The dizzying weight of art

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” ― Twyla Tharp

It was a cool, slightly greying afternoon. Yellowing leaves from the ageing Jacarandas dropped in our hair as bird song and wind filled our ears.  High on the hill, overlooking the city, my friend and I, the only visitors, descended the scaffold stairs into the brick architectural space of a former water storage unit and the weight of the day vanished.

The historic Spring Hill reservoir has been transformed again.  I wrote previously about this public space hosting the Underground Opera and the transcendent experience sound, in the gothic space, has on a listener.  I returned this week to be mesmerised by light.

Open mouthed we stared from on high at the magic woven beneath us. Arriving on solid ground we felt like kids in a mirror maze, removed from the world above.  Daylight from the door overhead  and a small table lamp provided enough light by which to tentatively navigate our way.  At first, without the path lit to discern our course, we gingerly inched along feeling as though we might come to a mirrored dead-end.  Becoming marginally more emboldened we picked our way through the suspended electroluminescent wire framing, that mimicked the shapes of the architecture, and felt a renewed sense of arrival in each segment of the space.

I could not explain how I felt at the time.  Several days hence the best way to describe it is —dislocated.  I felt dislocated and disoriented.  I felt not quite myself.  There was a sense of it at the edges of my consciousness that only now I can liken to  Alice swirling down the rabbit hole.

This free installation continues until the September 23rd and is well worth the visit. I have since discovered the Brisbane City Council has commissioned three artists to present another installation in the Reservoirs that will use sound, film and kinetic sculpture. No doubt, they too will cause visitors to reposition themselves in a familiar historical space.

Brisbane artist, Meagan Streader’s work is exhibited nationally and internationally. It  reflects the minimalist art of the Light and Space movement and reveals the pervasive role of light in governing physical and social navigations of fabricated spaces. Pushing the limits of light within sculpture and installation, she manipulates, reinterprets and extends upon the boundaries of constructed spaces. Through site-specific interventions, her multidimensional use of light re-orientates the viewer’s relationship to the existing architecture and scale of space.

 

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The wonderful art of learning

Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.   Anon

As an educator I love learning. Not all lessons are learnt in a classroom nor taught by teachers. Life has a wonderful way of teaching us new things. Today I was pleasantly surprised, through a small detour in my routine, to learn about a type of printmaking called collagraphy.

Collagraphy is a form of printmaking where the artist creates prints from ‘plates’ upon which they have adhered textured materials in the form of an image. Lithography, in contrast, begins with the artist chiseling the image out of the plate from which they wish to create prints.

Ink or paint is added to the plates. Once printed colour can be added to emphasise details at the artist’s discretion.

Artist Jacky Lowry is currently showing an exhibition, Western Wonders, of her collagraph prints at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery.

I am soaring after this quick lesson and immersion in her work.
Who will educate me next?

Redefining preconceptions about art

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Degas

In retrospect, it was public art. It had an energy to it. It brought life to the places around me. I thought I had an open mind when it came to art. It didn’t take long to realise my beliefs were outdated as I scrambled to adjust a decades old perception of public art.

The genre of public art for me had included sculpture, murals and I threw in street art, which I know is not strictly public art, but I was challenged to rethink my view-point recently when I hit the streets of Brisbane to follow a contemporary public art trail.

Armed with a downloaded PDF my partner in art and I headed off for a morning of joy and immersion in creativity. The very first piece we came across was not included on the list.  A week later I discovered it was the city’s newest piece of public art (below).  It was obviously art to me, as to the other pieces on the list, to be honest, we were stumped.  I had excepted the art to be easy to find and literally hit us in the face.  We stood on street corners searching.  We wandered up and down pavements looking.  Checking the ‘map’ and descriptions we soon discovered some of the art was what I might have mistaken for building decoration and architectural flourishes rather than commissioned work from the public purse.

Now I know all art does not appeal to all people – I get that. But I was perplexed by the painted ceilinged walkway, the coloured tiled wall and the barely perceptible swirls on the glass facade of a building.  Had I not been searching for these pieces they would have caught my eye and I would have admired the beauty, the departure from the norm in each of them.  On this occasion, I was expecting something different. Something more immediately recognisable. Something I could ‘label’ with an existing language to say – hey, that’s a piece of art.

I came away slightly disconcerted and just a little baffled but keen to redefine an obviously outdated and incorrect viewpoint.  What I have discovered, thanks to the Association of Public Art, is that “public art is not an art ‘form’.  Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

According to this comprehensive definition and with a new understanding, each piece of art I discovered was appropriately classified as public art and I am keen to discover more. Have you had a similar experience where you have had to adjust your thinking to align with  a more widely held view?

 

 

Making Modernism and me

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate. Harvey Fierstein

I have to confess, the majority of my favourite artists are men. Is it because there are fewer female artists or is it, as is the case with sport, that female artist have not enjoyed the same exposure as male artists or is it simply a gross carelessness on my part not to delve deeper and wider? Perhaps a combination of all three. The work of performance artist Marina Abramović, painter Margaret Ollie, sculptor Louise Joséphine Bourgeois move me. I am surrounded by female artists, many colleagues and friends are fine artists, sculptors, glass blowers, performers and I own art work by female artists. Yet, male artists seem to gain much space on gallery walls, in print and media. So I was excited, though unsure of what I would see, when I went along to the most recent exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Making Modernism is a combined exhibit of works by three female artists – Margaret Preston, Georgia O’Keeffe and Grace Cossington Smith.

Preston and Cossington Smith are Australian and O’Keeffe, American. The gallery space was intimate yet displayed a generous number of works by each artist making for a unique and pleasing experience.

I felt an immediate affinity with Preston and a familiarity with her work that I realised came from having explored the same places, tended the same flowers and photographed the same bush flora she depicts in her art. I was propelled back to a childhood home that had tongue in groove walls when admiring a still life, I knew the texture of the wild flowers and banksias, and I was surprised to see a painting titled White and Red Hibiscus dated 1925. I recently discovered a white hibiscus plant, a colour so rare, even my grandmother, an avid gardener had never seen.

I felt a comfort in viewing her work.  It is immediately very Australian, not only in the subject matter but the restricted colour palette which closely resembles the colours chosen by indigenous Australian artists. Her woodcuts are absorbing, her still lifes strong and potent.

Moving into the space reserved for Cossington Smith’s work I was taken from a tryst in nature to a celebration of the urban environment. Her work is post impressionistic. Her use of colour is energetic and elicits emotion. On seeing The Curve of the Bridge and The Bridge in Building I recalled Ashley Hay’s The Body in the Clouds, a novel that explores three intertwined stories from different times on the site where the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built.

Standing back and surveying the works there are a strong reflections of Van Gogh and Cezanne in a distinctly Australian setting. The effect was transformative and surreal.

The landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona fascinate me. I wish to explore and roam those places. A short time with Georgia O’Keeffe’s work strengthened that desire. I felt a strong connection with her,  not through a familiarity of setting as it was with Preston but sensing a shared love of and affinity with nature. O’Keeffe, like me, was pulled by nature. Her landscapes are expansive, luminous and evocative of place. Her flowers bring us in intimate closeness with nature. Having a habit of narrowing in with the camera I enjoyed Canna Leaves and Corn No 2 for the detail. I responded quite emotionally to many of her works. The flowers were pleasing, Pelvis a stark, compelling portal and Black Place, Grey and Pink caused a fleeting, wrenching despair, I felt drawn into the void.

Three distinctive styles, three incredible women, three strong artists.  This was an enriching exhibition, well worth a visit.

Satisfying wanderlust at home

Old Mill built 1829 by convict labour

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” ― Anatole France

My current situation does not allow for extended voyages across the sea to distant shores and yet my wanderlust must be sated.

A powerful desire to journey, to sightsee, to expand and grow saw me wandering my city on a very hot and muggy Sunday morning.  It was 33 degrees celsius and, I swear the  humidity was at 90% at 7am.  It was uncomfortable.  It would have been more sensible to stay at home in air-conditioned ease. I have been accused of being too sensible for so long now that I’m starting to resent the title and so, to spite myself, I went out to follow a trail that would take me to some of the interesting historical sites, churches and shrines in my city.

As an art lover I am as easily captivated by architecture as a painting on a gallery wall. I revel in the juxtaposition of old and new as my mind tries to make sense of history in a modern landscape.  I wonder at the skill and the talent of those who design and then build absorbing edifices.  I marvel at how function and aesthetics combine.

The trail did not take me to previously uncharted territory.  I was familiar with all the streets and lanes I found myself in, though wandering about on foot provides a different perspective from which to view the canvas. You notice things, you can take longer to appreciate the placement of structures in the environment. Being one of very few crazy people out on this particular Sunday, I had many places to myself for the majority of the walk.  What a rare treat in a busy city.

Brisbane was once noted for a particular domestic architecture dominated by timber houses, raised on high stumps with wide verandahs wrapped around the outside to catch the breeze. In contrast, many of the early public buildings were made of stone and brick; a reminder of English origins.  There has been some rapid and interesting changes in the architecture of Brisbane in the last twenty years but my focus on this particular morning was on the quaint buildings, quiet parks, and many charming churches and shrines located at the top end of the city, a hilly location, once a very fashionable residential area, that is now known for its many medical clinics.

Some of the churches were closed, others were filled with worshipers.  To avoid disrupting Mass by taking photographs, I plan to return during the week when, I was assured by church elders, I will be welcome to enjoy the space and take as many photos as I please.  En route I had a lovely conversation with a bus driver who, thinking I was lost, asked if I was visiting the city.  He was surprised to learn I had lived here for over 20 years and then revealed that he too enjoys wandering the city to take in her offerings.  He suggested a public art walk I hadn’t previously been aware of, that is now on my list of ways to satisfy wanderlust between trips.

What hidden gems would your city reveal if you had the time to wander about, on foot, with no other agenda than to absorb and notice? I’d be keen to hear how you satisfy your wanderlust when the itch arises but the timing isn’t right to travel.

Emma Miller Place

 

Celebrating art

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It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. ~Kojiro Tomita

Art can be celebrated any day of the week but this year my home town of Brisbane is celebrating the 10th birthday of our very own Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art – GOMA with a summer long exhibition and series of activities. I popped along to join in the fun on another day of celebration, for some, – Australia Day. 

The 10th birthday celebrations feature a whopping 250 contemporary artworks that are a true feast for the senses. There are some newly commissioned works as well as a lovely smattering of old favourites.  The intention of the exhibition is to reflect our complex connections to the natural world through the senses. My senses were pleasantly engaged and enchanted by the multi dimensional and interactive landscape artfully curated for art lovers of all ages.

Visitors are greeted by two spiralling slides that rocket the brave and childlike from the top floor to the bottom. Around the corner vivid colour strikes the eye as a landscape of synthetic hair that appears to grow from the ground reaches toward the ceiling. A sudden change of sensory input occurs when you step from the bright, well light open space of the gallery into a softly dimmed cavern containing a Heard of sculptural horses that I believe can be brought to life by dancers.

I was pleasantly surprised and no less intrigued to see Ron Mueck’s massive and life-like sculpture In bed on display again. The detail and the intimacy of the work is mesmerizing. This is one work I long to reach out and touch.

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The hugely popular installation of thousands and thousands of white Lego pieces was back.  The joy of this piece is in watching young and old sit and build fantastic structures.  It was slightly disconcerting for me to have it placed in a different spot to the first time it appeared. It was deja vu gone wrong.

Pinaree Sanpitak’s Noon-nom installation drew me. I wanted to sink into it, lounge atop the soft sculptures and enjoy the view of the river.  Having commented to the gallery staffer that it was tempting to do just that, she informed me the work was designed for relaxing on. At first glance the installation appears to be a lovely compilation of multi coloured bean bags.  The many soft sculptures actually represent breast stupas; a lovely bringing together of the human form and the spiritual. I had to giggle at myself for lounging on large breasts but marvel too at the artist’s ingenuity in capturing the nurturing form so well.

So many of the exhibits and installations provoked a mindful consideration of our being and our interactions with others and the world. Standing beneath a gigantic aluminium snake skeleton that spirals 53 metres gave me pause to reflect on how tiny we humans are yet how bold our ideas, traditions and stories can be. Tomás Saraceno’s Biospheres bought to mind soap bubbles, jelly fish, a fragile globe all at once. Another delightful yet fragile landscape was constructed by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s in his musical installation of live finches. I felt a world away from the hustle and bustle and was lucky enough to be the sole visitor for a while in this soothing space. Lee Mingwei’s Writing the Unspoken was a change of pace. In an intimate room with subdued lighting three small asian inspired booths offer visitors the opportunity to exchange ideas, communicate gratitude, insights and forgiveness. Visitors can write unspoken messages to be sent by the gallery, if sealed and addressed or leave a message for others to read and enjoy.  I was moved by the strength and beauty of the words people chose to leave for strangers. 

Congratulations GOMA on your 10th birthday. Congratulations to the curators for bringing together seemingly disparate pieces and creating a world of joy, contemplation and reverence.  Well done. Thank you to artists everywhere who through great talent, sacrifice and struggle bring us these works that move us, shape us and create something that lingers long after we’ve taken in the work itself.

 

Outdoor gallery swells minds and hearts

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 He held her like a seashell, and listened to her heart.
And kissed her for eternity–nevermore apart.
Author unknown

Exposure to the elements, works of art, water and sand aren’t a typical combination. Except at Currumbin Beach. Each September the Swell Festival brings these elements together.  Lovers of  sculpture, the curious and the unsuspecting descend on the beach as the cold grip of winter gives way to the effervescence of spring. 

Many make the trip because of the sheer delight it brings to squelch through the sand from exhibit to exhibit, some come to the beach and are treated to a marvellous surprise and some, unfazed, go about the business of surfing, building sand castles or jogging along the shore, seemingly heedless of the display.  It all makes for a fascinating spectacle.  The human factor enhances the quirkiness of the art itself and the location.

This is a must see festival with works by both local and international artists. I have made the short drive the last two years to revel and delight in the extravaganza.  There is something very Daliesque about the beach being transformed by an  array of sculptures all  individually unique and interesting and collectively satisfying. The varied works appeal to my sense of play and fun.  What do you think?

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Life unfiltered – looking through different lenses

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The lens we look through will determine what we see.
Renee Swope

I often encourage people to intentionally focus on a particular perspective by having them consider an idea or a topic through a framework, paradigm, theory or viewpoint.  I’ll say – “let’s look through the lens of a …”, “we’ll explore this through the lens of …”.

This idea of exploring the world through different lenses is interesting  and has been quite pertinent to me this last week.  When I reflect, my first encounter of looking through a different lens came, oddly enough, in my childhood through the cartoon character Mr Magoo, a near-sighted retiree who bumbles from one comical escapade to another. This was the first time I realised (and no doubt, I couldn’t actually articulate it back then) that I could see things others may not or that I could view events differently from my own vantage point. Kaleidoscopes, a type of lens, with their colourful and varying patterns composing and recomposing themselves as reflected in tiny mirrors, enchanted and transfixed me. The world looked different through a kaleidoscope.  I suppose the camera lens was next.  My father had an avid interest in photography and the idea of freezing a moment to be viewed at another time drew my attention. How bewitching to view an image with the benefit of hindsight, with distance, from outside the situation looking in.  To capture a moment to help strengthen a memory is so compelling.

Then there are words,  another set of lenses through which I’ve experienced the world.  Books and poetry, letters and essays. I’ve seen the world through the lens of many an artist too – their paintings and photographs, their sculpture and film have intrigued, moved and delighted me. They have taught me many lessons, sent me off on journeys of discovery and more.

I’ve looked through the lenses of different theories and notions, of different ideologies and standpoints. I’ve tried to employ the lens of empathy to inform my actions, thoughts and beliefs.

I have viewed life and explored its many wonders, trials and events through the lens of a  curious though private child, a complex, self-conscious teenager, a grieving granddaughter, an unyielding and misunderstood young woman, a loving and loyal wife, a vigilant and watchful mother. And it’s this chronology, this moving from maiden through matron and heaven forbid I say it – to crone that I now find I look through a different set of lenses.  Yes, alas, this new type of optical through which I will now view the world, only part-time mind you, are a full framed, clear lensed set of pretty little goggles.

Looking glass, drinking glass? Reading glass!
An affront.
My age, you say, crept up on me
I can no longer compensate.

Glasses.
The reading kind for you today, you see.
It’s your age.
Harrumph

Hush. Hush.
Time to look at the world differently.

It should be a trial, and yet, it’s not.
It simply is.
You see.
It just, bloody well, is.

In and out. Test this, test that.
Look up, look down.
Read this, read that.
Look near, look far.
It’s time for glasses you see.

Tsk Tsk.
Drinking glass?
The looking glass?
Venetian glass?
No, no a reading glass.

Hmm,
I see.
Ho hum,
So dumb.
I’m numb.
What a bum.

Itch! Witch!
Through the looking glass, a grandma I see.
Grey hair.
Crinkles and wrinkles.
The clearer I see, the more damned I be.

Nature is kind, my aunt once said.
Your eyesight goes and with it the wrinkles and crinkles, the greys and the years.

Blink, blink.
Such a to do.
There’s really no fuss.
I’m settled and calm, surprisingly.
Rally and rant – oh, no, not me.

It’s a change.
It’s flow.
New optics,
Silver shot locks
Different look. Different outlook.
No longer a maiden. Alas, a crone.

Wait, wait.
It’s an interesting life.
This cycle of things.
It’s simply a new lens, or two,
through which to filter the world around and beyond you.

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Connecting to place

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The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind. Lewis Mumford

When I was young I used to associate Sunday mass with strong, floral perfume and giddiness. The intense perfume the old ladies wore coupled with the tropical heat and hunger (mass was at 6pm, dinner time) would make me giddy.

Purple reminded me of my friend Colleen, who loved the colour. On seeing it I would instantly be reminded of her bedroom, with the soft gauzy curtains and lush shag rug, where we spent hours playing as children.

Into adulthood, fish and chips was a meal that transported me to the beach, a place where we had indulged in this treat as children.

Our senses connect us to the world. They are of course valuable in and of themselves but they can also imprint experiences and emotions associated with them in our memories, for a very long time in some cases. Our senses can evoke strong emotional reactions.  There is a particular spray deodorant that triggers extremely negative reactions in me whenever I smell it. It sends me reeling back to a time and place that wasn’t one of the happiest in my life. On the other hand, there is a smell that I can’t describe to you because it isn’t readily available.  I imagine it occurs only in certain places but I vividly remember as a shy and socially inept teenager visiting the house of my uncle’s friend, a stranger to me, and instantly feeling at ease and at home because this house smelt like my Nana and Papa’s house. I’ve always been strongly aware, quite sensitive and reactive, in some cases, to sound, smell, touch and visual input.

After visiting an interactive exhibition about my city; in which a number of residents shared a smell they associated with the city and vials of some of those smells, including thunderstorm, frangipani and garbage were on display to strengthen the experience; I gave pause to consider if I have any associations linked to my fair city and where none instinctively existed, I began to ponder what associations I would consider best suited to the place I now call home.

It sounds a little odd, I know, but many people do this, perhaps unconsciously. Do you have any connections to where you live? Does it have a colour, a taste, a symbol, a sound that is quintessentially about the place you live?

What follows are my mental and sensory associations to my city.

Smell: The smell that reminds me most of Brisbane was formed in my younger years before I even lived here. The annual Royal Exhibition was a phenomenon I was captivated with. Growing up in a regional area we simply didn’t have anything comparable and so the smell that permeates the air at that magical wonderland is Brisbane to me. It’s not the smell of the cattle pavilion nor the scented wood chopping arena, it is in fact the aroma of Dagwood Dogs (frankfurters o a stick, coated in batter and deep-fried) and tomato sauce.

Symbol: The muddy, murky Brisbane river snaking across the city is the strongest image I have of Brisbane. The river is such a prominent feature of our landscape and lifestyle that  I can’t think about the city without also bringing to mind our river.

Colour: Jacaranda purple is the colour of Brisbane.  In my first year of university the flowering Jacaranda trees around campus took my breath away. The whole of Brisbane is transformed by these blossoms for several months a year. Parks everywhere are dotted with purple covered trees and carpets of purple flowers underneath. I love the deep shade they take on just before a thunderstorm.

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Sound: Cicadas and the Australian summer pretty much go hand in hand. I used to dread the chirrup of these insects on a hot and sultry afternoon when the heat and damp hung in the air, the grass crunched underfoot and ice cream would drip down cones faster than one could lick it. There was a sense of helplessness in the sultry heat that they conjured in me.

Credit to Dodgerton Skillhause

Credit to Dodgerton Skillhause

Touch: If I had to share a touch or texture that is Brisbane I would say it was bindis.  Yep. Those pesky barbed prickles that hide in lawns, parks and anywhere green.  I cannot tell you how many times my joyful run toward a playground swing would be crippled by feet burning and smarting from the sting of imbedded prickles.

 

Interviewing David

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“I’m a little bit naked, but that’s okay.”
― Lady Gaga

If you could interview a work of art, what would it be and what would you ask?  This sounds like a pretty random idea, I know, but it came from listening to a radio interview by Richard Fidler, on Conversations. He was talking with a gentleman who had a very unique, full body tattoo and at one point Richard commented that he’d never interviewed a work of art before.  It got me thinking, what a neat idea.

The hardest part of this scenario, once you’ve taken the leap into the quirky world of oddity and imagination, is selecting just one artwork to interview.  How do you choose one piece that you’d love an audience with to get to know better from a world full of magnificent works? I’ve visited some of the most magnificent galleries in the world and enjoyed the talent of local artists as well as great masters. I appreciate and am enthralled by a variety of mediums, subjects and artistic styles. Yes, choosing just one is tricky. So I simply shut my eyes and decided on the first image that came to mind. It was a close tie between Michelangelo’s David and the Venus de Milo.

In the end, I thought David might be fun. Now, I’m never going to be an award-winning journalist and I’m sure, once I post this piece I will think of a trillion other questions but here were my initial thoughts, interests, curiosities.

David, I imagine it gets pretty tiring having droves of people comment on how large and out of proportion your hands are each day. What other unique challenges do you face?

Do you suffer from body image issues?

What do you feel is your most endearing feature?

If you could swathe yourself in a single outfit, what fabric would you choose?

You have one day to do anything you like. Where would you go and what would you do?

How do you feel about Michelangelo after all this time? If you were to meet now, what would you share with him?

Your surroundings are pretty stark. What’s your favourite colour?

Can you account for your continued celebrity?

Tell me about your earliest memory.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

What did I miss? What would you have asked in addition? Like I said, no Pulitzer Prizes for award-winning journalism for me but this exercise, as well as being a bit of quirky fun, challenged me to think in different and creative ways and that’s a good thing to do occasionally. I also found I was anticipating the responses and I now have a different viewpoint from which to think. Pretty neat.

How could you challenge yourself to think outside the realms of  the everyday?