Tuesday, 23 June 2009

It's my party and I'll eat cake if I want to

So I am now officially 29 and one week old. So far so good.

My birthday last Tuesday was pretty fabulous. The morning was spent in a state of relative productivity, finishing a couple of articles for a magazine I used to write for at home, and then the afternoon spent imbibing champagne on the rooftop terrace at chi chi Boundary in Shoreditch with Cleo. And then an amazing dinner that night with LB and assorted LO (Lovely Others). Sigh.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Venice and the art (of gelato)

So I have returned from Venice, art aplenty, carbs aplenty, gelato aplenty.

I think after our trip to Germany I was a little apprehensive about what exactly would be involved this time around, what with four days, six bazillion art exhibitions, pavilions, off-site galleries and snooze-inducing films to see (well it was a long first day and we'd been up since 5...) never mind a long-range forecast that said rainy and humid.

I shouldn't have worried. 5am start notwithstanding, last week in Venice was glorious. Just enough brilliant art, the perfect number of bellinis, plenty of gelato, not a hint of rain, a hotel near the beach with free wifi on the terrace, sun dresses galore and a pervading air of "Isn't life grand."

Tomas Saraceno, Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web, 2009. 
We arrived on the Tuesday afternoon and the vaparetto ride to the Lido set the mood really for the next three days - wind in the hair, sun in the face (of those without hats....) and the prospect of promenading in goddamn VENICE. Sigh.

After checking into our hilarious hotel - a building covered entirely in mosaics of faux 18th century cherubs with a driveway lined with naked marble men - we headed off in the direction of the luscious Giardini, for our first encounter with this epic thing called the Venice Biennale.

The Giardini
It really was pretty special. Apart from the fact that the lay-out of the gardens could be read as a history of the expansions of NATO and/or colonialism, with the British, French, German, Swiss and United States pavilions holding the most prominent of locations (Australia was in the equivalent of smartly painted demountable classrooms....), there was something really lovely and organic about being able to wander from 'country' to 'country' and experience such a diverse range of artistic practices. Poland was a highlight, with an incredibly evocative video installation work about the invisible immigrant experience by Krzystof Wodiczko:

As was the international curated exhibition with a beautiful shadow work by the German Hans-Peter Feldmann:

Hans-Peter Feldmann
Getting back to the Lido - ditching the idea of wandering to San Marco Square given the teeming tourist tidal wave - a handful of us strolled down to the beach for some quality toe-dipping, vowing some serious swimming action before we left.

Retiring to bed with my gelato and my appalling so-bad-it-was-fabulous trashy novel, Wednesday was another day of promenading and art-viewing. By a stroke of luck I ended up in a small group with one of my favourite lecturers, a woman who is so fucking smart and so fucking cool she intimidates the hell out of me - to the point where I end up sounding like a total moron whenever I'm in her presence. You know, "I carried a watermelon". That kind of thing.

Anyway - we were a small little group and we had a great day, taking in the Arsenale, a mammoth building with mind-boggling amounts of art in it, before heading into the main part of Venice (through San Marco Square.... argh! tourists! get out of my way!) to see a couple of the key off-site exhibitions. The Arsenale though was amazing and overwhelming. Just some of the work I loved.....

Lygia Pape
Spencer Finch, Moonlight (Venice, March 10, 2009), 2009
Miranda July, Eleven Heavy Things - Pedestal for Strangers, 2009
Cildo Meireles

Off-site we took in the morbid and totally disturbing Mexican artist Teresa Margolles and the Palestinian Mona Hatoum, whose work (none of it new sadly) was shown in an ingenious fashion, hidden amongst the collections of an 18th century house. Sadly stroppy Italian guards forbade any photography. We ended the day here with Mona, well actually, out in the gorgeous green courtyard sipping bellinis and generally talking all things art and nonsense. It was properly brilliant.

If only the night had continued that way... At the student and staff dinner that night I made the completely imbecilic decision to eat the pasta entree that was garnished with shellfish. Let me state at the out - yes, I was SOBER when I mused that perhaps my last encounter with shellfish (which left me totally vomitous and nearly under arrest) was the unfortunate consequence of also imbibing two bottles of red wine and that I wasn't really allergic. Nu-uh. Turns out I am. Viciously so. Thankfully it didn't hit me until I got home but the next day was a total write off.

BEFORE getting home though, hilariously, one of the waiters at the restaurants, perhaps inspired by the sight of 50 slightly intoxicated women, offered us all exclusive use of his cousin's nightclub down on the beach. Hell yes! Such a fun - and funny - night. Lecturers chain-smoking and tearing it up on the dancefloor to YMCA, the rest of us dancing furiously, drinking dodgy cocktails and generally in disbelief that after Venice the next time we will all be together again will be graduation next April. WHERE has the year gone?

But back to the vomit. So Thursday was a disaster - spent lying in the cool darkness of the hotel room and trying not to swallow lest the gag reflex kick in. Sorry - just painting a picture... I did manage to get to the Iceland and Singapore exhibitions before beating a retreat but basically, I had all of Thursday to contemplate my utter stupidity and the carpet burn on my knee from doing the splits at the club the night before. Don't ask.

John Baldessari
Friday was very genial. A swim in the morning, a trip back to the Giardini (I'm auditioning the Polish pavilion work as a potential dissertation artist...) and a visit to the Australian off-site exhibition before lunch and another boat trip back the airport and then the flight back to London.

Am still feeling a tad shaky after my little vomiting episode but largely I am well and so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the Biennale. Next stop dissertation with a detour (read: excuse to put it off for an-other day) via my Birthday tomorrow. 29........

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Accidental Tourists

Despite thunderstorms and a serious SERIOUS case of The Tireds, the weekend just gone was one of unexpected delights - among them Star Trek and and an Oporto burger....

With a brain truly mushed from a week of exhausting over-thinking, and not even girl over-thinking, but thinking over-thinking it was always going to be a cruisy kind of weekend. Rain legitimated epic sloth sleep ins but yesterday (I still haven't gone to bed so it's technically still Monday....) was one of those funny London days where a casual adventure turns into an inadvertent trip through Tourist Town. I finally got to show LB the Columbia Rd Flower markets, which were a riot of colours and cupcakes and people wielding enormous bunches of peonies and bluebells and roses and sunflowers.

Shuffling our way through the reams of people we then meandered off in the direction of the Tate Modern. Robert Morris, a minimalist artist who's been around for decades, has re-created his bodyspacemotionthings installation that originally featured in the Tate Britain in the 1970s. This time around the naked women exist only in the requisite grainy black and white video documentation and the interactive adult's playground has been well and truly reclaimed by the children.

There is certainly something beguiling about the innocence and uncomplicated enthusiasm little humans have for new experiences and it was great fun witnessing all these little people enthralled with this silly thing called art.

Sadly us bigger kids didn't get as much out of it as we might have hoped but it was a lovely excuse to meander along the Southbank. We'd hopped off the bus out the front of St Paul's cathedral and dazzled by the reprieve of sunshine we decided to find ourselves a park for some lying and some reading of the papers. A shameful but totally delicious detour via Victoria for some nostalgic Oporto goodness and we headed off in the direction of St James's Park. Which inevitably led us past Buckingham Palace and the Pall Mall. Flags aplenty, tourists aplenty, there was a certain bonhomie to the whole spectacle and the ominous sky above only heightened the theatricality of it all.

We finally found ourselves a spot by the ducks in St James's Park and indulged in the Sunday papers until it started to spit with rain and we got a bit thirsty.

Heading towards Soho we couldn't fail to avoid Trafalgar Square, thus rounding out our accidental tour of some of London's major historical sites but it was quite fun to realise, yet again, just how casually cool this city is when it comes to those "oh my god I actually LIVE in London" moments. If ever there was going to be a montage of those moments, Sunday would have been it. Set to "Raindrops keep falling on my head" perhaps.

Off to Venice in a matter of hours. At least I'm packed. Mmmmm. Gelato and art. Bellisimo!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Hmm. When did it get to June already?

Notwithstanding the fact that it's now after midnight, today (ie. June 4th) marks nine months to the day since I arrived in London. It also marks my last day of class. In truth I feel tired and a little bewildered. Overwhelmed that it has gone so quickly, daunted by what lies ahead and just so pleased to have my dissertation proposal presentation out of the way. It was a serious exercise in brain fry. I called White City tube station "White Station tube city" today. And didn't even realise.

A lovely weekend of sleep and playtime at the Tate Modern lies ahead. And packing for Venice.

Oh I'm tired.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Tears and sunshine

I'm beginning to understand why people rhapsodise about London summers. The last couple of weeks here (notwithstanding two days of rain and misery....) have been increasingly delightful. Balmy low to mid-20s, blue skies, light until 10pm. Green grass and the smell of jasmine. Sigh. Last weekend had the bonus of a Bank Holiday Monday and LB and I spent the afternoon lying on the grass by the Thames in Hammersmith - with several hundred other people and it was So lovely. And this weekend gone was one of bbqs and further sunny meanders. It's been gorgeous - but already I am fretting that if it can be JUNE tomorrow (fuuuuuuck!) then it will be October and arse-freezingly cold again before I know it. So I am *trying* to live in the moment.

Slightly amusing story. Last Thursday it was warm and particularly muggy and being Australian and freckled and thus somewhat allergic to unadulterated sunshine, I had my hat on. Late in the afternoon I walked into a convenience store on Bethnal Green Rd to buy a bottle of water and the guy behind the counter just looked at me said "Australian." I was a tad incredulous and asked him how he could have possibly known that, given I'd had yet to utter a single syllable and he just pointed at my hat. Seems slip, slop, slap is more of a Saturday night check-list than a paean to sun safety in this country but whatever, there are worse ways to be identified as Antipodean...

One place I'm definately not going to be needing my hat in the coming weeks is in the library. On Friday I began the somewhat overwhelming step of organising my research plans, which began with joining the British and National Art Libraries. With my fancy new reading cards (because of course you can't borrow anything and god don't get me started on the fact you're not even allowed to browse the shelves....) I am now a fully credentialed geek. I do have to say though, it was rather thrilling walking through the sculpture hall at the V&A to get to the National Art Library and there is something quite romantic about the thought of spending my summer sitting in old wood-panelled rooms with grand leather desks, the air heavy with grave intellectualism and the beautiful sun streaming in the windows.

First though I have to finish my proposal (and here's where we get to the tears part). God this task is obtuse. And difficult. And stressful. And perplexing. And headache-inducing. How am I meant to write a proposal based on research I haven't yet done and ideas I haven't finished forming? Nevermind come up with some sort of coherent way to talk about and defend it all on Thursday. I feel a bit vomitous thinking about it to be honest - and after my tutor told me this week in the wake of returned essays that, "for a brilliant writer this latest effort is really rather disappointing," well, confidence is not at an all-time high.

I just have to remind myself that once these next few days are done with there is plenty to look forward to - the Venice Biennale next week, my birthday the week after that and parentals in town the week after that. Hur-rah.