Review: Blade Runner 2049

Big spoilers ok? There you have been warned.

Blade Runner 2049 is like ice cream. It’s good but unnecessary. I happily lived without a second helping of BR, but since it was offered, I took it up. However, if I had been unfamiliar with ice cream, this way of presenting it would have not been such an attractive proposition.

But since I like the taste, I like the film enough. I understand what it’s about, and it fulfills most of my expectations as it is fairly faithful to my previous experiences of it. Of course these days they want to fancy up desserts a bit and this second rendition of Blade Runner does the same. The score and the silences, the lingering camera work, the slow pace, the sets, old cast members, plastic see through rain coats, the perspectives, the Pris look-alike, IMPORTANT ANIMAL SYMBOLISM, arcane technological details, repetitive advertising placements, and the gaps between the moments of action felt true to the original aesthetic, but more indulgent. Like ice cream with sprinkles, chocolate, sauce, and fruit.  Thus, the world building is haunting and dramatic, though perhaps without the darkness of the original film’s palette.

If you like, all of the above means it is more Blade Runner than Blade Runner, with the awesome speeches in the rain replaced by quiet moments in snow. Which again, is no help to anyone new to the story. Likewise the fact that familiar faces are back. Why would you care? If you care because Harrison Ford, straight up the advertising leads you to the conclusion that Ford *is* the film. This is a lie. This is an epic saga the length of forever, and Ford’s role, while useful, and just to the left of central, is not a large proportion of the story, which is about how one replicant comes to discover his humanity – ish.

So second chorus, same as the first, with less Deckard, and similar themes, plus new ones.

Speaking about Ford and sagas, in a way this film is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but with the entire plot based around an ex-stormtrooper (another guy with a number for a name) who becomes Finn (ie real) when he changes sides. Ok, BR is totally the Force Awakens, including with a side helping origin myth about a Chosen Child (Last Special Jedi Rey). Somehow, yet again, the focus of yet another film manages to be the heroic, self-sacrificing men, while the Special Women who are meant to be central are dead, or so removed from view they are literally cut off from the (real) world and most of the action. Seriously, if this is 2049, what happened to women?

A Harry Clarke illustration for Edgar Allan Poe, but also Important Horse Symbolism.

Having said all that Officer K’s awakening is interesting. He goes from mechanical acceptance of his lot to challenging everything about who he is and what he is for. Nice, a man finds his place in the world film, mainly through being forced to, by women.

K’s relationship with women offers a way to understand how he sees himself and his place. To me, this had the potential to be intriguing, but it turned out to be IMMENSELY frustrating. It is a pity that while this world is peopled with women, some in positions of authority, almost all of them get their comeuppance. How very dare they, this film seems to say. Then again, much of their agency in this plot revolves around how they are useful or valuable to men, or how they relate to motherhood. Great. Sigh.

This is something to think about in a film about identity, featuring a god like man who kills the women he creates because they can’t give birth and thus meet his corporation’s off world demand for slaves. Market forces are so uplifting eh?

In Blade Runner 2049 women & fake women are sinners, prostitutes or saints. Or dead.

Despite the obviously tacky and exploitative ways in which the film treats her, I liked K’s ‘girlfriend’ Joi. Unlike all of the other (at times naked) representations of women, she has a purpose beyond decor. She demonstrates K’s ‘unreality’ through being less real than he is, even to the point that her name for him is what her software calls all potential customers . Yet for all of her limitations she also gets to be the emotional centre for K when he couldn’t have one (I guess yay for holographic electric women feels). But at least she cared and could emote. K’s final encounter with her even if it is the advertising version, releases him.  Yes, she seems to indicate, he is real enough, even if it is only the echo of a ghost in a broken machine saying it.

Maybe the Magic Child Chosen One will save the replicants, but not in this film.

Then again, for all the dystopian whiz bangery, the plot is based on the Jesus story, including with visual imagery of a cross in the shape of the (dead) tree, sacrifices, constant talk of ‘angels’ and wise people in the know. A miraculous child is born to a unique mother, and forces greater than the child are tracking its family down. Thus, the Important Child learns to survive with a distant father and special, but absent mother. Somewhere in there, Officer K is transformed from Special K (see what I did there) to slightly less Special K as a John the Baptist figure. And Robin Wright’s Lt Joshi becomes a Pharaoh/Herod character all about killing a Magic Kid. Look,  I’m not sure if all this is meant to be sub-text, but at least to me, it wasn’t subtle. And they kept talking about a child, but the child is actually 28. They didn’t even bother to make the kid 33.

At the risk of giving more away it is also the classic Dead Mother Plot (TM), which almost every beginning creative writer tackles (including me, and all my fellow newbie writing class colleagues back in the day). According to everyone in this film, as is tradition, no other woman stacks up, and is thus murdered. Yet another sigh.

Good reviews led me to seeing the film, as well as the mini-sodes which work as a bridge between understanding what is happening between the first film and the second one.  Yet aspects of the plot felt underdone: the potential for a replicant uprising, following, you guessed it, a Chosen One. However, all this seemed like an overture to a bigger thing in the next film…which given the box office probably won’t happen.

Anyway, I appreciate K’s arc, I like what the plot does to him, a bit because I’m not really a fan of Ryan Gosling, nor for that matter Jared Leto, they seem very lauded for reasons I can’t fathom. Although, in hindsight,  the denouement for all of them, including K, is kinda obvious. If BR 2049 is Force Awakens, it is also a whodunit locked room mystery with a limited cast: it was always going to be the Professor with a candlestick in the parlour. If/when you see the film you’ll understand what I’m saying.

And yet, remember I said this was ice cream? It’s still good, even if not good for you. If you like the comfort of something familiar that features augmented production values try the new Blade Runner 2049.

K?

Advertisements
Posted in Reviews, Stuff I Like, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The zine scene

The State Library of Victoria is an architectural marvel of Melbourne, and a pretty inspiring ‘suppository of all knowledge’ to use an actual quote by a former Prime Minister. It also regularly stages exhibitions. A recent one featured zines.

Zines at the State Library of Victoria.

I am fascinated by bookmaking, book art, book ephemera, publishing, and hands on making. Despite this, I must confess zines have never been my thing . I was entirely ignorant of their existence in their hey day due to life and when I did learn of them, other things were going on.

Zine inception art

So rediscovering their whimsy, and politics, as well as the appeal of these personal, bespoke magazine projects consisting of much photocopying and short print runs is a delight. But then I am a magnet for past times that take much work for little pay off (see all my writing so far).

This is helpful.

Any who, there has been a zine scene in Melbourne for a while now. There have been festivals, exhibitions, touring shows and there is a permanent zine specialist shop in the CBD.  Thus, it is definitely still a thing and the State Library exhibit is a reintroduction.

It’s not the biggest, brashest exhibit, but it manages to convey a bit about the craft and imagination that has kept zines going, despite the internet and blogging, the rise of e-publishing, and social media. Plus, according to those in the know, it has generated some controversy, as much for what it has left out as what it contains. The zine world is as particular and partisan as any, it seems to this outsider.

~

I’ve been ill of late, which has interrupted everything from things I was going to do and see, to updating here more often.

However, briefly, I have done some stuff. I recommend the NGV Australia (Fed Square) 1930s exhibit and Transformer by Gareth Sansom, which I may get around to reviewing in more depth.

Zine art: galleries.

I also recommend popping into the Pop Up Globe to see Shakespeare. I saw Much Ado About Nothing, which was a hoot. But any of the plays now showing are worth it. I will write more on this later.

As for writing? Things are glacially slow, and I’ve missed deadlines and opportunities, but a short story published online last year is now coming out in a physical edition I had forgotten, or didn’t know, would happen. So that’s nice.

Posted in Reviews, Stuff I Like | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virtually, the past

I recently visited the Shrine of Remembrance, Victoria’s war memorial (in Melbourne) the other day. I had not been before and I decided I needed to. Mainly for the quiet, but also because of Dunkirk. Then again, a good reason is because of the news lately. So I wandered the galleries and visited the crypt and sanctuary because of these things but also for another reason. For a while now my grandfather has been on my mind and since it was recently Father’s Day in Australia it all felt timely. Not that my grandfather was Victorian. But it doesn’t matter. He was a veteran.

Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne.

This May gone my mother’s father would have been 109. His world was almost entirely different to mine, and his life seems so long ago. I recall stories of him panicking about getting home from outings before nightfall, when it was 3pm. In summer. Much later, the last years of his life were becalmed with medication for his anxiety that was also complicated by Alzheimer’s. Grandpa, I hardly knew you when you were forgetting yourself.

His legacy of worry is another reason I think about him.

Whether it was something innate, or something about his World War Two experiences that meant he never let go of the worries we can’t know, not now. Maybe I should hang on to worry, as something from him, to me?

And I think of him in his quiet dignity, his early mornings in his retirement, his loyal (and non-PC-named) dog Gyp. I can see the glass bottles of Halls Lemonade perched with me on the hot vinyl seat of his Holden over summers I stayed at my grandparents quiet bungalow opposite the decaying corner store/post office Grandma once ran. I can see in my mind’s eye even now the empty corrugated iron shed that was the train station, and taking the silver train as a tiny kid.

How school holidays seemed to extend into forever, when I stayed over. The afternoons were endless, like the dusty roads they drove along that disappeared into heat haze. Once a week, Grandma, me, and Grandpa would crowd into his cream column shift ute so he could navigate along the long pale unmade roads, turning towards the line of the dry Skilly Hills, and the towns nestled in them, for the shopping. (I say navigate because even then his sight was going. He drove more by memory and skill than by vision. Nurses, much later, never believed in his blindness, such was his flirting.)

Years later, when moved into a retirement village, Grandpa was properly diagnosed when he became confused and tried to go back to the country. His old Holden no more, he headed north, walking along the freeway. There was no other way. By then, the train had been gone maybe 20 years. Google Maps labels the old track a ‘riesling trail’ now.

He couldn’t go back, and in fact never did. A couple of years later, he died. I took an interstate bus from university to the funeral in the city he was never at home in. They played We’ll Meet Again.

…At least I think they did. It was twenty-one years ago and my memory isn’t what it was either Grandpa. Time wears the edges of the shapes of the blocks which build myths.

Building blocks of myth at the Shrine of Remembrance park. Grandpa would’ve been more interested in the trees.

My maternal grandfather, who outlived my paternal Pop by two decades, and my mother by three years, had lived and died almost a stranger. His anxiety, his Alzheimer’s Disease, progressing even when I was young, made him more intimidating to me as a small child than he deserved to be thought of. He was, in all respects, according to my memories of my mother’s stories, a kindly, if slightly unworldly, rural man with an affinity for animals. He made green things grow in dry heat and red soil.

However, I’ve found out more through the RSL Virtual Memorial. Where he enlisted, where he fought and who with. Facts and not stories, for there are no stories. Or perhaps one: a snippet about being on armed look out for sharks and crocodiles while his mates swam in New Guinea. I don’t know how I came by that story, because, for himself, he never marched nor marked ANZAC Day or any other memorial. I never heard him speak about it. But why would I? I was a kid.

By Roy Hodgkinson: WWII New Guinea. Unidentified members of the Royal Australian Artillery, 2/14th Australian Field Regiment.

The facts are these: my grandfather was a Gunner in the 2/14th Field Regiment, formed from South Australians from the 28th Battery. His regiment, the 2/14th was the only major combat unit of the 8th Division not captured by Japanese forces in New Guinea. The only one.

The perpendicular break signifies the Broken Eighth Division. 

This is more than he ever mentioned. For all I can tell under those slouch hats that’s him featured on the regiment’s own Wikipedia page.

I remember Grandpa, and suspect the entire world is traumatised. From the most basic cellular components to our complex societal and natural systems, compounded upon each other, and proliferating through generations. Perhaps Alzheimer’s was a relief after working so hard to move on. Perhaps he finally did forget?

I worry about so many burdened with the weight of sorrow and pain. There are so many tired, and angry and fearful. Whatever made my grandfather kind, today looks like it makes people mean. It leads them to clutch at straw ideologies amid terrible nightmares, when he lived the reality.

I worry that there maybe peace deals but wars don’t really end. The anger and despair that leads to violence moves elsewhere, like a virus. Survivors carry their scars and some, in turn, scar their children, who then unlearn the lessons obtained earlier, to foment more unrest. It’s physics. Actions and reactions in a closed (and broken) system.

Our devices buzz to scoop us on the latest, here, there and everywhere. And if we imagine ‘over there’ is so different, I suspect Grandpa would disagree. What did he think of Korea and Vietnam and the Middle East? What would he think now?

I don’t want to turn away from the world, troubled as it is by easy answers and the slack fallacies so many base their world views on. I fear too many forget what our freedoms are, even if they acknowledge those who fought to protect them. I mean the freedom to choose to speak or to forget, freedom to remember and still move forward, freedom to live and work and love, to serve or not, and to retire and be cared for after a long and arduous life.

In short, freedom to be. Freedom to be fearlessly kind.

Where is kindness now?

But anyway, thank you RSL. You didn’t restore to me the grandfather I loved because that’s impossible. No, you rehabilitated something of the part he played on the world stage that he himself left behind. That’s ok. This is the kind work of historians, and, being courteous, he wouldn’t have minded at all.

He understood what lest we forget meant.

Posted in Random Short Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Dunkirk, Loving Vincent (& other stories)

It might be that I’ve seen Loving Vincent and Dunkirk close together but there’s something about both of them that appeals to me as a writer. Both go back to primary sources in that they use the letters of Vincent and Theo van Gogh, and the speeches of Winston Churchill in the dialogue to effect perhaps the greatest and quietest moments of emotional resonance in each. Of course, to those familiar with these texts and speeches this works, because it merges story into history and memory. Yet neither are documentaries because narratives are constructed around these historical moments and individuals, but at times it is easy to forget.

There is more of a traditional story telling arc to Loving Vincent, and with Dunkirk, more deliberation as to the structure of the timelines – which I will call a confluence of arcs. But this means their structures are laid bare at the beginning of each film, again ensuring we see them as stories, consciously rendered aforethought.

However, in the end, Dunkirk feels less story-like than a relentless continuance of events, like the tide on that French beach, or the attacks of the unseen Germans. This effect is heightened by both the soundtrack and the lack of dialogue which lends it space for unfolding outcomes, but also urgency. It’s a film where, as in life, things keep coming at the characters, who feel like they are the ones the camera just happens to follow, at least in the first half of the film. In contrast, with Loving Vincent, Armand is tasked directly to become the main character, and while his journeys are taken reluctantly, they transform him into the relentless ‘force’ of the story. His task soon inspires his drive to solve a mystery. In Dunkirk the drive is for the soldiers to survive and escape the beach, for the sailors to rescue them, and for the pilots to do their bit to help them all.

But enough about Vincent. Let’s stick with Dunkirk and World War II. While I have mentioned history, my experience of this film is somewhat mediated by the novella The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. I knew this would be the case. As a story, I highly recommend Gallico’s work, even if the style is old-fashioned. While I’m aware of film versions I haven’t seen them and have no immediate yearning to do so such is the power of his deceptively simple telling rather than showing.

I have this copy with this cover.

So yeah, even after appreciating all the effort in presenting the history as accurately as possible, I still turn to fiction to understand Dunkirk and my reaction to it. Or, I am using Dunkirk to reassess my memory of The Snow Goose. Either way, both speak to each other through me.

They fit and reflect each other without overlapping so very much. Dunkirk has shown me France and the terror on the beach and at sea, while Snow Goose showed me the English perspective, it showed me that as relentless as war can be, nature can be more so, and as cruel and desperate as war makes people, so they can be loyal and brave.

Maybe films like this go to first experiences and memory. I came across The Snow Goose when I was perhaps 10 or so. About the same time I first saw another film and one scene in Dunkirk that returned me to it – my first fear and panic watching the sinking of the ferry in The Black Stallion. But the more I think about it, each story is about what conflict and strife and political machinations do to the young, directly and indirectly. Yes, even this horse movie, as it deliberately references the legends around Alexander the Great’s battle mount Bucephalus – yet another unknowing being co-opted into war. For a more direct example there is the film (and novel and play) War Horse, but I don’t think I could ever see this film again.

Always & forever galloping on a Mediterranean beach.

I’m formulating the idea that films (or any story) can only evoke memories of like experiences. For me it is recursive, films get me calling up old memories of   stories more than lived experiences. This is my perspective, but for others, perhaps the film will speak more directly.

Any who,  Snow Goose and Dunkirk, and even The Black Stallion are carefully orchestrated explorations of randomness – this is the big theme. People (and geese and horses) encounter each other and their lives entwine and unwind because of any and every possibility in nature, and due to human ingenuity and war, even amid their greatest fears and worse outcomes. In the end, because they are stories, this looks like destiny, because we remember the string pullers of the narrative, the writers like the three Fates of Greek myth.

These works lend me to reflect upon uncertainty principles: while looking down from the perspective of the pilot (or indeed goose) the bobbing heads in the water remind me of the random movements described in Brownian motion. Yet up close they are not so random, as each individual makes every effort to survive on shore and at sea.

As you can gather, Dunkirk has left me with converging impressions and reminders rather than a straight forward singular experience. Which is like the film. Hence, this is really a conventional review. It hardly matters though,  no one needs my say so to see this, but if you want a reminder of the intermittent chaos of war, and a lesson on how to thread disorder into a coherent form, then I do encourage a viewing.

Posted in Reviews, Stuff I Like, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Loving Vincent

The Melbourne International Film Festival is on and of everything on offer I have managed to see one film. But it was a good one: Loving Vincent at the Forum Theatre. Twas three sittings to a sell out crowd, if that indicates the interest in this. To understand this work is a stunning creative and technical achievement probably sells it a bit short. In a nutshell, it is a sustained reflection upon the life of this one artist from the perspective of those who knew him by people who clearly care about his art.

Signed, Vincent

More than one hundred professional artists produced more than 66,000 oil paintings in his style to animate this visual feast that was years in the making. I was worried it would be visually over-stimulating with the constant movement. Instead, I was entranced by the movement and colour. In addition, I found it emotionally overwhelming, capturing as it did the historical individuals van Gogh depicted in his works to give them new life through narrative.

The narrative wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t a day in the life of a tormented man or a history or biography. It was a mystery – a detective story, shifting between the full colour palette of the aftermath of van Gogh’s death, to his life, as remembered by his friends and colleagues, depicted in black and white, also unexpected. Within the self-imposed limitations of the film (only using people from his paintings as characters and only use locations he depicted) the story felt a little contrived or clumsy in the beginning. However, as the quest unfolds, I grew to appreciate how the narrative allowed Armand to develop and mature in a way that remains appropriate to his actual (real world) life.

I was excited to see it when I first heard about the undertaking and now that I have, I’m impressed by the skill of the brushwork, and the care taken to cast actors resembling the original portraits. This is important, as it was filmed first, like any movie is, and then frame by frame, illustrated in oil. Thus, the physical performances do matter. And each actor’s performance shines through, so Chris O’Dowd is clearly Chris O’Dowd, and also absolutely the character he performs, and so too with all of the actors. It was a treat to have one of the artists who worked on the film speak afterwards, and it was interesting in how he could point to the frames that were his work.

Furthermore, I appreciate the effort to work on a plot that honoured van Gogh’s complicated life and legacy without inventing his world, words and deeds. If this means this work is not a complete and sophisticated biography, then I am ok with that. Loving Vincent is like how people see his works, and how each of us with our differing perspectives see what we want to see, or are trained or educated to see. This film in oil paint, in imitation of his style, serves to make this more apparent.

From the NGV exhibit Vincent and the Four Seasons

And yet I am both puzzled and un-surprised at the negativity the mere idea of this film has inspired in some (just check the comments on the film’s Facebook page). I get that each of holds our own Platonic ideal of a life or work in our heads, but no one view is complete nor 100% correct. Personal understandings can be important, but not sacred nor immutable. So I beg people to withhold judgement until they see it for themselves. Unlike some film adaptions of historical lives, this film doesn’t ‘define’ and thus limit any single person’s idea of van Gogh. Rather, this is a text that takes the notion of many perspectives and runs with it to find this singular artist was and remains many things to different people. He was a madman, genius, tortured soul, brother, son, artist, client, victim, survivor, friend, dreamer and visionary.

His works are framed by our own perspectives

Thus, I heartily recommend people see this film and find their perspective on van Gogh at home among the artists who brought their vision of his works to the screen.

Posted in Reviews, Stuff I Like | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: It’s always got to be blood

Art can be many things, an escape, a refuge, a comforting but stimulating vision of  what is immanent and transcendent, or a reflection on the human condition, or a combination of these, or something else entirely.

For Science Week, the Science Gallery in the Frank Tate Building of the University of Melbourne opened. It’s first exhibition is BLOOD: Attract & Repel.

Lots of heart

May I say now, at the outset,  this display does what it says on the box: it is attractive (and interactive) and repellent.  The gallery has lofty aims to celebrate scientific achievements and knowledge through artistic interpretation. For this, and for basically existing, it is to be commended in these straitened times.

They say it loud but the actual gallery is not in that building #justsaying

Beyond existing, this exhibit could set the future tone for the gallery. It is creative, engaging, weird, disturbing, interesting, sobering, beautiful and macabre.

It was also a bit fun. Adventuring in the dark with a torch to see a room covered in luminol felt like I was in an episode of CSI, while another installation enabled me (and about 10,000 others) to become part of the work, using a picture of our fingerprints as pulses are taken, one at a time.

My fingerprint pulse. Another personal artistic milestone I never knew I had

But all this is just what I felt.

Making scents of blood

However, a display provided actual evidence for my reactions. It invites attendees into a zone to sniff a device that looks like a speaker, which emits the scent of blood. Software then reads the reaction to interpret it. I thought I was feeling quizzical, but science says:

Diagnosis: blue

….well the screen went blue, and that translates as sad. The scent of blood makes me sad. I am yet to decide what this means, or even if I agree. But that’s the art of science: the results won’t change, but your mind can.

Fun with Luminol

Vein of truth

I can’t talk about an exhibition on blood without thinking about recent events. I mean in Charlottesville, but I also mean in Melbourne too. Schools here were postered by local hate groups advocating, amongst other things, murder. Nazis think they know what they are talking about on race and identity, but science sees it differently. It says our blood is basically the same: as humans we are all related. Blood tells us we are but subtly different; it says we are complex and beautiful. Mosquitoes agree – they don’t care what you look like.

Mosquito art

When I hear blood and soil being chanted I think no Nazi has the right to use that phrase. Others have suffered more, and for longer, than some angry dudes upset about statues. They want to stake out a victim-hood that isn’t theirs from people who have done them no wrong. History and now art, demonstrates the truth of this in Australia, with powerful and moving displays, including about language.

Word for blood from language of the First Nations people where I grew up

However, the most striking work was one of historical documents denying the right to vote for First Nations individuals in Queensland. From a distance the blood stains look like maps, and I suppose they are. They tell us the direction and shape of the land Australia’s constitutional writers called Terra Nullius: our history of genocide, frontier wars, broken hearts, freedoms denied, and humanity unrecognised, and most of all, survival despite this.

Blood mapped discrimination 

Blood Type

Alongside the displays about how blood was used to ‘define’ ‘race’, there are also exhibits about how blood has been used to identify traits and individuals. Like here:

Repetition of identity

And here with a close up:

Try telling the blood bank this.

As you can see even from these examples, the notion of blood is laden with significance. Even if science debunks our assumptions, and can estimate our reactions, it can’t remove visceral responses.

Art using the blood of gay, trans or HIV positive men

One film about a human being injected with horse blood to foster an equine connection had me wondering if we can do the same with people. This is because right now connection seems hard to come by.

We need more heart

Whether blood ideas are used by racists, or whether blood becomes a tool of fear regarding health and society, it can unite and divide us. But this gallery shows even our differences can become complementary. In a kinetic work representing the blue blood of crabs balanced with red human blood, glass alembic-like chambers move so the two ‘bloods’ flow in response to each other.

Behold blood brothers in balance

And here is a closer look:

Transfixed by this

As this work demonstrates, even our differences can be overcome to find balance. It also symbolises what this new gallery does – finds the happy medium between art and science. It shows us we have choices. We can choose to become educated or choose to work out why we react with anger or fear. Of course, once upon a time anger and fear would have been seen as a result of an imbalance in the four humours and blood would have been let to fix it. Let’s not do that any more. Furthermore, let’s not have the need to.

 

 

Posted in Reviews, Stuff I Like | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Buddha’s Smile

If you are going to see the exquisite Hokusai showcase at the National Gallery of Victoria, or even if you aren’t, the temporary exhibit Buddha’s Smile is worth a look, and a listen. I’m not suggesting a direct link between the exhibits, by the way or even a broad, ‘let’s lump all the Asian art in together.’ For myself, I saw both Hokusai and this exhibit on different days for different reasons.

One among many faces.

The Buddha’s Smile brings together items of many different purposes, in different styles, using different media, of various ages, from recent pieces from Australia to ancient textiles and timbers from across Indonesia, India and China and beyond. Each captures something unique about Buddha and Buddhist practice.

Buddhas in all their casual majesty.

I’ve noted before, but a gallery can be an ocean of calm amid a bustling city. But calm doesn’t mean silent, nor empty. This exhibit has a sound track, and the room echoes with chanting. Rather than being a distraction away from the pieces, the sound-scape adds to the atmosphere and anchors the works to what is both a living, changing tradition, and an ancient one.

There are statues, worn by time, metal work figurines, betel items, and ceramics, along with newer interpretations of the figure of the Buddha, through painting and digital works. The one below, is quite striking:

Modern interpretation.

But my favourite bit is a hidden nook, so shadowy it seems candle-lit.

With our art we create the world.

I want to compare it to the inner sanctum, or a reliquary, and it reminded me of the 2014’s excellent Eikon: Icons of the Orthodox Christian World exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. And yet, Buddhism has its own language. Or perhaps the religious purpose of the art – its context – imbues it with significance? As in all art that is perhaps for each person to explore for themselves. But these votives and statues did seem to speak to me in ways the more modern works of this exhibit did not. Maybe it is the staging, as each communes with others?

Glowing with the calm.

Maybe it is not spirituality at all but the passage of time that lends a certain air to these artifacts. I do seem to be drawn to such things and the feelings they evoke. However, with these items, I wonder how much more powerful their effect is when located not in a gallery or museum, full of casual browsers, but in a temple or shrine, the sole focus of people who see and use them for their original purposes? As per usual I have no answers, but this time, I can see Buddha’s response: a smile.

 

 

Posted in Reviews, Stuff I Like | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment