On Monday Maisie, Tommy and I tried out a new after-school singing club. As the school’s music room doubles as an after-care facility, we were all crammed awkwardly on stools in the art room. The facilitator was enthusiastic but slightly shambolic, and he explained that he was aiming for a campfire communal singing vibe. He wasn’t too adventurous with the repertoire, sticking to tunes that most people knew already (‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and a Bruno Mars track) but Maisie and Tommy enjoyed singing in a group and were quick to pick up the tunes by ear. It’s the type of activity I anticipated that we’d all enjoy at home, but my attempts always led to bitter disagreements and fights, so I gave up trying a long time ago!
On Tuesday evening Rowena and I went to see the Lebanese film ‘Capernaum’, written and directed by Nadine Labaki. Modern-day Beirut plays ‘Capernaum’ (the biblical town of chaos). A 12-year-old boy, used as slave labour by his destitute parents, flees when his 11-year-old sister is sold as a child bride. He is street-savvy and resourceful (and remarkably empathetic – how he retained this humanity in such terrible circumstances is a mystery) and finds temporary solace with a young Ethiopian refugee and her tiny son. But one day she disappears, and he is left to fend for himself and a toddler. It was a bleak and uncompromising film, but there were glimpses of humour and hope and astonishing resilience. I was worried that it could have been exploitative, but it wasn’t.
On Wednesday Tommy and I went for a cycle ride/run along the sea-front. It was a beautiful bright mild morning but there was a brisk wind blowing straight in off the sea, the tide was high and churning and chucking hard salty pellets of spray at us – it was very exciting – and we managed to successfully dodge them all! We stopped for a play at the new pirate ship, and ate a stodgy breakfast in a café with a well-maintained aquarium stocked with pink anemones and clownfish.
On Thursday I took a few hours off the chores/job searching, and popped into town to catch up on a few exhibitions. The first, held at the RMIT Design Hub, was a retrospective of the practice of New Zealand Jeweller Lisa Walker. She has spent the last 30 years exploring the question ‘what is jewellery?’, making pieces that are wearable/unwearable, precious/non-precious, skilfully/not-skilfully made etc.
It was a fun and surprising collection of stuff – necklaces were made out of old phones, skateboards, lego, driftwood, stuffed tights; of graphical assemblages of jade chips and crystals; there were also delicately rendered coppery clusters of shells and seedpods forming rings and brooches.
The main RMIT gallery was devoted to a rather obtuse high-concept show. Entitled ‘The model citizen’, the blurb talked of ‘two intersecting points: how modelling enables artists to reshape and remake the world; and how citizenship is itself crafted out of forms of selfhood and belonging that are represented to be ideal or exemplary’. Looking at the pieces, it seemed to focus on surveillance and digital profiles, with a bit of robotics and enviro-disaster thrown in. I enjoyed a reflective video piece taking the viewer on a historic walk through a pine plantation (tracing the deterioration of the land – from native forest, through mineral mining, through barren managed forestry), also a dancing robotic arm that was apparently generating patterns of colourful dots/electronic music using the ‘biological neural network of a mosquito’.
Heat-sensing cameras followed your every move round the gallery, and ‘#dataofthedead’ invited the viewer to consider their digital legacy (the starting point was the stated fact that Facebook ‘will shortly have more deceased than living users’).
For a dose of beauty and craft and history I returned to the NGV’s current exhibition of C18th Indian Paintings from the Rajput royal courts. These jewel-like images were created to glorify and mythologize the royalty – to celebrate sporting pursuits (tiger-hunting and horseback polo), grand receptions and festivals (processions of elephants, fireworks, dancing and music), religious piety (making puja, celebrating holy days) and divine connections (images weaving together exploits and characters both real and from the great Hindu epics). The distinctive style of the court painting at this time was a result of several traditions coming together – ‘a blend of formal Persian painting traditions with the colourful indigenous Indian Jain and Hindu painting styles’.
They are gorgeous things – each small canvas (? probably paper!) so intricately inscribed and bursting with glorious colours – figures (almost always in profile) are clothed in red, yellow, pink, orange embroidered and pleated silks and cottons, with opulent jewels and sheer starched muslin skirts, all set against complimentary toned backgrounds of peppermint greens and turquoises.
I particularly liked the noble chestnut horses leaping through almost abstract landscapes of vertical lines (trees) and squiggles (bushes), the wild swirls of coloured spice powders being scattered during the Holi festival, the trickling fountains of formal courtyard gardens and trees full of peacocks. The formal portraits were stunning too – every strand of beard or feather head-plume individually painted.
My final art show of the day was ‘The Theatre is Lying’ at ACCA. Five contemporary Australian artists had been commissioned by the new Macfarlane art fund, their brief to create large installation pieces which explored ‘truth and fiction, perception and abstraction, and the warping of time and space’. They were big room-sized pieces, but were rather underwhelming.
The first was a hall full of moveable reflective screens with spotlights playing over them, the second three were video works – one was a slightly interesting re-enactment of a disastrous practice raid run in the (un-forewarned) Melbourne Sheraton Hotel by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in 1983 (so badly bungled that their powers were revoked until 2004 and the Bali bombings), another was a mash-up of fake news and drone footage, exploring the motives and view-point of the drone operator.
Maisie played her second basketball match on Friday afternoon, this time at a local private school (I enjoyed having a sticky-beak – it was all very tidy and organised and well-maintained as you’d expect!). Her team were the victors again! She’d better start losing soon, otherwise she’ll get too hung up on winning! On Saturday we all went out to buy Maisie her own basketball (and a little one for Tommy too). We then spent several hours in the playground shooting hoops (the kids were tireless – and not bad, even Tommy got a few in!). Tommy went to check up on the chickens and give them a weekend snack.
It was another beautiful late summer’s day and the air stayed warm even as the light faded. I took Maisie to the evening’s concert at the Sidney Myer Bowl. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the free summer MSO concerts, which continue to be funded by a bequest from the original instigator Sidney Myer (a Russian-born 1930s department store mogul and philanthropist).
The place was jam-packed (it’s good to know the concerts are as popular now as they ever were!), arriving picnickers were having to set themselves up in areas where they could neither hear nor see the musicians, but I managed to weave my way in through to the front of the crowd and found us a good spot. We caught the last piece in a brief set played by the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, a lively if thin rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Capriccio Italian’. We then had to wait for an hour before the main concert began, but there was plenty of people-watching to be done, a generous amount of snacks and the novelty of a new gap in the teeth to explore (Maisie had lost one of her front teeth whilst eating her tea).
The programme was designed not to test anyone’s powers of concentration, it was all extracts and favourites. It was hard to get lost in the music, but the breaks and the variety suited Maisie well enough. Highlights for me were Fauré’s gorgeously bittersweet and all-too-brief Sicilienne from ‘Pelléas and Mélisande’, the soaring, if over-familiar, romantic melodies of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet suite’ (even Maisie recognised that one), and Iain Grandage’s stirring ‘Deep: A Silent Poem for Sir Douglas Mawson’ full of tingling Britten-flavoured brass harmonies and atmospheric textural flourishes (Mawson was an Antarctic explorer).
The evening’s host, a DJ from ABC Classics, introduced each piece, and kept on talking about chicken sandwiches and getting us to applaud ourselves. She also promised that we would be enjoying the concert ‘under the stars’. It got a bit cloudy, and Maisie kept asking ‘but where are the stars?’. Thankfully they appeared for the final encore, and she was satisfied!
We were back late on Saturday night, and up early on Sunday for a last (well, we reckon every trip is the last now!) summery trip to the beach. The kids were playing with their boogie boards near the beach-side mooring spot for a family’s jet-ski – and Tommy was offered a ride on it (he very sensibly said no!!).
In the afternoon we went to the final of this year’s Big Bash Cricket tournament. The finalists were the two Melbourne sides – the Renegades and the Stars – the same teams that we had watched play a month ago! Tickets only went on sale for the match 24 hours beforehand, and in that time they sold 40,000 of them!
We were sitting on the bottom level, so we actually got a glimpse of the players faces (on the rare occasion that the ball was hit in our direction). Maisie got caught up in the excitement again, Tommy was wriggly but glad to have the responsibility of a banner to wave when his team scored a 4 or a 6.
Our team (the Stars) did well in the first half, keeping the run count slow and knocking the Renegades out in every way possible (we had wickets, lbw, catches, controversial running-outs), and they were doing well when they came to bat, but suddenly imploded around 12 overs in, and lost all their players in quick succession. The Renegade supporters (the home team) got louder and louder in their excitement! Neil made us stay until the middle of the last over, in case there were any late miracles (there weren’t!).