Monday, January 5, 2015

'In the flesh' at the National Portrait Gallery.

The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra often has challenging and impressive exhibitions, that put larger galleries and exhibition spaces to shame - it's honestly that great. 

And it was this holidays I saw one of the most beautiful and fascinating art exhibitions that I've seen in a long time. 'In the flesh' features an enthralling selection of contemporary artworks, brought together to explore the concept of humanness. The artworks are organised to showcase the themes of intimacy, empathy, transience, transition, vulnerability, alienation, restlessness, reflection, mortality and acceptance - and this structure lends the exhibition a narrative underpinning, adding an element of storytelling to the path through the gallery. 

The artists included in the exhibition include Jan Nelson, Natasha Bieniek, Patricia Piccinini (of SkyWhale fame!), Juan Ford, Petrina Hicks, Ron Mueck, Yanni Floros, Sam Jinks (who makes those incredibly realistic sculptures you have no doubt seen in exhibitions before), Michael Peck and Robin Eley.

'In the flesh' is thought-provoking and moving. If you have to travel interstate to see this impressive exhibition... do it. 

James Turrell retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia.

I visited Canberra over the holidays - and one of the things I most wanted to do while I was there was visit the James Turrell retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia. I wasn't disappointed. 

James Turrell has been creating works of art using light and space - that play on perspective - since the 1960s. The retrospective at the NGA explores his work over almost 50 years, using photographs, prints, drawings, holograms, built spaces and projections. 

The works in the exhibit are fascinating and mind-bending. Geometric shapes protrude from the walls - but are just created from back lights and projections. There are many than I kept creeping towards, hoping to get an idea of how Turrell created his optical illusions - until the staff at the gallery reminded me not to get too close, that is. 

The curation of the exhibit is also impressive. The works are arranged in in chronological order, but within that there is a real sense of cohesiveness and careful consideration. Raemar pink white, made in 1969 (pictured above) is positioned before a white room - so that when the viewer steps away, the next white room appears to be bathed in green. The overall effect is a reminder of how easy human perception is to manipulate. 

Plus, the colours are really pretty. Go check it out. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Is your overseas holiday contributing to animal cruelty?

Photo by Melissa Wellham @melissawellham

This piece was originally published on Read the full article here

If you knew that your holiday was contributing to animal cruelty, would you still choose to do the same activities?

The woman featured in this photo is Lek Chailert, the founder of the Save the Elephants foundation and the Elephant Nature Park. The elephants photographed with her are Jokia and Mae Perm.

Mae Perm was the first elephant that Lek rescued from the logging industry – where she was required to drag heavy loads every day, despite her increasing age – and brought to the park. Jokia was rescued many years later, blind in both eyes after being abused by humans. The two elephants bonded, and because Jokia cannot see she relies upon Mae Perm to be her guide and help.

This anecdote alone should give some indication of the intelligence and emotion these gentle giants are capable of.

But just as elephants can show compassion and love, they can also feel deep suffering. Distress when separated from other members of their herd. Psychological problems when confined in unnatural habitats. Post-traumatic stress disorder when abused or hurt.

Sadly, the suffering of elephants is not uncommon. At least, it is not uncommon for these wild animals kept in captivity.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who, Deep Breath: Season Eight Premiere.

doctor who deep breath

Did you watch the Doctor Who season eight premiere, Deep Breath, today? It was simultaneously broadcast on television in the UK and Australia, screened in cinemas around the country, and if you still haven’t had the chance it’s available on iVew here

Deep Breath sees the Doctor, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), and Jenny (Catrin Stewart) reunited - even if the Doctor doesn't properly remember any of them. At first it seems like they’re going to be fighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the Victorian London streets – but soon a more nefarious clockwork, Frankenstein-like villain reveals itself (himself? Robot rights are hard).

The episode is an introduction to Peter Capaldi as the new doctor, and it’s an incarnation that fans (of the ‘new’ seasons especially) might find unfamiliar. Capaldi is a throwback to the doctors of old, and not just because he’s closer to 60-years-old than 20-years-old. This Doctor is far removed from Matt Smith’s flirtatious, bow tie wearing dandy.

He’s Scottish, he’s decided he has a right to complain, and his eyebrows are so angry they want to form a state independent of his face. He’s not into hugging and we’re unlikely to see any handholding with his companions anytime soon.

As Madame Vastra tells Clara at the beginning of the episode, “You might as well flirt with a mountain range”.

Deep Breath is an introduction for both Clara and the audience to the Doctor, and when a secret cameo actor pleads with Clara, “He’s scared. He needs you. Look after him” – it’s equally a plea to the audience to embrace the new manifestation of the much-beloved character. 

There are a few pacing problems in the first episode of the new season – but there’s the promise of a darker edge in episodes to come. It was about time for a change.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Don't be a dick about the Ice Bucket Challenge.

This video of Queensland newsreader Lincoln Humphries has been circulating online for the past few days, to a fair amount of praise.

Pedestrian, for example, published the video with the headline: “Newsreader beautifully shuts down ice bucket challenge.”

Because a viral campaign that has raised millions of dollars for research into a total bitch of a disease needs to be ‘shut down’, clearly.

Humphries suggests that, rather than pouring a bucket of ice over one’s head, people should donate to a whole bunch of other charitable causes. He acknowledges that the #IceBucketChallenge has raised over $30 million dollars (now $50 million) for the ALS Foundation, before saying: “I’m not saying it isn’t a worthy cause…. but let’s spread the love.”

As a general rule if you ever find yourself using ‘but’ in that context (i.e. “I’m not… but….), you should maybe rephrase (or even entirely rethink) what you are about to say.

Rather than suggesting that people donate money to ALS instead of pouring ice over their heads, which is what you might expect – or even using the opportunity to highlight the Australian charitable equivalent, MND Australia - Humphries lists a number of unrelated charities. Perhaps he is not explicitly suggesting that people donate to these charities instead of research into ALS/MND, but he is certainly disparaging of the Ice Bucket Challenge in general.

At the end of his video, he explains that people should give what they can “because that’s what charity is about, not putting yourself through mild discomfort with a bucket of water”.

Well, yeah, that’s not the definition of ‘charity’. It is, however, coming close to being the definition for ‘one of the most successful and viral campaigns for a good cause in recent memory, which has made people aware of a fairly unsexy disease that hasn’t received this kind of attention since Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939’.

I have seen a lot of criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge over the past few days, and frankly, the general sentiment just seems to be that people want to prove that they’re not going to be ‘sucked in’ by something ‘trendy’. 

How dare a charitable cause actually be successful in asking people for money, right?

According to the critics, the Ice Bucket Challenge has nothing to do with ALS, and is just a cheap gimmick designed to go viral (well no fucking shit it’s designed to go viral). It’s unfair because it’s ‘taking money away’ from other charitable causes (yes, I have read a few people online making this argument). It’s pointless because the message is getting lost. Let’s have a look at these arguments, shall we?

The Ice Bucket Challenge has nothing to do with ALS.

Unlike make-up free selfie campaigns raising money for breast cancer (which I’m also not going to criticize, because again - good for them at figuring out how to hook people in), the Ice Bucket Challenge actually is linked to the disease it is raising money for.

While numbness isn’t strictly a symptom of ALS (if you can feel numbness, that might be a sign of MS), the disease slowly degenerates muscles. People might start noticing they have clumsy fingers, a weak grip, or difficulty turning doorknobs.

A way to replicate this feeling in a recognisable way for the masses, is through numbness. Numbness like you experience when you pour a bucket of icy water over your head.

It’s unfair because it’s ‘taking money away’ from other charitable campaigns.

The argument being that people only set aside so much money that they donate to charity each month, and now the ALS is receiving more than it’s fair share.

By this logic, every single awareness rising and fundraising campaign EVER would have been ‘taking money away’ from some other cause. Make-up free selfies for breast cancer is taking money from the RSPCA, the RSPCA’s million paws walk is taking money away from the Red Cross, World Red Cross day is taking money away from… ad infinitum.

The message is getting lost.

If you think this, you’re not entirely wrong. But you’re not entirely right, either. The message clearly isn’t completely lost, as people are still donating. (Can we not just be happy that the campaign has raised over $50 million dollars for a seriously good cause?)

This argument mostly seems to be directed at celebrities who have done the Ice Bucket Challenge, and then barely mentioned the ALS Foundation. As Steve-O from Jackass wrote when he posted his video… 

“Since the ice bucket challenge began, over 15 million dollars has been raised for ALS research. I think that’s great, but when you consider the countless A-list celebrities who have actively gotten behind this cause by posting videos — the fact that not more than fifteen million dollars has been raised is a tragedy," he wrote

“It’s tragic because I don’t think many of those celebrities even bothered to mention how or where to donate money for ALS research. Most of them just poured water over their heads and named three random people, without including any “call to action” which actually benefits victims of ALS at all. Had all those celebrities given this cause any thought, hundreds of millions of dollars might have been raised, and a whole lot more awareness.”

Preach. However, that’s not really an argument for ‘shutting down’ the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s not an argument for people to stop donating to ALS/MND charities. It’s an argument for celebrities to do better, dammnit.

What it comes down to is this. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been hugely effective in raising money for the ALS Foundation.  As a society (and by this I mean, as privileged mostly-Arts graduates), is our ability - nay, our hankering - to critically analyse pop culture and politicians’ faux pas really so under-stimulated that we have to turn to tearing charities down?

Pour a bucket of ice over your head. Don’t pour a bucket of ice over your head. Donate to ALS/MND research. Or don’t and pick another charity that speaks to you instead.

But don’t be a dick about a campaign that is raising money for research into a disease that causes muscles to slowly degenerate, resulting in a loss of ability to move, speak, breathe and swallow.

A disease that kills people. 

What are you hoping to accomplish?

If you want to contribute, visit the MND Australia website

Monday, July 14, 2014

A visit to the Blue Mountains.

There's nothing quite like getting away for the weekend and immersing yourself in nature, to feel rejuvenated and refocussed.

Also, to feel anew how unbelievably shortsighted it is for human beings to continue destroying our natural environment.

Just like in Narnia. 

There's a reason they call them blue. 

50 shades of green. 

Crossing the bridge. 

We ate lunch in front of this waterfall. We were this close, too. 

Three immoveable sisters. 

Next time I want to trek to the bottom of the waterfall. 


19th Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The 19th Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art was promoted with the tagline, "You imagine what you desire."

Juliana Engberg provided the artistic direction, and the two-floor exhibition at the MCA showcased the works of over 20 artists. The exhibition "celebrates the imagination as a spirited exploration of the world, seeking splendour and rapture in works that remain true to a greater, even sublime, visuality."

Washi tape floor. I want one. 

Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push. 

See the faces in the world around you. 

Immerse yourself.