Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


Falling back to GOMA

Acclaimed Chinese artist and “explosion event” maestro Cai Guo-Qiang, whose Falling Back to Earth exhibition of three striking installations runs at GOMA until May 2014, exemplifies the old adage “if at first you don’t succeed…”.

A long-time collaborator with the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA through various Asia-Pacific Triennials, the genius behind the spectacular fireworks for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics has twice tasted artistic disaster in Brisbane.

On one sad occasion, at APT2 in 1996, a planned pyrotechnic parade literally when up in smoke when an accident at the local fireworks factory destroyed the display. Then, at APT3 in 1999, a proposed procession down the Brisbane River of 99 small boats ablaze with burning alcohol was – again literally –  sunk when the flotilla started taking on water from the rear vessels.

Not to be deterred Cai has returned to Brisbane, this time in triumph, with a breathtaking work with local inspiration. Heritage features 99 replica animals from all corners of the globe, and of varying ferocities, drinking peacefully at a single waterhole. Cai says the brilliant blue waterhole was inspired by a pristine lake at North Stradbroke that he visited many years ago. The work asks such questions as: “How can the predators and prey at this gathering relate to each other?”


IMG_1125Head On is made up of – again – 99 replica animals, a loop of wolves hurling themselves through the air, hitting a glass wall, falling, and repeating the process. The message here is that while leaping into the unknown can appear heroic, to blindly follow ideology can have damaging consequences if we don’t learn from our mistakes. The work, inspired by the Berlin Wall and Berlin’s troubled history, originally appeared at the Deutsche Guggenheim.

IMG_1137IMG_1136IMG_1145The repeated use of 99 is symbolic. Nine represents “long lasting” in Chinese numerology while Cai sees 99 as representing something that is not complete “providing a sense of insufficiency and expectation”.

The final installation is Eucalyptus, a huge tree trunk taken from a development site, and representing the tough and resilient character of Australia. Cai asks visitors to imagine the tree’s past and present, and to make proposals for its future. It’s a fitting representation of the artist’s obvious concern for the environment and his message of taking care of it.

IMG_1117Cai sees pristine areas of Queensland as “the last paradise on earth”. So what would he make of the recent decision of allow four significant mining-related projects which threaten the Great Barrier Reef  to go ahead, including for three million cubic metres of dredge spoil to be dumped offshore in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?


(Sydney) life’s a beach

Thanks, Sydney. As always, you turned on another perfect day for my latest arrival – despite its being sandwiched between days of winds and downpours.

IMG_1069Every trip to Sydney is packed with the potential to explore more of its myriad fascinating facets. Although I have been a regular visitor since childhood, and once lived there for three months while in primary school, I’ve barely scratched the surface. But luckily, family members have back-of-the-hand familiarity with its endless nooks and crannies.

Sydney Harbour’s 240 kilometres of shoreline is a special treasure trove with its numerous little beaches and coves, and waterside entertainments.  On this visit I was introduced to a trendy new eatery at Mosman’s Balmoral Beach, already famous for the Bathers’ Pavilion Restaurant. The Boat House, a sister venue to another of the same name at Palm Beach, offers breakfast and lunch on a first-come, first-served basis – no reservations. We had tried accessing the Palm Beach version the day before but, as the location for Home and Away shoots, the film crew, cast and curious onlookers had packed the place out. The Balmoral Beach Boat House décor is eclectic, the food generous and of excellent quality, the coffee creative. All so tempting that the seagulls are determined to join your table and beat you to your meal.  And the view? Well, it’s Sydney Harbour – what more could you want?

IMG_1035 IMG_1036IMG_1038 IMG_1039IMG_1045 IMG_1047IMG_1049 IMG_1059 IMG_1060Just around the corner, Chinaman’s Beach, one of a number of sandy bays along the Mosman-Seaforth foreshore, is a delightful and safe spot for kids to fossick for shells, build sandcastles and splash in rock pools.  What a gift for families in the middle of a huge city.  The beach takes its name from old market gardens established there in the 1870s by Hi Tik Cho, who also distilled salt from the water. The iconic Australia artist Ken Done lives at one end and many of his paintings, created in his harbour side workshop, have been inspired by the setting with its vibrant colours. Another famous local was Nancy Phelan whose book A Kingdom by the Sea recalls her childhood growing up by that magic environment.

IMG_1077IMG_1084 IMG_1085IMG_1090IMG_1099No visit to Sydney is complete without a quick look at the Art Gallery of New South. The current feature exhibition is America Painting a Nation, an offering of over 90 works chosen for the role they played in defining the development of America as a nation. Described as the most ambitious survey of American painting ever seen in Australia it showcases masterpieces by major artists such as James Whistler, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock. I was living in Canberra when the newly opened National Gallery of Australia purchased Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for the “outrageous” sum of $1.3 million to the howls of the then (opposition) political class and the media commentariat. At last estimate it was valued in a range from $20 million to $100 million. So Gough wasn’t so mad after all!

One work which caught my eye was Ken Unsworth Suspended Stone Circle, a gift of the John Kaldor Family Collection to the gallery. It defines what is so exhilarating about art – the sheer creativity of the human mind. Who would have thought a bunch of similar-sized stones, suspended from the ceiling by diagonally crossed wires, could be so mesmerising?