Monday, November 30, 2009

Wendy Whiteley's Garden at Lavender Bay

When I was in Sydney in September I visited the garden of Wendy Whiteley, the widow of artist Brett Whiteley. My mum had visited a year or so ago and said it was beautiful and inspiring. Wendy Whitely started making it after the death of Brett Whiteley in 1992. Here is a description of its creation by Wendy herself:
Making the garden has been kind of part of being more than just a survivor. The garden is one of the things that gives me a feeling that life's worth living, that it is worth getting through the hard nights and the lonely moments and the sadness about the past. It's about life. As is my nature, I'm obsessive about it. It was all landfill originally, for the railway line, and subsequently over 50, 60, 70 years, it was dumped, a lot of rubbish and weeds, old fridges and bits of metal and broken bottles and plastic bags full of clothes, and it was just impenetrable and quite dangerous. And I just started at one end and I've now gone right to the other end and it's still all railway land, but, you know, it's now got a garden. Bit of engineering skills have come into it too, from...must have inherited it. - Wendy Whitely on Australian Story, transcript here.

The steep slope means the garden has views across the harbour, and of the somewhat ugly modern apartment buildings. A shame they aren't glass façades that reflect the gardens and harbour.

The plantings don't have any obvious pattern about them. They seem to be have been arranged almost by instinct with attention to contrasts between height, between colours and between the textures of foliage, wood and stone.

The hillside has been terraced and pathways zig-zag down it, they are narrow and bordered by rough handrails made from wooden branches.

There are places of darkness and enclosure that contrast wiht the open views across the bay. There is a sense in these spaces of being almost entirely alone in the garden, there is virtually no traffic or other noise that you might expect in an inner city suburb.

The use of different trees that have only sparse foliage create a delicate see-through screen.

Found objects are turned into garden sculpture. One imagines each piece has some special significance, though as a casual viewer we can only speculate on what this might be. Were they items from the Whiteley family? Were they discarded into the landfill and rediscovered during the garden's construction?

Other pieces have clearly been commissioned or carefully selected for the garden. Including this standing stone with inscription that greets the visitor as they stand in front of the house and look down toward the garden. It reminds me of Little Sparta, though the inscription is perhaps less cryptic than many of Ian Hamilton Finlay's. The words are taken from the song 'Sweet Thing' by Van Morrison.

Click the photo to make it bigger and read the words.

The garden is public and most maintenance is now carried out by the council. I could never imagine a public park like this being created from th start by any council, not in Australia at any rate. It makes me think all public gardens should be like this, privately created and then made publicly accessible.

View Bosco Parrasio in a larger map

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Other people's gardens

I love this garden in Fitzroy. Raised vegie beds, beautiful blue stone, lush green leaves. Sorry the photos are from such a low vantage point but it's one thing to photograph discretely from the street and another to clamber up on the fence for a better photo op.

I confess that I love looking at other people's gardens, especially small personal gardens. Always interested to see what other people do with the small bits of nature that belong to them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekend Reading

I have been planning some new posts, but I also have the most enormous pile of marking that I have been studiously avoiding and now have to spend the whole weekend on. So just imagine me under a pile of papers with a coffee or a wine (depending on which end of the day it is) crying over split infinitives and too much wikipedia in bibliographies.

In the meantime here are some links to some things I have read recently and wanted to share.

A blog I have just discovered called Enfilade, the writer describes it as a 'Serial Newsletter for the Historians of Eighteenth Century Art & Architecture'. I really admire this blog it has a range of links and short articles that relate to various aspects of the eighteenth century. From notes on important scholars, info on fellowships, discussions of exhibitions, and so on. Intelligent, but not overly wordy. A really good academic blog, which I think is quite an achievement.

A few articles from The Art Newspaper (you can follow them on twitter now too). I particularly like this one about the 19th century Spanish Queen Isabella II knowingly pulling the wool over the eyes of Pope Pius IX and giving him a fake painting.

I also enjoyed this one about Umberto Eco as guest curator for the Louvre, his subject is 'The infinity of Lists'. I love lists and art so naturally I really like the sound of this exhibition. Now I just need some kind of instant and free travel portal to take me to Paris to see it....

Finally, a funny piece on the types of Women you encounter in the art world.

Oh and in case you are curious (which I sincerely hope you are as being curious is a most attractive quality) the photo is of the library in the Abbey of St Nilus at Grottaferrata, south east of Rome. It is still reserved primarily for the use of the monks that live there, one of whom was kind enough to show us around when I visited last year.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fitzroy Snapshot

I spotted this picturesque, ivy-covered brick chimney in Fitzroy. It rises up in the middle of the block bordered by Cremorne St and John St, between Bell and Moor St. I have done a quick search of the Victorian Heritage database and google but can't find any further information on it. I imagine it is an old factory chimney. Anyone know anything further?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Art and Architecture related events this week.

A heads up about a couple of art and architecture related events on this week. I am hoping to get to both.

Amelia Douglas
Recipient of 2009 Chancellor’s Prize for Excellence in the PhD, University of Melbourne

Pierre Huyghe and the Association of Freed Time

Pierre Huyghe is one of the most significant artists of the 21st century. His work – encompassing film, architecture, situations, installations and events – has been shown at the TATE Modern, Centre Pompidou, the Guggenheim Museum, the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and recently at the Biennale of Sydney (2008), where Huyghe transformed the Opera House into a tropical rainforest. This lecture focuses on a few of Huyghe’s major works, including A Journey That Wasn’t (2005) and Streamside Day Follies (2003) and will include clips from several of Huyghe’s works not previously exhibited in Australia, courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris.

What is at stake in the making and recording of history, and what does it mean for a contemporary artist to work as an historiographer? The contemporary French artist Pierre Huyghe is well-known for his multi-faceted works that operate in the gaps between history and story. In this lecture, Huyghe’s practice is shown to facilitate a new model of contemporary history. History as a discursive concept is pliable; its meaning shifts depending on contexts. In presenting an historiographic reading of Huyghe’s practice, this lecture reflects upon how the coalescence of story and history may be a key factor in pulling together the diverse strands of Australian and international art histories.

6.00 pm Tuesday 17 November (drinks from 5.30)
Prince Philip Theatre, Architecture Building, University of Melbourne
All Welcome

More details here


The Secret Life of the Shrine

Presenters: Prof. Bruce Scates and guests
Venue: BMW Edge Federation Square

Wednesday 18 November 5:30pm

Bruce Scates, author of A place to remember: a history of the Shrine of Remembrance, will be joined by a panel of leading historians to reveal some of the stories from the Shrine’s rich history. Guests will discuss many of the remarkable events that have taken place at the Shrine of Remembrance and reflect on the Shrine’s changing role in the community.

Bookings essential, click here for more detail.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Snapshot Thornbury - View from a Tram

A shaft of early evening sunlight is all it takes to illuminate a pedestrian suburban scene and make it beautiful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cloister Garden and Interior of San Lorenzo, Rome

I am busy scrabbling around trying to finish up a chapter on something I originally worked on in early 2006. I have been flicking through files from that time and thought I should put up some pictures I took in Rome in February, just before a conference where I gave a paper on the topic I am currently writing on. Possibly I should have been in the library instead of wandering around old churches (just like I should now be writing instead of blogging!), but the offer was there to go with a few experts on late Roman and Early Christian antiquity, so I could hardly resist.

A few facts. The church was founded on the burial place of St Lawrence, or San Lorenzo, who was famously 'grilled' to death. A topic favoured by Baroque painters who loved nothing more than a good ole grisly martyrdom. Here is in a painting by Valentin de Boulogne (1621-2, now in the Prado, Madrid). He makes it look easy.

There has been a church on the site since Constantine founded one there in the fourth century. The church was entirely rebuilt by Pope Honorius III in the 13th century to make it more suitable as a site for future coronations of eastern emperors (though shortly after Constantinople was retaken and there was no more of that!) It was restored in the 17th century by Pope Innocent X. It is one of the seven basilicas you would visit if you were to do a pilgrimage to Rome.

The nave. You can see the old granite columns that were salvaged from classical buildings are use as supports along the nave. Very common practice in Rome where so many churches, and other buildings, have bits and pieces of architecture from a huge range of eras. Something I always think of when I hear people spouting off in discussion over retaining 20th century architecture that if you can't keep a whole building there is no historical/cultural value in keeping anything any of the building. Clearly places like this demonstrate the ridiculousness of such theories. They also demonstrate that so many historical buildings struggle to 'fit' a specific historical era.

The throne, the decoration of inlaid stone and gold leaf is known as 'cosmati'. The throne would date to the 12th century, the columns seen behind would be from an ancient Roman building.

The pulpit.

The cloister garden, most large basilicas have these spaces, always worth seeking out.

Fragments of ancient inscriptions, columns and stonework set into the walls.

More columns, notice how the one closest and slightly cut out of the picture has a completely different base, a sign that the columns have been mostly salvaged from older buildings.
The garden, simple yet effective. Generally these gardens were (and are) used to grow vegetables and herbs that are used by the monks.

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