Lotus and Lily

This is not what you expect to see in the Upper Yarra Valley, it looks more like a scene from South East Asia.

What was once a market garden growing cabbages has been turned into 5.6 hectares of lakes and ponds filled with waterlilies and lotus flowers surrounded by lush mainly tropical plantings. The Blue Lotus Water Garden opened in 2006 but this was my first visit beyond the retail nursery. I had no idea it was so big, or so beautiful. It proved to be a very pleasant day out with a friend who has dreams of planting her own lotus.

We arrived nice and early and had the gardens almost to ourselves. It is past peak lotus, the season lasts for the first four months of the year, but there was still much to see.

Each flower is stunning. It was easy to just wander for hours, fortunately it was quite overcast, and the humidity added to the tropical feel.

Of course there is a tribute to Monet, the largest lake bears his name.

Inside hot houses are two different species of Giant Amazon Waterlily Victoria Longwood Hybrid , the larger with leaves reaching over 2 m in diameter, and Victoria Cruziana. Flowers open for one day only, so we missed seeing the blooms, there were lots of big buds. The tightly bunched leaf uncurls into the massive circular plate. The underside is covered in sharp thorns.

The crocodile plant, Euryale xerox is an annual lily native to India, South East Asia and China.

It has very sharp spines on the top of its leaves which can grow to a metre wide. The seeds are edible and it has been cultivated, cautiously I assume, for thousands of years.

Another very old species is the Japanese Oga Lotus. Three seeds were found in an archaeological dig and were carbon dated to be about 2000 years old. Dr Ichiro Oga germinated a seed in 1951 and it bloomed the following year.

The water at the top of this photo is a pool on the top of a lotus leaf. It was churning violently so I had to stop to see what was happening. All of a sudden a fish jumped out and into the pond, then another and another. The tiny fish at the bottom of the leaf stopped briefly to have its photo taken, then it flipped a few times and in one enormous jump, made it back into the pond. These wonderful creatures make sure there are no mosquitoes bothering visitors to the lovely gardens.


Possum skin cloak

Lee Darroch is a Yorta Yorta/Mutti Mutti/Boon Wurrung artist who was commissioned by the NGV to create a possum skin cloak for their collection. Although the gallery has one of the largest collections of indigenous art, they did not have a cloak.

Lee gave a talk on Friday evening about the craft of making cloaks, once practised across the whole of south-eastern Australia. In 1999 three artists were able to view the Gunditijmara and Yorta Yorta cloaks held by the Melbourne Museum. From this close observation and by making repairs they were able to then make replicas and so begin the revival of the craft. An interesting article about the reclaiming of the practise is published by The Conversation.

The cloaks tell the story of the owner, their clan, cultural sites and family histories and are worn either side out. A baby has a one skin cloak and then this grows with the child and remains with the owner for their lifetime and becomes a burial wrapping.

This cloak has the history Yorta Yorta country incised on the skin and then coloured with ochre applied with bush glue made from tree resin. It will be displayed patterned side out on future occasions.

The possum skins now have to come from New Zealand as they are a protected species in Australia. They are much bigger and fatter having thrived in the lush bush. The story of the fur side is the three rivers of Yorta Yorta country, the Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe, shown as the silver grey fur.

The first showing of the cloak is part of the Designing Women exhibition on Level 3 of NGV International. It is displayed next to a Tiwi outfit by fashion designer Linda Jackson and batik artist Maria Josette Orsto. Made of silk batiks and twenty indigenous necklaces collected by Jackson on visits to numerous communities.

There are lots of beautiful and interesting objects made from a wide variety of materials from the NGV collection. They span the last four decades and highlight the important role women have played in design.

Escher X Nendo

The M. C. Escher exhibition at the NGV International has understandably been very popular and you have until April 7 to see it. Everyone knows the fish that become birds and the impossible staircases. These later works are fantastic and it was very interesting to see the development of these mathematical marvels, however I became engrossed in the earlier work.

Three portraits clearly showed the skill Escher had in printing and drawing. They also demonstrated the qualities of the various techniques and his experimentation with shape and form.

He used unusual viewpoints to play with perspective. It is thought he placed a mirror on the floor for the self portrait in a chair. He was an early adopter of photography and used photos and drawings back in the studio when working on the final woodcuts and lithographs.

There is a whole room of landscapes in the exhibition, each one carefully composed. The detail and patterning achieved in the woodcuts shows how well he had mastered the media. Lots of complex cutting instead of the earlier gouging. He also printed the works himself.

Citadel of Calvi, Corsica 1928 – woodcut

This was my favourite landscape. Even though it is based on seventeen drawings done when on a family tour it has an other worldly quality. There is a steady rhythm to the boats heading out to sea and the buildings marching down the quay. The tiny figures lead the eye to the path they can take up to the citadel itself and enter through the tiny door. The foreground rocks and arching trees, with branches symmetrically filling the sky have a strong Japanese feel.

Libellula (Dragonfly) 1936 – wood engraving

There is a lot to learn about print making. Wood engraving uses the end grain of the wood which can be cut in any direction allowing for more detail. The wings, abdomen, leaf and flower all show different techniques, displaying Escher’s inventiveness. It is hard to see how he made black ink shimmer giving the impression of iridescence and transparency.

The optical illusion work is well known and no less intriguing with familiarity. There was one picture that I had not seen reproduced and was, I learned when I read the description, considered by Escher to be one his most successful.

Print gallery 1956 – lithograph

It took me back to the earlier landscape works and at the same time was like being in the gallery viewing Escher’s famous images. I loved the inside/outside play, the balanced division into four quadrants and the amazing twist.

The whole experience of this exhibition is enhanced by the labyrinthian layout filled at various stages with illusions created by Oki Sato the chief designer and founder of the Japanese design studio, nendo. The idea was to create a house for Escher.

Transforming Houses, Oki Sato, nendo Tokyo 2018

The installations invite the viewer to become part of the art, to play, take pictures and create your own art. The viewing in the largest space is enhanced by the playing of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, another artist obsessed with rhythm, repetition and symmetry of a single motif.

gathered house
More than 50,000 cutout paper houses suspended on polyester thread make a huge chandelier. The inversion of colour in the centre makes a three dimensional shape that floats inside and changes appearance depending on the viewpoint.

Up close it was possible to use the light to create your own images.

Reuse challenge

The Art Quilters summer challenge was to reuse a section of old kimono. My piece had a two sided black fabric with a blue grey lining and a sliver of print in the seam. First all these fabrics were made into hexagons which were then arranged on an interesting print that worked well with the colours.

I next stitched the pathway in red sashiko. While I has happy with the new textile it needed a purpose. After much searching I found this pattern for a drawstring bag.

A piece of red silk for the lining, a few more hexagons out of old silk and some blue braid and beads and it is done.

Keeping cool

What to do in the city when it is really, really hot.

Find interesting cool places.

First up stitching and lunching with friends, a regular monthly get together.

Then to the NGV at Federation Square for the member preview of Darren Sylvester: Carve a Future, Devour Everything, Become Something.

The uber cool hyper-realism of the photos is fascinating. They are carefully staged with every element deliberately chosen and offering a commentary on life, pop culture and branding. There is also sculpture, installation, video and music in the exhibition.

Lots of highly reflective surfaces made photography difficult, but here is a little look to give you an idea of what you might see.

The end 2018 references the end titles of Universal Pictures films. The digital type C prints are of a custom made balloon and text made from wood.

Silver Lockheed 2017 is a recreation of scenes from Die Hard 2 (1990) using a model purchased from eBay with dry-ice clouds. As this plane that was to crash in the movie was also the one that did crash in the TV series Lost it felt to the artist like a death machine.

The girls in the very long photo shoot were instructed to ‘be happy all the time, and then be even happier’.

The length Darren Sylvester goes to when recreating reality is illustrated in Space Blanket 2012. Made with layers of exactly the same materials as found in an astronaut’s space suit, the domestic blanket created associations similar to a child’s safety blanket held for protection.

Just before 5.00 when the Gallery closes I headed off to ACMI where The Clock is screening for a full 24 hours on Thursdays. This video installation by Christian Marclay is created from thousands of clips of clocks, watches and other references to time from film and television. This is a mesmerising collage that had the downstairs cinema packed. The free screening is on until 11 March and I hope to go back and see another time of day. If you have a spare hour or so it is worth seeing some of it, the helpful ushers guide you to a seat as it is always dark.

It is synced to present time so while watching you know what the time is, allowing me to leave just in time to meet up with family for dinner and a concert.

Final coolness for the day was Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and the MSO playing Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein and the Wynton Marsalis Symphony No 4 The Jungle.

That is over 100 musicians on stage at Hamer Hall. Marsalis is just behind the trombonist in the centre. Behind him is MSO oboist Ann Blackburn who played the most amazing solos during the symphony. It was fun watching the percussionists getting their 10,000 steps going back and forth to the various instruments. The final piece was very percussive, every instrument including violins had moments when it was about the rhythm rather than tune. They all seemed to be having a really good time, especially the double bass, who were really getting into the jazz.

Two months later

In December, on the longest day, the vegetable garden beds were planted and growing well. Now that the end of summer is around the corner I thought it time to update their status.

The corn is not quite elephant eye high, but is nearly ready for picking. Bush beans have provided quite a few meals and are still producing. The first crop of lettuce is finished, after providing enough leaves for two salads everyday. A new lot of seedlings have gone in, this time with some rocket as well.

Peppers and chilli are still going strong, with modest harvesting from all plants. Spinach was a total failure, only one picking and they went to seed. Zucchini on the other hand have produced a very big crop. It has been hard to keep up. My favourite recipe has been a simple ribbon zucchini salad with lemon juice and pepper. Nothing quite like fresh picked and raw.

I suspect the greedy zucchini have bullied the tomatoes, as they have not done at all well. Next summer these gross feeders will be banished to a bed on their own. The tomato plants have grown, they have flowered but not really fruited. One Tigerella only, two Siberian and a handful of yellow and red Tumbling Tom. There are some forming on the Siberian but I fear they may be too late to come to anything.

Best of all the strawberries have been fruiting steadily all summer and sending out lots of runners too, so I will have to find a new container for the babies.

A pleasant Sunday afternoon

Heidi Museum of Modern Art is holding a rather special exhibition of the life work of Mirka Mora appropriately called Pas de Deux – Drawings and Dolls. The exhibition closes on 24 March. It occupies most of the Heide III space and is a sheer delight full of dolls, drawings, paintings and other works.

I was very fortunate when a teacher of a rather challenging Grade 5 class to have weekly sessions with Mirka where we painted and stitched dolls. She charmed all the children and it was the highlight of the year for all of us. The host of dolls of all kinds was a great reminder of her captivating presence.

In one room there is a slide show spanning her life, first in Paris and then in Melbourne. The children she drew with basin hair cuts and rompers look very much like Mirka as a child.

Heaps of sketchbooks show the development of ideas over time. I found pages of background variations and exercises with comments really interesting. Sketching must have been a daily practice, nearly every page had a date and location – a good habit to follow.

Framed works were mainly pastel, ink and charcoal. This rather grumpy koala was hard to resist.

Koala 1972 charcoal and pastel on paper

There are some stitched pieces too. Showing Mirka was as skilled with the needle as she was with pen and brush.

My little creature would have been one of the hundreds on the wall in the space dedicated to viewer creations, but it came home with me.

Also at Heidi is the original farmhouse where John and Sunday Reed hosted many artists including Mirka Mora. I loved the tiles above the stove painted by Mary Boyd for the 1954 renovation.