February 2011

Art

Roma e l’antico: Realtà e visione nel 700. Palazzo Sciarra (Rome) until March 6.

Draped in rich onyx and agate, the Minerva d’Orsay perhaps best represents the hybrid aesthetic the Fondazione Roma wants to showcase in this its first exhibition in a newly dedicated space at the Palazzo Sciarra. Originally dating from the Hadrian Era (117-138 C.E.), the Minerva d’Orsay was meticulously reconstructed according to the refined sensibilities of English and French tourists in Rome. She exemplifies the unique blend of purity and sumptuousness that was the standard of eighteenth-century aristocratic taste. The developing science of archeology helped saturate a market of ruins-turned-domestic-treasures that artisans in turn viewed as much an opportunity for creativity as restoration. A large vase of Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778) composed of fragments dating from various periods is a fine example of the pastiche approach to restoration. It is not entirely clear if Piranesi passed these items off as originals or reproductions, but they brought in a pretty penny just the same.
Literature

How to Become a Word: A Review of Shelley Jackson’s Novel SKIN

Since I am not a word, but am curious about the experience of being a word, I asked author Shelley Jackson if I could photograph some of her words from the novel SKIN. She agreed and gave me the email addresses for the following words: the internal food table, lungs lineaments law, across mouthpiece. Remember? The novel SKIN exists in tattoos. In order to read the novel, one has to participate in the text by applying to become a word, and if you get chosen, the word must be inked on your skin in book font. Once the author receives a photograph proving the word is tattooed on your skin along with the signed disclaimer stating that you will never share the story with anyone else who is not a word, only then can you read the coveted story.
Architecture | Urban Design

Lapidary Discourse: A Sound Play

When I was in Venice last year for the Biennale of Architecture, I was very fortunate to have the following conversation with Danish “superstarchitect” Jefe Anglesdottir (JA) and public intellectual Colin Dribbles (CD), secretary emeritus of the British Society for the Promotion of Bad Writing about Venice (BSPBWV). A generous grant from that august society paid for three Camparis (one without soda, as explained below) and an afternoon’s shoe leather and conversation.
Music

London Sinfonietta play Reich and Adès, Royal Festival Hall

This is the first of a series of London Sinfonietta concerts to be guest conducted by Adès over the next month, including touring performances outside London where his piano concerto In Seven Days is coupled with a different Reich piece, Music for 18 Musicians. It was less than 18 months ago that the Sinfonietta performed that work at the Southbank Centre with a live relay open to all in the foyer, which proved very popular; rather than have to match that performance, I think they have made a canny programming choice by enticing some of the potential new audience gained by that concert with a less famous piece by the same composer. The combination of two Biblically-inspired pieces in this concert is also arguably a more interesting and appropriate pairing.
Film

State of Siege, a New Documentary on Sydney’s Destruction

Having spent the afternoon before this one-off screening at the Nicholson Museum of ancient art, in their new re-presentation of their Egyptian collection through the eyes of Herodotus, I came across this quotation: "Cheops brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labour as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labour to build the track along which the blocks were hauled — a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself. "The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren [his successor], so great is their hatred of them; They call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who at that time fed his flocks in the neighbourhood." Will we still despise the New South Wales government in 2000 years? It doesn't seem so very far fetched. At least Cheops had a sort of vision, the pyramids have a certain stark beauty of their own and they draw many wealthy tourists. The eagerness to destroy and thugishness of the current NSW government is extreme and is it really so much worse to steal people's labor than their homes? For that's what we witness in this new documentary. As the environmentalist, bushwalker and businessman Dick Smith points out in his interview, rezoning a person's land is tantamount to stealing it because they will have no choice but to sell to the developer who puts up two ugly apartment blocks on either side of them. After food and water (and nowadays we are forced to add) clean air, shelter is the most basic human need. Interfering with people's homes thus pokes even deeper into the human psyche than the layer where Freud put his conception of the libido. The lower levels of government (state, province, local) affect our lives directly in a way the feds cannot. The wonder is that many in NSW aren't angrier.

Architecture | Urban Design

A Better Barangaroo (Updated)

In this town called Sydney there is this crazy idea that wrecking a beautiful city in the name of economic growth somehow makes the city big time, that slippery oxymoron, a 'global' city. Instead of building places which promote beauty, sustainability and public participation we get the kind of 'built profit' which is too witless to even be kitsch. It's the Australian Ugliness on steroids, everywhere, as charmless and unimaginative as it is profitable. Even the greediest New York developer would never expect to build a forty five storey hotel in the East River, let alone the Hudson, and yet exactly such a monstrosity has been approved for construction in Sydney Harbour, at Barangaroo, the ne plus ultra of Sydney urban planning disasters. Now a group of over fifty eminent Sydney architects, planners and academics has produced an alternative design for the site.

Music

Ray Chen, Peter Oundjian and the Sydney Symphony

It can sometimes seem like a scalping to play an opera overture as a concert piece, but Maestro Oundjian's apparent delight in Berlioz' music overcame any such qualms. They played the piece as if it were self-contained with a closer-than-usual study and without the anticipation or apprehension of the visual elements of theatre. It can be nice to hear an overture without the distraction of a rising curtain. It also served nicely as a relatively lighter prelude to the Brahms and Tchaikovsky. The precise stops and timing of the silences were very satisfying (and provided an interesting test of the hall's acoustical decay time — the sound taking about 3 seconds to decay but fairly evenly across the pitches). The Sydney Symphony brought across the vivid orchestration as effortlessly as singing.

Architecture | Urban Design

Tangled in Webs

For a long time I was afraid of spiders. My arachnophobia was only cured by moving to a Sydney, a place where some spiders can actually kill you. With the potential of an evil looking funnel web spider under the refrigerator, it seemed silly to recoil at a daddy longlegs. At this time of year — mid-late summer — nonlethal arachnids begin to dominate the bush. With a copious supply of rain earlier this summer, the spiders got an early start. Going down to pick up the paper in the morning means coming back with a web across your face; the same encounter on a bike ride or run is even more unpleasant, especially if you end up eye to eyes with the angry arachnid and its demi-deliquescent protein breakfast. It is one of those moments when you wish nature spoke English — “I’m sorry, but it’s not like wrecking your web gave me any pleasure...”. As the summer progresses we adjust to one another, or they to us; the smarter spiders learn to build their webs up high, with the greatest eight-legged engineers weaving the lowest edges of their webs just above the head of the tallest human.

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