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…

View original 327 more words


“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
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…


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

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

American columnist Erma Bombeck said of her career writing about the quirks of her home life “there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt” and it is true in most cases that the bigger the laugh, the deeper the well of despair that it echoed out of. 

There have been, and will continue to be, many tributes to Robin Williams. I have many, many memories of his films resonating with me, none more so than Dead Poets Society. I still can’t think “Oh Captain, my captain” without getting a lump in my throat. Today especially. 

But for all of the roles he played, it was perhaps his appearance in Bobby McFerrin’s video for Don’t Worry, Be Happy that most sums up all the thoughts I’ve had since hearing the news this morning. Legend has it McFerrin wrote the lyrics while suicidal, a note to himself to push through the pain. How terribly sad if that story is true. 

I too fight a sometimes daily battle with the more sinister side of my brain, and I too choose humour to pull myself out of that black hole. It’s a lucky person who doesn’t understand that the biggest laughs come from the darkest places. Sometimes the melancholia feels like it will never leave. Continue to seek help, continue to find laughter, continue to try not to worry, continue to try to be happy. 

We owe it to Robin. 

A Temporary Display of Birmingham’s Loss During World War I Leaves a Lasting Impression

I keep getting taken back to an email I received a few weeks ago questioning my focus on art when there is so much suffering in the world. I go back to it not because it annoyed me (though it did) but because so many examples abound of why art matters. 

Yesterday, on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, an installation conceived by Brazilian sculptor Nele Azevedo invited the descendants of those killed during The Great War to place 5000 figurines made of ice on the steps of Chamberlain Square in Birmingham, each carving a representative of a soldier or civilian who never came home. At the top sat a figure dyed red.

As the icemen melted, water trickled down the steps. The crowning red figure melted too, and as the dye mixed with the liquid from the others it came to represent the blood that was shed as the injured lay dying, and the tears of their loved ones upon hearing the news. Though temporary, it was incredibly touching.

This is just one of several stunning sculptural installations that have been created to commemorate this inexplicable tragedy, all of them evocative, emotionally charged works that highlight the absurdity and futility of war. 

And that’s a message art ought to be praised for conveying.

This story first appeared in The Birmingham Mail.

The Grand Old Dame of Cinema

There are few things that evoke true Hollywood glamour more than the return of a reclusive old movie star. The mystery, the anticipation, the whispers and rumours of their eccentricities and what drove them to leave the spotlight. The “I want to be alone” of it all.

For the last thirteen years New Farm has been waiting impatiently for the grand dame of Brisbane cinema to reappear from behind her heritage listed facade and show us she’s still worthy of the spotlight. On Thursday night, that wait finally came to an end. Encased in a purple glow, the showgirl reemerged from the shadows of a building left derelict for more than a decade. It’s an incredible transformation given she was still a dusty building site just a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek back then, and the work that has gone since is nothing short of incredible. She is now a thoroughly modern cinema complex, with brand new seating, state of the art sound, and gleaming fittings. Most importantly, her glamorous past has not been ignored. It’s there in the 70s timber paneling, the original brass signage, the carpeting and the glass chandelier than somehow survived the neglect. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when being an old building meant certain death in Brisbane. The mindset was ruination over preservation when it came to architectural history. Knock down the old to make way for the new – even if new meant the ugly brown boxes that clog so many of Brisbane’s streets now. But occasionally the odd gem would avoid the wrecking ball’s swing, and these little pockets of history are slowly being restored. Brisbane is finally growing up and making amends, reclaiming a layer of history we forgot we had. The grand dame of Brunswick Street is just the latest.

One of the oldest cinemas in Australia, she’s had a few name changes over the years. In the 20s she was the Merthyr Picture Palace, in the 50s the Astor Theatre. Most remember her as the Village Twin throughout the 70s, but the name now on the theatre marquee is New Farm Six Cinemas. It’s a name that looks good up in lights.

At Thursday night’s Grand Opening, in a room full of nostalgia and good will, I was reminded of a scene from the ultimate story of a Hollywood comeback, Sunset Boulevard:

Joe Gillis: You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

She is big, and she’s back at last.

McLean Edwards’ Local Heroes

A while back I read Roman Payne’s novel Rooftop Soliloquy, a story that was a bit too florid and verbose for me to enjoy, but one that contained a quote I quite liked:

“All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.”

It’s a line that holds true for all creative types. It doesn’t matter how eccentric, loopy, slightly odd or downright insane you are, if you can parlay those quirks into something beautiful you can get away with anything. Now I’m in no position to judge anyone on their kookier personality traits, but if I had to pick one person who most embodies this idea, It’s McLean Edwards. Not that he’s a lunatic, but he’s certainly original and after seeing his new show Local Heroes, he definitely makes good art.

Last week I wrote a profile on McLean describing him as “delightfully dishevelled”. This week, after seeing his new show, I’ve changed my mind. He’s actually just a bloody great painter. I don’t like the phrase “return to form” because it implies that there was a time when the artist was producing rubbish, and I don’t think McLean has ever done that. But Local Heroes is a return to something. Bold, colourful and fun, this show features a cast of players who gaze at the audience with a twinkle in their eyes. Unlike last year’s Imaginary Friends and Black Portraits which felt to me full of characters in retreat, Local Heroes is a gathering of confident, comfortable faces who are still a little world weary, but no longer hold the weight of the world in the brushstrokes that formed them.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out this might have something to do with the bloke who painted all these canvases and where he’s at personally. That’s actually what I love about the art of my friends and acquaintances. It provides insight into a person that you might not otherwise see, a better understanding of their journey gained through subtle expression rather than long heart-to-heart conversations. There is a lightness in Local Heroes that lets McLean’s absolute love of what he does shine through.

I guess McLean Edwards at 42 is doing okay.

McLean Edwards ‘Local Heroes’
Martin Browne Contemporary
Until 17 August 2014