John Aslanidis – the art of science

It’s very hard to separate all the facets that make up the area collectively known as The Arts. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s impossible to. I don’t know anyone involved in any form of creative practice who operates within one area alone, devoid of inspiration and input from any other field. As a writer, I require art and theatre and music in order to remain engaged with my writing. I need my head full of historical references as much as I need it focused on the present. And I need to be around people with some form of creative energy in order to remain fully energised myself.

The most successful projects for me are the ones that acknowledge openly how all these areas feed off each other; how the graceful lines of a ballet’s choreography can be found in a Rodin sculpture, or the folds of a toga in a Greek tragedy. That sounds very windy and florid I think, but I do mean it. Nothing exists in isolation. Feelings and sensations are replicated and interpreted in ways that suit the medium in which the artist is working. An artist paints the vibrant colours of a butterfly’s wings; Marcel Marceau mimes the beauty in its final dying moments. Two different aspects of the same creature, both of which convey the rhythm and hum of life.

While I’ve never been able to say which of the arts I love the most, I have definitely always known that it was this area more than the sciences that I was most comfortable being a part of. And yet lately, some of the most exciting things I’ve stumbled across exist at the point where art and science converge – rogue taxidermy, video art, cyber poetry and projection mapping.  I felt this coming together in a show I saw last week in Brisbane, John Aslanidis’ Sonic Network No. 15 at Edwina Corlette Gallery. Struck by the mesmerising work in the front window, I entered the gallery proper to see the rest of the exhibition. The works felt to me like a hybrid of avante-garde, Cubism, the study of orbital mechanics in space theory and the designs I used to make with my spirograph kit as a kid. There’s also something of the SBS test pattern in them, which I mean in a good way. I always loved that thing. Not being familiar with Aslanidis’ work, I welcomed an explanation of his practice. Turns out he has a background in electronic music, so the test pattern analogy isn’t hugely far off. The man who paints these psychedelic, 3D illusory canvases obviously has a vast understanding of acoustics, optics theory and geometry, as well as an ability to put together colour in a way that is genuinely invigorating. Optical art. Op art. Turns out it’s a thing.

Now, all of this is far outside my comfort zone. I flicked anything scientific or mathematical as soon as I was able in high school, and am the first to admit that when it comes to these areas I am a total boffin, but I do find something intrinsically beautiful in the way art and science soften each other when combined. It’s a shame that in areas such as education and politics the two disciplines are kept quite separate, because there really is a lot of benefit to be found in their merging. In Aslanidis’ work I begin to understand how nerdy friends of mine can love things like mathematics. I can even see how they come to see elegance in their theorems and axioms. I’m not about to become a physicist, god help the universe if I did, but there is an epic grace in these paintings that transcends both the scientific and artistic worlds to become something else entirely, something otherworldly and hypnotic.

It makes both sides of my brain engage with the world around me, and that can’t possibly be a bad thing.

555 Brunswick Street New Farm QLD 4005 Australia
Tel 07 3358 6555 Mob 0412 301 355
Until 18 October 2014

Pete Foley: The New Pantheon

Here’s something I never expected to find myself doing late on a Tuesday night – standing in a vacant, candlelit block high up on a hill in Brisbane’s West End, reading a book by torchlight with a bunch of strangers, while fruit bats circled above us and a cold breeze turned the trees in to scary dancing spirits. I quite sincerely thought I was going to die. But these are the things I am willing to do for my friends, particularly treasures like my mate Pete Foley.

When Pete first told me about his concept for The New Pantheon, I reacted as any good friend would by saying “that sounds awesome!” while secretly thinking ‘that is some super weird hipster shit right there, buddy.’ Good thing I didn’t actually blurt that out, because I would have looked a right dork about now. What Pete had conceived of turned out to be a stunning, sensual experience combining the best bits from performance art, literary events and indie art shows.

Central to the night was Pete’s artistry. A brilliant illustrator and animator, he has spun a hauntingly beautiful story of figures moving through an ambiguous, slightly nightmarish landscape – humans seeking connection and a sense of belonging. And sex (there’s always a bit of sex when Pete’s involved. Blokes, eh?). His writing is equally as sensitive and delicate as his drawings. I would kill to use language as simply and effectively as Pete does. I always seem to have too many words in me, whereas Pete is one of those people who can say twice as much with less than half,you know? Then again, his illustrations already say so much themselves. Sparse, monochrome sketches on brown paper, bound beautifully by our friend Linde, they make for one of the loveliest artist books I’ve ever run a cotton gloved hand across.

Of course, Pete’s ability to scout out the perfect location in which to hold his midnight reading was what made the spectacle of The New Pantheon truly thrilling. God knows how many creepy alleys he walked down looking for the right site. Even surrounded by people as I was, I half expected some vampirish freak to jump out of the shadows and attack me. Then again, I am occasionally given to episodes of melodrama and panic. I probably shouldn’t have gone there sober. With any luck he’ll stage another event and I can go there with a few fingers of whiskey under my belt.

I love my friends, my life treasures. I particularly love the ones who have wild imaginations and quirky outlooks, who challenge and inspire me to think beyond white walls, white pages and a beige life.

Mr Pete Foley is one of the best.

Photos from the Chippendale, Sydney, performance of The New Pantheon.
Images by Louis Dillon Savage

Lindy Lee: The Dark of Absolute Freedom

No one gets through childhood unscathed. Even those of us lucky enough to have good, loving families and stable home lives drag the weight of something unresolved to adulthood. For me it’s memories of school and being intimately connected with a large group of people with whom I wasn’t comfortable. It’s years ago now, but those wounds still occasionally flare up. Putting all your teenage energy in to ‘fitting in’ leaves a scar or two. The weird thing is that I appear to be remembered for my individuality, so I guess there’s truth in the saying that the harder you try to blend in the more likely you are to stand out. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Australian artist Lindy Lee knows about blending in and standing out. As the only non-white child growing up in Brisbane, she knows very well how deeply the pain of ostracism can run, and the art she creates reflects that.  You can see it in her paper wall hangings, where each scorch mark holds the suggestion of wounds, and in the jagged voids in metal where hot rods and plasma cutters have eaten away the stainless steel. It’s in the vast wall mounted sculptures made from pouring molten bronze on the foundry floor, where each piece is sandblasted and hand polished to reveal the beauty within. They carry names that read like a mantra – Transcendent, Irreducible, Invisible, Immutable, and feel organic despite the industrial techniques used to make them.

Identity is at the forefront of her earlier works, which blend photocopying and painting to both replicate and obliterate. They feature Renaissance and el Greco inspired images in a state of transition, barely there and otherworldly. There’s a painting of her grandmother called Doctrine of the Golden Flower, where a pretty young face swathed in emotive purple and red stares out at you, and the expansive Nell and Every Little Thing featuring what Lee refers to as “the gestural splat.” Amassed together, they are a curious balance of violent intent and peaceful protest, calming and unsettling all at once.

Meeting Lindy Lee, you instinctively know there’s an edge behind her easy, unaffected charm. She is approachable, friendly and easy to talk to, but with a sharp mind and perceptive eyes. I suspect she sees through everything. A didactic panel in the exhibition tells the story of her failed attempt to learn calligraphy, a goal she abandoned when she realised she couldn’t submit to the discipline of ‘good’ brushstrokes. It seems a revealing insight into the awareness of self she possesses, and it’s captured again in the interview accompanying her current exhibition in which Lee discusses the beauty that can come out of our darkest moments. It is immensely empowering to become conscious of your own resilience. The serenity that emanates from Lee’s work is a tribute to her ability to reconcile the divided self, the complexity of being both Chinese and Australian, but feeling neither one thing nor the other.

This is the largest retrospective of Lindy Lee’s work ever staged, and has been sensitively curated by UQ Art Museum’s Associate Director Michele Helmrich. It is an intensely spiritual exhibition full of ancient elemental ritual, contemporary art practise and grand narratives of what it means to be human. I encourage you to see it.

Lindy Lee: The Dark of Absolute Freedom
UQ Art Museum
Until 22 February 2015

Mercy Heritage Centre, Brisbane

It takes a minor miracle to get me near anything that even vaguely resembles a church. Well, a miracle or a “you must turn up or you’ll fail” directive from my uni lecturer. Religious orders and I…let’s just say we’re equally apathetic towards each other. Had it not been for the fact I was forced to attend, I would have given the field trip a miss and stayed home to write stories, drink beer and watch old episodes of QI (actually, that sounds like an awesome day. Bugger).

What I’m getting at is that Mercy Heritage Centre is not somewhere I would necessarily have chosen to spend a day. Situated in the original Sisters of Mercy headquarters on the grounds of All Hallows’ private girls school, it’s a bit too niche and imbued with religious significance for me to have visited independently. So it came as quite a surprise to realise halfway through the day that I was actually enjoying myself. Which, as it turns out, is why I’ve been having such a hard time trying to write about it.

When you’re studying museology, you spend a great deal of time discussing museums as sites of learning, as the custodians of knowledge, as places where dangerous ideas can be analysed, blah blah blah. For the most part, we sit in seminars discussing how vital this is and the central role it has in society, and we feel like what we’re doing is important and worthy. Then we nick off down to the museum to see the latest blockbuster superhero touring show which teaches us nothing but looks pretty and sells lots of tickets, and we all nod our heads and say how wonderful it is that people still visit museums for information.

So it’s great to find little treasures like the Mercy Heritage Centre, which is not only extremely well put together, but full of stories that resonate on such a visceral level. Created to tell the history of the Sisters of Mercy in Brisbane, it is both historically important and hugely respectful of the past, but with a freshness you don’t often see in religious institutions. Mercy Heritage Centre is more than just a reminder of what it once was; it’s curated in such a way that I could sense the footsteps of the women who had spent their lives there in devoted service. It breathes with a youthful energy, despite the severe portraits of bishops and Mothers Superior. It’s intimate, and often moving.

This is a side of the church we don’t often see – the lonely journey from eager young postulant to long serving nun, and it makes for an often poignant visit as you see the conditions in which they lived, and the solitude they were forced to endure. I have always struggled with the idea of devotion to religion, and Mercy Heritage doesn’t answer any of those questions. It does however make these women human.

In a room dedicated to the life of the postulants, you are invited to open desks which reveal personal collections from a few of the sisters – mementos of a time I can barely comprehend, and hideously uncomfortable ceremonial gowns worn as they promised their lives to the church.

Perhaps my favourite of the displays was the Trunk Room, a relatively tiny space that opened to reveal suitcases once again full of personal belongs, and the memories of the sisters who travelled through the world working as missionaries. Here there were more than a few glimpses of the fun-loving young women who might have existed had they not entered a life of perpetual self-control and restraint.

And yet as pleasantly surprised as I was by the museum, I couldn’t get past the other side of the Sisters of Mercy I’ve seen recently – the one on display in Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions that I wrote about a few weeks ago. That’s why it’s taken me a fortnight to write about it.

I would encourage anyone to visit Mercy Heritage Centre, but to visit it in such a way that you acknowledge both sides of the story. By all means empathise with the unnatural and emotionless way the sisters were forced to live, but remember how they in turn treated the children in their care (weirdly, some of the same photos appear in each). To see both exhibitions is to be left in no doubt that one way of life almost certainly caused the other.

It’s easy to become disillusioned with the work done in museums. You start to believe that the history and stories we’re here to tell don’t matter as much as the profit forecasts, and that the only dangerous ideas to be found in museums are the ones where we don’t meet budget in a financial year.  But somewhere between Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions and Mercy Heritage Centre exists the place where museums absolutely prove their relevance.

From the wall of comments at Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions

From the wall of comments at Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions

Febe Zylstra named a finalist in the RQAS Figurative Art Award 2014

Ah, here’s some happy and exciting news that’s just come to hand. My lovely friend Febe Zylstra, who you may remember from this little feature a few months back, has just been named as a finalist in the Royal Queensland Art Society’s Figurative Art Award 2014.

Here’s her gorgeous entry, ‘Singing Their Own Song’ – isn’t it one of the most serenely beautiful things you’ve seen?!

Berlin or Bust with Linde Ivimey

Berlin people, you are in for a treat!

Regular followers of Cultural Flanerie will already be familiar with the work of Linde Ivimey. It’s no secret she’s one of my favourite people, or as I prefer to call them, a Life Treasure. She’s also pretty talented in the art department.

Anyway…tonight is the opening of her very first European solo show Bone Idol at Michael Reid Gallery, and I couldn’t be prouder! Even if I didn’t like her, I’d still be encouraging you to get along and see it. It is, quite frankly, some of the best work she’s ever done.

Here’s a preview:

She also rates herself as a bit of a film star, as you’ll see from this YouTube clip:

It’s been a big twelve months for Linde, and getting to Berlin was no mean feat. So get along and say hello, she’s quite a lot of fun once she gets going ;)

For more information, check out Michael Reid Berlin here.

Michael Reid Gallery
Ackerstraße 163,
D-10115 Berlin,
Telephone +49 (0) 175 62 65 100
Until 11 October 2014. 


“I am now eighty-two years old and these memories remain very clear. What happened to our childhood?” Carmel Durant, 2010

To walk through the new touring exhibition at Queensland Museum, Inside: Life In Children’s Homes & Institutions, is to be confronted with a palpable sense of the pain of our past – children abused and maltreated by those to whom their care was entrusted. Spanning three decades of institutionalised care, from 1950 to 1980, Inside is the result of a promise made by the Australian government during 2009’s national apology to the Forgotten Australians that their stories would be told. Literally hundreds of quotes cover every available wall space, snippets of conversations, pages out of journals, fragmented memories of lives torn apart by a disgraceful time in Australia’s history, when children were taken from their families and charged with neglect, forced into a life of terror and seclusion. Wire beds, syringes and leather straps sit alongside confiscated toys and photos of tiny children with haunted eye whose only crime was to be orphaned or neglected or the product of a single parent. Immigrant children sent from Malta wave from a train carriage, not knowing what their future holds. A cot carries the story of a baby who died and the nuns who let it happen. Paintings, poetry and sculpture created in the years after are heavy with the weight of sadness. The stories are harrowing, almost impossible to take in. No wonder there are tissues placed throughout the display, it is incredibly moving.

Image courtesy of Queensland Museum

This is heavy stuff for Queensland Museum to carry, a place that ordinarily houses nothing scarier than a few thousand reptile specimens and a badly taxidermied wombat, and I suspect its location in the building acknowledges that. Inside is all but hidden on the top floor of the museum, tucked in a corner least traversed by visitors (it also backs on to the children’s learning centre, which I have to say makes for quite a surreal experience when you’re quietly reading tales of guardians calling children ‘devil’s spawn’ while teachers call out to their school groups only a few metres away). I’m not convinced Queensland Museum is the right home for this exhibition, but it seems both mean spirited and redundant to quibble about that now. The fact that it is where it is should not make the difference as to whether the crowds visit. What ought to make the difference is that this is a time in our recent history to which we should all bear witness. In the words of Frank Warren, “it’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.”

There is perhaps a little salvation for all of us to be found in Inside.

Image courtesy of Museum Victoria

International Dogs In Art Day

“When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.'”
- Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

The dog. Man’s best friend, and a constant companion of artists since prehistoric times. Here’s some of my favourite representations of dogs in art, just for a bit of midday fun :)

Gillie & Marc Schattner Good Boy


Linde Ivimey The Little Black Dog 2014

Brett Whiteley Dog 1986

Jeff Koons Puppy at the MCA Sydney 1995

Julia de Ville Stillborn Puppy

One of Nirit Levav’s fabulous bike chain dogs

McLean Edwards The Calvary

Pablo Picasso Le Chien

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This 240-year-old Machine is an Ancestor to the Modern Computer

Carrie McCarthy:

I think I’ve read about this hundreds of times now, but it never stops being thoroughly enchanting!

Originally posted on TwistedSifter:

pierre jaquet-droz the writer automaton ancestor of modern computer (2)

An automaton (plural: automata or automatons) is a self-operating machine or robot. Seen above is the Writer, an automaton built in the 1770s by world-renowned Swiss watchmaker, Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721-1790).

Made from nearly 6000 parts, the Writer is a self-operating, programmable machine, capable of writing letters and words with a quill pen. The 240-year-old machine is said to be a distant ancestor of the modern-day, programmable computer.

From the BBC programme Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams (which can be viewed in its entirety here), Professor Simon Schaffer explains this remarkable creation by Pierre Jaquet-Droz in the must-see video below.

pierre jaquet-droz the writer automaton ancestor of modern computer (6)

pierre jaquet-droz the writer automaton ancestor of modern computer (8)

According to Aerial Adams of A Blog to Watch, The Writer inspired the principle ‘character’ in the Martin Scorsese movie Hugo. The machine works by using a crank to wind up the mainsprings. From…

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