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back to italy: milano vs torino

**warning: long post, which may offend some northern Italians and bore others. proceed at your own risk**

everybody loves a bit of intercity rivalry, and what better way to somehow digest my time in the north of italy into a local derby between two very different cities.

getting there and accommodation
I arrived in Milano after only a couple of days in Greece and was looking forward to settling in a little for 3 nights/4 days and staying in a comfy hostel. Getting to the Hostel was a nightmare, after having to navigate Centrale Stazione – with no tourist info, no working ATMs, no working ticket machines and amongst a whole bunch of construction, which may or may not have instigated this post. So by the time I got to the hostel I was a little frazzled. And the hostel, while quite well-run (thankfully, after Athens), it was like being back in school – lockers outside the classrooms bedrooms, you couldn’t go into the corridors between 10 and 3pm and the hot water system was at its best at 2am, after almost everyone was asleep, so it was all cold showers in the morning.

Not only was Porta Nuova station easy to navigate, even with their renovations, they had toilets AND a tourist information booth! gasp! AND on a Sunday!,
and then oh my god, what an amazing hostel, up a cute and windy street (and I haven’t bitched about the hill once since I’ve been here), overlooking the amazing houses and with a view into the hills of the city. The people on reception were fantastic, the bathrooms are amazing (hot water all the damned time and without a queue), only 4 in a room and even the beds are nicer (only 1 bunk, the other two are proper beds!). Plus the wi-fi is way cheaper and works in my room, rather than having to sit in the girls bathroom to get power/reception.

After the intensity of 2 Bienniales in a row, plus another one on the way, I decided to chill out on the art factor a bit and only see the main galleries and museums. On my first full day in Milano, I was stoked to see that around the Giardini Publici there was the PAC (Pinacoteca Arte Contemporarea), the Natural History Museum and the Museum del Cinema, plus another museum that I can’t remember the name of. So I went to the first museum - closed because of a strike, went next door to the PAC, closed for installation. Excellent. However, thanks to that I met Omar, a Mexican opera singer who had just arrived in Milano for his first season in the Choir at La Scala. We ended up having coffee and then hanging out in Milano together for the rest of that day. We went to the Natural History museum together, which was not only open, but free after 2pm (yay!) and then onto the Museum Del Cinema (also closed for some unknown reason, , surprise, surprise). Ha! By this stage, I was pretty sure I would see fuck-all art in Milano, but it didn’t worry me too much, really, not yet. The Milano Film Festival was on, so we wandered down to the Parco and checked out a really, really crap band playing for free on the Wrangler stage, saw about 10 mintues of a short film before having to head back to our respective hostels. So, for art, Milano is pretty shit. Thankfully, there are fantastic Mexicans in the opera who are great company.

So, my first day in Torino, after checking in, etc, I wander down town to check out what’s around the scene and to go to a contemporary art gallery that I read about in the easyjet inflight mag (which, by the way, is a very, very helpful little thang). I walked half way across Torino trying to find it and when I was told that I got the street name arse-about (Modena, not Modane), I went to the tourist info in the middle of town to find out what the chance was of getting to the gallery before it closed (at 8pm on a Sunday, mind you!). There, I had one of those traveling experiences which just make all the crud worthwhile. There was a couple who were chatting with the info girl (her family) and when they heard I was trying to get to the gallery, they offered me a lift as it was right near their house! What a couple of champions! AND they recommended that I also see Castello di Rivoli too!
And that was just the start of my art experience here. I’ll try to keep the blurb about them all brief, but, to be honest, I could go on about them for fucking hours:

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
Silence: a fantastic curated show focusing on sound works and, for someone who thought she knew fuck-all about soundwork, I knew rather a lot of the artists – a few of the list of all-star cast included Vito Acconci, Doug Aitken and John Cage. The way they presented the show was fantastic - I got there too late to reserve a set of headphones (which was the way in which most of the works were projected), but thankfully that didn’t matter – I still got to experience about a third of the show without. A lot of works were played in a surround-sound room, lit with changing leds, from a touch-screen interactive menu – art based juke box styles. and it was amazing. Two other major highlights included Carsten Nicolai – who is an artist I had been keeping tabs on (ish) since seeing his work and performance back in 2000 at the Opera House as part of the Art+Music exhibition. His work floats my art/science/geek boat, and the work he had displayed was a chromographic (colour-based) projection of sound waves. So, each sound wave responds to a wave on the visual spectrum and he developed a sound piece to create coloured waves of a particular tone. OK, yawn if you have to, but I’m sure there are a few geeks who are with me on it.
The other work which was the highlight was Johanna Billings work Magical World again! yay! Twice in 2 weeks I’ve seen that work and I didn’t need the cans to instantly remember the song. I did find out that it was originally written by American songwriter Sidney Barnes.

Castello di Rivoli
While it was a little annoying that this place was mostly closed for installation given how long it took to get there, the permanent collection was easily, easily worth it. The old castle has been restored and extended and combined to make an amazing art gallery which houses some of the best contemporary art (including loads of installation) in rooms of the most exquisite baroque interior designs and tempera wall paintings. It’s combination is a winner and I’ve now got this dream that one day I want a work of mine to be in the collection of the Castello di Rivoli. I loved seeing the two Maurizio Cattelan works, and remembered seeing images of another, where he had made a hole in the floor and had a head poking up through it. The collection also includes site-specific work by Richard Long, the gold needle and rock image by gino de dominics and the none-sing, neon-sign by Bruce Nauman. I can’t convey how spectacular this gallery is and what an amazing collection it has. All about 40 minutes from Torino!

I’m off to see GAM (Galleria Arte Moderna) tomorrow and looking forward to seeing some more of Torino’s collection. According to my buddy at the hostel, it’s got some more classical pieces (probably from early modernity), but that worries me not – I’ve seen the sculptures in the courtyard and they’re already great.


In going to the Milano Film Festival on Friday evening, I got to check out the huge Castello Storzesco in the middle of Milano, the old fortress of the city in amazing condition. It was quite spectacular,the size and the power of the place was evident. Unfortunately, Moët & Chandon had booked out a huge chunk of the place, so you could only go into a certain section and only until about 7pm (instead of the usual 11pm). What was I saying about power?
Of course you can’t talk about architecture in Milano without mentioning the amazing Gothic spectacle that is Il Duomo – something like 325 spires and over 2000 sculptures, it is an amazing sight and I decided to go there on Sunday morning, during service, before leaving town. Unfortunately, I had my big backpack with me and the carabinieri who were searching bags were stunningly unhelpful in helping me find a cloackroom/baggage storage area to leave it because a) it was heavy and I didn’t want to lug it around or up 200 steps to the top and b) while I had nothing to really hide, the thought of 4 smug cops going through my underwear for the sake of church security was decidedly unappealing. So, no Duomo.

*marcus, remember that drivel I was going on about - that great baroque church that I thought might have been in munchen, well, I found it, it’s in fucking torino!

Suffice to say, I didn’t do all that much research into Torino before I got here – it just looked like a good place to go on the map, on my way to Paris, via Lyon. And, half the fun is in the discovery. So, imagine my eyes popping out of my head when I discover that both the amazing baroque churches I studied in first year art history, which were vital points of departure in both art and architecture, are in bloody torino! about 10 minutes walk from each other! and without the need for a bag search in either of them. in fact, I took photos! suck on that one milano!

San Carlo Borromeo, designed as the second church in a pair that overlook Piazza Reale (San Carlo Piazza) has amazing baroque interior, with blue ceilings, gilted edges, all the flows and frills you could want and beautiful tapestries. It’s truly wonderful and the baroque façade, although built later, is an absolute dream to draw.
Unfortunately, it’s completely overshadowed by the ornate and design brilliance of San Lorenzo (Arthur Lawrence, you’re completely right!). San Lorenzo departs again from the usual basilica rectangle model in being designed from a square, but has no straight lines as the main form of the church. The angles of the curves are based on atypical mathematical ratios and the painting/sculpture/detail interior is fucking brilliant. There aren’t any Tiepolo paintings, but there might as well be – the gods look down on you with all the foreshortening you need and the colours are just amazing. It’s also incredibly light, filled with an amazing amount of natural light, way more than any gothic church could hope for, and has a gorgeous pieta sculpture in the chapel. Gush, gush, more gush.

Of course you can’t go to Milano without mentioning the clothes and, well, while most of the clothes weren’t really my style, the shoes were to-die-for. Fortunately/unfortunately, I only have a small backpack which is already to the brim and a small budget which I’m hoping will still get me home, so no shoes were bought. However, I joined in the joy of my hostel roommates, shoemakers from Norway in Milano for the Shoe fair, and their gorgeous purchases.

The shit thing about that is the Milano is ‘solo di moda’ – only about the fashion. Hell, even the prostitutes at the bus stop outside the hostel looked like fashion models! Seriously, I knew it was big on fashion, but I figured that, not being overly fashionable, I would still find something there, but really, there is nothing. And actually, it’s quite soul destroying. Each day I would carefully choose my clothes, spend a little more time on my make-up, front myself for the day in the spirit of the city. And each day I would come back feeling deflated and full of self-loathing, after getting so many disapproving looks from the fashionistas who run the city, both male and female.

There are many fantastic shoes and clothes in Torino (that’s the Italian way, really, it’s all about the clothes and shoes, people), but to be fair, Milano just kicks arse in that regard. Gucci, D&G, Prada and Louis Vuitton do not have offices in Torino. But while everyone here is still very fashion conscious (like I said, it’s the Italian way), I’ve come back after my days in town still feeling like I deserve to walk on the planet, which is a bit of a relief.

football and music

These two areas I didn’t actually check out in Torino, but did in Milano and they were hilarious. I had the opportunity to go to an AC Milano game at San Siro, which was actually pretty cool – although not quite as good as I thought it would be – Milano played a scrappy game and, naïve or not, I think the MCG and Telstra Dome give San Siro a run for its money. But it was fantastic watching the Italians go mad for their calcio. And at half time to head to the bar and instead of lines of idiots for pissweak beer in plastic cups, the lines were with stylistas for espresso shots and loads of people standing around getting their caffeine fix – it was surreal, but rad!

Being in a huge city like Milano, I figured that there’d be some cool music/clubs on, so after accosting some punk kids in the park for info, I went to Club Zoe, out in the sticks and the ‘home of the alternative’ in Milano, only to walk into a gig for the worst band I have ever seen – Babylon were worse than the worst of synth-rock Eurovision crap and the crowd were loving it. I tried to be open minded, but after the 3-minute mark and a third of my drink gone, I really, really couldn’t sit through it anymore, so left and caught the last bus home, laughing all the way.

I found the Milanese (in general) to be the coldest and arrogant people I’ve come in contact with to date, which I was really disappointed about. They’re worse than Sydneysiders, way worse than Londoners and even more arrogant than the French are supposed to be. Perhaps it’s for the same reasons as London and Sydney, that there are that many people in the town and loads of outsiders, that the Milanese have to keep themselves extremely guarded, but it was tough. Kind of sad that the loveliest people I met there were from Norway and Mexico! ha! Asking for directions was like asking to fuck a family member, general chit-chat in shops, etc, was met with indignation and not even me being sick illicited kindness from hostel staff.

However, here, not only were my hostel room-mates friendlier, but also the hostel staff, compresse everywhere, people in the street and those in the galleries. And lets not forget out guardian angels who gave me, a complete stranger, a lift across town, for no other reason than to help another person out.

In spending the time I have in Italy (like I did in Germany), I keep trying to learn what it is to be Italian. Who are these people? I’ve come up with some strange little quirks I’ve noticed, including them always standing with one hand on their hip when drinking espresso or eating gelato at the bar and looking in shop windows. I’ve also realised that the Italians love their comforts, the things that reinforce to them who they are by what they are – their family, friends, food, shoes, clothes, handbags, mobile phones, football and coffee. their ‘casa’ – home. they’ll do anything to make sure that they have them around. they aren’t so good at discovering new things or going out on a limb. nor do they like being alone – in fact I very rarely saw Italians sitting on their own in the piazza and they’re always shocked that I’m traveling on my own around Europe. having said that, that’s just from spending 10 days here – although I’m definitely right with the hand-on-hip thing! ha!

PS just in case you're here for the first time, or you've forgotten, the reason my images are such crud is because my camera is broken. so you get a nicer idea of what's going on, just pretend that i've painted them instead - i know i am!

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destroying athens

The main reason I came to Athens was to check out their first international Biennale. I also wish I had made more time to go to the islands and to check out other stuff, but unfortunately, that’s part of the traveling experience.

Part of my own, povvo version of the art festival Grand Tour 07 [The main ‘Grand Tour’ this year has been Munster, Basel, Dokumenta and Venice, but mine has been Sydney, Sharjah, Ars Electronica, Venice, Athens and probably Lyon next week.], the Athens Biennale has actually been quite a highlight.

Unlike the themes of other Biennials (Ars doesn’t quite count), this one, Destroy Athens, was an incredibly strong concept, looking at the overpowering weight of the classics and the archaeology on Greece and Athens in particular. And it is site-specific, which, rather than being limiting, served to bring together a really powerful group of artworks and also managed to convey much more of a universal message than, the broader themes of, say, ‘Zones of Contact’. The curators, XYZ, can be proud of their effort.

The works went through several stages of thematic grouping, which were signified by Days 1-6, a little weird, but the actual grouping of them was great:

Day 1
After the first video work Destination Deutschland, showing the destruction of 5 German bridges, the first ‘day’ was work by a range of culture jammers/activist groups including voidnetwork, the erasers and adbusters. While this area could have been mind-blowingly powerful, it lacked incredibly on execution that the message was just lost in a sense of half-arsed mess, which I was really disappointed about (especially because this is an area of art that I’m particularly interested in). The adbusters fly-posting was falling off walls, and if it was intentional, wasn’t done with enough precision to make that understandable. The posters should really have been 12-bill overpowering images to really get the message home about the force of advertising’s contribution to the destruction of culture. Same with The Erasers work – if they intended to erase work, like the ‘removed poster’ on the wall, they needed to make that a hell of a lot clearer AND to also make work outside the grounds of the compound to add to the effect (if they in fact did that somewhere and I missed it, apologies). The voidnetwork video work relating to the overload of information and the strain that the earth and cities are under from mass consumption was actually quite good (and Athens should know about mass consumption, especially of cultural product), but a little let down by the rest of it.

Day 2
This ‘stage’ featured a group of artists whose work spoke specifically on the weight of Athens architectural/sculptural history and the myth of that architecture/sculpture and history.

It featured video works and wall text by the Obolith Group and wall text which included great quotes like “For 200 years of more, the Greeks have been turned by us into a kind of angelic race” by John Winkler.

Greek artist, Ioannis Savvidis showed architectural/planning technical drawings reflecting the intense sprawl of Athens over 50 years, plus plans to alter public [fascist] monuments, plans to develop new kinds of tourism centered around an F1 track and what that really means for Athens and whether it has the true capabilities to handle the flux of a transient population.

Olaf Breunig’s video Rodakis was a documentary about an historical greek man, Rodakis, and the details of his life and the building of this house. The poignant twist at the end of the film is that, in fact, there are no details about Rodakis, or his life, that all the information was from a ‘reading’ done in 2001 from the abandoned house, which begs the question about ‘history’ and what aspects are truth and what is just supposition, conjecture and cirumstance from bits and pieces – an educated guess?

And, at the end of this large stage of over 20 artists, was a small crayon drawing by Pablo Picasso of the Parthenon, reducing it to yet another image of the greek ruins.

Day 3
The artists in this section of the Techonopolis mostly had work regarding the body which was introduced by another brilliantly hilarious video by Olaf Breuning of a tourist looking for an ‘authentic’ tourist experience, tracking the ‘locals’ in their native environment and then drugging them and stealing their costumes – given my recent experience of being a tourist and hanging out with fellow tourists on a daily basis, this was bang-on.
Robert Gober’s well-known ‘bodybag’ – a half male/half female wax sculpture- was part of the this stage, along with video works by Kajsa Dalhberg and Lotte Konow Lund, as well as a great ‘tunnel’ by Georgia Sagri, featuring nothing except people supposing about the meaning of the work and then leading the view pretty much straight back out again – again playing on the desire to having a culturally ‘rich’ experience even in an empty tunnel.

Day 4
This section was what I termed the ‘mashed’ section – starting with a real mash-up work of fluoro, collage, busy, intense paper and material covering a manufactured playground type area – and then proceeding into..

Day 5
This section was within a heavily industrial area of the venue and contained the sinister and obvious ‘destruction’ works, starting with works by Aidas Bareikis and Kimberly Clark – replicating dead bodies and rubbish dumps, with an intense heavy metal soundtrack in the background somewhere, and also included drawings of genocide and massacre, and the remnants of a performance where ceramics were dropped and broken in piles (looking similar to Pol Pot’s Killing Fields), both by by Terence Koh.

Day 6
Perhaps as a reflection or salve after the intensity of the previous stage’s destruction works, the final section of the main Biennale pavilion had work that dealt with salvation./religion – including a fantastic series of 588 paintings of a glass half full/empty. The highlight of this section, and in fact of the whole pavilion, was the prisoner’s inventions, collated by Angelo and Temporary Services. Perhaps because I had been thinking about the resourcefulness of those in captivity or with limited resources (like when you’re living out of a backpack), but this really appealed to my sense of ‘innovation’. There were artist brushes, cigarette lighters, radios and pencil cases (made from colgate toothpaste boxes) – brilliant.

And then, to put an absolute dampener on the whole amazingly uplifting and thought-provoking show, the final image of the show was a video of a dead/dying lamb, floating in a river – the lamb of god. I wanted to fucking vomit.

However, the work and curation of the show was amazing. Being the inaugural festival, there are a few things, of course, that should be improved for next time – signage really, really needs to be improved. They had some quite prominent bills near the venue, but once you got nearer, there was no indication about where to buy tickets and the staff were putting up ad-hoc arrows to lead you around the exhibition on the day I was there – a full 10 days after it opened [am I always whinging about signage?! Perhaps I should become a signwriter or ‘signage consultant’! ha!].

Chatting with Ioda (I hope I’ve spelt her name correctly) from the container bookstore was one of the highlights of the exhibition and having a nice place to sit and chat with others about the work afterwards could be improved, especially because there’s a lot to process. The catalogue was pretty good (although the black&white images, I’m hoping, will be upscaled to colour next time), and perhaps more free information about the artists – even the title of the works and where they’re from – would be helpful.

That may sound like a big long whinge, but really, I was greatly impressed with the exhibition – the theme and the responses to it were fucking brilliant and I’ll try to see what Athenians and other Greeks think of it in the next little while. It will be interesting to see what happens to Athens in the next little while and where it positions itself on the European and world cultural/metropolitan stage as a result of this festival.

My time in Athens itself, outside of the the Biennale was the least immersed in the culture, which felt a little weird and almost hypocritical. I didn't learn any of the language (apart from please and thankyou), I went to Starbucks everyday, I hung out with Australians, Kiwis and Brits and ended up staying around the tourist area, which felt so, so wrong. And the whole time, I could feel the weight of the mountains and the temples peering over us in the valley.

I did go to the Acropolis, but only at night, when it was lit up so majestically and I had my first intense feeling of being just a speck of dust. I got a real sense of what it must have felt like hundreds/thousands of years ago, looking up at that temple and truly believing that it was the realm of the gods.

The other main thing i got while in Athens was bloody homesickness - the weather was so lovely and warm and the terrain reminded me so, so much of parts of Australia (especially around Perth and Adelaide), that my body just developed a craving for the pacific ocean and to be honest I'm kind of glad to be home in less that 6 weeks. If any Australians are still reading, could you organise for Summer to be in full swing around the 1st of November? That would be super!

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Four simple steps for city mayors who find themselves with extra people in their cities, otherwise known as tourists

1. Signage, signage, signage!
People, it’s not that hard, really, to spend a little bit of time, effort and money into really developing your signage. And how about, once you’ve put it up, try it out. Get someone to give it a trial run to see if it really works – there’s nothing more annoying than following signage that just fucking ends no where near where you’re ending up.

2. Tourist information booths.
I know they might seem a bit daggy, but honestly, theyr'e fucking vital and they could be really simple. Just make sure they are in key places like Airports, Central train stations and a couple of the main areas in the centre of town. You could even be a bit innovative and have collapsible ones that you could take to specific areas when there’s a big event on (like the Grand Prix, or a Film Festival). They need to give out maps, be staffed by people who at least speak the local language and one other (probably English) and are open at least as long as the plance they’re in (if not 24hours!). In fact, they could just be like John So’s info people that stand on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Sts in Melbourne, giving out info and maps to tourists, so you get to really connect with your tourists, AND you’re employing older people and ex-homeless in the mean time (Rob – do you have any connections with cities looking to refine their tourist industries? Mayor of London perhaps?).

3. Access to Money
Although most of us tourists have money with us when we arrive, sometimes things don’t work out that way and we need to get some, or we need to change it. Make sure that there’s both a Cambio/Wechsel/Change booth in the main Airport and Train Station (and boat terminal, if applicable) AND and ATM. How about one next to the other! That would be kind of sensible – put all the money type places together!

4. Access to transport and tickets
Firstly, read step 1 again.

Go on, read it.... read it!


Now, make sure it’s easy for both your locals AND tourists (or are time-consuming and bumbling fools, we can’t help it) to access transport system/tickets. Make sure there’s working machines and an open person to talk to, in case something goes awry, as late as the system runs (tourists arrive at all times of the day, usually way after your peak hour commuter has gone home). And always have a daily ticket available – it’s just common sense to be able to jump on an off transport and you’re making your way around town. If you don’t want to make it cheap, fine, be like that, but at least have one.

Extra loving touches

Late night food.

In my experience, Germany (and Austria to some extent) had their priorities well sorted. You can get food and beer at all times of the day at the major stations and airports (including supermarkets!). When tourists have just come off a long haul, or are about to jump on a train across 15 borders, most will want to grab food of some sorts. Be nice and give them a range from cheap, nasty, exlusive’ and healthy (a little from each is always nice).

Easy and affordable baggage storage.
There is nothing more of a drag than having to check out of your hotel/hostel./hovel at between 9 and 12, not leaving until 6 hours later and having no where to store your luggage. Having lockers is a really easy way to go about it, or if you want to really make things complicated, you can have a whole office connected to it (including Lost and Found – that always helps). It means that your tourists can continue to enjoy your beautiful cites, without having to get major back strain, or fuck off your citizens by running them over with those annoying suitcasewheelie things.

All of the above will certainly go some way to a happy tourist and we all know what happy tourists means: they spend more money and tell more people how great you are, which probably gets you either a myspace page/facebook group or re-elected, whatever takes your fancy.

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venice biennale days 2 and 3

Day 2 and 3 ofVenice were spent checking out bits and pieces in the city and then the Arsenale section of the Biennale, respectively.

Sunday I took the opportunity to do the city wandering bit because most of them were closed on Mondays. But my second day in the city was full of fuck-ups, false starts and frustrations. The main reason for that was the fact that Venice is THE most disorganized and frustrating city in the whole universe! [edit: scrap that, I’m in Athens now and it’s worse]And packed with Sunday tourists, it’s worse than I ever imagined, especially because I had no idea! I had to queue for everything, there are no toilets in the place and no pubs/cafes let you use them. And trying to find your way around is worse than food poisoning – it’s a case of back’n’forth, back’n’forth, trying to figure out exactly which bit on the map is where you’re at - and only half of the streets have street signs, the numbers are even more erratic than central London and the crowds are full-on.

After having no luck at the lost property office (I left both my hoodie and scarf on the fucking train from Vienna and they weren’t handed into the Venice office), It took me ages to find the second Australian pavilion in the Palazzo Zenobio – around and around I walked, finally running into a couple of friendly and equally lost midlanders who shared their slightly better map and we figured it out together.

Once I made it there I was pleasantly surprised to also find that Charles Avery, the great Scottish artist, based in London, was representing them in this year’s pavilion with some great drawings based on his story of a mythical island.

The first of the Australians I went to see was Callum Morton and his work Valhalla, a site-specific installation/sculpture of a derelict building, based on the dereliction of a building his father designed, but also reflecting images of destroyed buildings we see daily from Baghdad and the WestBank. The exterior is graffitied, with overgrown lawn and holes everywhere, but the inside is like the lobby of some faceless corporate headquarters, complete with bad musak and lifts, although with a weird ghoul-like infernal soundtrack, which is at once hilarious and slightly odd.

After chatting with Anna, a super-helpful member of the Italian Oz Pavilion staff, I headed into town to check out the Susan Norrie and Bill Viola video works.

Susan Norrie is an amazing video artists and her work HAVOC tracks the destruction, political action and clean-up surrounding a volcanic mudflow in West Java. In typical Norrie style, she manages to combine intense images with a slow-moving beauty, only rivaled by Mr Bill Viola. His work, in the rear of a church behind Piazza San Marco, is a 3-screen video work of people being saturated in water, going from black’n’white to colour and their physical reactions to it. It’s all about restoration and re-birth, as usual, and very beautiful.

The only down side to the Viola work was that it was so near Piazza San Marco. Which meant that, in going to see it, I had to follow the crowd (and we all know how much I love doing that) to the square, cross the nightmare that was the square and on the way back to the vaporetto station, cross back through the plague of pigeons, which people persisted on chasing – it was gross – the whole thing! I can’t imagine why people would want to go there and not want to vomit.

The rest of that night I spent just wondering around Venice, getting something to eat and getting a feel for the city after the tourists had jumped on the Intercity home.

Monday was a lot better – I slept in (just because I wanted to) and despite the rain, headed towards the Arsenale. The rain quickly cleared and it was a glorious day to walk around the ex-wharf/warehouse area. It’s a little bit like a combination of the Everleigh Rail Yards and Wharves 4&5 in Sydney – industrial, on the water and absolutely stunning. One image I took there reminded me so much of a De Chirico painting.

A lot of the work in this version of Robert Storr’s curated exhibition actually reminded me a lot of the works I had seen in the Sydney Biennale’s Zones of Contact. There was a lot of work about war zones (Emily Prince’s images of All the American Soldiers Killed in the War on Iraq and Afghanistan, Not Including those Wounded, or the Iraquis or the Afghanis, was quite amazing, as was Israeli artist Tomer Ganiha’s Hospital Party), about zones of restriction and of tourist areas – including a great work about [Tijuana] tourist junk by Jason Rhoades.

The best works included Prince’s, a great work by American in Germany, Christine Hill called Minutes, as part of the Volksboutique projects – a series of portable ‘trunks’ which contain everything you need for the home office – folders, telephone, stationery, desk, change of clothes, mirror, suitcase.. all in a trunk the size of a bass amp ‘fridge’ roadcase! It had an accompanying catalogue, another converted moleskine diary, but they had sold out, which is probably good for me, considering the amount of stuff I’m lugging around; and Marine Hugounier’s Homage to Ellsworth Kelly, well, needless to say, I tipped my hat in mutual appreciation.

The other great work was by Ignasi Aballi (the guy who did the list of languages in the Grande Padaglione Italia)– lists of criminals, nationalities, deaths, drugs, money, etc, cut from the headlines of spanish newspapers.

Apart from the group show, other pavilions I was able to check out were the Turkish pavilion, which featured a really lovely installation called ‘don’t complain’; one from People’s Republic of China, video and sound work in a fantastic industrial block plus oversized baby’s dummies and bottles; and the Italian pavilion – the first one in almost 20 years since the one in the Giardini was turned onto an international survey pavilion. This year the Italians got a lot of press interest, not just on their return to being a part of the festival, but also about Francesco Vezzoli’s Democrazy, featuring slebs Sharon Stone and Bernard-Henri Lévy as US Presidential candidates. All the hype was actually deserving as it was a fantastic video and scary how much Shazza reminded me of Hilary. Things that make you go hmmmm

Of course I didn’t get to see absolutely everything at the Biennale – I never do – but I do wish that I’d been able to stay a little longer. Venice takes a while to get your head around and it took me the first 2 days to realise that it works on a completely different ethos - that wandering around and letting things surprise you is a bit part of the experience.

*i'm calling these images 'paintings of venice' because my camera is busted. don't give me too much grief about it. other 'paintings' are on my flickr site, as ususal.



venezia, baby

Venice Biennale: Day 1, I Giardini

So from Vienna, I caught an overnight train to Venice, which was quite a strange experience for me. I scored a whole sleeping bunk room on my own, so I made myself some dinner, turned the lights off to watch the scenery, jumped into my Pjs, put some music on and promptly fell asleep at about 9pm! In fact getting changed into my boxers on a train carriage was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had – all I could think about was Samuel L Jackson: “motherfucking naked on a motherfucking train!” Ha!

I woke up at almost 7am in Italy, near the Czech border, and watching a fantastic landscape go by. over breakfast and chillin’ into the day I could see amazing fields and lighter trees, the water was a different colour and it was warm! Yay!

My first day of Venice was focused on getting to the Biennale. After checking into my hostel and having to switch languages (I was just getting used to communicating in German!) I headed to the Giardini to see most of the International Pavillions. Given my time over, I’d give the Giardini a full day, but today I only had 4 hours, so I was ruthless. I planned an attack strategy and I think it turned out OK. I started with the Australian pavilion, because I was looking for something familiar, then to France, Great Britain, Korea, Russia, US, Italian Grand Pavilion and Israel. It sounded like a great travel itinerary and I’m kind of surprised that with your ticket you don’t get a ‘passport’ and stamps at each of the pavilions, where you can keep track of where you’ve been, but also to have a fun kind of element to it.

In the Australian Pavilion, Daniel Von Sturmer is one of my ‘you’re so awesome, it hurts’ artists (which regular readers of this blog will know), so I knew I would love the work. And I did. He created this wooden pathway, which wound its way across, up and around the pavilion, leading the viewer to a series of screens and sculptural works. Daniel’s work is all Art Geek and perhaps that’s why I love it – his work references ‘the plane’, drawing, perspective, scale, colour – everything you need to think about when drawing or creating works. Also the kinds of things which are vital to changing your perception of an object and/or environment.
I could understand that some wouldn’t like it because there wasn’t a lot of accompanying information, but on a very personal level, that didn’t matter to me so much.

The French have been ruing their lack of international contemporary art clout for a while, but if they can follow in her footsteps, Sophie Calle is going to lead French artists out of such despair. Her work Prenez Soin De Vous is my favourite of the whole Biennale, so far. It’s a deconstruction of a ‘Dear John’ letter written to her, in terms of the variety of ways in which we all deconstruct anything meaningful: text, language, love, drama, perspective, personality, comprehension, context, emotion and memory. She got a variety of people to process the letter in a variety of ways, the list of which included: judge, historian, advocate, criminologist, romance novelist, ethno-methodologist, CONSULTANT EN MATIERE DE SAVOIR VIVRE, psychiatrist, INSTITUTRICE EN MATERNELLE, diplomat, public ECRIVAIN, graphic artist, mother, stylist, ADO, commissioner of police, COMPTABLE, translator into SMS, proof reader, English translator, crossword developer, latin writer, ECRIVAIN, NORMALIENNE, sexologist, journalist, cockatoo (who ate the letter and then said hello!), meditator, designer, composer, philosopher, psychoanalyst and clairvoyant.
and then made 36 separate movies of performances about the letter, with actors, musicians, singers, dancers and other performers, including big names that I knew such as Peaches, Miranda Richardson and Yolande Moreux. It might not sound like a very interesting or engaging piece the way I’ve described it, but it was bloody brilliant and had something for everyone - even if you couldn’t speak/read/understand French– on an intellectual and emotional level. I could have sat and watched the movies for ages, but needed to get going.

*those in caps italics are descriptions i couldn't translate myself and didn't have time to find a translation for

“Trace” – Tracey Emin(who I have a particular soft spot for, and about whom I wrote an essay during my studies) - represented Great Britain in the Giardini (although Scotland, Ireland and Wales have their own pavilions in the city). And it was fucking excellent. It featured a range of drawings, sculptures, prints and paintings (she’s a good painter) about the pain of sex (wanted and unwanted) and the constancy of having an abusive upbringing. While some may roll their eyes and say ‘not again’, or, as overheard, “people pay for this?” “no, people pay to buy this”., I think she does it in a way that’s strong enough to keep reminding and subtle enough to be adorable. I loved the show and I even picked up a little souvenir for myself and a surprise present for Claire – I’ll show you once I’ve give it to her. Interestingly, the Sophie Calle exhibition about emotional pain was packed and well-loved, but Emin’s show about sexual pain is “too difficult” and uncomfortable.

I was really pleased to see Korean artist Hungkeo Lee representing Korea and feel that it’s inidicative of the progressive nature of Korean art at the moment that an artist using cartoons/animation figures in an anthropological manner (and featured in ‘low-brow’ mag, Juxtapos) is selected as their representative, rather than someone showing more‘serious” work). The show included the skeletal remains of two characters in their natural environment – the cat chasing the mouse - with two separate lab-type rooms: one with a bunch of containment and testing devices, the other replicating a museum display, but with the tools and processes in making of the creature as the subject. I found it poignant that making a cartoon creature a “vertebrate” gave it validity of sorts.

Felix Gonzales-Torres is a dead artist representing his country at the Biennale and is showing some fantastic works: word based images of Americas ability to create death and destruction – equating their fighterplane production with their ability to produce movies about death, liquorice bullets for the taking (endless supply) and a beautiful lightglobe work in the middle of the entrance.

The last major pavilion I managed to see for the day was the fantastic Padaglione Italia – the group show curated by Robert Storr: Pensa con I sensi, senti con la mente: l’arte al presente [Thinking with the senses, feeling with the mind: art in the present tense].
By this time it was about 5:15 and I had 45 minutes to check out work by about 50 artists, so, again, I had to be selective. I ended up checking out Shaun Gladwell and his well-known Storm Sequence plus a new work Broken Hill Linework. Projected onto the floor, you could see the ground moving underneath your feet, and if you stood in the right place, could feel like a skater. I was impressed with Waltercio Caldas’ Half Mirror Sharp – a great 3D installation manifestation of a modernist painting (shown above, not so sharp, thank to my shit camera) ; Sol LeWitt(RIP)’s black and grey scribble works, Ellsworth Kelly’s relief works – (the man is still alive! I had no idea!), Kara Walker’s silhouette animation, Louise Bourgeouis’ grid of drawings, Raymond Pettibon painted on the walls of the room and had such gems such as ‘professionalism is a hate crime’, plus a great work filling the walls of a room with an alphabetical listing all the languages of the world (by Ignasi Aballi), and then old mate Fred Sandback again creating a sculptural diagram in 3 dimensions with yarn.

Then the ‘go home you bastards’ announcement came over the PA. I spent some time wandering around near the Giardini, soaking up some of the sunset and then went back to the hotel to recharge.

Phew! What a day!

*sorry for the lack of titles in the Padaglione, you didn’t get a room sheet and I ran out of time to write them down.

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Vienna part II: Film, photography and the unexpected

In the way the my first couple of days centered around the MQ and checking out bands, my third and fourth days in Vienna seemed to have a running theme centered around the unexpected, photography and film.

The first great surprise was catching up with Marita from bell street artist-run “off space” in the 2nd section. Run by her and her partner Alex Lawler (who, coincidentally) I knew from Sydney way, way back in the day), it was a lovely surprise in amongst the big guns of the Vienna visual arts. Probably because it’s run by a couple of aussie artists, it felt incredibly familiar and we sat and chatted for ages about being an ‘expat’ and what the visual arts is really like in Europe and especially Austria.

I then went to Hundertwasser house, which I had been looking forward to for ages, having loved his architectural work (ie grass on roofs, wonky likes, subterranean abodes) for a while. The big surprise was that it wasn’t as cool as I had hoped. In fact most of it was irritating and reproduces in print much better than the ‘real thing’. I still enjoyed looking at the architectural models and checking out the house, which was great, but I left feeling a little ‘ripped off’ – hate it when that happens.

Marita pointed me to a little ‘off space’ of Mariahilfiger Straße, swingr, which was having it’s opening that night, so I popped along. Unfortunately, the most interesting part was the catalogue - largely cut ups and reproductions of important feminist cultural texts (The Reason There Are No Good Women Artists by Linda Nochlin, surely on every undergrad girl’s text list).

Having nothing planned, I wandered down the main shopping ‘strip’ – Vienna’s equivalent to Oxford St and while nothing really grabbed me – mostly high street crap you can get anywhere in the world – I did pop into an English cinema to see my first movie since June! I saw The Bourne Ultimatum and while it’s not going to change the world, it was fucking great. I’d seen the other two, have a weird small crush on Matt Damon and it felt like a really wicked thing to do – a culturally rich city, and I go off to see a Hollywood blockbuster! ha!

My last day in Vienna was a little weird ‘cos I felt like I was just ‘waiting’ to catch my train to Venice. And yet I still managed to squeeze in a crazy day: bunch of great show, a bit of a cry at having to put off applying for my masters for yet another year and a beautiful trip to the country - only 25 minutes out of town.

As far as the exhibitions go, I went to the BA-CA Kunstforum, which has a great show on called wannimmervorerst and is an exhibition of mostly Austrian/German works from the BA-CA bank’s collection. There were some amazing artists, a real surprise visit, including Bernd and Hilla Becher, Dianne Arbus, Erwin Wurm (at whose work I giggled my motherfucking arse off!), Duane Michaels, Ed Ruscha and Gerwald Rockenschaub (coolest aritsts’ name in history).

After that I popped quickly into MAK to check out the Held Together With Water exhibition – a fantastic show of works in the Verbung collection. Some of the same artists were in this show as other shows I had seen (here and in Londond) and I realised, for the first time, that I was starting to get a good idea of who is doing what in Europe, at a particular level. This was quite a victory, considering that I felt that I knew sweet fuck all before I came here.

The show had so many big guns there, it’s hard to keep it short, but one’s I’ve noted in my trusty moleskine sketchbook included Cindy Sherman and her Bus Riders, relatively new work, which I loved; Nan Golding, VALIE EXPORT, Gilbert & George (documentation from their Red Sculpture and Underneath the Arches sculpture) and Markus Schinwald’s Gus sculpture which looked a hell of a lot like Gilbert. Sarah Lucas’ self-portraits: as a mobile and with fried eggs were great to see, as was David Wojnawovicz’s Rimbaud in New York series (which I had also seen previously, although I couldn’t remember for the life of me where). I also really liked Francois Alÿs’ video work, which I had seen at the Tate Modern in the Poetry and Dream section, Fred Sandback’s Seven-Part Vertical Construction pushed some buttons – a physical, 3D representation of drawing perspective, using yarn. Joanna Billing’s video piece, Magical World was the soundtrack to my whole time in the gallery“I liiiiiive in a magical wooooooorld”, which I can still sing now. I’ve got no idea who wrote it, but it has impressed itself in my brain. All in all a great show and a hell of a nice surprise.

The last thing I did in Vienna, was one which I had been looking forward to for ages and, like the Hundertwasser, was a tad disappointing: The Third Man walking tour of Vienna. The Third Man is one of my “all-time, desert island, top 5”, favourite movies and one I studied in Year 12 English class. I was really looking forward to going to Josefstadt Theatre, where Anna had worked, going to the Ferris Wheel, where that famous Harry Lime monologue took place, to the station and the bridge where Holly proved himself a bumbling idiot. Not to be. I did see some cool parts of Vienna and we got a great post-war history lesson. We did get to hear a zither playing the Harry Lime theme (as twee as it was) and checked out the Sacher Hotel (the start of the whole thing), but all in all it was a bit of a let-down.

AND I dropped my camera and fucked the focus. Fuck! so all my photos from now, until I can manage to be in one place long enough to get it fixed, will be out of focus.

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Vienna: MQ

brilliant, i tell you, brilliant

In my original travel plans, I hadn't intended to come to Vienna. It was more of a deviation east than i was intending and i was thinking that i'd rather just spend more time in Venice. Thankfully my best friend Sarah reminded me about Hundertwasser in Vienna, which reminded me about Egon Schiele and The Third Man in Vienna. Phew! I almost missed out on one of the most culturally rich cities in the fucking world, all because it was a 'little out of my way'.

My first impressions of Vienna were absolutely shite. I rocked up at the hostel and all I could see was yet another utilitarian grey block, thanks to Hitler, Speer et al. It was way further out of town than I thought, was full of school kids, the rooms stank, the food was scheiße and Lunchlady Doris was working in kitchen. I just got over all of that, when at 6:30am, our room was woken up by the alarm clock of a girl in the bed near mine, who was in the shower. It went on and on, and on. louder, louder, louder. I managed to turn it off somehow, only to have it go off again 15 minutes later! fuck! so, in the interest of the common good, the alarm clock ended being taken out of the room and flung down the hallway, by someone resembling a tired australian who swears a bit.

So, the first couple of proper days in Vienna have been spent in the MuseumsQuartier, checking out 4 amazing art institution and some fantastic exhibitions.

Yesterday I checked out the abso-fucking-lutely fantastic AzW: ArkitekturezentrumWien and the brillian show a_schau - a survey of Austrian architectural milestones from the 20th/21st Century. The Austrians are well-known for their architecture and it was great to see it all laid out in one show, with images, text and social/political context (including, yes, that ol' WWII thang). And the accompanying typeface was wicked - all architectural like-ish. Grouped into Prologue (from around the time of the Secession, the pinpoint of modern architecture in Vienna), Red Vienna, Landscape, Power (Hitler, etc), Reconstruction, System (post-war economic efficient crapness), Idealism and Collage, covering a generation of architects each time. I found out that Linz was Hitler's favourite city, which put a little bit of a bad-taste tarnish on the fantastic time I had there. heh. The whole centre was great! I couldn't absorb any more architecture, so couldn't check out the Margherita Spillering exhibition, but I did buy a little cut-out plan of the Secession, so i can have my own little model at home! tee hee!

After heading back to the hostel to recharge and regroup, I went back to MQ and went to MUMOK, the MUseum der MOdernKunst (Museum of Modern Art, just in case you didn't pick up on that complex German there...). There were 2 major special shows on at the MUMOK, a Sigmar Polke retrospective and an installation by Austrian artist Markus Huemer, plus the exhibition of their modernist collection on the 8th floor. I went up there first and it was fucking amazing! It was a strongly curated and designed show, with a range of painting, sculpture, product design, architectural models, film, photography, hell they even had typeface design workings by Herbert Bayer (an 'n', 'h', two 'a's and a 'd', for those who have a bit of a font fetish). It really showed the importance and marked interdisciplinary aspect of modern art - Mies Van Der Rohe did buildings and they had his Barcelona chair there. Bayer's fonts and his famous photograph of the guy with the chunk out of his armpit. Mondrian paintings and then the architectural model of the building which replicated them, designed by. Sculpture, replicating paintings, drawing replicating font, line and form becoming theme and content in their own right - such an important collection in terms of understanding the history of art and visual communication! Worth the entry price alone!

After that ecstatic experience, I checked out the 3 floors of the installation by Markus Huemer. He has a thing for blue in the same way I have a thing for red - he uses it as his indicator (or signifier) in a range of methods: A series of blue screens, with subtle differences in resolution and method of projections, a great interactive piece where you could create a Pollock-like Abstract Expressionist work by walking across the room and triggering sensors, and the lowest floor was a series of large paintings depicting half-drawn pictures of flowers and trees - nature, with titles like trojanhorse.exe - the modern plague bacteria.

Sigmar Polke is someone I should do like his use of lacquered tracing paper as substrate (yes Charles, there's that word again), I like his 'not touching the paper' type absorption works and his toner transfer works, but they are only a few aspects of the work and when i see it, all i see are the trillions of naive bitsy shitty works that have been spawned in his wake and I want to vomit. harsh? genau, but i can't help how it makes me feel.

Today, I hit the last 2 big galleries at MQ: the Leopold Museum and the Kunsthalle Wien.

The Leopold Museum houses a great collection of Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele’s work. But to be honest, I only really wanted to check out Egon Schiele. I know he’s a really important artist, but Gustav Klimt still leaves me cold, despite a brief backflip a while back.

But Egon Schiele, man, I could go on about him for days. And days. His paintings are the stuff of love – and I don’t mean gooey Hallmark love, but sinewy, angular, a little bit skewiff, enraptured, awkward love, not to mention pink bits. If Courbet is the king of painting "The Source", then Egon Schiele is the righteous prince. But that’s not exactly what I love about his painting – it's the way he paints, with a great combination of glaze and goop, line and form, soft and hard (and if you’ve ever painted with oils, you’ll know how hard that actually is). He does hands, feet and faces like no other and I can’t do any for shit, which is possibly why I idolize him. And then outside his paintings, he’s got all the hallmarks of a rock’n’roll painting icon – school drop out who drew all the time, went to art school, but fought against it to create the NeueKunstGruppe (New Art Group) and was incredibly prolific before dying a tragic death in the Spanish Flu plage of 1918, 2 months after his new wife and 6 month-old had succumbed to it. If that isn’t beautiful and tragic, I don’t know what is. (A record by The Smiths, perhaps?)

Then, same as before, I went back to the hotel, took time to recharge, organise accommodation/travel for the next week and then headed back to the KunsthalleWien and the show Traum and Trauma (Dream and Trauma - great title)

Holy shit, this was a great show! It's works from the collection of Dakis Joannou, which I didn't realise until I got there - he's known to me as the collector of Tim Noble/Sue Webster's work, whose work I love, so i knew this show was going to be great. There were about 35 fantastic artists, including Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman, Maurizia Catalan, William Kentridge, Jeff Koons, Gregory Crewdson! Big guns, I tell you, big guns in the contemporary scene. My favourite works were by Noble/Webster - the Black Narcissus (silicon casts of Noble's dick and Webster's fingers, together to make a silhouetter of their Janus-like two-faced head) and He/She - those fantastic sculptures of found objects/welded steel to make the silhouette of them pissing. Shit hot stuff, i tell you, shit hot. And each room had a little tear-off room shit that you could take with you and have your own mini-catalogue. I really, really want to buy the proper catalogue, but as it is i'm carrying around too much crap and have no way to get it home. Amazon wishlist, perhaps.

If you're ever in Vienna only for a couple of days, you could do worse than just spend your time in the MuseumsQuartier. Not only are there those 4 big galleries, but studios for artists, design studios, fashion workshops, art supports orgs, the Design Forum and animation houses. I believe that culture needs to be intergated into the fabric of a city/society, but having it all in one place certainly packs a mean punch.

I've got a few more days here, in which I'm going to squeeze in Hundertwasser Haus (oh yeah), BA-CA Arts Forum and a walking tour of Vienna themed around The Third Man (only one of my favourite movies of all time). I'll keep you all posted about that, don't you worry. Heh.

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ars electronica day 3: my last day

Day 1.5 was about SecondLife, Day 2 about RealLife (Interactive) and Day 3 was all about the post-modern MashUp.

There's nothing worse than the day you have to check out of a hotel, when you're not leaving straight away. I was up super early, dressed, packed, frühstucked and bed stripped, all by 9am. For those who know me, or can take a wild guess, I'm not really a 9am kind of girl, so this was an achievement of sorts. I wandered around Second City, checking out the remnants of working installations, loads of the artists having left on Sunday night, and spent some time blogging, uploading flickr pics and generally engaging in my Web 2.0 kind of life.

The major reason I stuck around was actually for the talks on Closeness vs Dislocation, where the first speaker was Ted Nelson. Apart from being Mr Nelson's son, Ted is one of the pioneers of this crazy little place that is responsible for the tripe you read here. He is partly responsible for hypertext and (he put the htt into http, baby), and computer coding that most of our PCs operate from. And in his talk, he went on to say how rubbish it actually is, that it had been dummed down by techies for the purpose of illustrating it to the kids at Xerox PARC. He even described the GUI (Generated User Interface) as the PUI (PARC User Interface). Ha! While I was hoping his talk would be a clear and inspiring revelation, it was actually a mash-up of history, emotional anecdote (the guy almost cried in a story about his Grandfather and a pressure cooker) and new illustrations of a better mode of contextual structure. I'm not sure exactly what I got out of it, although he very clearly said "good design is the key to everything", which Ben and the kids from NDG/TDC would appreciate, no doubt.

The next talk wasLev Manovich, an American academic in digital and new media spoke about why it is, in fact that ‘new media’ is still new. the nature of internet art these days is that each time something is created, something input, uploaded, downloaded, attached or linked to, the work changes form, it becomes a new media. he also spoke about the shift in focus, where the media itself is the focus of internet/digital art, where the importance is in creating new programmes/applications/media, as opposed to the content. where it is no longer ‘context is content’ but application is content. Unsurprisingly, no one mentioned the word modernity or modernism in terms of internet art, but perhaps they should have. the fact that the media(or material) and form, as opposed to content or theme of the discipline is actually one of the main attributes to modernity and modernism. have we jumped the gun in labeling out society a post-modernist one? are we still, in fact, very much concerned about the way something works, rather than what it says

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around to listen to the other speakers as I had to jump on a train to Vienna, speaking of a mash-up. [My first impressions of Vienna were an hilarious disaster, but more on that later], but I think after 3 days of Techno-Interactive-New Media Art goodness, I’d had my fill anyway.

I will say this though, Ars Electronica was fantastic – the organisation of it was great, there was the right amount of order and flexibility, the speakers/exhibitions/events were fantastic, as was the theme. Everything was accessible, both physically, intellectually and financially and the crucial aspect of choice was really well considered. All the facilities were awesome, although there are two really small things which I would have added – having a locker room would have been great. There were enough people traveling in from other areas to warrant having somewhere to store your bags for a short amount of time, which would also save the kids behind the counter having to deal with it.

There wasn’t a twitter feed (mobile jaiku just isn’t quite as cool) from itm which I think would have a) worked really well and b) enabled more social interaction from people who didn’t already know each other. Getting to know people across the language barrier wasn’t easy and having something as simple as a twitter feed could have helped that. And of course that’s just the perspective from a white girl from the ‘burbs, mate.



ars electronica day 2

If day 1.5 was all about virtuality and SecondLife, then Day 2 was all about the tactile and the real elements of art/technology and the way in which humans, human nature and human thinking interact with both of them.

I stayed up way past my bedtime again last night, going to OK Party at the OK Centre, which was pretty good. It was absolutely rammed and I ran into 3 artists I knew/worked with from Sydney, which was quite bizarre, but fun at the same time.

So this morning, when I dragged myself out of bed and into the University for a 10:30am start, I was looking way past my age. However, it was well worth the wait. 2 artists whose work I liked the most from the CyberArts festival of the ARS PRIX, Wim Delvoye and Bernie Lubell were speaking in the two sessions on Hybrid Arts and INteractive Arts, respectively.

Wim's work, Cloaca, is a manufacturing system, based on the human digestive system, whose sole purpose is to generate shit. Literally.

You walk into the room after 'bowel movement time' and it reeks! But the system is great! The work showing at Ars is the Personal Cloaca, a washing machine which uses the same enzymes available in washing powder to break down food into faeces [although is faeces still faeces if it's not from a human? Does it them become 'manure' or 'excrement'?]. The main system uses a series of chemical 'stations' to process the food and takes 30 humans to generate 80 kilos of shit. His talk was fantastic, with exactly the right amount of humour, personality and cultural/theoretical insight about what it actually means to be human. If a major part of our physical nature/purpose can be replicated using machinery (that we actually created), what is left to be human? Can we technologise ["hello, Oxford English Dictionary? I think i made up a new word.."] ourselves out of an identity/purpose?

Bernie 'Blubell" Lubell's work is a low-fi on the technological material (only because it doesn't use metal/plastic, but wood), but hi-tech on the concept and interactivity. His pneumatic system called Conservation of Intimacy is a machine powered by a couple rocking on a summer swing, to generate movement of a pen recording seismograph, while simultaneously creating a breath in the ear of a cycllist who is powering the paper on which the seismograph is recorded. It's bloody brilliant, as are his other works, which he went through in the talk. Similarly, Bernie had exactly the right amount of humour and insight into his own work, where he fits within the Interactive sphere and the idea of 'control' - which, interestingly I feel is the basis of privacy, remember?

There were a load of other speakers, including 2 lots of Australian collaborations, represent! but I'm not going to go into them today.

After the intensity of this listening, I popped over to the Ars Electronica Centre and took part in the interactive technology show, which was fantastic fun. There were several great works including:

Chalkboard, where you had your photo taken, uploaded and you could doctor it, leaving a note on the virtual 'noticeboard'.

Move, a great responsive game between you and a graphic element. There were 3 games on random selection and I was being 'chased' by a red circle, which I found fitting.

Hanahana, a habit/sensor mapping work, in which you chose a 'leaf', sprayed it with the scent of your choice (about 10 to choose from) and you put the leaf onto a sensor pad, which recorded the frequency of the perfume and generated a colour-based flower in response. Interestingly, my flower was red. Seems I smell, as well as see red.

Unsurprisingly, there were loads of kids at the exhibition, which I think is great. Most of these works had a certain level of 'what does this say about me'-ness to them, which perhaps is the crux of interative work, and I think it's a vital element to childhood development to be asking those questions early - saves on the midlife crisis down the track.

After the high-tech digital nature of the AEC interactivity, I checked out/stumbled upon the acar2 low-tech analogue interactive exhibition at the Kunstuniverstät, Campus 2.0.

The best part of it was actually the annexe, which had the 'blogging tag' badge, which told people you'd been saying stuff about the festival, the 'wiki/comments section' - a typewriter on which you could write anything and then leave the paper in there for others to respond to (or not). And the response to the laundry messaging system (boxer shorts on washing line, making words, as seen in the post on Day 1). The return to analogue technology was lovely and their exhibition display was equally cool - lasered lettering out of corrugated card and bubblewrap.

The other cool exhibition was outside the centre, a series of hydroponically-grown lettuces, which were connected via the net to pollution levels of the G7 capital cities (plus Vienna) and had to grow in those levels. It was great to see a representation of our cities sweltering under their own respiration.

The featured artist for the festival is Marko Peljhan and I wandered down to his exhibition on the Danube, which was documentation of a trans-national/nation-stateless project on both north and south poles to develop research centres housing scientists, writers and artists. Although I found the exhibition itself pretty cool (pardon the pun), his talk later in the afternoon was really quite enlightening and proof that artists are vital for innovation across disciplines.

After touching base back at the hostel, I popped back into town to check out the Perfect Strangers concerts at Brucknerhause, the amazing concert hall. I listened to Bill Fontana's Memories of Landscape works, a little bit of Masahiro Miwa's Bolero by Muamatsu Gear Engine (a Bolero tracking the history of a fictitioius folklore from Japan) and then the main piece I was going for, Frank Zappa's Black Page No.1 (that mega drum solo) by The Sancho Plan and his Perfect Strangers/Dupree's Paradise by the Brucknerhaus Orchestra. All of the above were brilliant and having the sound performance aspect of the festival added a real sense of 'well-rounded-ness' ["hello, Lauren, this is the Oxford English Dictionary and I think the word you're looking for is holistic.."]

And, for those who seem to care about my sleeping patterns, I was very good and home again before midnight, ready for an early start in the morning.

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ars electronica day 1

I intended to start Saturday up early, breakfasted, dressed and down at the Festival Centre at 10am sharp, ready to face the day. The reality (as opposed to the virtuality) of the situation is that I got up for breakfast (which finished at 9am!) then went back to bed for 3 hours. Finally getting up and out of the hostel, to be down at the Festival Centre at 1:30! Crap!
I was super interested in the Ganz Linz Project and quickly chucked together a small piece that I was hoping to put down for it, but because of the cloudy weather, it was postponed unti next week. Crap! (I’m still thinking of leaving it somewhere to be photographed, but I’m not sure where/how/if.)

There’s so much on that I knew that I would miss something, but I took the time to just dive in and experience things: Augmented Sculpture by Spanish artist Pablo Valbuena, was an installation about sculpture/architecture and time, which I liked – although the relationship to time was tenuous. The Overtures video documentation was great, as part of the Environmental Centre showcasing work by artists whose work mainly focuses on the degredation of the environment. Then I went to WoW, a piece by Aram Barthol, which was so simple, but so damned effective. Second Life avatars have their ‘name’ above their head and this ‘shop’ had people able to make the real life/time equivalent – a headband with your avatar name above your head:

I walked around with it on my head all day and it threw up all kinds of amazing reactions and also thoughts about what is privacy and whether walking around with your name above your head immediately transports you into a game/secondlife/realtime kind of warp – it was absolutely fantastic!

I also went and checked out Australian artist Justine Cooper’s Havidol ‘shop’, which reminded me a lot of Spat’n’Loogie’s New!shop (which I told Justine about too) – it was dedicated to the promotion of her pharmaceutical 'remedy' to social ailments. The commercial was absolutely brilliant – taking the piss out of infomercials everywhere – and the list of side effects of Havidol were similarly fantastic (my favourite being inter-species communication) ha!.

I went along to the jury deliberation of the first architectural competition for SecondLife. It may as well have been a panel, because it was open to the public, with microphones and documentation and it was a fantastic discussion, which hightlighted ideas about the purpose of architecture, the need for constraint, the importance of gravity and what is interesting when there are no boundaries. Some of my favourite quotes from the discussions include:

“Where everything is possible, nothing is interesting” Pascal Shöning
“I’m exhausted by interestingness. The absence of gravity doesn’t necessarily make things more interesting, but actually quite boring” Shumon Basar.

All of these reiterated my belief in the absolute necessity in life (Second or otherwise) for structure in order to create beauty. And as far as second life goes, the structural requirements, as someone on the jury mentioned, are the techonological, financial and the community-based elements of the world. I wonder whether because the basic premise of Second Life is largely the vacuousness of this real life, that trying to fit structure to it only highlights its lack of authenticity as a negative, rather than embracing it. I would have loved to stick around and participate in some more discussion, but I had to get to, what ended up being, my all-time highlight for the day.

Guerilla Radio is a booth and transmitter set up in Hauptplatz, smack bang in the middle of town, and a DJ (or band/combo earlier in the day) plays to the crowd. However, you can only pick up the frequency through wireless headphones that you hire. The platz was filled with a bunch of us listening and dancing to the DJ set, right in the middle of the street. Obviously only those with the headphones can hear the music, so it’s quite comical watching those dancing when you can’t hear the music. Of course I had head phones and of course I danced my arse off – for an hour and a half!

Even though, in the spirit of Goodbye Privacy, we’re all out ‘in public’ and challenging this notion of Private Dancing, it was, actually, one of the most private things I’ve done (others will remain nameless to protect the guilty). There is something intensely private about headphones (as Marcus Brown and his ipod singing sensation will attest to) and then there’s the private nature of only sharing that experience with the DJ and others in cans. I had a great ‘private’ moment with the DJ when, in the middle of his set, while I’m dancing away, he drops the new track which starts with police radio about a ‘disturbance… they’re dancing in the streets’ – which I understood the joke of and acknowledged it so. It was fantastic!!

And while I was grooving away, in private/public, I had so much time to think about the concept of privacy and what it really means, given that I felt like I was in my own private Idaho, in the middle of a plaza and I think that Privacy is the feeling of control you have over your environment. As soon as that control is taken away from you, you feel that your privacy has been ‘invaded’. And even if you put yourself into the ‘public’ domain [dancing/singing in the street, blogging, uploading videos to YouTube, divulging secrets on Myspace, etc], as long as you feel that you have some sense of control over that, you can still maintain a sense of Privacy. I do think a sense of Privacy is a fundamental human need, on some level. And obviously, what that level is, is subjective.

As usual, there are more pics on flickr

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