Canberra grab bag

Last weekend I visited Canberra with my mother and we did such a variety of things I’m still sorting impressions and rebuilding energy.

The Canberra Two Day Walk was our primary purpose. It’s an annual event (this was the 21st) and mum has participated 12 times. We do the shortest walks – 5 km each of the two days – and it was beautiful walking in warm autumn sunshine, often around the shores of the lake. The building in the photo is the National Museum of Australia.

We saw lots of birds – these swans were part of a large group on the lake and were totally comfortable with all the people on the path just a couple of metres away.

An intended highlight of the trip was a visit to the Renaissance exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. The exhibition showed 15th and 16th century Italian paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo and included works by Raphael, Botticelli and Titian among many others. I was strangely unmoved. It wasn’t the anticipated crowds – our timed tickets were Friday 2pm, but when we arrived around 1:30 they let us straight in because it wasn’t too busy. There were certainly lots of people, but if it was busy near one painting we could just look at something else until it cleared. It was partly a mix of subject matter and symbolism, mixed in with ambivalent feelings about some aspects of my catholic education. Many of the paintings were intended to instruct (“indoctrinate”, in a very literal sense of the word). Partly it was the colours and techniques used – often a limited palette and flat areas of colour. There were exceptions, but generally I felt emotionally detached. I hope I continue to think about this, because it seems important to my understanding of myself, my response to art, and perhaps themes and choices in my own work.

One thing I think is very clever (or fortuitous) in the Gallery design is that to get to the special exhibitions area you have to walk to the back of the building. Along the way there were enticing glimpses of the Gallery’s own collection. We were tempted off our path and saw some interesting works, including some textile pieces which I’ll write about in another post.

We went to a special exhibition, Nurses: from Zululand to Afghanistan at the Australian War Memorial. No emotional detachment here – this was a very challenging experience. I have a lot of thinking to do about this as well, but not for blogging at the moment.

A last minute addition to our itinerary was the Travelling the Silk Road exhibition at the National Museum Australia. The exhibition is from the American Museum of Natural History, New York and it actually opened while we were in Canberra – luckily we saw some notices in the newspaper. The exhibition is organised around four cities and mum has visited three of them – Xi’an, Turfan and Samarkand – and she was quite excited about it. Mum has always been a great traveller (I love the story that from her very first pay-cheque, as a teacher, she bought a suitcase), and for her 70th birthday she wanted to visit China. None of the commercial tours at the time visited all her “must see” places, so she work with an agency to design her own and got together a dozen friends and family to make a group. I think she went through Samarkand on a trip to spend some time at an archeological dig on part of the Silk Road.

It’s a very informative exhibition, with lots of interactive elements – walking through a Turfan “marketplace” there were large pots with fragrances to identify accompanied by the sounds of a snorting camel. Naturally I focused on the textiles and related material. The exhibition designers did a good job of showing how motifs and ideas moved and changed along the length of the trade routes, sometimes transferred from one medium to another (parallels on textiles, ceramics…). More detail hopefully in a future post.

We also met up with friends and family, and I’ll finish with a plug for Adore Tea: the destination for tea lovers (a plug in that my niece works there). They have a number of stores including a tea house in Federation Square (the Gold Creek touristy area) and the Golden Mao Feng is seriously wonderful.

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Fabulous figure sculpting workshop with Kassandra Bossell!

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