On Tuesday I joined the excited crowds at the newly opened NGV summer blockbuster show – ‘Escher vs Nendo’. Nendo are a Japanese interior design practice, and they had devised the thoughtful exhibition spaces within which Escher’s intricate small prints were expertly displayed.
The Escher prints were delightful – I’ve never seen so many of them together (and a great number of them were new to me). I was especially taken with the first few rooms displaying his early experiments with lithography and woodcut, including a gorgeous pair of birds (a geometric parrot and the gorgeous tiny thrush pictured), and a beautifully delicate and nuanced lithographic self-portrait (looking like quite the Fitzroy hipster!).
Escher spent a number of years in Italy – and it was these landscapes – tiny walled citadels perching on rocky hillsides and plunging coastlines (in particular the act of peering down precipitous cliffs at villages tumbling into the sea) that later shaped his strangely-angled impossible landscapes.
Pictured here are a lithograph of vertiginous Castrovalva, Abruzzi, and a woodcut of a rustic tiled hill-village cottage (which had the energy of one of Van Gogh’s churning landscapes).
Possibly my favourite image in the show was a view across the deck of a freighter at sea, all bold black verticals and beautiful cross-hatched waves which fade into the distance so subtly. Escher and his family used to enjoy travelling around the Mediterranean on working boats.
The later rooms were devoted to Escher’s more surreal images, in particular his exhaustive study of the possibilities offered up by tiled ‘tessellations’.
Images that stood out for me included his beautiful magnified study of a sparkling dew-drop on a soft crazy-paved grey oak leaf, the ‘tessellated’ Reptiles, emerging from the draughtsman’s page to crawl across his desk full of mathematical implements.
Nendo’s design got more expansive at this point in the show – with a vast hall full of three dimensional tessellations – simple house shapes transforming from black to white.
Hidden amongst them were a generous selection of Escher’s ever-more-strange tessellations – recognisable ants, butterflies, birds, fish and snakes began to morph into puzzle menageries of fantastical beasts.
The following room was set up as a disjointed metal cage/maze, black metal bars almost lining up in house shapes, but not quite. Here were Escher’s first experiments with multiple perspectives, all in the one image (I liked the simurgh on the moon pictured!).
In his final works he was attempting to represent infinity, and he worked with leading mathematicians of the time who were impressed with his efforts. His impossible waterfall is still one of my favourites.
Nendo’s installation in the final room of the exhibition was nice too – a great circular cloud of tiny black/white one-dimensional house shapes which revealed a ghostly reverse image as you circumnavigated it.
Tommy took part (reluctantly!) in his Kindergarten’s end-of-year show on Thursday. It was a less ambitious production than in years past with no requirements for the children to speak or sing, but there was plenty of dancing. Each small cluster of children (various superheroes, ‘community’ heroes, kids dressed as their mums and dads) took to the front of the stage for an energetic jump up and down to a loosely-themed song (‘I believe I can fly’ for the superheroes, ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T’ for the community, Tommy as a dad had to jig to Jimmy Barnes’ ‘Working Class Man’!). As usual, the set was the best bit – a big painted cardboard cityscape, complete with three dimensional windowed cardboard skyscrapers (almost as good as Julian Opie’s similar NGV installation!).
On Friday I went to see Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s latest movie ‘Roma’. It is a love-letter to his childhood nanny (very much part of his family, she continues to live with them in her old age) and to his 1970s family neighbourhood (Roma), a genteel crumbling art deco suburb of Mexico City. In a year of political schism and civil unrest, the family weathers its own storms, the loving young nanny seemingly a pillar of calm but secretly fearful for her own future when she becomes pregnant by a callous lover. Filmed in sparkling monochrome, it was a beguiling slice of life, quietly encompassing so much (life and death and family and society) – fantastic!
Saturday was an unusually action-packed day (even for us!). First thing in the morning Maisie, Tommy and I met Rowena, Sebastian and Adrian at the station for a rumbustious journey into town where there were festivals and Christmas activities galore. Already kicking off was Fed Square’s African celebration with a stage full of young Sudanese dancers.
Round the corner was this year’s Christmas Gingerbread Village. It is Melbourne-themed with Brighton Beach scenes, a lovely Luna Park, the MCG, Flemington Race Course, and each year a couple of new creations – this year the bakers had modelled up the Children’s Hospital, and Federation Square itself. There was also a large Japanese temple (to celebrate Melbourne’s partnership with Osaka – something I wasn’t aware of!).
The children (we’d been joined by Roni, Samuel and Nathan by this point too – all together they were quite a rabble) were so excited by the hundreds of little icing figurines busily engaged in every sort of activity, and by the water features and the flashing lights. They peered over the top of the walls of the MCG to see which footie teams were playing (represented were the two teams from this year’s final of course!).
The kids had more fun at the African festival – joining in a drumming workshop, throwing balls and eating candy-floss, while I walked along the river to another festival at which I was due to play gamelan. This was the ‘World Rice Festival’, an interesting event celebrating rice-producing-nations and their associated cuisines. Sadly, it was very quiet – the only way to access it involved walking through the enticing line of African festival food stalls, so most potential visitors had got waylaid!
We played Baleganjur to ourselves (it was a picturesque location for it at least) then our unruly gang of kids came to watch the performance of Cendrawasih. I was playing gongs – always a lovely place to be! Maisie and Tommy posed with the dancers afterwards (thanks, Row, for the photo!), and made it on to the event’s twitter feed.
After playing our one tune, Maisie, Tommy and I had to rush off (such a shame as there were many tempting South-East-Asian treats on offer at the food stalls). We had tickets for another festival in St Kilda in the afternoon.
The Pleasure Garden was a one-day electronic dance music event held in Catani Gardens, one of our local beach-side parks. It was a proper music festival set-up, with several large imaginatively-decorated stages (one was a huge overgrown greenhouse), food and trinket stalls, fairground rides, quirky seating areas festooned with brightly coloured mobiles and streamers, with sofas, rocking chairs, even beds to lounge on. There were croquet and boules and board games, and a large area devoted to circus toys – hoops, poi, jugging balls and batons etc. – which anyone could play with (this was, unsurprisingly, the children’s favourite spot!).
We weren’t the only family there, but the crowd was mainly made up of 20-somethings, in all manner of sparkly scruffy hippyish garb (we spotted festival gear that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s or ‘00s – there was nothing ‘new’ as such, apart from the sophisticated facial glitter and gems!). We spotted sequinned Abba-style bodysuits, clashing African-inspired prints, sheer chiffon kimonos over bikinis, messy hair (no straighteners here!), ragged denim cut-offs and crop tops, neons, ballooning peasant dresses and big boots. An older man was sporting a homemade hat made of the disembodied head and limbs of a plastic child’s doll (like a cherubic Durga!).
Neil had researched the bands and put together our musical schedule. First up was Zambian/Australian rapper and singer Sampa the Great. She had a chilled, cheery presence, fronting up a tight band of musicians (including a saxophonist – a nice touch!) all clad in freshly-pressed white linen suits. She sang nu-soul, and did a little spoken word and on-message rapping, and got the audience joining in.
Next up were Haiku Hands, a kind of knowing electro-pop Spice Girls. Their lyrics were all girl-power and standing up for your mates, and they had a devoted following of young girls who were moshing considerately at the front! They were very entertaining – we’d definitely go see them again!
We stopped for sustenance (cheesy gözleme and chips) in a shady grove with a ‘play-me-i’m-yours’ organ – then the kids were ready for more action. We sampled the dirty bass of K+Lab which inspired Maisie and Tommy’s first dancing of the day (they are both very reticent about dancing – Maisie appears to want to, but is too shy to let herself go!). Then we found a spot at the main stage for the headliners (and the band we were there to see), rising Aussie stars Confidence Man. Their brand of trashy simple electro-pop appeals to Maisie and Tommy (it is what they request the most from Neil’s eclectic iPod playlist). Maisie, in particular, was thrilled to see them in person. She chatted about them to a gentle 20-something lad who was chilling out on the grass beside her!
The four-piece band is from Brisbane. Involved initially in the local psych-rock scene, they decided to experiment with pop as a side project, then discovered they were very good at it! They gave themselves ludicrous pseudonyms – Janet Planet and Sugarbones are the singers/dancers – and the drummer and keyboard players wear beekeeper masks (and little else). The music is fun, slightly messy ‘90s-throw-back high energy pop with silly dance routines and catchy repetitious lyrics (hence the child-appeal!). Their stage show was very entertaining with frequent costume changes and hi-jinks. The only problem was that both children wanted to be able to see everything – but this they could only do if they were on Neil’s shoulders. He was very obliging and had a very sore back the following day.
Confidence Man left the stage at 6.30pm and Neil nobly took the children home and let me stay for more fun! I made my way over to the ‘Beach Bar’ which was blasting out classy Ibiza House music (it was advertised as ‘Melbourne’s first beach bar’ – I’m not sure this was true, but it was certainly the first time I’d danced to fat beats on the Melbourne sands, watching the kite-surfers zoom past in the chilly silver sunset breeze).
A traditional early-evening festival hot chocolate revived my energy for a burst of energetic dancing to British Nigerian singer/MC Eva Lazarus. Performing on the tiny Bass Station stage (pretty much a hole in a wall, with just enough room for her to squeeze in front of a couple of DJ decks) she had great spirit and an irresistible cheeky rapport with her audience (who were, quite literally, in her face). She spun her spiky poetry over every sort of bass-heavy-beat – from dub reggae, via soca and trap, to full-on jungle and drum and bass. It was just the sort of stuff that I love to dance to.
Her set was followed by an hour of Bristol DJ Mad Professor’s classic dub reggae cuts – it was also great, but my already depleted energy reserves were exhausted (it was 9pm – very late for me these days!).
I did a circuit of the site before I left – it looked so pretty at night, with strings of coloured lights, piles of patterned orange-glowing light-boxes, flashing fairground rides, and circus performers manipulating dazzling led-studded hula hoops and pois, creating amazing patterns. The park rotunda was lit with blue ultraviolet lights, and a team of artists were painting swirling uv green/orange/yellow patterns all over a very patient bikini-clad punter!
I took Maisie and Tommy to hear some very different music on Sunday afternoon. Our local church was staging its annual Christmas Tree festival which culminates in a community carol singing session. It’s a cheerfully amateur affair, a bossy old woman directing from the piano (on which she bashes out approximate renditions of the standards).
There was a priest, but she was rather sidelined, only coming on to tell the children the Christmas story as they sat clustered round the crib. On the plus side, we did get through a lot of carols, which Tommy and Maisie were keen to hear reprised once we got home (‘O Christmas Tree’ is Tommy’s new favourite).