Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Galapagos Islands - a naturalists dream!

Pristine clear water in endless shades of blue and rugged rocks shaped by centuries of wind erosion and volcanic explosion, will be some of my lasting memories from our recent trip to Galapagos Islands.

Arriving from Australia into Baltra, the main airport of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands requires desire & fortitude – though undoubtedly its isolation is one of the main reasons that hundreds of endemic species of animals and plants still survive today. This group of 21 islands, 906km from mainland of Ecuador, and slightly north of the Equator are beautiful for their ruggedness, isolation and exceptional diversity of animal and plant life.

One of the first things we were struck by is how unconcerned that any of the animal or marine life are of the human intrusion. With the exclusion of the Giant Galapagos Tortoise, humans are relatively new to these islands, so the animals do not consider us a natural predator. This resulted in us being able to get to within a few metres of these beautiful creatures. Observing them in their natural habitat, at close range is one of the truly amazing experiences of visiting the Galapagos.

We watched the male Blue Footed Boobie bird perform his mating dance – parading his feathers in full glory whilst lifting his feet in a rhythmic movement. The vibrant blue feet of this bird is derived from the carotenoid pigments which they get through their diet. Interestingly, studies have showed that a male with more concentration of blue in their feet have a better chance of securing a mate! Another spectacular bird is the Great Frigate whose vibrant red gular sac distends during mating season in order to impress a mate - and it is seriously impressive! The array of Iguanas we saw was extensive – the large land Iguanas with a variety of colours, and the black sea swimming marine Iguanas. 

Another spectacular animal was the Galapagos Giant Tortoise – it can live up to approximately 180 years and weigh 250kgs! Once considered endangered due to the sailors capturing them for their food on board, they are once again thriving in an environment which protects them.

Galapagos Islands are inherently linked to Charles Darwin’s 1835 visit on the survey ship named “The Beagle”. His observations and drawings during his time on the island became the basis of his “Origin of the Species” book (published 1859) where he realised that transmutation of species explained the mechanism that underlies evolutionary change. The naturalists aboard our Silverseas ship were an excellent source of knowledge in this regard, and our week aboard this ship piqued our interest to gain a greater understanding of this beautiful group of islands.

The Male Great Frigate bird resting in its nest

The Red Footed Boobie Bird 

The Land Iguana

The Nazca Bird protecting its new chick 

Blue Footed Boobie Bird

Male Blue Footed Boobie performing his mating dance

Nazca Bird feeding its new chick

Flamingo Bird

Marine Iguana

Giant Galapogos Tortoise 

Sea Lions resting on San Cristobel Island

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

With thanks to artists Christo & Jeanne-Claude, we literally walked on water!!

Exceptional creativity is always such a thrill to experience first hand, and yesterday at Lake Iseo, we literally walked on water for 3 kilometres thanks to the genius of artists Christo & his late wife Jeanne-Claude.

For the past 16days, over 1.2 million people have experienced this temporary 'Floating Piers' art installation on beautiful Lake Iseo in northern Italy. The installation, a vibrant gold fabric covered pier that extended 3 kilometres across the lake and a further 2.5kms of walk paths through the small towns surrounding the lake was as incredible as it sounds. The 200,000 high density polyethylene cubes undulated with the movement of the lake's water beneath as people ran, jumped and played on its surface. Walking on water upended one's perspective and was fabulously exciting!

Such an amazing feat was first conceived in the minds of Christo & Jeanne-Claude in 1970 but it wasn't until 2 years ago, that Christo found his inspired location and this (clever!) Italian community agreed to host the event, that began to take shape. We were fascinated by the logistics that went into realising such an endeavor - it was literally a golden path across the water - no barricades to prevent children falling in (though authorities constantly patrolled in zodiacs for safety), and it held the weight of tens of thousands of people at any one time. Water lapped the edges, sailing boats traversed the lake and helicopters flew overhead as people lay on its surface enjoying something so incredibly special. Commercial divers from France had installed the highly engineered underwater anchors to hold the 200,000 cubes in place and 100,000 square meters of fabric was sewn together to form the intensely golden path that made it such a visual feast.

I loved the accessibility of this creation - Christo funded the entire event himself - he takes no money for his work, no sponsorship, all workers were paid and entry to experience it was absolutely free. He also funded all the additional services the small towns needed to deal with an influx of 1.2 million people over such a short period. 

Overwhelming, the laughter of those present was intoxicating - all ages, all nationalities - everyone was enjoying art and being inspired by what such an incredible imagination can gift to a community. It was an artwork that lifts the spirit in such a positive way and will stay with me forever. Experiencing this ground breaking creativity was pure delight.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Week 5 New York Saturday 21 Nov - Saturday 28 Nov

Thanksgiving holiday week is seeped in American history - celebrating the Pilgrims first harvest in their new country, and then the more recent celebration of everything commercial with the huge Black Friday sales that follow. Being in NYC we enjoyed all of the iconic Thanksgiving traditions, old & new, with zeal!

The Macy's Parade is a tradition which began in 1924, and an estimated 3.5 million people line the parade route to enjoy it. Arriving at 7am to wait 2 hours for a parade to begin is not my idea of fun, but even arriving late, the balloons they use are so large that the floating characters are easily visible. Predictably, it was indeed a spectacle of American proportions - huge colourful items and equally huge marching bands that elicited similarly huge smiles!! We followed that with a walk through Central Park and a traditional Thanksgiving lunch at the New York Athletic Club - soaking in all the Thanksgiving tradition enmass.

The next tradition we partook in was a little more exhausting and one we do not need to repeat for some time. The Black Friday sales, the day immediately after Thanksgiving are bigger than the Macy's parade and it certainly felt like more than 3.5million people were in attendance when we visited Woodbury Common. About one hour from NYC by bus, this open air shopping complex holds all the usual mid to high end brands and was incredibly busy the day we visited. The prices are good, the environment quite pleasant, but my enthusiasm for shopping, just for the sake of it, is considerably less these days, so it was  a long day. All in all I would say the effort was worth it as we did most of our Christmas gift shopping, but it was indeed a big effort.

We saw several more plays this week, with the best being "Ugly lies the Bones" starring Mamie Gummer. Her character, a seriously injured war veteran returning from Afghanistan, desperately trying to resume life whilst dealing with crippling pain, is acted with believable determination, sensitivity and grit. The interesting title given by playwright Lindsay Ferrentino, comes from the Einstein quote "Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bones. Beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds it own". Very well written, Lindsay Ferrentino, is certainly a playwright worth following.

The construction of Brooklyn bridge to connect Manhattan & Brooklyn, was a considerable feat when it was began in 1869. 3 years later when it opened, people doubted it would be able to hold the necessary weight and feared using it. So Mr Burnum, owner of Burnum circus, took a parade of 21 elephants across it - both to prove its stability and in the process promote his circus - what a spectacle that must have been in 1874! On our walk across it during this week, there was no such spectacle but there was certainly no doubt the original construction has stood the test of time. It's iconic cable and suspension architecture was even more impressive when viewed up close.

A visit to the Frick collection is another of my favourite things to do in NYC. This magnificent 5th Ave house, designed by Thomas Hastings in 1913, holds an impressive collection of art in an intimate calm oasis that was once Henry Clay Frick's home. His intention, right from the architectural design stage of this home, was to leave the house and the extensive art collection as his legacy. We took a tour of this serene, restrained space where, to my mind, the art and the architecture hold equal billing - high praise considering the art collection consists of many priceless European artists. 

A few more Jazz nights this week - Birdland Jazz club has become 'our local', more visits to Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney kept us busy and enjoying all this fabulous city has to offer. 

Woolworth Building - completed in 1913 was one of the early New York skyscrapers and
sits at the NY side of the Brooklyn bridge 
View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge

View of Central Park from the New York Athletic Club
The beautiful serene Winter Garden in the Frick museum

Friday, November 27, 2015

New York Week 4

For a Saturday matinee, New York turned on one of the best plays we have seen here so far. Arthur Miller's "View from the Bridge" was well acted, engaged the audience with a simple and very effective stage set, and culminated in a dramatic finale where red water poured out of the ceiling drenching the actors, simulating the bloody ending. Powerful design always delivers!

Another few visits to the Whitney museum saw us decide to join as founding members - the 'members only' viewings are a wonderful way to view the exhibitions with limited audience. The current Frank Stella exhibition is a wonderful expose of his life work - it is curated in largely a evolutionary format from his first exhibition in 1959 at age 23. The work thoroughly engages through its exuberance, from the original linear largely monochromatic works to the widely energetic more recent works which literally jump off the walls. We have booked to listen to him speak personally about his work next week so are really looking forward to that as there is nothing like getting the story directly from the source.

The Whitney also contains the new "Untitled" restaurant on the ground level - we couldn't resist trying its delicious food on a few occasions. And this week they also opened the 'Thea Westreich Wagner & Ethan Wagner collection' - a donation of 800 pieces of contemporary art which definitely had one discussing the notion of appropriation and 'what defines art' - a question as old as time itself. To me, Robert Gober's "Ascending Sinks" (1985), and Dan Vo's "Late Nineteenth Century Chandelier" (2009) (shown below) are both an evolution from Duchamp's "Fountain". I realise the difference is Gerber's sinks are sculptures made to resemble the actual. Vo's chandeliers, dated when exactly removed from their original hotel placement, divorce function from historical importance, challenging the notion of context versus art. However I think both ideas "borrow" from the signed urinals Duchamp placed in a gallery - labeling them art merely because of context....to me Gober & Vo appropriate rather than invent a new idea. Maybe the intention of both artists is to challenge the notion of appropriation! Whatever the answer, the collection is worth seeing to question and debate.

The NYC Documentary festival showcased a fabulous film called "Janis Joplin - little girl blue" which uncovered new material to present her life story. The insightful interview afterwards with the Director and other pertinent people in her life delivered a sliver of the opportunities that living such a metropolis gives one. A beautiful, sensitively curated film.

On Tuesday we sat in front row seats to see Al Pacino in "China Doll". Although well acted, we were both really dissatisfied with the ending - I likened it to when you eat at "a Michelin starred restaurant and leave feeling like you would have preferred your family run local"! 

The Guggenheim has an amazing Alberto Burri collection on show - his art which largely dates to the post WW2 era looks surprisingly contemporary in the serene Guggenheim space. I also took their architectural tour, (which I have done previously but being a Frank Lloyd Wright fan you can never have too much) - and our guide told us that the space and shape was influenced by the Guggenheim's Kandinsky's paintings which FLW definitely saw in Solomon Guggenheim's living room. The gallery owns one of the largest Kandinsky collections and they are currently on show in one of the intimate side galleries - seeing them en-mass in a small space was awe inspiring.

Another Art Walking Tour of the Bushwick area was fascinating - emerging artists in an emerging area always means you will be challenged and extended - can't ask for more really! An added bonus was the incredible graffiti/mural art on the exterior of buildings as we walked from one gallery to the next in upcoming this area mix of industrial (original), residential (limited but increasing) and commercial area. I have no doubt that a return visit in even 12 months will see great changes.  

We finished week 4 with another late night visit to Birdland to watch the Django Reinhardt Jazz tribute - incredible musicians playing equally beautifully music.

Textile & Photographic (the eyes) self portrait by Korean artist Yoon Ji Seon - it is very captivating and I have returned several times to view her pieces.  She photographs herself, then transfers the photo to canvas, then spends hours at the sewing machine sewing thread over the surface, leaving only the eyes as the original photograph. The loose threads tell a story as much as the ridged material. In the process the rear becomes a reverse picture as important as the one on view - often quiet different in feeling because the opposite thread is the dominant one (the reverse of this is actually largely pink but equally as gorgeous as this one)
This Video art by Meriem Bennani at Signal gallery in Bushwick utilities various sized canvases to create a concave feeling when the video is projected onto it. The convex shape with the same video is projected onto the opposite wall and together the 2 create an interesting immersive feeling 
Graffiti/mural art in Bushwick Brooklyn

Frank Stella's Protractor series
Frank Stella's Moby Dick Series

Robert Gober's "Ascending sinks" (1985), Josphone Pryde's "Relax" (2004) & Dan Vo's "Late nineteenth century chandelier" (2009) in the current Thea Westreich Wagner & Ethan Wagner collection at Whitney museum

This photo has not been digitally altered - some nights, particularly the cold ones, the sunset colour is absolutely incredible!