Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Gaudi's Barcelona Part II: La Sagrada Familia

I wrote recently about travelling to Barcelona earlier this year and experiencing the fascinating interior of the Casa Battlo. What really blew me away, though, was Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia. Construction started on The Holy Family Cathedral in 1882, and completion is estimated for 2028, at the earliest. Why has it taken so long? Gaudi is said to have remarked, "My client is not in a hurry."

La Sagrada Familia, still under construction after 130 years

Following Gaudi's death in 1926 (he died after being hit by a tram at the age of 73), several other architects and their teams have continued work on the cathedral. To some extent this has been educated guesswork on what Gaudi's original intentions were, since many of the original plans and models were destroyed during the devastating Spanish civil war of the 1930s. The remaining models reveal Gaudi's remarkable way of translating intuitive forms into architectural realities. The architect reportedly disliked working from complex mathematical formuals, and so he devised intricate models to evaluate the weight-bearing capacity of his designs. The model below shows the hyperbolic curves of the nave ceiling upside down, with the load each curve will bear hanging as a proportionate weight below. Beneath the model is a mirror, reflecting the ceiling right side up.

A string model of the cathedral's hyperbolic ceilings hangs upside down to determine weight-bearing capacity

Architects use 3D printed models to extrapolate plans from what remains of Gaudi's original designs

The original design of the cathedral used traditional Gothic parabolic curves to connect the pillars to the ceiling, which evolved through a series of models into the final plan: a forest of unprecedented hyperbolic curves branching out like a canopy atop richly hued marble pillars in shades of natural pinks, greys and white.

Three models show the progression of the structure from parabolic curves to lightweight hyperbolic arches

Stepping into the cathedral's enormous interior is a sublime experience: there is an airiness and warmth to the botanically derived forms, and yet the solidity and reverence of medieval cathedrals also permeates the space. The stained glass windows are free from representational images, instead vividly suggesting notions of grace, faith and awe through abstracted shapes and colour combinations.

Grand pillars branch out in a canopy of hyperbolic arches

The hyperbolic arches result in unusual chimneys into the ceiling

The stained glass windows use blocks of colour rather than representational depictions to evoke spirituality

The exterior is highly symbolic, and ornamented with abandon. Contrasting sharply with the muted, abstracted serenity of the interior, from the outside the building is astonishingly gaudy, and overtly metaphorical in its representational imagery. The cathedral has three representational facades and will have 18 spires, representing the twelve apostles, the four evangelists, Mary and Jesus. When completed, the spires will make La Sagrada Familia the tallest church in the world. Eight spires have been completed so far, and feature strange and heavily ornate symbols decorated in brightly coloured mosaics: snails and frogs, and fruit.

The exterior is densely populated with unusual gargoyles

Two of the facades are complete: the passion facade, depicting Christ's death through angular, emaciated figures; and the nativity facade, decorated with such a heaving mass of carved figures of humans and animals that from afar it appears to be covered in barnacles. The unfinished glory facade will contain representations of the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues, along with prayers written in a number of languages in boldly coloured mosaics.

The Passion Facade

The Nativity Facade

The cathedral was consecrated as a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  

Monday, 28 January 2013

Precious Pendants Photos

In my recent frenzy of making kokedama, I wrote about my Madeleine and Petit Madeleine series of pendants and objects, and mentioned the Precious Pendants exhibition. Hard to believe it was already three years ago!

Precious Pendants was an exhibition of pendants by 40 Australian contemporary jewellers held at Object Gallery, Sydney from November 2009 - January 2010. Images of the exhibition installation and individual works can still be viewed on the Precious Pendants blog (click on the slideshows to enlarge images). 

The pendants were exhibited hanging from asymmetrically placed circles on orange walls in the Project Space upstairs gallery of Object. 

My Petit Madeleine locket

Images from Object Gallery

I was lucky to be able to keep a rather large memento of the exhibition, which I still keep on the wall of my studio. (It's easy to spot - the image is much larger than the piece!) 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Once More with Love and the Sustainable Living Festival

It's almost time for Melbourne's annual Sustainable Living Festival! This year Northcity4 are getting involved, presenting Once More with Love, a not-for-profit travelling contemporary jewellery exhibition exploring concepts of sustainability, recycling and ethical production.

Inspired by the American collective Ethical Metalsmiths, Once More with Love is the brainchild of Suse Scholem and Simon Cottrell. The project reuses over 30kg of unwanted jewellery donated by the Australian public, reworked with love by twenty-one contemporary jewellers.

Once More with Love opens Saturday 16 February with a conversation forum from 1-5pm (entry $10, register here), followed by the exhibition opening at 5pm. There will also be a Weekend Workshop 23-24 February ($95, bookings essential). Focusing on sustainability awareness and skills sharing, the weekend will give members of the public an opportunity to explore creative practices in a hands-on workshop. Each participant will create a new piece of jewellery from recycled unwanted jewellery. The workshop will be run by jewellery artists Emma Grace and Suse Scholem.

The exhibition runs until 2 March. More information about the project and artists can be found on the Once More with Love website.

Once More with Love is part of this year's Sustainable Living Festival, always one of my favourite events on the Melbourne calendar.

The festival runs from 9-24 February with the Big Weekend at Fed Square 15-17 February. There are lots of interesting workshops, talks and events on this year's program, like Building Earth Shelters, Fix it!, How to Build a Raingarden, and Espaliering Heritage Fruit Trees. In previous years I've gone along to some excellent workshops on sourdough bread making and cheese making. (Both of the ones I did were held at the Port Phlip Eco Centre, who know how to put on a great workshop! This year they're hosting a Building a Nesting Box workshop for SLF, and they do occasionally run other workshops throughout the year. This year's SLF cheese making workshops are run by Magic Meadow.)

Speaking of interesting talks and workshops, writer and philosopher Alain de Botton's The School of Life has come to Melbourne for the summer... Events, conversations, and "good ideas for everyday life" start tomorrow, 26 January.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Gaudi's Barcelona: Casa Battlo

During my travels early last year I spent a few days in Barcelona, and was blown away by the elegance of some of the many buildings designed by Spain's icon of Modernisme architecture, Antoni Gaudi. The flowing organic lines and colourful three-dimensional mosaics of Gaudi's unique architectural style pepper the Barcelona cityscape, every Gaudi looking unmistakably Gaudi.

Although the word gaudy does not in fact originate from Gaudi, his highly decorated, Baroque-esque style often fits that description, particularly looking at many of the decorative facades. The exterior of Casa Battlo (pronounced Baiyo, below) resembles a giant fossil, with its bone-like columns and soft corners. 

Its roof is tiled to resemble a dragon's back, and a rooftop patio features a bulbous, human-scale four-armed cross decorated in mosaic tiles representing the holy trinity. The building was commissioned as a home for Josep Battlo i Casanovas in 1904, and evidently Gaudi quit the project when Battlo's wife refused him total creative freedom to erect a statue of the virgin Mary on the roof. 

Dragon spine and four-armed cross atop Casa Battlo

However gaudy and overdecorated the exteriors may appear, I found the interior architecture stunning its simplicity and elegance. It's difficult to find a straight line inside or outside Casa Battlo, but inside the soft curves and warm, muted tones flow gracefully from one room to the next, blurring the transition from window to wall, ceiling to light fixture, furniture to open space.

 fireplace at Casa Battlo

interior window leading to another room

The highest of five floors is designed as the interior of the dragon who occupies the roof

Twin chairs designed by Gaudi for Casa Battlo

Gaudi designed much of the furniture for his buildings as well, and Casa Battlo's plans included hexagonal floor tiles impressed with fossil-like patterns in keeping with the underwater feeling of the exterior. The tiles were never used here, but were eventually installed in a different project (the Casa Mila) and later to pave the footpath of the nearby Passeig de Gracia.

Gaudi's marine-inspired hexagonal tiles paving the Passeig de Gracia 

Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece is La Sagrada Familia, The Holy Family, the interior of which rivals the beauty and aura of reverence of cathedrals of a different age, when religious architecture was the height of architectural innovation and grandeur. That's going to require another post... 

Monday, 21 January 2013

A Weekend in Sydney: Francis Bacon and Double Take

Over the holidays I also spent a bit of time in Sydney and had the chance to see the Art Gallery of NSW's current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Five Decades. This retrospective is the first major exhibition of Bacon's work in Australia, and it is well worth traveling to Sydney to see. I had never had the opportunity to see Bacon's work in person, and found myself standing at length in front of several of the works. If you won't be in Sydney before the exhibition closes on 24 February, you can at least see a slideshow of several paintings online

On the recommendation of a friend I also visited White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, a collection of contemporary Chinese art from the 21st century. The current exhibition is the mesmerizing third anniversary show Double Take, showcasing a beguiling selection of works from the collection. 

If you can get to Sydney before 3 February, go see this show! Through superb craftsmanship and unexpected materials the artists in Double Take achieve tricky trompe l'oeil effects in sculpture and installation. Mongolian artist Gao Rong embroiders perfect replicas of the mundane details of everyday city life in her sculptures Station, a meticulously embroidered bus timetable, and Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village, a perfect embroidered replica of the entryway of the apartment building she lived in as a student.

Over a period of years, sculptor Shi Jindian has dismantled a motorbike and Jeep, overlaying each individual part in lace-like lines traced in fine coloured steel wire. The original parts are later removed or destroyed and the traced outlines of form re-assembled into the most delicate and weightless shadow of the original.

Liao Chien-Chung has also recreated a motorcycle - his is a replica Harley Davidson, long an object of desire and fascination. Realising he couldn't afford to own his childhood dream, the artist decided to build his own Harley - with bicycle pedals. The exhibition includes the pedal-powered motorcycle and a video of the artist riding around the countryside.

Gao Feng's surreal suitcase helicopters fly whimsically over the gallery' stairwell, while the work of Ye Sen and Ah Leon call for a triple take, so deceptive are they in their simplicity. Ye Sen's sculpture is of a log cut in half and connected with several lengths of heavy steel chain - or so it seems, until on closer inspection you realise the entire sculpture, chain and all, is carved from a single log, the chain links carved with the assistance of master wood carvers. Ah Leon (Chen Ching-Liang)'s Memories of Elementary School is a simple aged and splintered wooden school desk and chair - except that they are not made of wood at all, but trompe l'oeil ceramic.

Li Hongbo offers more of his intriguing paper sculptures, using the same honeycomb-folded paper technique of his Ocean of Flowers, which I wrote about earlier during the 2012 Sydney Bienniale. Double Take features two life-size sculptures of men, cut from solid stacks of more than 30,000 sheets of paper, strategically glued into a honeycomb pattern. One is displayed upright as a sculpture of a man, only his head toppling over to reveal the secrets he holds, while his twin is laid out on the floor, its features stretched across an entire room, unraveling.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Conduit by Mary Hackett

Studio 20/17's first exhibition of the year is The Conduit by Melbourne metalsmith Mary Hackett. The show opens on 22 January and runs until 9 February, with celebration drinks Wednesday 23 January from 6-8pm, coinciding with the 2 Danks Street art complex gala reopening.

Mary Hackett, Turnip, from Studio 20/17 exhibition media

Mary's non-functional vessels push the limits of the materials' malleability, exploring the integrity of substance and the relationship between the hand, memory and motion. Each work originates from a pipe, or conduit, and is raised and forged into something unique through the motion of the hand and the hammer.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art

Happy New Year! Did you have an excellent holiday? Me too. I spent some time in Brisbane and had the chance to visit the Seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial at GOMA, now in its 20th year. I've been to the APT once before (the previous edition), and as usual the work was captivating. 

On entering the gallery the first room you encounter is the large hall, which is filled with imposing masks, costumes and decorative arts from Papua New Guinea. I found the dancing costumes particularly intriguing: Mavetgowi (Saltwater Crocodile) (below) by the Yenchen collaborative group of Iatmul artists in Papua New Guinea is worn by means of a harness hidden beneath the crocodile's fringe of sago leaves, and is used in traditional dances telling the stories of crocodiles as ancestral beings. 

Inspired by the ceremonial masks of the Pomio people of Papua New Guinea, Damien Gulkledep's Avalau (below) draws on a tradition where the mask plays a significant role in traditional ceremonies: the brilliant underside is revealed for only a few seconds at a designated point during the dance, conferring a transcendental power. This piece was commissioned by the Queensland Art Gallery for the exhibition, but the traditional masks are destroyed following the ritual, to keep secret the spirit the mask embodies.

The wild banana, croton and tanget leaves that make up the massive skirts of these costumes contrast with the restrained palette of the masks. These costumes entitled Tabuan Kamut Mut by Bruno Akau and Alfred Sapu of the Arawe people of Papua New Guinea are as imposing in the gallery as you could imagine them being in a traditional ceremony.

These incredible masks are towering bark-cloth creations that sit over the face and atop the head in a ceremonial dance of the feminine. The men who wear these mandas masks are believed to take on feminine identities for the duration of the ceremony. The title of the work, Guaramgi nimenenga, is translated as Male and Female Spires. Guaramgi refers to the two outer spires of the mask in the foreground, representing the female, and nimenenga is the male entity, embodied by the mask's central spire. The work is by Katnanat Elison of the Baining people of Papua New Guinea.

Melbourne-based Indonesian-Australian artist Tintin Wulia's new work in the APT is a continuation of her ongoing series using the imagery of passports to explore issues of migration, borders and identity. Eeney, Meeny, Miney, Moe is an interactive series of four claw vending game machines filled with passports of various nationalities. The viewer is invited to play the game and try to win a passport from one of the machines. Like the efforts of many would-be migrants, it is a game that cannot be won.

Tiffany Chung's sprawling table of marching animals was commissioned by the artist and completed by an unnamed glass artisan of her hometown Ho Chi Minh City. roaming with the dawn - snow drifts, rain falls, desert wind blows is a sweeping wave of mass migration that questions the safety of an environment of rapid change and uncertainty, yet it is made up of delightfully detailed individuals, each unique.  

Takahiro Iwasaki's meticulously detailed Reflection Model (Perfect Bliss) is a perfect reflected copy of the Japanese Hoo-do (Phoenix Pavilion), part of the Byodo-in Temple near Kyoto. The model miniaturises the temple in Japanese cyprus (hinoki), a traditional building material. There is no seam between the model and its "reflection", questioning the borders between reality and illusion.

I couldn't help bringing a jeweller's perspective and likening this last work to mammoth neckpieces, but in fact artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey is capturing the essence of traditional woven narbong hanging vessels of the Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) country of her mother. Made of recycled mattress springs, chicken wire, and other cast-off steel and iron, these huge reinterpretations of traditionally crafted string bags celebrate the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people, retaining to the beauty of these traditional designs through the use of unexpected detritus materials.

The Asia-Pacific Triennial is on at GOMA (the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane) until 14 April 2013. Many of the works, or details of works, can be seen online, but if you're anywhere near Brisbane, this is a must-see!