Category Archives: Art

So far I’m impressed, just going from the airport to the hotel! Reykjavík, Iceland. 2011

For years I’ve been an avid reader of Icelandic sagas, and for that reason I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for a long time. Over the years I’ve noticed that when I hype myself up with expectations over a long period of time, I’m invariably disappointed. So it has been with a certain amount of dread that I’ve been facing the prospect of actually setting foot in Iceland.

As soon as I landed at Keflavik international airport I noticed the colour of the light and how lush and saturated everything looked. As I drove into Reykjavík I was struck by how utterly alien the landscape looked. All new geology caused by volcanic activity, no trees in amongst the rocks, just tiny little heath and lichen. I got such a shock when I stepped out of the car to take this picture.

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Although the ground is obviously very rocky, the rocks are covered in such think lichen that it is like walking on the softest and most luxurious shag carpet that you could possibly dream of.

After we spent about half an hour marvelling at the amazing landscape we got back in the car and within about ten minutes I saw a small tornado off in the distance.

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Although I’ve been through areas within an hour of one passing through the countryside and a small town in Ontario, Canada years ago, and have seen close up the destruction they cause, I’ve never seen one actually happen. More amazement!

After boggling on the tornado until it petered out, we made our way to the accommodation that we booked (reykjavik4you) and were blown away by how nice it is! I’m not kidding, this place it as good as it’s website says it is. Here’s a picture of the lounge area of our room.

riir

Spa bath, DVD player with free movies, flat screen TV, hi speed internet, kitchen plus a great bakery just across the road and it’s located in the middle of town!

As soon as we dumped our bags we went for a stroll downtown. With a population of about 120,000, Reykjavík is not a huge city, but it has tremendous heart. The town is just abuzz with an energy that I haven’t seen anywhere else that I’ve been to in Europe. For me there is a real sense of Reykjavík being a “happening place”, and in the short time I’ve been here, I’m already kicking myself we spent so much time in Finland and we didn’t spend it here instead!

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So far, so good (he says, tempting the gods).

“Hundid” by Anne Türn

Engogirl and I have just spent a few days in Tallinn, Estonia. Whilst Tallinn is a beautiful medieval city, it is a complete tourist trap complete with a plethora of shops selling all the same tourist tat as each other. Babushka dolls, amber jewellery, felt knick-knacks and knit wear of the type that the locals probably haven’t worn for generations.

We were beginning to lose any hope of finding something to take back home that spoke to us of contemporary Estonia, in an original way. That is, until Engogirl said, ” Let’s check this place out (Galerii Kaks)”, and we went in and found some exciting examples of modern Estonian creativity.

A lot of what was on display in Galerii Kaks would be considered decorative items, albeit of a high standard, but Anne Türn’s “Hundid” were very different and they called to us. Actually, her figures howled at us and we knew that we’d found what we were looking for.

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Wild, humorous and exuberant figures performing what looked like some sort of corybantic dithyramb (look those up in your Funk and Wagnalls). There were about 6 statues of different sizes on display, and we saw two that stood out, but the problem was, which to get?

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Stuff it! We bought both of them.

Now all that remains to be seen, is if Finland’s postal system can get our crazy little ceramic wolf women back to Australia intact.

About 10kms north of Skora on road 15, Norway. 2011

It’s hard to take a photo in Norway, that doesn’t look like it belongs on a box of soft centred chocolates. Not that I’m complaining but I do feel such images could have been taken at just about any time in the last couple of centuries (the colour of the buildings do give a clue).

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When I look at, and think about such images I’m reminded of the romantic landscape painters of the early 19th century.  All “beauty” but no real information other than the mindset of the painter.

The Post Modernists have said for quite a while now that photographs aren’t “documents” in an objective sense, because they are the subjective framing of small parts of reality that have been given significance and therefore changed into an artefact by the photographer’s choice of where to point their camera and click the button.

For me such arguments don’t ring true because I think the Post Modernists have gotten too hung up on “titles”.  Just as we once thought that the sun revolved around the earth because we assumed man was the centre of the universe. In short I’m saying all material things have a nature of their own that is completely separate from what we think of them.

We’ve all seen Post Modernists playing with notions of  “reality”, by staging photos to look “real” (such as fake murder scenes) when in fact they are still recording phenomena that has a reality of its own, independent to the intention of the “artist”. Sure you can stage a photo and call it anything you like (much like the surrealists) but the photographic apparatus has recorded a simulacrum of what we perceive with our eyes (because that’s what cameras are designed to do). The camera makes no intelligent decisions it merely records in a mechanical fashion what it was pointed at. Photographs are products of machines and have a “reality” of their own and are “documents” as much as a crushed rock that has been hit by a hammer. To give a scene a title to change its meaning doesn’t really matter one bit, because to quote Shakespeare, “a rose by any other name is still a rose”.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2011

Whilst wandering around Copenhagen last week we came across this very picturesque part of town that looked as if it had been lifted from the lid of a box of assorted chocolates. The canal was spannned by a small bridge that had a little alcove poking out from the sidewalk where people were almost lining up to take photos from. One after the other we took our shots from exactly the same spot, to produce almost the same image in a Hockney-esque meditation into how time can divided up into little slices like a speciman being prepared for a microscope slide.

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As I took in the scene I found myself thinking how we as humans like to congregate with other humans. Nyhavn’s picturesque nature attracts many visitors, and I noticed there were quite a few restaurants along the base of the colourful buildings that were full of people eating and drinking. I found it ironic that people wanted to eat in the middle of a “view” because so many people were milling around it, but the diners couldn’t take in the view because they were in the middle of it. Strangely enough, the other side of the canal, where the buildings weren’t so colourful wasn’t crowded at all although it offered a much better veiw of the part of Nyhavn (New Harbour) that was attracting the crowds. Surely it would be better to have the restaurants on the second floor of the buildings on the less crowded street so one could take in the full unobstructed scene.

Copenhagen is quite a small city and it’s mercifully flat which makes it an ideal place to go cycling. Fortunately the civilised and sensible Danes have built cycle lanes on most of the roads, so cycling around town is a real joy. The fact that cycling is encouraged in Copenhagen is lost on many of the tourists who choose to go on guided bus and canal boat tours to places that can be easily reached by bicycle or on foot. They can’t have all been infirm, could they?

One of the problems with traveling is that it is very easy to get into the well worn rut that has is used to help separate people from their money and to keep them unfit in the name of comfort and convenience.

Our comfort zones are a death trap.

Buying tribal art out of context and other traps for young players.

Ever since I saw a shabby little collection of cheap souvenirs from the 1930s onwards, in a showcase at the old Girl Guides headquarters in Sydney, I’ve resolved to buy “nice” pieces when I’m overseas. Instead of buying lots of little tatty things, my wife and I lash out and spend what we think is a fair bit of money for what we consider is something really special.

When we were in Ubud in Bali this year we saw this stone statue and we were immediately drawn to it.

Over a period of about a week we kept on going back to have a look at it.

Ubud is more or less the art centre of Bali and as such is packed with a plethora of galleries. It’s the Santa Fe of  Indonesia, if you will. The items in Ubud run the full gamut, from very cheap and nasty crap, right through to mind blowingly amazing and expensive artworks.

The trouble with buying tribal artefacts in Ubud is that, often the people who are selling the items don’t know anything about them. As a matter of fact you can go into the same store on different days and be told a different story about the same item every day. Sure enough, the Balinese who work in the stores know about the local Balinese artwork, but they can be so clueless when it comes to art that has been brought to them from other parts of Indonesia. We were told that the statue we were interested in was from Sulewesi.

Since getting back home and doing some research on the net, the best guess I can make for the origin of the statue is that it might’ve come from Sumatra and it might’ve been made by the Karo Batak. The statue has design proportions and elements similar in style to those used by the Karo Batak and it might be based on naga marsarang (Medicine Horns) used by Batak datuk (animist priests) to hold magic substances. I also suspect that the creature that I first thought might be a seahorse could actually be a singa (a protective mythological creature).

To be honest though, I don’t really care where the statue comes from, as I like it, and for all I know it could be some pastiche of various Indonesian designs cobbled together by a local sculptor. I would like to know where it comes from because I just hate being ignorant about anything.

A few days before we were to leave Bali, we took the plunge and after some haggling the statue was bought for a bit under half what was asked (which probably 50% more than would we should’ve paid). The Statue is 630mm high (about 24″), 650mm long (about 25 and half inches), 25cm wide (about 11″) and weighs 39kg  (nearly 86 lbs) so we arranged for sea freight to get it back home at a cost of $400 USD. I knew we would be up for customs brokerage fees as well when the statue arrived so I figured that we were up for about another $100 when we picked it up.

WRONG!

I picked up the statue yesterday and on top of the brokerage fees of $130, we had to pay another $93.50 for the delivery order (WTF is it, and does it mean?).

Then there was the import processing fee of $22.

Cargo automation fee of $27.50.

Terminal handling charge of another $27.50.

It was starting feel like the process was a death by a thousand cuts, but then came the heavier blow of $135.44 for the handling fee, quickly followed up by another body blow to the guts $121.

They knew they had me helpless on the ropes, so they unleashed a quick flurry of lighter blows to finish me off.

Smack!

$22 for maritime security charge.

Smack!

$11 for post and petties (petties? I thought this was just a beating, not foreplay).

So on top of paying $400 to ship the statue, I had to pay a further $591.44. Basically it cost us $1000 to ship our purchase from Bali.

Did I feel like I got screwed?

You bet!

I was screwed, blued and tattooed!

They bent me over that counter and fucked me six ways to Christmas!  They also had the audacity to act surprised when I told them I didn’t enjoy the experience and what a bunch of rapists I thought they were.

I felt so despoiled, as if I’d been subjected to some kind depraved customs broker’s fantasy. I can almost imagine what might’ve being going through the brokers mind’s as they were having their way with me.

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Melbourne tries harder than Sydney

If I were to compare Sydney and Melbourne to people, I’d say that Sydney is one of those naturally beautiful but vacuous people who just sits there expecting everyone to adore them just for how they look and Melbourne is one of those plain looking people, who has been forced to develop an interesting personality to attract people.
 
I not only live in Sydney, I love Sydney, but I also have to say that during my recent visit to Melbourne, I was left with the feeling that Sydney is somewhat lacking.  Sydney just seems to be relying on its natural beauty, which comes from being located on a spectacular harbour.  Although Sydney has the world-famous Opera house, and the clunky Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s not a particularly nice city, to walk around.  Once one gets away from the harbour, most of Sydney is merely functional rather than beautiful. 
 
There have been articles in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a recent visit by a Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl and his comments about Sydney. Gehl was quoted as saying that Sydney “is a doughnut, because it has nothing in the centre.” I couldn’t agree more.
 
Melbourne on the other hand has instituted changes suggested by Prof  Gehl after studies his team conducted in 1994 and 2004, that have completely transformed that city into a much more liveable place. 
 
Melbourne has many kilometres of cycleways that encourage people to get exercise, and reduce the amount of cars on the road.  There is also much more public art in Melbourne.  I really enjoyed seeing Duncan Stemler’s “Blowhole”,

Blowhole by Duncan Stemler

a 15 metre (50ft) high wind powered sculpture set in a children’s playground, and John Kelly’s joyously quirky  “Cow up a tree”, not only put a smile on my face, it brightened up the rest of my day.

Cow up a Tree by John Kelly

As a matter of fact, many public structures in Melbourne exhibit beauty in their design, more than mere functionality.

Cycle path bridge

When I told my friend that I was going to Melbourne, she recommended that my wife and I take our bicycles.  Luckily, I took that advice and spent a few days cycling around Melbourne’s beautiful art filled streets.  We’ll be going back to Melbourne again, we loved the place.

As for Sydney… get your act together, Melbourne’s kicking our collective butts!

This post was first posted on the 29th of January 2008

Art is for playing in. Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

Choi Jeong Hwa’s installation at this year’s Biennale brought out the playfulness of most of the children who saw it. The adults stood back and looked at it and the kids just raced around inside of it chasing each other, banging it all about and having fun.

Years ago I remember reading an article about how people’s educational background affects the way they perceive art.  According to some research done in the past, people who have very little education tend to see art galleries as temples and approach them with some reverence and awe, whereas people with a high level of education are much more comfortable in experiencing art.

Watching the children play in amongst the “art”, I found myself thinking about the study and it occurred to me that what the study doesn’t acknowledge is how we are taught to respond to art.

Perhaps in the past the less educated have been made to feel that art was beyond their understanding, whereas today’s kids haven’t been as oppressed by such elitist claptrap and just respond in a freer way.

William Yang gets photographed. Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

Last weekend, I went to the Sydney Biennale again, with Engogirl to meet up with our friend Mai Long and her boyfriend Stuart. Even though I’d been to the biennale exhibits on Cockatoo Island before and hadn’t thought much of them, I figured it might be more interesting in the company of Mai.

Mai is an artist and she had a list of works that her artist friends said she must see. Needless to say, I found the exhibits far more interesting this time round. I’m not sure if it was Mai’s choices or that I’m so suggestible to being led.

Memo to self: Don’t ever volunteer at a hypnotism show.

In the afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting up with Mai’s mentor, the talented photographer and artist, William Yang. Mai had said to William earlier over the phone, that I was keen to photograph him and at first he said yes.

William Yang is very famous here in Australia as a photographer of the Sydney artist scene for the last 40 years and there is hardly anyone of creative note he hasn’t met or photographed. I thought it would be great to get a shot of William the chronicler who is usually the one who is photographing other people.

When I finally met William and asked if I could take his photo he said he’d changed his mind and didn’t feel comfortable about it.

At first I was taken aback, but then I said to him, “it was going to be very confrontational and I was going to get right up in your face like this” and I got within about 30 cm (about a foot)  with my 10mm lens, and quickly snapped a shot.

William, a bit surprised, said, “oh, that wasn’t so bad! Some people stuff around for ages”. So I then I showed him the shot and he nodded and smiled. I then went on to explain how I wanted to get a shot of him the unobtrusive photographer responding to me taking his photo in such an obvious way.

Later on we all went for a bit of a drinking session and I got to spend some time with William and his friend Glen. It’s no wonder William Yang has captured so many private moments of other people’s lives. He’s a quiet person who carefully chooses his words but also seems to enjoy noisy company. I’m sure there have been plenty of occasions where people have totally let down their guard with William.

The venue was more interesting than the art. 17th Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

I went to Cockatoo Island (one of my favourite places in Sydney) on Sunday with some friends to check out part of the Sydney Biennale. I was instantly reminded of something a set designer once said to me about a detail on a set I’d spotted (I used to be a set builder in the theatre) that needed to be sorted out. She said to me, “oh don’t worry about that, if the audience notices, it will be a sign that the play is a flop”.

I remember being stuck by what she (the set designer) had said, and how true it was.

Not long after, I was involved with the complicated construction of a set that was built on two revolves that when rotated would break the set in half and then produce another scene as the old scene rotated off stage. There were three amazing set changes that happened with the audience watching . It was all a very magical theatrical experience and an excellent piece of set design.

The trouble was, that the play was so bad that the only thing the audience applauded were the set changes!

I’m not kidding.

Cockatoo Island is an old dockyard from the early 19th century. It’s now decommissioned as a dockyard but a lot of the old decaying buildings are still there. The whole place is a sort of monument to a shabby kind utilitarian brutalism that has almost been malevolently designed to be as ugly as possible. The strange thing is that now that the paint is peeling and iron is rusting Cockatoo Island has to my mind become a wonderful place.

Visual roughage for the eyes, if you will.

As part of the Sydney Biennale a free art exhibition is currently showing on Cockatoo Island in the various buildings. The only problem was, was that most of the art was so weak that the venue totally overwhelmed what was being shown.

I didn’t see anything that I thought was particularly interesting, never mind anything mind blowing. A few pieces were O.K. but there was nothing that I saw that I thought required more than a few seconds to look at.

Oh well, at least the buildings were interesting.