Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Venice Biennale in the rain

My wishlist had always included a visit to the Venice Biennale - the bi-annual event that those in the art world have on their must-go-as-often-as-possible-to-see-and-be-seen list. We just scraped in before it closed in late November. The main pavillions are housed in the Biennale Gardens where the majority of exhibits can be found. The smaller countries such as Azerbairjan have their exhibitions housed in satellite locations such as the odd palazzo and crumbling building dotted around the city.
Australia's 30 year old temporary pavillion
Now to be fair to the Biennale we could not have chosen a more miserable day to visit. The rain didn't stop and we ploughed our way into the wind and slopped our way around the Gardens. Drowned rats we were but we were hoping to be uplifted by the art. Up-lifted we weren't. Of course as loyal Aussies we wanted to visit our own pavillion which is tucked away in the forest right at the back of the Gardens. Now on a lovely day this 'shed' might have been uplifting - might - but instead it was an embarrassment. Built in 1988 as a temporary pavillion - it is still there. A new pavillion designed by Denton Corker Marshall is finally being built in time for the 2015 Biennale thanks to the support of the Australia Council and private philanthropists (thank goodness for the philanthropists who have 'driven' this replacement or it might still be there in another 30 years!). The Australia Council website states: The Venice Biennale provides Australian artists with critical international coverage, exposing them to key new audiences, markets and contexts. This exposure helps build the profile of Australian contemporary visual arts and facilitates the establishment of significant international cultural links, networks and dialogue for individual Australian artists. The Biennale also represents a significant platform on which the Council can promote contemporary Australian visual arts more widely. Now that's the kind of art-speak I find pretentious. If it was so important why has it taken the Council so long to replace the temporary Philip Cox designed pavillion!

Note the peeling wallpaper - that is part of the instillation!
To be honest we just didn't really 'get it'. As we sloshed around this mainly open 'shed' the two staff/ volunteers were pushing the water out with mops! It was explained to us that the artist Simryn Gill removed half the roof of the Pavilion and then installed the photographs, drawings and sculpture all of which were inspired by images of Australia's pit mines, dams, lakes and waterholes (there were waterholes everywhere that day!). It also included peeling wallpaper (meant to be but hastened by the downpours!) I do recommend you take a moment to listen by clicking here to the explanation by the artist and other luminaries. Their explanations prior to our visit may have helped!
On a sunny day....
We sloshed into a few other pavillions - including the Russian pavillion where women were invited to take a see-through umbrella (pretty appropriate that day!) and walk into the middle of a room where gold coins rained down on them. We were then encouraged to put the coins back into an old bucket which was then hoisted up by rope to be 'rained' down on the next unsuspecting women. I think this is called 'interactive art'. Now maybe I am missing something here but.... We never discovered what the men were expected to do?!
Stand aside while Russian gold coins shower down on you from above (note the bright orange E10 plastic wellies on the left)
Walking through a maze of chairs was the main attraction at the German Pavillion and the UK Pavillion seemed to be a hotchpotch of the old and the new. 
All I want to do is sit down!!
It was all a great let-down I'm afraid. I'll leave you with a sculpture that we passed each day crossing the Accedamia Bridge - she haunted us. We loved her. I hope you do too!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Vale Madiba

I know an enormous amount has already been written about Nelson Mandela but I felt I wanted to add my memories of him when he visited Melbourne at the end of the 20th Century. 

It is not often that I feel I must attend a public forum with a leader from another country but in this particular case it just seemed the compelling thing to do. And I was not disappointed even though the sell-out event was held at what is now Etihad Stadium. 

In he walked and one could feel the energy rise in the stadium. He could have just walked in, given us a wave and walked off and we'd all have felt that we had been in the presence of a man whose aura was electric. But it was when he spoke that we all knew we were glad we'd come. For the life of me I can't remember much of what he said I do remember knowing we had witnessed something special. 
I will miss that remarkably handsome and even to the end that boyish face. And I will go back and re-read his remarkable story The Long Walk to Freedom.

Thank you Madiba for reminding us that with forgiveness, determination, humility and grace that greatness and change can be achieved.You will not be forgotten.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Serenisima - a love affair!

Welcome to Venice - one of our first views
Venice used to be known as the Most Serene Republic - except for the wars they orchestrated and engaged in - but all is now forgotten except the wars with tourists - after all the Venetians were always one of the world's major traders. 
Cashmere, cashmere, cashmere - shop till you drop with St Mark's Square reflected in the window
Fortunately the tourist numbers mid-November are nothing like those in 'high season' when one wonders how the plumbing works (!), how the locals tolerate the hoards, how the millions of oak and pine piles cope with the footsteps of the 20 million visitors per annum (almost the entire population of Australia!).  To give you an example there are 8-9 piles every square metre of the city - I'll leave you do the sums - but the Santa Maria della Salute church has 1,106,657 wooden piles holding it up! No wonder there are only 60,000 local inhabitants still living there - the rest have fled to the mainland and commute daily to 'serve/service' the hoards. Oh what we do to our dream cities of which Venice is one.
It doesn't matter how many times you see the Grand Canal - it is still stunning
I've just returned from a two week trip to Northern Italy as the result of a trip won on the internet (more on that unsatisfactory experience in a later post). Venice has always been a favourite and I wanted to spend more than a couple of days exploring its labyrinth of alleyways and waterways and to visit the bi-annual Venice Biennale (a huge disappointment - more in a later post). Venice lived up to its memories. We avoided the interiors of churches - a travesty you are probably crying out - but I needed a break from the magnificent paintings of the stories of Christianity in all their gory (not glory). I'm tired of graphic paintings, however magnificent, of the slaugher of the innocents, tired of fire and brimstone, tired of death and destruction. I just wanted to enjoy the beauty of the city. And what a city. And with the lower more manageable tourist numbers at this time of the year we were able to wander where our footsteps led us. 
A quiet back 'canal'
Just another view of paradise from the vaporetto
At the recommendation of a friend we'd specifically chosen a hotel (click here) with views of a canal (not the Grand!) and were often awakened by gondoliers serenading their next load of tourists! It's a rather nice way to welcome the day! I'd been fortunate to stay in a room overlooking the Grand Canal many years ago - if you can afford it - then it can't be beaten - but we enjoyed our little canal when we flung open the windows to welcome the cold morning air! 
O sole mio - from our bedroom window!
On our return to Venice at the end of the trip we were kindly offered a room overlooking the square. Reluctantly we took it thinking we would miss our 'canal view' - but we were 'blown away' when we opened the curtains - just look at the view. It's rather nice going to sleep with cherrubs watching over you! I'll take the cherrub-watching room over a canal backwater next time!
Cupids to watch over you
One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to attend a concert or two or three! There's nothing more exciting than seeing the locals enjoying some wonderful music in amongst the 'tourists'. My favourite website for pre-booking is (I highly recommend it). We chose to see the opera Rigoletto in a private Palazzo on the Grand Canal. Around 50 of us gathered in the faded-glory of the home and we moved from room to room following the abridged version of the opera. Heaven. Memorable. And we shared it with our new French friends who we had had the good fortune to sit next to at a wonderful Vivaldi concert the previous evening. Now that's not a bad way to spend a couple of nights! 
Rigoletto by candlelight

Collapsing fabric on the walls
Just a bit of old ceiling decoration in the Palazzo!!
I had hoped to see an opera at the re-built Teatro La Fenice Opera House (rather well named as it means the Phoenix - rising from the ashes - more than once in its life-time). It was just a hop, step and a short canal swim (!) away from our hotel. I was disappointed there was nothing on during our visit but we had a bonus! 
The foyer of Teatro La Fenice
A view to take your breath away - we were sitting in the first floor box
Taking a self-guided tour around the Opera House we happened to pop into one of the boxes (the Doges box perhaps?!?) and spent the next 2 hours watching a rehearsal of the orchestra and later the singers for the up-coming opera. Now I love a rehearsal - I love watching re-runs as the conductor encourages the orchestra to 'get it right' - and then the bonus of the lead singers going through their roles - what more could a girl want (other than the real thing!) A visit to this Opera House is a must. It was faithfully reconstructed after the fire of 1996 - it took 8 years to complete (read John Behrendt's absolutely fascinating book on the fire and the subsequent scandals - The City of Falling Angels) Unfortunately by reconstructing it faithfully the accoustics are not as they should be on all parts of the stage - when it was originally built it was more important to be 'seen' than to listen to the opera!  Sadly we couldn't take pictures inside or of the rehearsal.
La Fenice canal entrance - seemed to be the 'back door' but wouldn't it be fun to arrive this way
So on that note (!) it's time for you to have a break. Don't worry - there's lots more to come!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Artist Studio Visits

Rural Victoria - on a sunny cloudless day
Over the Melbourne Cup weekend and next weekend 25 artists studios are open in the Daylesford, Kyneton, Woodend and Macedon Ranges area. I mosied (spelling?!) up for a fascinating day visiting just some of the studios open. A map of the locations and studios can be found here. Unfortunately the map and studio signage left a lot to be desired. We had a 'plan' of what we thought we could fit in and whilst not all were to our liking each had something different to offer, whether it was the character and passion of the artist, the stunning rural locations, or the art itself!

So here is a very small selection of the highlights of some of our visits.  We began at Lyonville cruised through Trentham, then onto Malmsbury with a stop for lunch then back to Kyneton (to watch 'the race that stops the nation') before heading to Carlshrue and ending with a glass of champagne at my friends' studio in Woodend (where I forgot to take a photo - the bubbly took over!). We couldn't have squeezed another stop in and we missed so many. Sadly we can't return next weekend because we didn't even touch Daylesford catchment!

Prolific Chris
We began at Lyonville at the light and bright studio of Chris Rowe - a mixed media artist. She was at the 'end of a dirt track' and it was worth the search to find her! The location was gorgeous. Rolling hills overlooking treed gulleys (where the kangaroos hop out in the evening)

A rusty 'swan' tucked in the garden - what a beautiful setting

Although we loved the sculptures that George Lianos has been doing like this one featured in the brochure it was his new metal sculptures which were dotted around his beautiful garden - and the weather was smiling which helped.
I love the tomato box!
And then it was onto see the creator of the Bells of Birragung Marr - Anton Hassel - but sadly he had been called away - more bells to make?!

Here we are on Melbourne Cup Day - the trojan horse awaited
He was sharing his 'studio' for the Open Studios with Fiona Orr - ex teacher at the Victorian College of the Arts for 20+ years and now proud owner of this wonderful property. I nearly wept when we arrived - after all here was my childhood dream standing right in front of me! When I was small my father would tell me a story every night before sleep. The main feature was a windmill in which a poor mother and daughter made their home. And here it was! I was 'beside myself'.
Fiona Orr wearing her recycled jewellery - around her neck - 2 parts of a tea stainer!

The derelict house now re-born. With 'my' beloved windmill        

Ashika Ostapkowiwicz aka Mr Funny Hat - with his sensational fountains

Stunning landscape, stunning local stone - all I need is a few acres - not square feet!

We 'bowled over' (not literally - we would have been crushed to death!) by the sculptures of Ashika Ostapkowiwicz. As he said "My inspiration comes from nature, and therefore the stones themselves. They rest like sleeping giants on our land - sometimes for months, sometimes longer than a year. I look at them day or night, sun or moonlight, until the vision comes to me". And throughout the property we could see his dormant rocks just waiting for his inspiration and interpretation. I forgot to photograph the studio of his artist wife Padma - we were too busy talking!

So if you have a spare day over the weekend of 9/10 November why not make a trek up the highway from Melburne. Sadly it has been very poorly advertised in the press and on-line in Melbourne. I haven't seen anything.  Go online here to see the list of artists, the map and make a day out of it in the country. If the weather is anything like it was yesterday - clear blue skies, wide horizons, green countryside, rolling hills, craggy rock outcrops - you won't regret it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Theatre etiquette - where has it gone?

I have recently been confronted on more than one occasion by what can only be described as 'theatre bad behaviour' which has certainly not enhanced my view - particularly of the 'younger generation'. 

At the recent Melbourne International Arts Festival I was thrilled to be invited to see the world renowned dancer Sylvie Guillam and Russell Maliphant. Their dancing was unforgetable. It was just sublime in every way. 

So there we were in row 3 (almost too close to the stage but who am I to complain) when a mother and daughter in front of us proceeded to move their heads closer together in order to whisper what can only be described as 'sweet nothings' to each other. After all this was modern dance - the first 3 dances were with a single person (no story that needed to be 'explained'). Well I'd finally had enough and lightly tapped the mother on the shoulder during the 3rd dance. 

At the interval I said to the daughter (30ish) - the main culprit - "Please don't speak through the performance. If you want to talk you can do so during the intervals but not during the dance - it spoils it for everyone". Her reply began with  "I'm going report you for touching my mother". Well that was a wonderful opening not just for me but those surrounding them. "It's disrespectful to the dancers", said one, and from another "You've ruined the first three dances for us with your head moving and your whispering". The reply was a 'classic'.  "But my mother and I like talking to each other and we were just whispering quietly". With that one of the patrons 'reported' them to the usher. Two of those sitting behind them did not return to their seats after the interval - they found a less confronting seat. One wonders if they noticed or realised why! Or even cared! And guess what - as soon as the show was over - both mother and daughter were onto their mobile phones!

And talking of mobile phones I was at the Italian Film Festival the other day and my neighbour must have been waiting for the 'boyfriend' to call. She spent most of her time during the film either with her head peeping into her handbag to check her phone and when she wasn't checking her phone she was dropping things which meant she needed to crawl around the floor and then flop back in her seat sending seat shockwaves along the row. Unbelievable! 

I could go on and on an on. And then there was the older woman at a Metropolitan Opera Film answering her phone "Hello. How are you? Look I can't talk now I'm seeing a film. I'll ring you later". She couldn't understand how she offended! And she - of the 'older' generation who should have known better! 

I was fascinated to read the following from the website 
* Dear Lovebirds, when you lean your heads together, you block the view of the people behind you. 
* Please consider the people that will be seated behind you when choosing whether or not to wear a hat or what hair style you choose
* Please refrain from talking, humming, or singing along with the show, except when encouraged to do so by the artist or show.
*Please wait for an appropriate moment to dig something out of your pocket or bag. 

Whispering, whistling, large hats - no, no, no (pinterest)
But it was the well respected arts commentator  Radio National's Alison Croggan in her Miss A's Guide to Theatre Etiquette who really summed it up - as follows:
Remember that you are in the same room as a lot of other people, including actors, who can both see and hear you. All else follows from this.

Rule 1: Turn off any electronic devices about your person, and leave them off. Embarrassment Moment No. 1 is your phone ringing during a play. An actor might even break the fourth wall and comment on your solecism from the stage, thus holding you up to public mockery and ridicule.
Rule 2. Checking email, Twitter, messages and so on during the show is right out. Lighting designers spend a lot of time getting their lighting right, and a constant bloom of flickering smartphones in the auditorium stuffs it right up, especially in that carefully crafted blackout. And no, you're not allowed to take photos.
Rule 3. Even if everything that is happening on stage makes you shrivel with horror and/or boredom, refrain from expressing your outrage and disappointment out loud until the show is finished. Unless, that is, you are invited by the performers to do so, in which case go right ahead.
Rule 4. If the boredom, horror and detestation get overwhelming and you have to leave, do so with as little disturbance to your fellow audience members as possible. Does the rest of the audience need to know how appalled you are? No. They might even be enjoying themselves.
Rule 5. You don't really need to discuss Aunt Madge's terrible disease in a loud whisper with your neighbour during the climactic moments. Really, you don't. Other people can hear you, and would Aunt Madge be comfortable with that?
Rule 6. Leave your handicrafts at home. No knitting, crocheting or whittling allowed.
Rule 7. Even the best-intentioned theatre goers can be ambushed by a cough. Carry a kit of Anticol and tissues. If you have a very bad coughing fit that can't be controlled, leave the theatre until it is over.
Rule 8. Never take a child under 11 to adult theatre, unless you are very sure he or she will enjoy it. It's not fair on the child, you, the rest of the audience or the performers.
Rule 9. Take - but don't force - children over 11 to the theatre, after impressing upon them (with threats if necessary) that they can be seen and heard by other patrons and the actors. Discuss the show with them beforehand (so they have some idea what to expect) and answer their questions afterwards. Not during the show.
Rule 10. If you fall asleep, don't snore. Make a pact with a companion to wake you up if your snorts start rippling through the auditorium. Speaking of which: isn't the theatre an expensive place for a snooze?
Rule 11. Don't snack. Especially don't snack on chips or anything that rustles or crackles. I promise you will not starve to death.
Rule 12. Silence in a theatre is okay. Really, it is.

Did I miss anything?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Friends and Flowers

Recently I have been languishing in my bedroom suite (sounds impressive) recovering from knee surgery and one of the delights of forced relaxation is the flowers that have been delivered. What a joy. A gorgeous sprig of Lily of the Valley (in my recovery stupor I forgot to photograph it!) by my bed and on the sideboard some heavenly sweet peas. Oh the sweetest of sweet peas. What a joy they have brought to me along with the nurturing of special 'nursie' friends! I think I could become accustomed to enjoying the time to chat, the time to sleep, the time to read voraciously and just have the time to - have - 'time out'.
Friends and flowers that bloom in the spring - heaven.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Creating a nest

On a recent visit to the magnificent McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park down on the Mornington Peninsular we were 'blown away' and virtually moved to tears by a very special exhibition of ... birds' nests.
A bit hard to see but this nest comprises 'woven' fencing wire - what a feat for a beak
The exhibition was appropriately named NEST and as the accompanying publicity stated 'it explores the beauty, ingenuity and originality of birds' nests - from magpies to honeyeaters, from chaffinches to parrots and from hummingbirds to African weavers.It displays the architectural skill of birds, their consummate ability to make work that is both delicate and durable, as well as the astonishing array of materials they use'. 
All tucked up in a very old container - look at the 'mud work'
Comprising the private collection of Gay Bilson (better known for the magnificent restaurant she once created at Berowra Waters on the Hawkesbury River) and the Museum of Victoria collection. Each of them was quite remarkable. There's no doubt about nature. Amazing.

And talking about mud - glued to the branch, perfectly round and soft inside

It looks a mess but this is the bower birds presentation in front of the nest - blue bottle tops, string, plastic, ribbon - all collected to 'woo the Mrs!'

Look at the weaving, look at the use of the leaves and it would be so cosy and safe inside
But this was our all-time-favourite. As Sir David Attenborough said about the tiny Cisticola (a type of warbler). 'There is no more skilled tailor in the whole of the bird world'. 
What a clever little bird
And the description at the Gallery really summed it up. 'The nest is precisely sewn together with broad, living, green leaves and spider silk. Both parents collect plant down and spider silk. The male pierces the leaves and presses the thread through to the female who attaches it to the inside. The finished nest is extremely well camouflaged. The female incubates and breeds alone'. It took about 12 days to build.   
Look closely at the middle leaf - you will see it is neatly stitched onto the nest - extraordinary
If you haven't visited the Gallery and in particular the Sculpture Park do so, it's just a 40 minute drive from the city on the Eastlink Freeway. The coffee shop is terrific. Unfortunately the exhibition has now closed.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Just what is the meaning of blog?

Although I've been blogging for a while now I had never really thought about the meaning of such a weird word - after all they seem to be the norm now. So I was surprised to learn that the word blog is derived from 'web log in'.

I blog therefore I am (Non Sequitur by Wiley)
I'd like to think that there's more to me than blogging but maybe.....

What is it about business names these days. It seems the bigger and more successful a company, the more immature/insignificant the name. There's the recently turned 15 year old Google - a $290 billion dollar company. There's Apple - a $375 billion dollar company, there's Facebook - a $100 billion dollar company, there's 10 year old Linkedin a $20 billion dollar company and now there's Twitter - planning to go public soon with a value listed at just a small $14 billion!
Sign up to be my friend.  Please like me.  Follow every thought that spills out of my head! (Non Sequitur by Wiley) (The Age)
Thumbs up or

Is this the lowest common denominator. And do we have to have 'likes' when we don't really 'like'. I certainly don't 'like' but maybe I just need to get with it!

 About 20 years ago in a past life (!) I was asked to launch a new computer with the extremely creative and business-like name - Apricot! It didn't make it I'm afraid or I might have been famous for launching it! Still them's the breaks!
'I'm sorry, but Grandpa had to put the internet out of its misery now that 'facebook' is being used as a verb.....' Non sequitur again - Wiley
Well the computer as we know it probably is on the way out. Even grandpa above is shooting a 'laptop' not a 'desktop'. Now we have 'pads', 'tablets' (not for headaches but you might need the old fashioned kind to work it all out!), 'netbooks', 'notebooks', 'ultras' - the list is never ending. And then there is the old fashioned keyboard using a 'mouse'  and now the 'touch'. It's a whole new language. Are you a fan of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Google? I must admit I Google all the time!!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Flowers that bloom in the spring - tra la!

Melbourne is abloom with blossom and it's divine to discover trees bursting with buds, flowers, perfume and bees!

Soft pink blossom at the Abbotsford Convent
I'm always reminded of the Gilbert & Sullivan opera The Mikado (or its less common name The Town of Titipu) at this time of the year - even though I'm not a great G&S fan (it seems you either are or you aren't!) Written in 1885 it has been a crowd favourite ever since. Setting the opera in exotic Japan and far from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirise British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. (Would that be politically correct these days!?!)
Cover of the vocal score 1895 (wikipedia)
Of course the names have always been amusing and it's Nanki-Poo, Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah who sing the song - here is the first verse! (the link is here for the remainder! - there's an awful lot of tra la's!!!)
The flowers that bloom in the spring,
Tra la,
Breathe promise of merry sunshine —
As we merrily dance and we sing,
Tra la,
We welcome the hope that they bring,
Tra la,
Of a summer of roses and wine,
Of a summer of roses and wine.
And that's what we mean when we say that a thing
Is welcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.
Tra la la la la,
Tra la la la la,
The flowers that bloom in the spring.
An English spring meadow in Richmond's Burnley Gardens
So enjoy humming along as you look at the photos I've taken in the last couple of weeks. Blossom is everywhere this year and the smell.....heavenly.
Burnley Gardens again
Gorgeous new growth - Fitzroy Gardens

And finally - one of my favourite spring flowers - our very own 'hanging gardens of Babylon'
Wisteria arbour at Burnley Gardens
Tra la, tra la, tra la