Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Shoe Tree Madness

Its great to see things taken to an extreme, as in the 'Insane Graf' posting from a while back. In this case an extreme version of that urban phenomena around the world of tying a pair of shoes together and tossing them up to hang usually from phone wires on the street.
This example I noticed on my bike ride through the Edinburgh Gardens (N Fitzroy) on my way to the Fitzroy pool for a swim, an extreme version of the aforementioned strange practice. This shoe tree is right above a skate park, so I guess the kids using the skate bowl have something to do with it. I read something about it being a 'code' for a place that sells drugs... if that is the case one would be able to score big-time from this skate park location.
One way to get rid of unwanted shoes I suppose...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

DMZ, North and South Korea

In 2001 I travelled up to the DMZ (de-militarised zone) between North and South Korea, possibly the very last bastion of the cold war on earth. Luckily my very good friend Meredith Rowe, who I met in Seoul (we were both on visual art Asialink residencies from Australia) suggested we go up and check it out as a friend of hers from London, Matt Utber, was visiting Korea as well. So, off we went on an 'official' US Army led tour, and indeed it was an amazing experience. (These photos arent so good... scanned from 35mm slides on my home scanner)

Firstly, there are alot of these South Korean soldiers posted here and there who are in a particular Tae Kwon-do stance, a 'ready to fight' stance. They stood absoluetely motionless and had the dark aviator sun glasses on under their helmets, so kind of resembled robots with their expressionless, unmoving faces. To add to this their uniforms were immaculate, and at the bottom of thier trousers, in the cuff were sewn in ball bearings which made a loud metallic sound as they marched around the place. Apparently it keeps the trouser cuff perfectly round and just so....

Quite a few of these robo-soldiers stood exactly half way on the edge of a building, like the chap in the above photo on the right. He is watching the North Korean soldiers (dressed in more drab olive green, Chinese style military garb) who are in a building just over the demarcated border about 100 meters away. When I asked our American soldier tour leader why they stand like that he told me its because they have only a 50% chance of being hit if fired upon. Of course, silly me...

It was quite surreal to look over and see these two opposing factions, once a unified people, just stand and watch each other in mistrust and paranoia, all day every day, for the last 50 years. You can just make out a robo-soldier (click on photo to enlarge) at the very bottom left of the above photo, looking to the grey building which is the N. Korean HQ at the DMZ.

One of the amazing things at the DMZ is you are taken into the 'negotiation room' which is actually right on the border of the two countries. The table you see in this photo, with one of the robo-soldiers at the head, straddles the border, and you are free to walk around this modest-sized room, so when you are on one side of the room you are officially in S. Korea, and the other side you are in N. Korea. Again, very surreal, and no passport required either.

On this tour you are taken to several sites around the place. In the photo above you can just make out a small city in the background centre with a huge pole. This is a 'make believe' city called Punnjamon(?) in North Korea. The pole is the largest flagpole in the world (designed a bit like the Eiffel Tower) and can fly the biggest flag in the world (North Korean, of course), which due to the sheer weight of it cannot fly even in the strongest winds. It has to be taken down if it rains as it will tear under its own weight too. But the amazing thing is the city itself was built (apparently, according to our tour leader, who might be prone to a bit of US inspired propaganda too no doubt...) as a showcase city, to show how well the North Koreans are doing, so it is a city with fairly large buildings etc, but we were told nobody lives there at all. What I would give to go over there for a day.....

This photo was taken from our tour bus (we weren't allowed to get out here... no photos allowed either but I snuck one in...) of a bridge coloquially called 'the bridge of no return'. It goes over into N. Korea, and the story goes that if anyone does break away from the tour group and you run over this bridge into enemy lands you will not be allowed to come back. We were told that if anyone tried this the allied forces (US and S Korean soldiers) would fire upon you to try and stop you, but if you made it over that was your fate, you wouldnt be allowed back. This apparently happened once with a German tourist many years ago and he has never been seen again. I have my own personal story about this bridge: my mum who is American worked for the US embassy in Seoul in 1959 - '60 and for some reason was up in this area with some friends in a car, just goofing around. They got a bit lost as it was at night and started driving towards the bridge. All of a sudden huge flood lights went on and soldiers poitning guns and shouting rushed them demanding to know what they were doing. They simply said they were lost, had a big laugh about it and were pointed back in the other direction. A close call....

It's a truly amazing place, an amazing bit of history still kicking today. if you are ever in Seoul, or S Korea it is well worth the trip if you can arrange it. I truly hope Korea becomes a unified country again and this kind of thing is relegated to the history books, but until then I highly reccomend this bizzare tour.

EUR Rocks Roma

One of my strangely favourite places in Roma to visit is EUR (Esposizione Universal Roma, originally called E42), the fascist Mussolini built sector of Roma about a half hour by train from Termini Stazione (Roma).

Centro Storico, the Colloseum, Spanish Steps etc etc can get a bit overwhealming with tourists, traffic and the general hubbub of life, so a great antidote to this is a trip out to EUR which generates an eerie feeling of calm and quiet on a grandiose scale. It seems to be the antithesis of ancient Rome which tourists flock to see, something I found interesting as EUR also holds an important historical place as well, much more recent and perhaps clouded by issues of a fascist Italian government and shades of Nazi Germany and WW2. But, apart from that dark, comparitively recent history (bearing in mind there were some pretty bloody goings on in ancient Rome, the Colloseum etc), it is an amazing place to visit, architecturally speaking, and there were long stretches of me walking around, drawing, taking photos, contemplating where I didn't see another soul, as some of these photos attest.

EUR is a bright, vast, open architectural situation as most of it is built in white marble and stone, with very minimal, modernist stylings punctuated by the odd colourful, modernist mosaic... very pleasant on the eye (though many think otherwise) and senses after the barrage of ancient Roma. Comparitively it feels like a ghost town, althought there is a couple of museums and alot of people do work/live out there, but on the day I visited it seemed oddly empty and somewhat decrepit.... here's a bit of historical info:
EUR was started in 1935 by Benito Mussolini and planned to open in 1942 to celebrate twenty years of Fascism. In urban planning terms, E42 was designed to direct the expansion of the city towards the south-west, connecting it to the sea. The planned exhibition never took place due to World War II.
The most representative building of the "Fascist" style at EUR is Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (see photo at the top) (1938-1943), an iconic project which has since become known as the "Colosseo Quadrato" (Square Colosseum).
After the war, the Roman authorities found that at EUR they already had the beginnings of an out-of-town business district that other capitals did not begin planning until decades later (London Docklands and La Defense in Paris).
During the 1950s and 1960s the unfinished Fascist-era buildings were completed, and other new buildings were constructed in not dissimilar styles for use as offices and government ministries, set in large gardens and parks. Many Italians consider EUR sterile and lacking in character, but many expatriates from North America choose to live there because it is conveniently close to the old city but with newer buildings and infrastructure, is close to the main international airport, and is easily accessible by car. It is also served by Line B of the Rome Metro and Roma-Lido.

So, when in Rome...

Roma Bubbles

Here is an intruiging public work I came across whilst walking around the main Centro Storico/ Via del Corso district of Rome in May, 2007. These bubbles were installed in the top floor windows of a building which houses the Fendi shop on the ground floor. Nice work to come across amongst all the heavy, stone, ancient sculptures and historic buildings Rome is famous for. I couldnt work out who did this piece, and when I went back with some friends some 3 months later to show them they were gone, popped as it were, relegated to the history books....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Smaller Central Park

This is a photo composite work I did in NYC in 2005. I was interested in the way this city was totally planned in a very linear format, and the implications that has for areas of leisure, transport and the built environment. I had a vauge notion that I would be able to make this work, though I had never been to each of the 4 corners of Central Park (I had entered C.P from the S/W corner once before in 1998), so I made it a mission to circumnavigate the park on a lovely autumn (fall) day in August, which is quite a walk in itself. I stopped at each of the four corners (as well as stopping for a slice o pizza a few times) and climbed up onto the stone fencing that borders the park and held my camera as high as I could to take these four shots, one of each corner of Central Park. They are then stitched together to make what you now see, A Smaller Central Park.

China Diner

I went to Hobart.
This is my favourite photo.

Insane graf....

Sure, you get some pretty crazy graffiti, mad colours, wild style stuff and people doing nutso designs and images with stencils (esp here in Melbourne)... BUT, this graf artist (or artists) have taken tagging to a whole new level, pardon the pun. This soon to be demolished building I came across probably about 2006(?) when I was in a part of the city I don't normally frequent.... I happened to be atop another building for some reason and I saw this mad piece of graffiti work which blew me away with its sheer audacity and tenacity, 12 floors of totally tagged windows, 216 windows all up, and they would have had to do their tags backwards to make it legible. I didn't hear anything about this or see it reported in any media, it just seemed to quietly happen then they knocked the building over shortly after I imagine. I'm impressed.....

Urban foraging

Meanwhile, Kensington again (west of Melbourne) riding my bike to the studio... one of the joys of riding a bike (or walking) as opposed to driving a car is you get to see alot more interesting things that would normally go unnoticed. Having just ridden along the path you can see underneath the huge Citylink tollway I noticed one of the residents (?) of the nearby housing commision flats which are home to many newly arrived immigrants to melbourne. I love this area for its diversity of cultures and people, and seeing this sight of a woman gathering some kind of edible (I guess) plant growing in the soggy rivulet side in the shadow of this huge freeway while her son, or grandson, looks on was a surreal moment of poetry in the rush and bustle of the surrounding roads, tram tracks and train bridges close by. People make do as they can, and its great to see urban foraging in the most unlikely of places.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

street geyser

This is my blog.
This is a photo I took whilst on my way to my studio in Kensington, in Melbournes west... it is a street geyser, an ejaculation of precious water washing down a traffic light, with housing commision flats in the background.
Cut the skin and the blood will flow...