Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lonely hearts unite

Avid art historian seeks statuesque male with understanding of chiaroscuro to reenact Botticelli's Mars & Venus. BYO toga: grapes and chaise longue supplied.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

MONA - The new museum vernacular

I have heard all the hype for a while now, I’ve read the articles, I’ve endured all the work colleagues from across Australia visiting and speaking so highly of their experience, “It’s really different; there are no labels; you really should go and see it for yourself; what, you haven’t been yet? really?” Yes, I missed the very first version of Monanism, and have suffered great embarrassment, catching up with every work colleague back from professional duties/ visiting MONA since its opening in 2010. To be honest I also haven’t much been paying attention to others opinions which I realise on the plane into Hobart, I am a clean slate, ready to explore unhindered.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon back in January 2013 realising it was “market day” (every Saturday in summer).  To avoid the ferry passenger queue already at a complete standstill at the main museum entry, I decided to wander the grounds for an orientation of the site itself. I managed to get quite distracted for well over an hour, by the mini-festival up on the lawns. It was a relaxed atmosphere with people enjoying live music, laying about on beanbags and witty banter from a host being broadcast across the sound system, chatting to local providores at stalls around the perimeter, quality foods to sample and a charity lemon-aid stall run by children. I could have stayed longer, and as a local I would have enjoyed a day out, just for market day (and miss the gallery altogether).  The MONA foodfest certainly evoked the same relaxed and effortlessly sophisticated vibe that Hobart township was so good at showcasing.

Scattered beanbags in the aftermath of the festival

Fear of the dark

I finally arrived inside and quickly realised this casual sophistication I witnessed outside also translated to inside. Bubbly staff at the entrance ushered me to receive my O and explain the device was the labelling system. A very quick tutorial, and a glance at the galleries map (hard copy) and I was on my way. So far my journey was effortless, I was equipped and already intuitively flicking through screens familiarising myself with the IPod touch format. Descending in the glass lift I prepared myself, in the few moments of calm silence after the throngs of the crowd upstairs.
Stepping off into the void
Once in the lower void, the gigantic sandstone rock face escalated to what seemed 5 storeys above. It was stunning and had an immediate impact on everyone who entered. The scale of the Museum was revealed (in parts), hanging off the rock face – pinned lightly to it, to create the cavernous void. The sense of awe it created, was reminiscent of other great architectural features such the turbine hall of the Tate Modern in London. It was spectacular and daunting as I craned my head to see other visitors poking their heads over a wall above, pointing downward and across at something they could see, (and I could not) yet another floor or so above me. I started to get the sheer gravity of the exercise ahead of me and almost immediately went into a panicky head spin. Where do I start? How long will this take me? I’m running out of time to see it all! Julius Popp’s Bit. Fall is a perfect introduction to what lies beyond in the darkness, it is pop culture, provocative and a comment on our technology driven society. The one thing you learn about MONA is, they are not afraid of the dark, they are not afraid of going where other museums seem to be. 
Shrouded car - an invitation to peer through the heavy rope curtains

I took the advice of the attendant upstairs and went to the entrance of the new exhibition Theatre of the World.  I engaged with the O straight away and touched the update button to find an introduction audio from the curator. As I stood in the darkened threshold I viewed the display of random and unconnected objects and was invited by the narrator to look at the objects and reflect on the art of looking and ways of seeing. In fact this introduction was perfect for setting the scene for the tone of the whole museum. You had to have your eyes peeled to navigate the dark spaces but also an open mind for the installations ahead.

Room after room were iconic contemporary  and conceptual pieces juxtaposed with the historical (tribal dance masks, carved statues, coral specimens, Egyptian sarcophagus, ancient Greek and Roman coins, Neolithic flints and mortuary amulets). Every nook and cranny had surprises something up high, down low, around corners like a labyrinth.

Darkness decending corridor
The IPod touch application was intuitive from the outset. Just hit the update button and wait for the works around you to upload, select the image relating to what you were viewing and find all the information. You could read basic data, listen to audio of interviews with the artists, read the Gonzo (David Walsh ramblings) and the whimsically termed “art wank” if you fancied something more traditionally ‘discursive’. The format was easy to navigate and convenient, just updating as you went along to select from the nearby works to explore on screen. It could also be flicked to landscape orientation for a more accessible font size and a slightly revised, more gestural scrolling interface much like viewing album covers in an ITunes library. But where was the map showing my location and where some of the routes ahead? I was lost in the dark – which way was out?

Fear of missing out

There was one frustrating part for me some way through the Theatre of the World: I just couldn’t at all find the data of the object in front of me. Instead I got other objects I had just viewed or others that didn’t resemble the piece at all, (or any in the vicinity).  Giving up after scrolling through the list of objects, I just ventured ahead. Turning a corner, it dawned on me that I may have been locating something, as the object seemed to be located on the other side of the gallery but in fact just behind a wall where I was standing moments before. This happened on a couple of other occasions where I couldn’t immediately find the object in the list of “nearby works”. As perplexing and slightly frustrating as it was at the time I quickly got absorbed in exploring more interviews, or random gonzo anecdotes, musings on the work or behind the scenes chit chat or the “art wank” button.

Art wank? Some might call it colloquial, but I found this labelling very refreshing, so much so, I read the room brochure from cover to cover, (with good deal of amusement). When was the last time anyone read a room brochure from cover to cover? I believe this casual and conversational tone does a fair amount to relax the visitor and create a more receptive ambience to engage with the content, particularly the difficult content. Standing by yourself looking at a photograph of a dog copulating with a man is no easy feat in a public situation, but standing with a stranger looking at said work does become slightly...awkward. But I found security in the O and in wearing the headphones a sense of displacement from others, which for me, helped overcome uncomfortable feelings while viewing confronting content with others.

There is fair amount of shock-value on the walls at MONA. They admit “there are all your favourites, and some stuff you totally effing hate”. MONA’s honesty here is likely backed up by the data captured by the O. In social media style the visitor is invited to Love or hate artefacts along their journey using the O. It was engaging enough to see the works I liked and how my vote stacked up against the majority.  Cute descriptors such as “621 other people have similar warm and fuzzy feelings about this object” is all entertaining enough but some of the statistics left me wanting to know more and to have the data quantified further. 621 out of how many? Just because it wasn’t captured on the O doesn’t mean it wasn’t liked by 1000 other visitors who saw it that day – or since it had been on display?

The content was generally a bit more lo-fi than I had expected (poor quality sound recordings of the interviews) but all worked together as a package. It all seemed really so effortless until I remembered the gallery host instructions “Simply upload your email address when cued by the system and your journey is saved. So why has it asked me four times to retype my email address? Have I got concurrent tours going at the same time? Inadvertently hitting the O return home button was a common error I made, out of habit using my IPhone which meant some waiting for it to reboot. Finally at the exit I asked the attendant to check I had signed out properly, and just as well I did as she explained “now your tour is saved”. At this point, I was slightly sceptical I would receive an email with my tour saved in one piece. Within 2 hours of arriving back to my hotel I checked my email account to no avail, leaving me with a deflated feeling, also confused how I could get such an intuitive simple system so wrong. I decided to go back the next day to get to the bottom of it...

Fear of falling

After checking my email on Sunday morning, lo and behold my MONA tour was there and in one neat tour. I had a new found respect for the O and felt slightly guilty I had decided to front up to MONA with a complaint about the technology. Once there, I took less time to navigate the system (and the galleries) and settled in to cruising around without such a huge agenda. Everything seemed far effortless than the day before. I couldn’t help but notice quite a few visitors abandoned the O device altogether. I even overheard one female explaining to a gallery attendant “it’s frustrating, I’m too focussed on using the thing and not looking at the art properly”. I couldn’t help agree my first day was a bit fatiguing taking in the ‘whole’ MONA experience, reading the small screen text, while also trying to take in the whole of the building and the art piece by piece.  I did have to remind myself to look where I was walking at times. There was a gentleman who’s partner had the device and was compelled to explain things as he pointed and commented – I don’t like this one, this is crap”. Walking on the same gentleman stated “WOW look at this, how amazing” The O is a device people could dip in and out of as the collection could certainly be appreciated in its own right.

That said, I couldn’t help but feel that visitors who weren’t using the O were missing half the fun. The Zizi the affectionate couch label explained if you patted and stroked the furry upholstery Zizi would respond. The purring and mews were interactivity at its best. As I was sitting another visitor joined for respite, without her O, she missed the surprise of the vibrating responses until I explained it was no ordinary gallery seating.

 Views through the layers of architecture, as if installations in themsleves

Most contemporary art galleries create similar experiences and environments, where the visitor enters a magical place and forgets about the daily humdrum and is truly absorbed in an ‘other-worldliness’. This sort of contemporary art experience can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere in the world depending on the curatorial programming. It isn’t unique to MONA. But, there is something... different, strangely compelling and truly exceptional about the place. What is it about MONA that creates this I believe it is the sheer single mindedness of David Walsh. He has created a new language, a casual, conversational tone that puts the visitor at ease with the highly sophisticated displays and allows meaningful engagement on a number of levels.

MONA creates an atmosphere which is astoundingly different and in your face (dark spaces, confronting art, offensive smells, disorienting walkways, poor quality audio interviews, indulgent bars and sloppy language, and loud music) and yet completely accessible. This new language, “the new museum vernacular” is a complex formula where, collection, curatorial direction, vocabulary, programming, technology and environment all come together so effortlessly in a seamless unison.

Fear of failing

Visiting MONA has highlighted to me that museums should take more of a leap of faith and give their audiences the benefit of the doubt, let them be afraid, explore on their own terms, don’t get too preoccupied with “interpreting” everything, and be relaxed and honest about what the museum is about. Why not be bold and try new approaches? Some people will get it and others won't... and that’s OK! With these principles, MONA goes a great way to democratise the experience, is inclusive and promotes inquiry, provokes responses and provides range of engagement. Funding permitting, other museums should be quick to follow a few examples from MONA and soon the world will be “monanised”.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Font of confusion

Dear Kettle Chip Company,

I'm writing to you to express my great disappointment with this product, as upon opening the pack, I could not find the beetroot variety in the mix.

I've included some pictures, packets and supermarket receipts for two packets of your vegetable chips.

I've never written my concerns on any food products before, but in this instance I feel compelled to let you know about my utter disappointment in the Kettle company veggie chips.

Upon opening the first pack (for the first time trying the product!) I was confused and just simply couldn't believe what was before my eyes... the simple fact that the packaging labelled 'beetroot' in the largest font might have indicated that in fact there was a FAIR amount of beetroot inside, perhaps the super-sized word could even be interpreted as the 'primary' ingredient? In this instance I would just put it down to a rogue graphic designer who has absolutely NO experience in communication design as it is so called these days.

While the word 'beetroot' was indeed a feature of the packaging it was in no way reflected in the product!

What a let down...

Putting my disappointment behind, I opened the second packet with my family shortly after - there were four of us sharing so the sweet potato was appreciated quickly and we unanimously decided to see what the second pack would offer -

this is what the SECOND pack offered. Continued disappointment, surprise, incredulous wonder, suspicion and deflated feelings. We all looked at what spilled into the bowl, then at each other, then back to the bowl in utter disbelief!


If I could give any advice... (well while I'm here writing now and you can't stop me)
Please! Either one of these options might work in desisting a flood of mail similar to mine.
  1. Remove the word beetroot from your packaging
  2. Add beetroot chips in the product - and plenty of them!
  3. Reprimand the the graphic designer and redesign the packet. A trendy use of justifying the text across the pack does nothing for conveying the essence of what's inside it, it merely misrepresents the hierarchy of 'key ingredients'
  4. Employ a whiz-kid systems engineer in order to fix the machine on the production line, so it dispenses beetroot at the same rate as the other varieties
  5. create a strategic plan around the seasonal availability of beetroot so as to alleviate any potential shortage of the vegetable that may impact its distribution throughout the veggie chip product.
I do hope that the Kettle Chip Company can remedy the situation so that one day I can brave buying another pack, to perhaps relish your product. Until then I won't bother myself with the sheer dissatisfaction.

I hope you have enjoyed my discursive opinions more, than I your veggie chips!

(on behalf of the Jensen family)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Baristas are like hairdressers

I love my morning coffee. Actually, considering I've never been much of a morning person, I really neeeeeeeeeeeeeed my morning coffee to reboot from sleepyland. I generally can't even stomach the thought of a big breakfast first thing in the morning and there seems to be a definite threshold of at least 10:30am which marks my metabolism changing gear and finally I can cope with saying hello to the world with a relatively cheery tone. This brings me to the point of how important coffee is in my daily routine when, these past few months, I find myself having to start work most days for meetings at 8:30am. Even as I write this at 8:30pm I can feel my body twitching and cringing at the mere gesture of gathering with others for congenial chats, let alone the serious brain processes required of 'work' discussions that early!

That said, I'm trying to go with the flow, accept my early morning professional responsibilities and get with the groove. Heck -  I'm even thinking I could perhaps train myself to be a "morning person". The most critical thing for this 'new and improved  morning Bliss formula' would of course be a generous portion of strong coffee. It has become a mission to get on the early morning cafe circuit and discover more of Melbourne.  To-date, it has been a relatively unsuccessful mission as I'm still too often hitting the snooze button for the third time and heading in straight to my desk. I haven't found a  regular coffee establishment that fits the bill either.

I do miss my regular stop in Collingwood since moving house a few months ago. It was a convenient mid-point in my walk to work. It was far enough into the journey, to get the blood circulating so as to improve my complexion from its zombie pallour. It was far enough from the office for the caffeine fix to work its magic and boost my brain capacity to at least avoid getting hit by a tram. Those benefits aside - I miss the good coffee, conversation and obscure coffee art to boot.

    Bebida "spuffo" cafe latte, 2012
I have been braving an exploration about once a week not venturing too far from my path to work and have discovered it's a mixed bag out there. For months now, I've been a babe in the woods, lost and wandering aimlessly in search of early morning coffee options en-route to work. The memory of  that barista still true to my senses, the others just flounder around not even coming close to piquing my tastebuds. With every new cafe I try, I also have a growing guilt of venturing from the riteous path. This feeling is heightened by the usual diappointment of a latte that is too weak or a flat white that is really a latte - only filling my take away cup three-quarters.

Baristas are like hairdressers, when you find a good one you really should stick with them.

I have a great hairdresser, who is tried and tested, consistenly fantastic at knowing what I like and get's my haircuts spot on. She demonstrates a fair intuition when I want to try something really different, she goes for it and creates something surprisingly suitable every time. She also always knows when I have pulled out the kitchen scissors to trim my hair in desperation. Inevitably, I usually bump into her post hair-hacking when my new cut hasn't even had a week to relax and soften. I am totally exposed with the severity of a fringe too blunt and short because of my paultry attempt to make it level and trim. Though I haven't gone so far as seeing another hairdresser, the look of scorn and the silence that follows the glib comment "so you've had your hair cut", always makes me feel like a real sneak and a cheat. There is no amount of explaining, "I just couldn't see" or recounting the amount of pain resulting from eyeballs whipped by coarse dry ends 8 hours of a day, that can ease the tension as her eyes inspect every inch of my head.

And now I can categorically say baristas are capable of stirring the same emotions of guilt, remorse and shame.

Last week in Fitzroy, while waiting for the pedestrian crossing I was caught red handed by the Collingwood barista driving by. Unbeknownst to me he beeped and hollered at the time, screaming "Noooooooo", from his car window, but his cries were lost in the noise of the traffic. It was when I dropped in to the old cafe a few days later and he asked me "are you seeing another coffee maker? " that I quickly realised I had some fast talking to do. The gravity of what I'd done hit me with a sickening panic and regret swelled inside.  I knew full well, by the look on his face I couldn't explain the Wednesday coffee was an experiment, a rarity, an anomaly, a digression.... only once a week (if that!). I just stood there in that moment of silence, aghast, lost for words, feeling dirty!

Without further ado I'd like to advise, with great sincerity, be faitful to your barista!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Green attitude

I have yet another excuse for not posting. I've moved cities and started some new adventures for a while. Now in Melbourne town, I see everything around me with fresh eyes. And yes...I'm still on the hunt for milk crates but I didn't have to try too hard to spot the humble crate incorporated for another handy use.

It's such a foreign concept in Sydney but it seems eveyone rides bikes here in Melbourne!!  A fair proportion between Collingwood and Carlton have a crate configuration. Is it a political statement by a bunch of acivists, with the brazen act of ripping off a crate in defiance of capitalism, slapping the'big M' companies right across the face? Perhaps it is an example of a cottage industry of sorts and just promotes a simple greenie DIY attitude...

green crate = green attitude. Fitzroy 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Take your time - Olafur Eliasson

Get in quick, it is the last days of the exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art!

This show is not to be missed, because it is also the first ever solo show of the Icelandic artist in Australia. Renowned for his Waterfall, superstructure installlation on the East River, New York, in 2008 and other large scale public architectural sculptures throughout Europe, Eliasson is worth the effort to see on local turf. This exhibition is a survey of more manageable and intimate proportions and shows work spanning his carreer from 1993 to 2008.

Looking at the exhibition as a whole, it appears Eliasson is somewhat a minimalist at heart, right down to the spacial planning and 'no labels' policy of each exhibit, but this doesn't diminish the visual feast and extraordinarily sumptuos experiences throughout. Eliasson is a master investigator and recreator of what often seem like highschool physics experiments and artistic creator of trompe l'oeil-like presentations. Believing there is some trickery at play, when all is in fact bared, is half the revelation of Eliasson's work.

I don't want to give too much away, but agree with the curators and recommend visitors do "take your time", particularly at the Mosswall 1994, to breath in the earthiness of the gigantic curtain of imported raindeer moss and at  Beauty 1993, where the continual shimmering mist of water develops rainbows before your eyes while the tunnel of volcanic ash still lingers on your senses.

Beauty 1993 Collection Museum Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photography: Poul Pedersen

Even in the white cube gallery environment a strong identity of place prevails and a sense geological forces firmly roots the viewer in an Icelanding experience. Hopefully visitors will get swept away as much as I did, feeling this ominipresent environment, maybe then looking, seeing, sensing the exhibition rather than simply walking through it as a passive observer. The retinal shadow effect of Yellow versus purple 2003 is so simply presented  but so beguiling I revisited it again on the way out...(as I did with many of the exhibits).

Eliasson questions us as viewers and in turn assists us in questioning ourselves and our environment.  The exhibition provokes us to; take a new approach, enquire about our world, experience our surroundings differently for a change and make us realise that seeing as a process is a lot more complex than just 'looking'.

(NB: take your time also to read the room brochure!!!it will add a dimension to your overall enjoyment)

Museum of Conemporary Art
10 December 2009 - 11 April 2010
 $15 adult ticket
Circular Quay West
Sydney NSW 2000

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mythic Creatures - Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids

Upon visiting this exhibition, I have to admit I was sceptical about the what the content would be and whether the overall treatment of such subject matter could be anything else but 'sensationalism'. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. As you'd expect, the show is mostly geared to the younger audiences but also includes some academic discussion about the origins of various myths and creatures.

Originating from American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum and Field Museum, Chicago, the exhibition shows some fascinating collection items from these institutions as well as other significant international collections. The Feejee mermaid (pictured below) from the Peabody Museum, Harvard University is fascinating addition, one of the highlights, not to be missed in the 100 objects on offer. This freaky skeleton is believed be from the famous Barnum circus hoax of 1841, where the head and torso of a monkey and tail of a fish were sewn together and presented to the public as a grotesque spectacle and 'physical evidence' of Mermaids. The range of cultural objects and imagery helps demonstrate the allure of mythical creatures throughout history and natural specimens add a reasonable range of scientific perspectives.

                Feejee mermaid copyright 2007 Harvard University, Peabody Museum

If you have little people in the family and are at a loose end this April school holidays, it'd be well worth taking them to enjoy the massive replica models and let their imaginations run wild. During my visit I couldn't help appreciate the overwhelming wonder and excitement of all the young visitors. Models of the Kraken, Roc, Dragon, Mermaids and Unicorns certainly invoked a suspension of disbelief to the point where, in one case, a particularly precocious 5 year old was repeatedly stunned into a frozen pose every time the model Dragon roared as he edged over for a friendly pat.

The exhibition is indeed sensational in being able to capture the imagination of the young target audience and I'm sure the big kid in us all will learn something too.

Australian National Maritime Museum
19 December 2009- 23 May 2010
9:30am - 5:00pm daily
FREE entry

2 Murray street
Darling Harbour
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9298 3777
where is it?