Library of Unborrowed Books

April 21, 2014

Certainly one of the most interesting installations at the current Sydney Biennale is “The Library of Unborrowed Books” (“Section 3” – artist Meriç Algün Ringborg has done it before):  in this case all of the books that have never been borrowed from the library of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts (SMSA).  This is current at the Art Gallery of NSW until June.  The artist’s statement reads:

Libraries are repositories of information, aiding the acquisition and transference of knowledge from the individual to the global level. Algün Ringborg’s work draws attention to the explicit and implicit interests and systems that determine which books are kept in cultural and educational circulation, and which are left to fade into the shadows of history. With a small gesture, the artist gives these neglected titles their time in the sun; as viewers, we witness their existence and perhaps desire to save them from their former fate. The work also warns of the death of the book as a social phenomenon, signalling a time when perhaps all libraries (as long as they continue to exist) may consist entirely of unborrowed books.

Library of Unborrowed Books AGNSW April2014

A very interactive exhibit:  sit there all day and read the books, if you want.  Here are two “unborrowed” books that are sitting in my “to read” list – Rick Moody’s The Diviners and Barry Levinson’s Sixty-Six:

Rick Moody The Diviners

Barry Levinson Sixty-Six

(I am wondering what this says about me.  I guess that’s part of the point.)

Worth seeing.

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her – a stylish and beautiful film about emotional disconnection in the digital age

February 25, 2014

Some 48 hours after watching the film “her” in the cinema, I am still haunted by its stylish and uncommon beauty, and its sly, understated but yet biting theme of emotional disconnection in the digital age.  Under its off-kilter romantic dramatic exterior lurks a science fiction film that raises deep questions about our present fascination with personal technology “solutions” and how this will change the nature of human interaction in the near future.

Have you ever sat with a group of people, and realised that everyone was staring into a small screen, silently swiping or typing or reading or listening through earphones?  This is the future that “her” posits, although with a difference.  Living in a higher density Los Angeles that looks uncommonly like China (the exteriors were all shot in Shanghai; will the China of today irrevocably become the future of tomorrow?).  Our main character Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) ironically writes letters for a living – yes, real letters for real people who are unable to express themselves emotionally.

Everyone in “her” lives in a frictionless world, talking into their ear pieces, with a bland, pale set of colours, sort of “Apple-lite” (seen any Apple advertisements recently?).  Nobody is physically injured in “her” (although Theodore does trip, once); everyone seems to glide through a world that has been made so safe through technology that personal feelings are shielded.  The result?  Our closest relationships are those with the “operating systems” of our computers.

Does this sound like far out sci-fi, or just a slight exaggeration of the present?  I vote for the latter. (Who or what did you spend the most time with this week?  Your computer, or your life partner?)

Jonze is a genuinely gifted director.  Following his collaborations with Charlie  Kaufman (writer of Jonze’s uber-trippy films “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”), he has come into his own writing this one.

One of the beauties of “her” is that the film truly has the courage of its convictions:  yes, what would genuinely happen if (when?) artificial intelligence becomes so sophisticated that they become our best friend.  When my friend recently swore at Siri, the iPhone’s voice intelligent system, Siri admonished her.  Really, how close are we already to Jonze’s world?

Even the name Twombly – Anglo-Saxon and yet unusual – is highly evocative.  The most recognisable person with that last name is the painter and artist “Cy” (Edwin Parker) Twombly (1928-2001), whose works were inspired by “ancient Mediterranean history and geography, Greek and Roman mythology and epic poetry”, resulting in sometimes “inscrutable” works that include “iconography, metaphor and myth”.  As Christy Harrison has pointed out, “the film’s colour scheme often seems to be directly lifted” off the artist’s canvas (see her post for two screenshot/painting comparisons).  Danny Bowes notes that Phoenix’s character even dresses like the artist.

If you live in Sydney, as I do, you will have to rush if you wish to catch “her” in the cinema – and this is a cinema film, that a widescreen experience greatly enhances, bringing you into its odd and ever so slightly bizarre world.  We watched it at the Macquarie Centre, in an afternoon weekend screening that was the only one that day.  “her” has been nominated for a number of Academy Awards:  best picture, best original screenplay, best original score, original song and production design.  In a different year – one without the flashy, louder nominated films (you know who you are) – “her” could have featured more highly in both the nominations and the actual winners.  But that’s the way it goes in the near future.

her #2

her Theodore Twombly apartment

(Australian readers note:  The Art Gallery of NSW holds Cy Twombly’s “Three Studies from the Temeraire”, acquired in November 2004.)


The best public art in Sydney you may have missed

April 14, 2013

The world’s best cities are filled with outstanding public art – large scale, durable pieces of art that are commissioned and sit (or stand or hang) prominently in public spaces.  Well, here’s some of the best public art you may have never seen – or perhaps you walked past them for weeks, months or even years without noticing them properly.  I know I did.

These two pieces by Sydney architectural glass designer and artist Marc Grunseit hang in Sydney’s “The Galeries”  – a four-storey shopping complex located at 500 George Street in downtown Sydney (in part under the Citigroup Centre office building) that takes up a significant part of the block bounded by George, Pitt and Park Streets.

The Galeries art shots April2013 007

This is prime real estate, almost sitting on top of Town Hall Station, just about one of the best locations you can get in Australia.  (It also contains one of my favourite Australian bookshops – Books Kinokuniya, but that’s a different discussion.)

The Galeries art shots April2013 005

The Galeries Marc Grunseit

The Galeries art shots April2013 010

I have been walking under Grunseit’s two great architectural glass designs since they were first installed in October 2000 (including each weekday for the past thirteen months).  So how is it that I only really noticed these great works of art a few weeks ago?  It seems astonishing that I somehow have missed them for so long.

But yet I have.

Part of the reason is that they are located in narrow hallways and positioned quite high, so that the daily pedestrian traffic – so used to negotiating the downtown Sydney crowds and examining the up-market shop windows – may not have looked up to see them.  Another reason is that the two pieces are not easily visible from the street, partly obscured by the Sydney Monorail, which, thankfully is due for closing on 30 June 2013, with total removal by mid-2014.  The pieces are located at the two Pitt Street exits (entrances) to The Galeries.  The best (and in fact the only) views of the works are as you walk out from the shopping complex onto Pitt Street.

These are impressive works, filled with bright colours and deeply Australian in their themes, reminiscent of Aboriginal paintings.  In his website, Marc Grunseit describes them:

The first design [“The Song of the Magpie Dawn”] was inspired by the lyrical calls of the Magpie, heralding the Australian dawn. The colours of the rising sun progress from seashore to desert, presided over by the spirit of the songster. It is very much a companion piece to the larger installation, being at once a map of the land and its spirits. The larger design is of a serpentine landmass surrounded by ocean, simultaneously viewed from various perspectives and levels of magnification, referring to a range of Australian environments populated by surreal fauna.

Grunseit artwork The Galeries Syd far

Grunseit artwork The Galeries Syd close

The larger one is my favourite, and can be interpreted in so many ways.  It’s called “This Land”; according to the artist, it was named after the Woody Guthrie song “This Land is Your Land”.  I have found the small plaque (see photo above) describing “Magpie Dawn”, but the plaque for “This Land” unfortunately has long since disappeared or been hidden so well that I have not found it.  What a shame that these two pieces are not given their full due: they are two of the greatest works of architectural glass I have ever seen.  They are good enough to become one of the required “photo op” stops in Sydney, along with the Archibald Fountain  and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

Postscript on 7 August 2013:

I have heard from the artist Marc Grunseit, who does not appear to be bothered by the lack of awareness that most people have about these two works.  He writes:  “You and many people walk under the work without seeing it is actually a compliment. There is a concept, known in my game as ‘Civic Inattention’. It is reckoned that if the artist’s ego is in proportion, the artwork will not leap out of the architecture waving it’s arms about calling ‘look at me’. The aim is to blend it in so it looks like it should be there. Maybe I succeeded.”

It’s unusual to find an artist who does not want to scream to the heavens “here I am!”, but it seems we have one.  How unique.  But the pieces are still worth looking at, for the scope, the size and the colours, as well as the deeper meaning of the landscapes that they portray.