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.

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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.

 

The faces and fibre of our communities

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Invisible threads are the strongest ties.  

                                         Fredrich Nietzsche

It shouldn’t but it still  surprises me when the universe delivers synchronistically interwoven gossamer threads that tie a thought or an idea to another with seamless perfection.

I recently wrote about the joys of being a tourist in your own country.  Last weekend I visited the Museum of Brisbane, the city I call home, to engage with a new and exciting exhibition called 100% Brisbane. The exhibition uniquely draws together the stories of 100 residents and examines what it is about their city that they love. It goes deeper than that, it shapes for the viewer through touch, sound, smell, film and text the heart of the city, the human community with its complexities of origin, sexuality, race, gender, age, defining life experiences and so on.  It delivers an impressive and captivating self-portrait of a city and its people; a provocative self portrait of a community. I felt both a tourist and a sense of belonging and connection.

Looking in on something I take for granted and have neglected to examine closely (in this way) gave me a sense of being a bystander or a visitor learning about this place. It was fascinating to take a helicopter view of my city and examine it differently. 100% Brisbane is provocative on so any levels.  Too many thoughts surfaced, eddied and flowed to share them all, though I’ve walked away with a sense of pride, with a deeper level of understanding and with questions too. Questions about myself and my place here. Questions that will tick over in my mind as I interact with this city and it’s people, looking for answers, insights and elaborations. These questions percolated as a result of a series of questions I answered while there.

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A feature of the exhibition is an interactive survey that gathers information about visitors to the exhibition and provides statistics that inform you of your likeness and difference to those who have previously visited and to those 100 people, who each represent a 1% slice of Brisbane, on whom the exhibition is based.  As I submitted my results I got to see which of the 100 I was most like in each of three sections. I answered a range of questions from basic demographics to my attitudes and beliefs on key social issues and I discovered that I am not as unique as I’d imagined nor am I quite as conventional either.  In part one I was like only 1% of my fellow citizens and in sections 2 and 3 I was like  9% of my fellow Brisbaneites. That’s pretty interesting data to walk away with.  You can see why I might now have a few questions whirling away in my mind.

Have you ever considered the face of your city or  how similar you are to the community you live in? Can you see the elements that link you to those who live around you? Do you recognise those points of difference that make you unique?  This exhibition has made me realise that while we might think of ourselves as ‘just one face in a crowd’ we are each representatives of the place we live. We are each the face of our community; our individual voices, stories and perspectives interlace to create the fabric that swathes us and weaves the shape and spirit of where we live.

 

 

An inner city walk to soothe the soul, heal the body and refresh the mind

I love going out of my way, beyond what I know, and finding my way back a few extra miles, by another trail, with a compass that argues with the map…”  Rebecca Sonlit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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After a big week I was physically and mentally drained but I couldn’t resist the urge to get  outdoors and walk. There were strict criteria for this would be walk. I didn’t want anything too taxing nor too far away. It had to be soothing to my soul and pleasing to my eye. The options in my city are endless.

After much consideration I decided to head down to the Southbank precinct and design my own river walk.

The beauty of starting off  at dawn is you get to see the city wake up.  My wander took me through parklands, along the river, past our cultural precinct including art gallery, state library and gallery of modern art, over a funky bridge that replicates the masts of ships and through a mostly sleeping city. It’s wonderful to take in the diverse materials, shapes, colours, angles and soft edges of a quiet city. I enjoyed the opportunity and time to consider the public art along the way.  Too soon however my path took me past dishevelled, disoriented party goers tripping  out of the casino and other establishments. I skipped my way through their meandering routes.  These seedy elements weren’t buoying my soul or my eye and I was just starting to ponder the sense in my decision when, thankfully I plunged myself into the sanctuary of the city botanical gardens. A much appreciated, peaceful haven.

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When my son was young we spent many hours in this garden. I hadn’t  been there for years so it was lovely to reacquaint myself with the different elements of this little piece of heaven before emerging in the grounds of a university, strolling across another funky bridge and back to my starting point. It was here, back at the beginning, that I had planned to dip my feet into the pool, our city beach.

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On route to the beach I was tickled to discover a herb and vegetable garden. Basil, parsley, eggplant, tomatoes and all manner of edible delights were arrayed in a little grotto.  A second treat emerged in the shape of a (man-made) pebbled lined stream. My shoes came off and I gingerly stepped in for a relaxing reflexology foot massage. It was divine.

Shoeless, I skipped across to the beach, dug my toes in the sand, wadded across the way and felt satisfied with my decision not to hike a mountain or to drive off to the beach, an hour away. My body, mind and soul were rejuvenated and energised by my early morning, inner city, river walk.

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Create your own adventure, there are so many to choose from. You might wander down  previously untrodden  laneways, get lost in your own city, village or suburb and at the end of it all, you can sit back with a cup of tea and revel in your discoveries.