Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An owlycat doesn't change his stripes


Nathan Coley at ACCA, Melbourne until 24th July. Photo by Pants


Just when I think Barney can shock me no more, he pulls off another feat of staggering chutzpah. You may recall my mentioning a couple of weeks ago that there was to be a by-election here in Larrikin Shire, and that Barney had put himself forward. Well, the little bugger got up, itself a minor miracle as he hasn't managed that since September 2009.

What I mean to say is that Barney has been elected to our local council. It has taken some weeks for the official announcement as there was, unsurprising, a good deal of evidence of vote rigging. I don't mean to disparage Barney's achievement, but I should mention that his only opponents were a four-year-old with a criminal record and a three-legged Jack Russell. The Jack Russell put up a valiant fight and it was collar and collar there for a while, but Barney discovered the electoral commissioner's weakness for peppermint vodka cocktails and it was pretty much all over after that.

True to his word, Barney has employed me as his assistant and, as of three weeks ago, breadline budgeting is a thing of the past. He does insist on being called Boss Hogg in company, but other than that, things are pretty much as they always were with us. And just like any other assistant to a shady underworld figure masquerading as a hypoallergenic GM hybrid household pet who has just been elected to a local authority, my job is to pretend that his long absences are easily explained and that the vast sum of money missing from council coffers is off undergoing rigorous checks and balances and will return shortly. Un petit morceau de gâteau.

So now, with my first pay cheque in more than three years in my hand, I'm cashed up but time impoverished. What to do when a couple of $K could have put me on a plane to half the places I haven't been but I'd still have to be back at my desk on Monday morning?

'I know', I thought, 'I'll travel, via the magic of a musical theatre matinée, to Petersburg at the turn of the twentieth century and I shall be wined, refined and back on the train by 6.25pm'. And so it was. And furthermore, I inveigled Ms O'Dyne to accompany me to Dr Zhivago.

This new American musical, set in Russia and spoken in BBC English, has premiered in Melbourne, Australia. That's globalisation for you. My guess is, given the scope and ambition of this show and the calibre of the people involved, that the Melbourne run is a very off-Broadway try-out.

To find out what I thought of it, you'll have to wait a week or so. It's not often these days that I get to see something ahead of six billion others, so I'd like to consider my review quite carefully.

As it happens, I do have a copy of the Boris Pasternak novel on which it's based. I'm going to read it again since I was probably sixteen when I was first swept away by this great astrakhan'n'anarchy saga.

I will say this though - if you live in Melbourne, you've got a few days and there are tickets available. I'll venture to suggest that, if you're reading this, you may well enjoy Dr Zhivago. I don't have too many readers in Brisbane, but ditto to you as the show is going there in a few week's time, again, for a very short run.

If you go by train to Melbourne from Larrikin's End, you have to sleep at the station as not even larks get up that early. However, once you're in your ancient carriage with the reassuring waft of microwaved-in-plastic pastries wending its way into the deep recesses of your undergarments, you simply relax and prepare to enjoy the fascinating sub-culture that is people who can't afford a car, even in Australia.

The matinée starts at 2pm and I'm deposited in central Melbourne at around 10.20am. My first stop is the National Gallery of Victoria. There's a new exhibition called Vienna Art and Design, featuring the work of Klimt, Schiele, Hoffmann and Loos starting on the very day of my arrival. I adore Klimt and will squander a day on him later in the year. There's not enough time now to breathe in Vienna. I stop by the NGV to buy their book on Rosalie Gascoigne, published two years ago. And now it's out of print. Charming.

Undaunted, I move on to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) to see the Nathan Coley exhibition. ACCA is a strange sort of confection in that it's hard on the outside and also hard in the middle. The phenomenon of external hardness is not particularly unusual in an art gallery. I think of the Tate Modern in London for example. Then again, The Tate Modern was conjured from an old power station that wasn't going to be anything but an old power station and the only way of cuddlifying it was to put lots of mellow, curvy things inside, which the Tate people have done remarkably well.

The ACCA was actually purpose-built to look like a wrecked nuclear submarine, which is quite a self-challenge. And some might even say a pointless one, especially given the absence of even the slightest concession to interior mellow, curvy cuddliness. The overwhelming feeling is one of going into and being inside the world's biggest toilet.

I have seen some very good things at ACCA in the past, most notably the Tacita Dean exhibition in 2009 which featured all of her best-known video works. ACCA needs an artist as substantial as Tacita Dean and works as powerful and engaging as her Palast (2004), Kodak (2006), Michael Hamburger (2007) and Merce Cunningham performs Stillness in three movements (2008) to overcome the sheer emotional iciness of the building.

Robert Nelson writes in The Age, Australia provides the ideal canvas for the Scottish artist Nathan Coley to investigate the annihilation of civic space. Well, it was hardly CSI South Bank. I'm afraid a few neons (I am so over neon) and one little razzle-dazzle church (lovely as it is to look at) and even the razzle-dazzle room (pictured above), which was rather joyous to be in all alone, is not nearly enough to dominate the chasm that is the ACCA in any meaningful way.

Ms O'Dyne and I met for lunch at Shoya Japanese Restaurant, just around the corner from Her Majesty's Theatre. If you are ever in Melbourne and you like Japanese food, go to this restaurant. I warn you though, if your knees are as 'crispy' as the tempura of your dreams, the seating is challenging. The total experience is the sweet spot where food both delicious and inexpensive meets atmosphere that is quietly spectacular and service that reminds you that humans can actually do the ask'n'receive thing without too much fuss'n'bother.

My sublime Saturday faded into distant memory when I arrived at my desk on Monday morning to find that Boss Hogg Barney had booked me for a video conference from his Dubai World base. Well, I'm afraid I have to play if I'm ever going to get that trip to Vietnam I've been craving.

So, he gets on the big screen, and he says,

'Community engagement, is that what Moonies do before they marry en masse?'