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,
Germany
Telephone +49 (0) 175 62 65 100
Until 11 October 2014. 

Inside

“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

LI714_015

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…

View original 327 more words

Interlude

“I could tell you it’s the heart, but what is really killing him is loneliness.
Memories are worse than bullets.”

Carlos Ruizafón, The Shadow of the Wind 

Face of an old man, Brett Whiteley, 1979, Collection of AGNSW

 

 

Harvest: A Conflict

It’s a little-known fact that art galleries and museums have in their calendars a season known as Meh. It’s little-known because…well…I just made it up, but it’s true nonetheless. Meh usually falls just after a large blockbuster exhibition closes and before another one opens, when an art institution gives their curatorial staff a break from using their imaginations and pulls together a show from their permanent collection – kind of like a palate-cleansing sorbet served between courses in a degustation. Harvest: Art, Film + Food currently at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is one such example.

Shirana Shahbazi, Iran/Switzerland b.1974; Still life: Coconut and other things 2009/Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Harvest is, I think, based around the premise that food is a symbol of prestige. Or perhaps it’s that food is worthy of celebration. Or was it that food is political? I’m not really sure. I know there’s definitely something about it coming from the land, but whether that’s good or bad I can’t remember. There was definitely a point about the labour involved though.

*sigh* This is the problem with Harvest. I’ve been three times now and, while it’s pretty, I’m still not entirely sure what the point of it actually is. I’m not convinced curator Ellie Buttrose and her team are too sure either. The intention to provoke discussion of serious issues is definitely there, but unfortunately that intent is stretched across far too many worthy topics.

There are some highlights. Rivane Neuenschwander’s Contingent films ants gravitating towards honey, creating a world map as they gather that is simple, direct and clever; Robert MacPherson’s Mayfair (Swampbait) is quirky and eye-catching, though as weirdly disconnected from the artworks around it as everything else in this show; and Simryn Gill’s Forking Tongues is a visual feast of chillis and cutlery that immediately evokes the spices and traditional silverware of an Indian buffet. It’s just a shame the immense spiral of colour is positioned over two grates in the floor, somewhat ruining its impact.

As for the rest…most of it just feels at best tired and at worst pretentious. The rest is just absurd. Don’t even get me started on Emily Floyd’s installation of building blocks Permaculture Crossed with Feminist Science Fiction. That is one work as tedious as its title.

I know I’m being harsh, but I’m just so disappointed. GOMA have proven themselves to be better than this in the last few years. I thought we’d moved beyond pineapples as a motif for Queensland. Harvest is a slipping back to when Brisbane was the poor cousin of Sydney and Melbourne, not the worthy successor it had begun to seem.

There is hope though. An exhibition currently on at University of Queensland’s Art Museum in St Lucia is an absolute knock out. Conflict: Contemporary Responses to War is a vibrant, challenging and tightly curated look at art created since September 11, 2001 but does not limit itself to artwork created solely around the themes that event raises. Conflict has been widened to include artists dealing with problems closer to home, including issues of colonisation and the historical confrontations that continue to impact on generations of Australians.

Baden Pailthorpe, MQ-9 Reaper (2014). High Definition 3D animation, reproduced courtesy of Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney.

I wish UQ Art Museum would relax their draconian rules on photography, because there is so much in this exhibition I would love to share, but perhaps the names of some of the artists involved are enough to encourage crowds to make the trip out – Gordon Bennett, Ben Quilty, Fiona Foley, eX de Medici, Richard Bell, last year’s artist in residence at the Australian War Memorial Baden Pailthorpe, Daniel Boyd, Noel McKenna, Dadang Christanto, Fatima Killeen and recipient of this year’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Tony Albert.

It’s a high class field, and encompasses an exciting mix of artistic styles and practices incorporating prayer mats, sculpture, photography, painting, printmaking and video installations. Curator Samantha Littley has taken an awkward space, and an even more difficult topic, and pulled together an exhibition that is timely, emotionally satisfying and, streets ahead of anything else on offer in Brisbane at the moment.

I’m as much an opponent of war as the next person (unless that person is an extremist) but this is one occasion where I’d encourage you to choose the drama of Conflict over the bland serenity offered by Harvest.

Harvest: Art, Film + Food
GOMA
Until 21 September

Conflict: Contemporary Responses to War
UQ Art Museum
Until 7 September

Le Noir: the dark side of cirque

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the circus I don’t immediately think of g-strings, suspender belts and feathers. Call me old fashioned, but that sounds more like a bordello than a circus.

Until last night, the only dark side of the circus I’d ever considered was the one that involved shady gypsies selling children, and that’s only because I still carry from my youth the mental scars of the child catcher scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Notwithstanding Disney’s attempts to scare the shit out of me, the circus was somewhere I always thought of as exciting and magical as a little girl – the one place where reality could be suspended completely. Acrobats really could fly, strongmen really could lift huge weights, fifty chubby clowns really could pack themselves into a tiny little car. Now that I’m a grown up I realise much of the magic was a trick of the mind, but the circus remains a highly enchanting idea anyway.

So when I heard a circus was coming to QPAC’s Lyric Theatre I was dubious. “Um, guys?” I thought to myself. “Where will you fit the big tent?” Turns out it’s not that kind of circus.

Le Noir is billed as the dark side of cirque, but if you’re expecting a perverse and gritty version of Cirque du Soleil you might be disappointed. Le Noir isn’t as big or as spectacular as anything we’ve seen from the French Canadians famous for reinventing circus. But what it lacks in size and spectacle it makes up for in intimacy.

Within the confines of a small stage surrounded by tables of audience members, 20 of the world’s leading circus performers swing, contort, balance, lift and fly through the air – all while clad only in their finest lingerie. Feathers, corsets and suspenders play as much of a role in this circus as the acrobatics and juggling.

There are moments in Le Noir that are genuinely thrilling in an arse-clenching way, though a lot of it we’ve seen before. I took my mother and she loved it (not in a dear little old lady way, I might add. She’s more your sweary, spunky mother). I was a little less enthusiastic, but I’m not sure that was the fault of the show itself.

I suspect Le Noir suffers from over-hyping themselves. I really did expect something more disturbing and ominous. Perhaps if it was billed as the sexy side of circus I’d feel differently, because that’s really what this is – a hybrid of cirque and French cabaret, with slightly more emphasis on the cabaret. The atmosphere could very easily have had me transported to a theatre on Boulevard de Clichy in Pigalle watching the girls of the Moulin Rouge, rather than sitting under the Big Top waiting for the ringmaster to appear.

With that in mind, what Le Noir does it does well, so go and see it. It’s something different for Brisbane and for that alone it ought to be supported. And there’s always the beautifully clad bodies to appreciate…

Le-Noir-2-722x500

What: Le Noir
Where: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
When: until 17 August