The good news is that the Australia Council for the Arts has announced plans to build a new Australian pavilion in Venice, the bad news is that it plans to choose a design based on an invited competition. This is an invitation to mediocrity, which is coming out of our ears at the moment. A new biennale pavilion would seem to be the ideal excuse for a big public competition, which in my opinion should be open to artists as well as architects. As a brief, a biennale pavilion is not exactly the Large Hadron Collider. Australia was lucky to score one of the last sites left in the Giardini, and what gets built there ought to be be surprising, delightful and provocative. Australians love their sheds, and an open competition would be an opportunity to build the Ur-Shed, the mother shed, as it were. If you agree, then please sign the petition set up by OpenHAUS.
What follows are highly subjective opinions about the highly subjective subject of bicycles.
The Australian landscape seems to require photography. The question of who, how, where, how often and why thankfully remains open, at least among the eighteen photographers included in Photography and Place at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Australia, so conflicted about cities, is one of the most urbanized societies on earth, a situation which makes the looming question of the landscape all the more urgent. Wilderness will aways dominate the continent, never allowing settlements to be interspersed as they are in the United States or Europe. The land provokes sentimentality, poetry and bitterness. In the heart of the cities which cling to the coastal fringe, it can seem another universe until a dust storm, fire, flood or the daily violence of the sunlight reminds us of nature’s nonnegotiable and indifferent presence.
Sydney Open is one of the best things you can do in this town. Organized by the Historic Houses Trust every two years, the event allows access to more than fifty important Sydney buildings, many of them normally off limits to the public. A City Pass allowed access to dozens of building in downtown Sydney, as well as properties run by the Trust, which are well worth visiting at any time of year. I purchased a City Pass and planned my route carefully, like a marathon runner at a free buffet, to take in as much as possible, from sandstone Georgian to High Tech and beyond. The buildings covered virtually every period of Sydney’s post-1788 history, and present a golden opportunity for a cheap and cheerful romp through the history of the city’s architecture.
Three weeks after deposing Kevin Rudd, as though ticking off another item on her to-do list, Julia Gillard called a federal election (one of only three winter federal elections in Australian history). I can’t summon the heart to give much of an account of the five week campaign which followed, especially since the twist in the story only came once the votes began to be counted. You really had to be here. The campaign was truly godawful, a complete extinguishing of the hope which had seen Kevin07 elected three years before. Both major parties pandered to the same focus groups in the same few marginal electorates. They peddled small bore middle class welfare and indulged trumped-up fear; they blandly appealed to the most disgracefully narrow-minded tendencies in the darkest marginal corners of the Australian electorate, the people who fear their leaf blowers will not be powerful enough to defend their McMansions against Taliban invasion. It was easy to to believe that the entire country had become, as one correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, a Boganocracy.
For a White House in need of a few moment’s levity, recent events in Australian politics might have provided an opportunity for a bit of fun. A meeting was planned between the Australian prime minister and President Obama after the G20 meeting in Canada next week. A supreme prank could have been devised whereby the president’s aides agreed not to mention Australia and somehow deprived their boss of any news thereof, surely not too difficult with more pressing business at hand. On the day of the meeting, the Oval Office door would have opened and instead of his good mate Kevin Rudd, in would walk a smiling redhead, Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Alas this prank will never come to pass. Obama thankfully seeks out his own news, and in any case after this week of extraordinary upheaval in Australian politics, the newly sworn in Prime Minister Gillard is far too busy to travel overseas.
To disparage Canberra is every non-Canberran Australian's birthright. To many Sydneysiders and Melburnians, the bush capital, seemingly custom built for cars and the public servants they contain, is not a proper city. As with Washington, what goes on there has not helped the city's image and "Canberra" has become shorthand both for government, and for the kind of self-referential political sausage-making which thwarts true progress. During my visits to 'our nation's capital' I've often wondered if the city was the result of a scaling error; there is a weird discrepancy between what your brain envisages when looking at a map of the city and reality. All those circles which one might imagine to be urban boulevards turn out to be dusty suburban streets, their radii too large to be perceived, yet just curved enough to get the visitor well lost.