked about. I could have not generated the work that I did without the unique environment that the National Studio provided.

I want to say a huge thank you for Australian Theatre for Young People for having programs like this. It was an incredible learning experience.

If you are a young writer I encourage you to apply for the National Studio. I think the call-out will be next year but you can be sure to know by liking/following/stalking Fresh Ink on facebook, twitter and checking the website.

If you are a philanthropist who is wanting to donate to something artsy, I definitely encourage you to support the Fresh Ink program.

Great things have come out of the program such as The Language of Love: a film by young writer Kim Ho. It has reached 489,634 views (at the time of writing) and attracted global attention.

Art and About Sydney – Opening Night


The opening of Art and About Sydney was celebrated at Martin Place earlier tonight. The celebration, coined as Friday Night Live, was an evening of cocktails, music and film that set the tone for what is sure to be an inspiring and exciting festival. The event started with a screening of The Arrival by Shaun Tan with a live performance of the score by percussionist Ben Walsh and the 10-piece Orkestra of the Underground. Next The Break filled the audience with trippy space age rock from their new album, Space Farm. Delicious cocktails were on offer throughout the night alongside quirky food trucks. 


For the night owls the evening was just beginning. Attendees could head to the Justice and Police Museum for part one of Penguin Plays Rough at City of Shadows exhibition. This exhibition/performance/literary hybrid brings together ten writers, comedians, playwrights and other wordsmiths to create a story, over several months, in response to a photo chosen from the Police Forensic Archive.

For those looking for a chilled evening Custom’s House library offered the solution: relaxed music, readings and performance. Other recommendations for the night included seeing the Artists’ Market at the State Library of NSW or taking in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Australian Museum.

Art and About Sydney boasts an eclectic and intriguing mix of artworks and performances that will bring the city to life from the 20th of September to the 20th of October. Have a look at the full spread of events and exhibitions here. In the next weeks I will be trying to see and review as much of the festival as possible! Happy festivaling!

An Interview with artist Susan Pickering

Sue Pickering is a Hobart based artist and musician. While visiting Tasmania I talked to her about her inspirations, living in Hobart and her upcoming exhibition ‘Light Lines’.

Sue Pickering in her studio.

Susan Pickering in her studio.

When formulating new work what is your process for generating new ideas? Do you look at work by your favourite artists? Do you take inspiration from the natural environment or do the ideas just come?

A little bit of all of those. A lot of my work started out being inspired by music. But over the years it’s fed on itself a little bit. Often a new work will come out of an idea from an old work, a visual idea. But certainly the natural environment in Tasmania is inspirational.

While my work is bordering on abstract, somewhere between abstract and figurative, there’s a musical quality to them. They are not so much descriptive of things, as of ideas.

You’re a highly accomplished musician. Do you feel that your musical talents feed into your art making or are they separated in your mind?

The music itself, not my music but other people’s music that I have experienced as a musician or a listener, feeds into my art making.

You have a beautiful studio. Thank you for letting me see it. What attracted you to this studio?

This studio is here by the generosity of Veronica Stein, who lives in the house upstairs. When she was at art school she had enough time, being a part time student, to think about what to do after art school. She was going to build a tin shed in her backyard and discovered that it was going to cost a lot of money. It was better to put that money towards an extension of the house, that she and her partner Mike live in, and put a studio underneath the living area of the house.

Then she instigated a few other people to come together and share facilities. We went around to second hand shops and bought shelves. She made the sinks. I applied for a group grant to buy a big etching press and we were successful. We got most of the money for that, Veronica and I contributed the rest. So officially that press is owned by six people, but in effect I am the main one using it now. The others just use it when they need to produce big work.

Veronica and I jointly bought this great big old Albion style relief press, which would have been a letter press, or something that they printed wanted posters with. We bought it second hand from somebody who brought it back from the United States.

View from the Studio where Sue works.

View from the Studio.

Some of the equipment in Sue's studio.

The Albion style relief press that originated in America.

Is there any thing you particularly enjoy about the studio?

The natural environment of the studio is wonderful. Just the fact that I have the studio and the equipment.

On September 5th you have an exhibition coming up at 146 Artspace. What can we expect from this exhibition? Will it be very different from your other work or a continuation of a similar theme or style?

It be will be a development out of the other work. It’s moving more to the figurative with a couple of prints that look more like landscape then the previous ones have.

Sue's studio.

Susan’s studio.

The original plan for this work was that it was going to have an exploration using colour. I’m hoping there will be a little bit more of that [exploration of using colour] that is not extremely subtle. But given the time constraints, since I haven’t been well for the last nine months, I’ve just had to go for it and get some work done initially anyway. The colour will develop after the exhibition. The purpose of life is not just to produce art for an exhibition, it’s to produce art.

Do you feel like the Hobart landscape has influenced your work?

Not Hobart, but the Tasmanian landscape. This exhibition was inspired very much by a residency last year at Lake St Claire in the mountains. And that was a follow on from a previous residency in 2005.


I’ll even include one work that, though completed much more recently, was inspired by the 2005 residency.

Any advice for artists starting out?

Make sure you’re making art because you want to make art. If you are not making it because it is important to you and you’re not making things that are meaningful for you and the activity isn’t meaningful for you, then there is not much point doing it.

A work to be featured as part of Sue's exhibition 'Light Lines'

A work to be featured as part of Susan’s exhibition ‘Light Lines’

Susan’s exhibition Light Lines will be opened by Raymond Arnold at 5:30 pm Friday, the 6th of September, at the 146 Artspace, Hobart. It will remain open until the 3rd of October. The residency and work was funded by Arts Tasmania.