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Gang-gang: Surreal goldfish

Goldfish owners may have far higher expectations of their finned pets after seeing this work by Brisbane digital artist Jane Long.

Reality is terribly overrated and Canberra readers anxious to take a break from it are about to be blessed with an exhibition of some of Long's gently surreal "photomanipulation" works.

Look closely once and then look closely again at her Innocence (pictured here) and you may come across some surprises, not least the surprise (if your eyes are not deceiving you) of a goldfish leaping, like a lion in a circus, through a ring of fire.

Her Innocence uses the old black and white image that Long found in an online archive of photographs by revered Romanian photographer Costică Acsinte (1897-1984). The coloured, set outdoors, goldfish-enriched version is her work. Her series of these, using Acsinte's photographs, is called Dancing With Costica, and some works from the series are about to be exhibited at the Romanian embassy. The happy pretext for the exhibition is that this month brings the 47th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Romania and Australia.

Ambassador Nineta Bărbulescu calls the works an instance of "art bridging cultures".

"My choice for the cultural component of this celebration is a space-time portal between Romania and Australia: Costică Acsinte's black and white photos, taken almost 100 years ago, become the current canvas of Jane Long's photos. Now we start observing two stories," she says.

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It emerges in conversation with Long that her allegedly "disrespectful" photomanipulations of a famous photographer's works, photographs of people she has never known, have agitated some folk.

But Long believes she has done respectful things.

She fancies that when we look at people posed in old black and white pictures that we may struggle to think of them as real people who once lived and who knew all of the emotions that we the living throb with.

We may think these sometimes rigidly posed people "never moved, never laughed".

She thinks making the pictures coloured does some humanising transformation of them.

The girl has a peculiar, hard-to-fathom appeal for Long.

"There's something about her. I'm still not 100 per cent sure what. In part, it may be that she's not a girly girl. That appealed to me. Though it's a formal picture, she's in her farm clothes, and seems quite relaxed."

And the performing goldfish?

"I'm not sure where that comes from," Long laughs.

"But I do like to provide a bit of a double take. People might at first say 'Oh look at this [it's very pretty]' and then look more closely and say 'But hang on. What's this? A goldfish jumping through a hoop'?"

But she thinks that some who look at the pictures may not see the surreal things at all because she is always careful to make the surreal elements subtle and not "too sledgehammery". *

Meanwhile, it's a good thing that Long's art is not appearing on the invitingly blank concrete expanses of the "dam" and spillway at Mirrabei Drive (between the suburbs of Amaroo and Ngunnawal). Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS) might be blotting the works out.

As previously reported here, locals report a kind of "graffiti war" going on at Mirrabei Drive, with street artists at "war" with TAMS men who come along and "beige out" what artists have created.

Artists and some locals who approve of the artworks (we've yet to hear from a local who is frothing at the mouth about them but will cheerfully report any frothers' views if we receive them) say that the best of the works that TAMS blots out (like the giant cassowary mural in our picture) vastly enhance the otherwise bleak and bare place.

They seethe, too, that the place's expanse of surfaces is so enormous that it seems unfair that the area spray artists are allowed to use is so mean-spiritedly teeny-weeny.

The aggrieved local who took the photograph of the giant cassowary work-in-progress (one of its two artists is in the foreground) grieves that TAMS is being "moronic" in blotting out works like this.

"It only lasted 24 hours before TAMS destroyed it, but many people who witnessed this work were impressed and agreed it brightened up the bland concrete spillway. This work was clever and amusing and showed [until TAMS erased it] we do have talented young people who may become Australia's own Picassos."

We put some of these concerns and fumings to TAMS' director of city services, Fleur Flanery, the supremo when it comes to graffiti/street art matters.

She sounds as if she genuinely regrets that something so grand as the cassowary mural has been beiged out and thinks there has been a genuine, unfortunate misunderstanding in that case.

But of the Mirrabei site per se, her recollection is that such a swathe of the site has been denied to artists for safety reasons. Artists are known for their intrepidity and will go to unsafe places and the Mirrabei site, being a spillway, may sometimes be dangerously slippery.

But she sounds conciliatory and reasonable in the extreme. She promises that TAMS is reviewing its graffiti policy and urges the graffiti-aggrieved (like Gungahlin's thwarted Picassos) to join TAMS in a dialogue about these issues.

*The exhibition Dancing with Costică by Jane Long and Costică Acsinte will run from March 30 until June 30. It will be open from 2pm to 5pm on weekdays.