Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sydney Festival 2010

Yesterday, I worked my last shift and attended my last show of the Sydney Festival, Australia’s largest multi-disciplinary arts festival. I can think of no better way to have gotten integrated into the city than by helping people and enjoying the arts. I really do appreciate this sort of festival which brings together music, visual arts, theatre and dance. Many shows delivered mixed reviews, but at least it got people talking. Overall, a true celebration.

The first show I saw, Happy as Larry, was directed/choreographed by up-and-coming Australian talent Shaun Parker. It was a colourful tight piece of choreography with funky design elements and staging. It was fun, happy, poppy but also posed questions about representation, relationships, and the fleeting nature of happiness. While it grew out of the personality model of the Enneagram, the final product definitely drifted far away. In the end, although the show lacked a very substantial core, it stuck with me and left me with a smirk on my face.

The Diotima Quartet was unfortunately under-attended. The talented string quartet from France baffled and enraptured the audience with a modern Japanese piece, as well as pleasing them with Onslow and Bartok. It was a really nice way to spend part of the afternoon, hearing extremely accomplished musicians do what they love.

Lynette Wallworth’s interactive video art installation at CarriageWorks was a wonder to behold. The moment I walked into the blackened space, I knew I had entered something special. As I lay my hand to the screen, I was all the more convinced that this Australian artist’s work would catch worldwide. She manipulates technology in such a way that she renders the experience human and intimate, a feat that deserves consideration by everyone, especially in the technologically accelerating world we live in today. More soon on the ArtBlog.

I was happy to see Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite at the festival. Her piece of work played with the idea of dark matter (the show titled Dark Matters) and invisible forces and creating a richly layered self-reflective work. While still in the need of self-editing and crystallization (I felt it was a bit too long and had already said what it needed to at a certain point), the show featured many innovations in the use of lighting and costumes (full black shadowy figures). Throughout the show, the deconstruction of spectacle, force and movement progressed and fascinated.

And last night, finally, I saw Peter Sellars’s Oedipus Rex & Symphony of Psalms, an age-old story that was retold in a poignant and incredibly strong way (delivered in the magnificent Concert Hall of the Opera House). The text spoken by Paula Arundell were so powerfully delivered, so palpable, masterfully sequenced with pauses, and carefully interspersed with movement. It was so gut-wrenchingly moving. Rodrick Dixon shone as Oedipus and didn’t use the strange over-gesturing (almost ASL-like) of the other singers (a feature of Greek Tragedy?). Joana Carneiro made her Australian debut conducting the orchestra while Ethiopian artist Elias Sime reated the African thrones on the minimalist set.The lighting was also quite evocative, playing with shadows and non-traditional use of the house lights as well as some use of fluorescents. While not perfect, the production was absolutely masterful, powerful, evocative.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Yesterday I spent the afternoon wandering around Paddington. It seemed that cool was lurking everywhere I walked. From excellent bookstores to funky fashion boutiques, from little chocolate shops to art galleries, Paddington seemed to have it all. I was particularly taken with a row of houses (once again fusing stonework with beautiful wrought iron work) that were converted into shops on the first floor. It was such a neat alternative for a commercial street. I was also very impressed with the conversion of the Paddington Water Reservoir into some very swanky and new living units.

In the evening, I attended gallery openings at the Australian Centre for Photography and ArtSpace. It was my first introduction into the art scene of Sydney and I have to say I was a bit mixed in reaction. Maybe I was a little tired from all the walking I had done, but there were a few instances, especially at the ACP, where I wasn’t that impressed with the quality of the work or the professionalism of the presentation. I had seen an incredible exhibit of Fiona Foley’s work at the MCA as well as a very moving and delicate series of video installations by Lynette Wallworth at CarriageWorks. So all is not lost.

After my long wandering expedition, I came back home to a glorious sunset at the top of the hill, stretching into the city, a mist rising. It sent chills down my spine. Take a look…

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Australia Day!

Yesterday was Australia Day (like Canada Day, but well, Australia). We had a big brunch for the occasion, complete with Australian things like Tim Tams and Vegemite. While the Tim Tams were delicious… who can say no to crunchy, chocolat-ey, deliciousness?... the Vegemite was another thing. It is concocted from the remains of beer production and contains little more than yeast and salt. Sure it may be the one product that contains a whole wallop of Vitamin B but eeech. Boy, was that stuff distasteful. SO salty, just completely unpleasant. Talya freaked out as I brought the thickly covered (and thus blackened) toast to my lips. My face said it all, scrunched up, shocked, in disbelief. How could anyone like this?

I completed another volunteer shift for the Sydney Festival before going to hang out at Darling Harbour with Paayal (a classmate from Harvard) and witnessed the fireworks. Boy were they something. Set to music, sailboats glided around as the harbour was set rhythmically ablaze, colourful and stunning. A few photos below to give you an idea, but they just don’t do it justice.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing, Writing

Lately, I've been a little busy. Meeting up with old friends, going to see plenty of concerts/shows (which I'll sum up/review after I see one final production next week), and writing. I've just finished writing another art review. Seemed strange to write about Montreal art from Sydney, but it got me kick-started in establishing a rhythm. Read about the current Raymonde April show in Montreal at The ArtBlog.

Today is Australia Day, and another shift at the Sydney Festival awaits. More tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hot, Hot Pink, and the Search for the Perfect Hat

My first week in Sydney, for the most part, has been quite temperate. It has been hot, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been slapping on the sunscreen at every opportunity and I don’t go anywhere without my sunglasses. There have been nice cool breezes up until yesterday. The heat has set in and I wonder how long it will last (and how long it will take for my body and mind to adjust). [[although, looking at the forecast it looks like it won’t be as crazy hot, 43 degrees, as I previously head… very thankfully]]

Yesterday I spent the morning researching art venues around town and catching up on correspondence. As I was on my way out to open a bank account, get a yoga mat and do other odds and ends, I saw a HUGE bird – bigger than any North American raven I’ve ever seen – perched on a branch looking my way. I was taken aback. Birds have always had strange significance in my life, hawks have appeared at pivotal moments and, my mother is convinced, blue jays represent the reincarnation of my grandfather. Anyways, as I would later discover, this hunkering bird was actually a Channel-Billed Cuckoo. A symbol to wake up?

I walked through the heat into Newtown, opened my bank account and went to see a Lynette Wallworth exhibit at Carriageworks, an immersive and sensitive experience. I also met more of Talya’s colleagues before heading out to buy a yoga mat.

My choices of colour were limited. I could either do light pink or a hot dark bubblegum. When you go pink you may as well go all the way, right? Bubblegum it was. And I’m going to work it.

It’s been clear since I’ve arrived that I need to buy a hat. It is so bright in Sydney that a little additional protection is very necessary. As my search for a nice hat continues, I wish I were dumber because nothing fits! At least nothing I like so far. My big head. So the search and the adventures continue…

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ratatouille: A photographic taste

A dish inspired by the recipe from Thomas Keller (culinary consultant for the animated movie Ratatouille). Alas my final creation did not emerge like the one in the feature film. But it was delicious (the adapted recipe below). Click here for the original recipe (and a photo of how it should look like).

Thomas Keller's Ratatouille

2 red peppers, seeds and ribs removed

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion

1/2 Japanese (Kabocha) Squash

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 sprig rosemary

2 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds

1/2 eggplant (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds

2 tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Roast squash for an hour on foil, until tender when pricked. Place the peppers cut side down on a foil-lined sheet. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely. Skin and de-seed squash, puree in blender.

Combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the squash, fresh thyme, and rosemary. Simmer over low heat about 10 minutes. Do not brown. Add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs.

Reserve one tablespoon of the mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch skillet nice enough to serve from, or a small, shallow casserole dish. Reduce the heat in the oven to 275 degrees.

Down center of the skillet or casserole dish, arrange a strip of alternating slices of zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap the vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled.

Mix 1/2 teaspoon of the minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over the vegetables.

Cover pan with foil and seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more.

For the final topping combine the reserved tablespoon of sauce with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Drizzle around plate. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Sinking In

Three days into the Australia Adventure, as I will now call my escapades, I went to work for the Sydney Festival, Australia’s largest annual Arts event that attracts over 1.5 million people and has also sorts of shows from music to dance, from theatre to visual arts. One of the highlights of the last week was a concert given by Oscar-winning composer and songwriter for Slumdog Millionaire A.R. Rahman out in Parramatta. Apparently 50,000 people came out and it was a wonderful celebration.
I have yet to take advantage of some of the free tickets I scored to some great shows, but served my time in the Info Booth yesterday and at Tix for Next to Nix (cheap tix the day of the events) today. It’s surreal to be working and handing out information about a city I hardly know, but what better way to get thrown right in? Plus it’s a nice way to chat with people and put yourself out there, gung ho!

When I wasn’t working yesterday I checked out the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (NSW). I’ve been really curious to discover what Australian art is all about. I’ve known a bit about Aboriginal art and its great influence and presence in Australia but otherwise I knew nothing. What I discovered is that 19th and some 20th century Australian art borrows and resembles European movements at the same time (or takes after them a little later). Otherwise, when the art has to do with national identity, that is when it is more contemporary, it can be really powerful. It seems to me that a lot of Australian art seeks to reconcile its colonial past and its influence on the Aboriginal peoples. More to come as I review shows for The Art Blog…

There is QUITE the art scene in Sydney. I’ve been a little overwhelmed with the number of galleries that seem to be around, but it is also an exiting prospect. Sydney seems to be on par with New York City in the amount of events that are happening every day. One day I’ll go venturing into Paddington where I hear there are lots and lots of galleries.

The day ended with a museum talk about yoga (yoga and art meet? WOW) which was given in association with the Garden and Cosmos (Royal Paintings of Jodhpur) exhibit at the Gallery of NSW. It was an interesting lecture although I never really enjoy when yoga teachers are showing off a bit and acting like motivational speakers. Will have to try a yoga class and see what its really like…

And as always more interesting and deep conversation with Nick as we made up a stir fry (with green beans, onions, ginger, kale and an accidental amount of chili powder). Gotta say I’m quite happy to be around this place, starting to feel like myself, starting to adjust, explore, and venture…
G’day to you all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Adventures: The Harbour and The Kitchen

Yesterday Talya and I decided to go on an adventure. It seemed a little preposterous that I’d been in Australia three days already and hadn’t been down to see the Harbour. We started off with some delicious breakfast (and FANTASTIC coffee – the best coffee I think I have ever tasted, seriously rivaling Italy) and then took the train. I definitely gasped audibly when I saw the Opera House for the first time. It is such a cutting edge-looking building even though it was built in the late 50s, early 60s. It’s creative geometry struck me as being a precursor of Frank Gehry’s creative forms. Just stunning. I can’t wait to go to a concert there next week (scored some free tickets through my volunteering stint with the Sydney Festival).

In the bright bright sun, Tal and I walked into the Botanical Gardens, full of flora, full of life. I saw ibis birds yet again, a bird that seemed to only exist for me in Egyptian papyrus scrolls. I saw bats hanging from trees and flying around. I saw a thriving lotus pond. We walked around and soaked it all in, walking through some of the garden and then sampling some of urban Sydney. A little sneak peak introduction to Sydney’s city centre.

After a lengthy walk back home, I decided to undertake some cooking. How else to really ground myself in another place? Ratatouille was on the menu. I decided to attempt Thomas Keller’s recipe (he consulted on the movie Ratatouille and the dish I was preparing yesterday was the piece de resistance from that animated film). Substituting a pureed squash base instead of a tomato sauce, I undertook the long process of roasting and the task of finely slicing (1/16 in. slices the recipe called for… HA!). After a good afternoon of cooking, and a long baking period in the oven, the creation emerged, beautiful, delicate, delicious. I loved the cooking, the cleaning, the keeping house… the makings of a housewife? It was fun, and Tal and Nick were raving, satisfied and happy. Deliciousness and success! Pictures to come.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Wild West and Chasing Success

Yesterday I took the morning to relax, catch up on emails and try to anchor down a little more. I walked over through Marrickville and into Newtown to Carriageworks to meet Talya for lunch. The walk over was strange, and, you guessed it, a bit unreal. This feeling of where am I? and what is this? permeates everything so far. The walk was odd because I sort of felt like I was in the Wild West. You see, the wide streets are reminiscent of LA while the tall fa├žades of buildings on King Street felt like a movie set. Where’s my holster? Where are my boot spurs? (Where are my boots? That’s right, I forgot them at home).

Carriageworks is a truly cool building. A converted railyard, the new building integrates original brickwork, steel structure, tracks and actual machinery. It balances old and new in a great way, an inspiring locale for the arts.

The rest of the afternoon I dealt with cellphone troubleshooting and a job application that was supposedly never received. But I was committed to making things work, to understanding how things work and what people were saying. Ultimately, my cell now works and my job application is in just in the nick of time.

The evening we spent listening to poetry/performance of various levels of talent which was good fodder for deep discussion about the motivations of the local art-making community and questioning the substance of performance art, at least in that particular venue. I do very much enjoy the discussions I have with Tal and Nick about art and creativity and community… such fruitful fertile and stimulating conversation.

And on the way home, Nick hoisted me up on his shoulders to pick a mango perched invitingly over the sidewalk. It made for good laughs, sticky success but, alas, no photo. The best moments are the ones that stick in your mind, ephemerally evolving but which always draw a smile.

Domestic Impressions

In a jet-lagged haze, my eye still catches details of Talya and Nick's apartment.
A warm light-filled aesthetic and geometric welcome.
A beginning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trading Scarves for Suncreen

While woozy at times from jet lag and not completely myself just yet, I am continuing to venture in this exotic, strange, cool and unreal land. The word of the moment has most definitely got to be unreal.

We went to the market around the corner from the apartment where temporary stalls were set up selling organic produce, clothes, books, honey, baked goods, furniture and everything in between. Marrickville definitely has an artsy, post-industrial and accessible vibe that I quite like. We wandered the market, witnessed a petting zoo where all the animals were hanging out together and being fondled and chased by children and then sampled the most unreal dumplings I have ever tasted. Unreal.

Hot, fresh, and light. Savory, precious, delicious. Full sentences cannot describe these dumplings. It’s the beginning of discovering the Asian influences on this continent methinks.

In the afternoon, it was time for the quintessential Sydney activity, regardless of my state of jet lag: we were going to the beach. The whole day was still unreal. Putting on sunscreen instead of wrapping myself in layers and scarves was a welcome change but still strange. Stepping onto the beach, I was just laughing. Sand? Waves? Bathing-suited masses? It was all much too much (but I was loving it nonetheless, of course). Last week I was braving the cold, this week I’m swimming in the Pacific. I was so glad to enter the water and swim and discover that my little tootsies (those would be my toes) did not react negatively to the water (they go white and painful in reaction to cold). All I know is I’ll be getting back to the beach soon enough, soaking up the vibe. More description to come, stay tuned.

For now, I’m working on waking up, getting with it, and plugging in. The adventures in Sydney proper (currently, I’m on the outskirts) will begin soon enough. As will the uploading of photos.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Venturing to Australia, Losing a day. Or two.

When I said that I was going to Australia for a bit of adventure, I didn’t expect that it would begin so soon. About an hour away from the Australian continent, after 26 hours of smooth travel, the map showing our trajectory on the plane all of a sudden revealed that we were headed to Brisbane and not Sydney. I knew I was on the right flight and soon was told that we were stopping in Brisbane to refuel, somehow we had burned through more fuel than expected. What’s another hour, I thought. Little did I know.

We soon discovered, after a longer than necessary amount of time for refueling, that the engine was leaking and we would have to get off the plane, wait in the airport, wait for a plane to arrive from Melbourne (no plane was large enough to fly us to Sydney from Brisbane), go through security again and wait hours to get on the plane. I never thought I would make it to another Australian city so quickly!

What’s an extra few hours? I felt like I would have been in fine shape had I arrived on time, at 8am, as originally planned. Nine hours later, I arrived in Sydney. Talya and Nick had spent the day waiting in the airport, the information from United having been sporadic and the supposed intervals of arrival short enough to afford patience. We laughed about it, I regaled them with the details of the trip, from my Aussie seatmates returning from a study abroad experience to the ridiculousness of the pileup of delays. But the important thing is, that in the end, I made it.

And it’s starting to hit me, the reality of the fact that I am in Australia. Australia. The land down under, here I am, here with my sister and my brother-in-law. Here in a place that is in full summer. Here in such a strange exotic place (the sound of cicadas FILLS the air at night, avocado trees grow in the backyard). So far it feels like a mix of London and Los Angeles, the compact homes and the English accent, the terracotta roofs and the tropical flora.

I awoke this morning at 6am to the sound of birds, such strange new calls that I will have to try and describe another time, and just soaked up my surroundings. It is Sunday, I missed Friday completely and Saturday was unexpectedly devoured up the coast in Brisbane. So, I will unpack as I wait for Nick and Tal to awake. Today we will go to the local market, maybe see a few things and get into the heart of Sydney. The adventure already begun, the journey continues.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Words to live by...

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marianne Williamson

Monday, January 04, 2010


"I think we each have only one or two philosophical or political ideas in our life, one or two organizing principles during our whole life, and all the rest falls from there..." - Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault

I've been mulling lately. Thinking about statements of intellectual and professional intent, as I write applications for graduate school. Considering the future, as I am 10 days away from moving to Sydney for about 6 months. Lots of thought, lots of feeling.

I also came across the sentence above in Anne Michaels's latest novel. I've come to a point where I have decided that art needs to be a part of my life and I've tried to get to the heart of what it is I enjoy about artistic creation and its consideration that captures my attention, thoughts and emotions.

I do very much appreciate the dialogue that art creates, with its history, with its geographic surroundings, with its sociopolitical situation, with pure visual language. It is quite wonderful when art encourages me to think about themes in my life, the way I live, the way I see colour, the way I view politics.

In applying for an MA, the possibility of a PhD looms in the not-so-distant future. And it makes me wonder: to what subject could I devote myself? Academics seem to turn over the same thematic stone again and again, considering new angles and always getting deeper into a topic/artist/movement.

At the moment, I'd say that spirituality and the immaterial are at the center of my mind. Of course, I'll have to see what happens when I plunge back into the waters of academia. But I find the representation of the body and what it says about ideas of gender, sexuality, class quite interesting. More so, I think it interesting to consider artists who take a non-conventional approach to representing themselves. Francis Bacon for example. When the portrait becomes a gesture, when it leaves reality, it speaks to a higher level. It becomes related to music, to dance, to something I can't quite describe, I can't quite hold.

But I'll have to wait and see, see how the mulling continues, see what spiced mixture results...