Friday 27 July 2018

Art in Albury: MAMA Knows Best

Something that's impressed me in recent years is the quality of art galleries in Australia's regional towns and cities. As someone remarked a few years ago, they seem to have taken over from churches as the spiritual hub of communities in these secular times.

Last week Narrelle and I visited Albury, a city in New South Wales on the Murray River border with Victoria. I was keen to have a look at the Murray Art Museum Albury, MAMA for short.

It's certainly an attractive building from the front, housed as it is in the former Town Hall building on Dean Street:

The interior, however, is anything but old-school, with a modern extension stretching out behind the original structure:

As for the art, there are several galleries with interesting exhibitions. On the ground floor, the main gallery houses items from MAMA's permanent collection.

One that particularly caught my eye was this untitled piece by Allan and Phil Murray, Indigenous men from the Yorta Yorta people of the region west of Albury. It's a fascinating mix of ancient craft and modern presentation:

More works from an Aboriginal creator were on display in Flyblown, a series of large framed photographs with elemental themes, the title hinting at the effect of colonisation on the original peoples of Australia.

MAMA specialises in photographic art, and one gallery displayed entries in the 2018 National Photography Prize. I was particularly taken by the work of Kieran Butler, a Mauritian-born artist who upends conventions by mashing together photos and other materials to explore identity.

The most intriguing set of photos in this gallery was created by Tully Arnot. His large images, draped and curled around the space, featured high-definition shots of the human body, augmented by artificial intelligence filling in gaps.

The most engaging exhibition at MAMA, for me, was Flagging Opinion, which had a story behind it.

For a mural project in the town of Tallangatta, artist Ashlee Laing had painted a Muslim woman in a niqab (the traditional veil which covers most of the face) bearing the pattern of an Australian flag. The owner of the building which it was painted on had then removed it, igniting an intense debate about identity.

For MAMA, Laing recreated the original piece, and paired it with a Ned Kelly figure in a helmet decorated with an Australian flag.

Speakers dotted around the room played recorded comments from members of the public about the original work. It was bold and provocative art, sparking a conversation about the Aussie identity - and stereotypes of it - that is well worth having.

If you're passing through Albury by car (or my preferred option of train), I recommend MAMA for a dose of thought-provoking art.

MAMA is located at 546 Dean Street, Albury, Australia. Free entry, find opening hours and other details at its website.

Friday 20 July 2018

Review: BNE-YVR in Air Canada Business Class

On this trip I travelled courtesy of Destination Canada, and was upgraded by Air Canada.

Last year I took the 13-hour flight from Brisbane to Vancouver aboard one of Air Canada's Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner planes, right up the front in seat 1D. This is what it was like.

The seat

As expected, there was plenty of space to move in Business Class. My seat was a pod in a central set of two, with the seat angled toward the centre of the plane.

The seat was heavily cushioned though still fairly firm, and could be reconfigured to personal taste by touchscreen controls - all the way down to a lie-flat bed.

Storage space was not as generous as some versions of Business I'd experienced on other airlines, and there were no bins directly above the central seats. However, there were sufficient slots and shelves into which to load my personal belongings.

A personal comfort pack contained toiletries, an eye mask and socks, with a choice of earbuds or quality headphones within a concealed compartment.

The screen

In front of me was a large entertainment screen. Its menus were highly responsive to touch, and contained details of food and drink, as well as shopping options.

Neither the movie nor TV show selections seemed very impressive, and it was difficult to find recent cinema releases. However there were some decent viewing choices among each: cutting edge television comedy such as Atlanta for example, and popular Hollywood movies such as Logan.

Something I hadn't seen before was a Pride category under movies, with critically-acclaimed films with gay themes including Milk and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. A clever innovation was a Personal Favourites menus you could build, then click on to watch.

The eats

Lunch was the first meal of the flight, for which I chose barramundi fillet with ginger-soy glaze and bok choy, which was attractively presented and tasty. It was preceded by an excellent smoked salmon appetiser and a green salad.

Other main courses on the menu were lamb cutlets, braised chicken breast, and a vegetarian pasta. Afterward there was cheese, fruit, blueberry cheesecake, or ice cream.

Snacks were available on request during our journey, including a chicken leek pie, smoked salmon, a tuna sandwich, and hummus. No mere packet of pretzels in Business Class!

Before we landed in the Vancouver morning, we were served brunch with the choice of an omelette, Belgian waffles, or a chicken pasta.

The judgement

Air Canada's Business Class service on the Dreamliner was a comfortable, relaxing experience, providing a good way to arrive in shape on the long trans-Pacific haul. A good choice... if you can afford it.

Friday 13 July 2018

Art Barracks of Singapore

On this trip I was hosted by the Singapore Tourism Board.

On my 2015 visit to Singapore, I spent an afternoon at Gillman Barracks.

Formerly a British army camp set up in the 1930s, it's now a "contemporary arts cluster", with art galleries strewn throughout the numerous buildings remaining from its military days.

A work by Filipino artist Winner Jumalon, on display at the Yavuz Gallery in March 2015.

There's a focus on contemporary art within its galleries. Though there's plenty of international work, the complex as a whole has an emphasis on emerging Asian artists.

It's a fascinating place, both for the breadth of its contemporary art exhibits, and also for the village-like setting of the barracks.

I had a very pleasant few hours there, eating lunch at one of the onsite restaurants and wandering between galleries.

As it's a gently hilly site with plenty of tropical greenery, there's none of the drabness you might expect of a former military facility.

Instead, it's a relatively quiet corner of Singapore, which allows you to take a breather from the city's usual traffic and crowds, and reflect on art.

For opening hours and other details, visit the Gillman Barracks website.

Friday 6 July 2018

Great Exhibition of the North, UK

On my Newcastle visit I was assisted by the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.

From now to the end of September 2018, the UK's sister cities of Newcastle and Gateshead are hosting the Great Exhibition of the North.

It's a big multi-venue event showcasing art, design and innovation.

Drawing on the region’s industrial heritage, three walking trails with those themes link events and venues, including free shows.

When I visited the city last year, I walked along the Tyne’s riverside and visited key locations which are being used for the Great Exhibition.

Here's a look at a couple of them.

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is a prominent local landmark.

This imposing former flour mill [pictured left] stands over the other side of the river from Newcastle, across the Millennium Bridge [above] in Gateshead.

I had a wander through its cavernous interiors, perfectly suited to exhibiting large, bold pieces of art.

During the Great Exhibition, the Baltic will house several exhibitions connecting with its themes.

One of the most interesting is Idea of North, a multimedia exploration of local identity.

A key component will be a photo exhibition of women of northeastern England, captured across the decades (including a glimpse of the obscure 'cave rave' scene of the 1990s).

Another interesting nearby space is Sage Gateshead. Within its ultramodern facade, it presents music performances. It certainly stands out in its eye-catching building above the river:

After you've explored these venues, I suggest you step back over the Tyne to Newcastle's Broad Chare pub and support a local brewery by ordering a Wylam beer.

As a writer, I couldn't go past the Writers' Block pale ale. I recommend it. Unlikely to solve that literary affliction, but it tastes good.

For more details of the Great Exhibition of the North, see the event's website.