Sunday, January 7, 2018

ON THE DEATH OF IAN SINNAMON – THE QUIET, RESPECTED TEACHER


The news came as an E-mail, a short and puzzling cryptic message that used only Christian names. One had to pause, suspend the immediacy of easy assumptions, and ponder the context, the timing, the connections, and the parallel references: the fit. There are several ‘Ians' in one’s life, but fewer ‘Nevilles': here lay a clue. It had to be Sinnamon, surely; but this first guess needed to be confirmed: one could not get such details of death wrong. The E-mail sender was reviewed; the address looked strange, unfamiliar. A simple check confirmed the presumed link – arb: ‘architecture review band;’ yes, of course, it was as one had thought – Neville Twidale: then there was the Don name too; the message had first been sent from Don to Nev. Was this Donald Watson? But still the ‘Ian’ needed further confirmation, to double-check the presumption. The second name ‘Trevor’ appeared in a search, but one has never known Ian as ‘Trevor’ - then the reference was noted: I.T. Sinnamon, author of an architectural text in association with Michael Keniger. Yes, it must be Ian Sinnamon: the shock; the memories . . .


Brisbane 1960's


Ian Sinnamon - the spelling always challenged one: while being phonetically correct with an ‘s’, the name was more familiar as the sounding of the aromatic bark spice starting with the letter ‘c’; indeed, it was the word that always came to mind. Then, as if this shock of the familiar, no ‘c’, but the plural ‘s’ as singular, was not enough, there was the ‘a’ and the ‘o’. Again, lazy ears helped little in the location of these letters; one had to learn their placement in the sequence, remembering to start with the ‘s’, followed by the ‘a’ - ‘Oh!’ - being located before the final ‘mon’ - not ‘man.’ Speech never made this as clear as it should have been. Did this phonic ambivalence give some of the character to the person – the gentle, soft, uncertain haze.

 
Ian Sinnamon
     
With everything checked and confirmed, even the spelling – Ian Sinnamon, 82, born 6 January 1935, died 17 December 2017, late of Bardon, as the formal statements have it - the distracting uncertainties could be pushed aside: the memories returned. When did one first meet Ian? In what circumstance? It was, of course, at the University of Queensland, in the School of Architecture where Ian was a lecturer. The precise occasion remained unclear, vague, but the context was fixed in one’s memory. It was in the 1960’s. These were the days when the school occupied the top floors of the central tower of the main building, the sandstone icon, the Forgan Smith Building, the centrepiece of this educational site housing the remote refuge of the architectural students. It was perhaps in one of these snug corridors that Ian was first met: an ad hoc passing; maybe in the lift; or perhaps in the lecture theatre with the subtle, Prof Cummings colour scheme; maybe in the library with its comfortable Eames chairs; or was it during a crit, in that most public of core, tower places? Does it matter, for his presence lingered on through one’s student days and career in the same vague, but significant manner?

University of Queensland, 1960's

Ironically, one was more certain with the memories that were less anecdotal, more emotional; holding obscure, undefined, but firm feelings for his being, his presence that had materialised from formal and informal interactions over the years. Little things are recalled: a conversation on a scheme; an idea; a glance; a sly grin; the latent humour. These were never big events, but they resonated with meaning; with something like substance: they were enduring.

University of Queensland St. Lucia campus
He is remembered as a unique being; well, different: but aren’t we all? Ian was large; somehow one remembers him as physically looming with a glowing bloom – maybe he wasn’t that big? - with a broad, physical presence that was always personable, friendly. Was the breadth in his generosity? His full, round, almost chubby face beamed in his distinctive, knowing, child-like manner that addressed you as a friend, if not a conspirator. He was always on your side, or so it felt. He was there to help, ready to offer a quiet word of praise, or some conciliatory summing up; emotional support; some practical statement that could manage to add wind to sagging sails after some savage criticism, or some other testing moment: but he, too, could offer hard criticism, but in a manner that shaped firm realities within gentle intonations. Perhaps he was there to tell the smartypants, young know-all that such attitudes were foolish foibles of youth and ignorance, passing whims? He could deflate, dismantle false identities, pretensions, with simple, humble guile, as easily as he could help, offer support; but this was never brutal or terminal, only the outcomes were – and they were deserved too, never irrational or unnecessary.




Ian was quiet, always softly perceptive and self-aware. He knew no cunning, and disliked the charlatan when close to things fake and fraudulent. He would light up with a knowing smile to reveal his awareness and disapproval on such occasions, as if to exorcise the lie.



It was this honest habit that made him appear soft and bumbling; transparently inept, almost weak, or so it seemed. His lectures would be peppered with wry smiles as nonsense was squashed in the lights of his knowing it to be such. Ian, sometimes referred to bluntly as ‘Sinnamon,’ but never to his face, was easy to underestimate. One always knew him as ‘Ian.’ Other staff who were chatted about cheekily in Christian names, ‘Bill’ and ‘Marcus,’ were never addressed in this way. It was ‘Mister’ or ‘Professor’ or 'Sir' for them; ‘Ian’ for Ian. He was an ‘ordinary man.’ He gave one a boost in confidence, a phantom, friendly prod just by his passing by. He was there for you; his eyes confirmed this as they danced alive in an open face, looking, seeing, and responding; revealing. Yet this all too soft, too fuzzy presence held its rigour when tested.



On leaving the University of Queensland to work in the ‘real’ world, one lost touch with Ian. ‘Touch’ is the best way to describe this interaction: it is not the worn cliché. In spite of this large gap that grew with time, memories of the man remained strong; they lingered. He was the true, quiet achiever in education, having an impact that was stoically subliminal rather than immediately dramatic and obviously theatrical or smartly self-important, clever. The years might have shaped a notch, a void in continuity, but one was changed by having known this man, a quiet giant of a presence, loving - loving simple and open honesty in life and ideas; caring for them, and the person too. There are not too many ‘Ians’ left in education today, let alone in architectural education, and all that this slick business has now become. His was a unique involvement as a gentle soul, a quiet, respected teacher.

Ian as Superman: a mix of irony and fun

Now searching the internet the name lingers on: Architect at Bardon; Uncle Trevor, the interview#; the Electoral Commission submission; the ABN registration; the writings*; and more . . . How will time manage these seemingly permanent listings? Are they the new, mysterious afterlife of the twenty-first century, where the signs of life flow seamlessly into history, as records, so clearly, precisely, intimately; so openly? It will be difficult to pass on to young folk today just what Ian was, but one should try. The world needs models for humility and reason; care and concern; thought and responsiveness, all qualities that selfies and self-importance so easily squash and dismiss; all qualities that Ian exemplified. One could trust this man. Youth needs to learn about this remarkable experience because architecture needs it.



Monday, December 25, 2017

THE GREAT CIVIC GAMBOL


Governments play with our places and lives for their own short-term benefits. We get fed propaganda to justify any and everything, treated like the proverbial mushrooms. The Queensland Government’s ambition to demolish the traditional government precinct in the river-front heart of the city of Brisbane, and replace it with a glitzy casino, slick hotels and smart shopping centres, has been presented to the community as all benefits and no problems, yet details of the land transfer and other agreements have been kept secret – well, not made public. Why? Who knows what is going on? Has any study been undertaken to reveal the impact such a development will have on the existing CBD commercial core? Who cares? - not the politicians who ignore all protests and reason. The dollars appear to dazzle as much as the images: to stupify.

The casino dominates the remnants of the government precinct (on right in dark)


Old Brisbane

The only public face of this work is the new civic gap, the gaping hole in the core of the city currently being excavated for underground car parking. Three AIA (Australia) Award-winning buildings have been demolished to make way for what has been promoted as a whizz-bang casino development, ‘world class’: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/new-brisbane-casino-reviewed.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/brisbanes-new-casino-proposal-approved.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/casino-dliemma.html The media is fed words to promote the benefits of this sacrilege, and dutifully bleats these lines out to the people as war-time propaganda might be: perhaps there could be some profit in this scheme for these companies too? Governments appear to believe a casino can constantly lay ‘golden eggs’ that will overcome all budgetary problems.


Old Brisbane - George Street on left; river on right with Victoria Bridge (casino site top middle)


Channel 7 6:00pm news, on 21 December 2017, raved on with poncey, smart, hypnotic words as the glowing images of a slick bridge and glossy, glazed forms filled the screen with colour, gleam and movement: "The new shape of our city rises from the rubble of the past" was the hype that had been scripted for the resonant voice to read. One could sense the self-indulgent smugness, the considered cleverness of the text felt by the smarty-pants news writer.

The development is presented as being as 'flashy' as fireworks


Why might any city choose to demolish its government precinct and replace it with a casino development, especially when recent news has told about the crackdown in China on high-flyer gambling? It is a real gambol that plays with the city and its people's lives, creating an icon out of tempting hope, complete with a new bridge that leads only into the heart of the complex, and out of it, nowhere else. The approach might be full of gleeful anticipation, but the retreat south will most likely find folk spinning into the void of Southbank and its giddy ways, Ferris wheel and all! Why does each city now seek to have an 'Eye,' however miniature it might be? Why base a city heart on gambling? It is not as though our city lacks appropriate fringe sites that would benefit from such a place, if it is seen as an essential part of lives today.



It was the term “rubble of the past” that grated. Three quality, historic buildings had been demolished and were now described as trash. One can only sit back and despair. Ruskin saw such madness as wasting ‘other people’s time’ – see sidebar: ON DEMOLISHING BUILDINGS. Our governments do not appear to show any interest in this, preferring only to concentrate on their own personal circumstance – the need to hold on to power: The little natures that will make us cry (Auden): see - https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/26/how-i-fell-in-love-with-wh-auden-again-and-again Governments gambol with our lives, our well-being; the city subtly reflects this complexity in our everyday toings and froings. Why do we forget this? Why does no one ever ask about mental health and place – simple contentment? The lies of hype can destroy us, as will casino-city hearts.


Old Brisbane - looking along George Street to the site of the proposed casino development (on right)


For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul (Mark 8:36 KJV) comes to mind. One has to ask this of cities too.

There seems to be little embarrassment in showing the casino as the city's core


NOTE
27 Dec 2017
Christmas has passed; now we have Easter to look forward to. Chocolate eggs will be in the supermarkets soon. As this idea is pondered with a cringe, yet another idea arises from the images of the casino proposal, one that is equally cringe-worthy. Government headquarters - its new, chunky office tower and nearby heritage parliament building with its quirky, 1980s 'monkey wrench' tower annex - now finds itself tucked away in a dead-end corner of the CBD, separated from the remainder of the city by the casino development. In order to access this remnant government precinct, one has to pass through this privately managed gambling place that has been given the nearby streets as part of its land grab.
In one way this signifies exactly what has occurred. Government only ever had ears for the casino lobby. The architectural profession was ignored as a bunch of fanciful wankers. Indeed politicians spoke mockingly of architects as wasteful dreamers. When governments are prepared to ignore the experts in the community in favour of the promoters pushing their own visions, then the results are likely to be problematical, at least lopsided. The decision makers, the politicians, will be as rational as excited children let loose in a lolly shop, as they wallow in the glory of astonishing visions and profitable promises set out persuasively before them, all designed to beguile and mystify with gleam, gloss and glitz that is said to be able to produce enormous government incomes forever and ever - AMEN to all sensible analysis and rational reason when politicians believe that all their Christmases and Easters have come at once: will there really be golden eggs in the coffers soon? Whose coffers?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

SKULL ART


The headlines read, in arty lower case:

ron mueck scales-up and stacks 100 sculpted skulls at the national gallery of victoria


The National Gallery of Victoria is holding the world premiere of Ron Meuck’s room full of oversized, resin-cast skulls: see - https://www.google.com.au/search?q=skull+art+gallery+victoria&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjuud63_4vYAhUBULwKHe_tDz8Q_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=1094#imgrc=8RS5KNJx5Lh_9M:
One is reminded of Cambodia’s tragedy, (see below), but the display of this collection of items, 100 of them, (why not 102?), is in an art gallery, so it must be art. Is this like the difference between war damage and a Gehry? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/frank-o-gehry-art-of-war.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/new-gehry-projects-in-aleppo.html


The comment on the ABC News by the gallery’s curator, as if to explain the idea, was: “We bring our own baggage to it.” Such is art; such is life, so it seems. One wonders what baggage one might take away from the room filled with large skulls. When did art become anything one wants it to be; seeing it for what it might be through one’s own ‘baggage’?


It becomes hard to imagine a transformative art, one that might hold meaning meaningfully and reverberate with life and living - to manage to enrich being, to confirm experience rather than challenge it with puzzling and confronting questions, dark doubts and quirky, ad hoc uncertainties.


Such an approach to art allows anything strange and different to be seen as art, indeed, as important art; as significant art that usually gains its status through mass media’s manic reporting on its strange identity. If one chooses to argue otherwise, to question its standing, the stance becomes an easy matter to criticise as it questions one’s 'baggage,' identifying it, you, as being the problem: “It’s your fault: it's your problem.”


It is happening more and more today in the field of art – and architecture too. Where might anyone start a debate that could be resolved in mutual agreement when issues are encouraged to be so aimlessly fluid; fuzzy? Where is the sense, the presence, when everything and anything might be possible? What are the core, life-enhancing ideas beyond surprising hype and blurb?


The response to the uncritical recognition of this approach to art is for artists to make things increasingly puzzling and enigmatic; outrageous – for everyone to be told to try try to see something in it, whatever, even when there might be nothing, or nothing specific intended. Is art now like looking at ink blots?


It is a little like casting dust to the wind – or ashes, perhaps, (whose?) – and asking folk to see meaning in this: and if one is unable to, then it is one’s own unimaginative weakness that is the problem, as it leaves one’s skull in a spin. Is this the meaning? Who knows; who cares?


The artist apparently has the right to stand aside in almost self-satisfied, contempuous silence, and look on with a knowing, mocking eye: knowing there is nothing there; and mocking those making an attempt to create meaning. One senses that the artist might be present in a void of complete nothingness, waiting for some response that can be owned to be revealed. One thinks here of Doris Lessing on radio some years ago, not because of aimlessness, but because of the baggage brought to her reading. Robyn Williams, an ABC Science reporter, once, after Doris Lessing had read her short story on the dung beetle to the audience, stood up and confidently pontificated on the reason for this choice, cleverly analysing everything in his smart, precise, confident, pseuo-intellectual manner. The writer’s response was, “No. I chose it because it was of the appropriate length for the show.” Williams sat down quietly without saying anything, but, it seemed, with a silent whimper. This is the ‘baggage’ problem. Why do artists rely on it for their substance and standing?


Art as an enigma – and architecture too: see Gehry, Hadid. It becomes a real headache to understand such skull art that can be anything, and can be seen as anything.

Gehry

Hadid

Take for example an art gallery with several spaces available for an exhibition. The first room might be filled with oversized resin-cast skulls – like this exhibition. The next space might, perhaps, – let’s take a random set of somethings by way of example – be a room with a tiny, miniature Giacometti-like skull mounted in the centre of the floor on a fine bronze stand - Man; the third area might be filled with dead cats – fifty of them, all different breeds, called L. All this is art. The fourth space might have three large, empty, antique frames located carefully on the walls, one being slightly askew - Family Portraits; the next area – let’s say it has been made dark and has flashing lights and laser beams buzzing around spelling out words – perhaps obscenities: Urban Diction.

Gehry

Hadid

Continuing this fantasy, the sixth room might have nothing in it at all but surfaces bright and white - Full Void; while the seventh could be said to be a well-known artist’s bedroom, completely transported as it was, unannounced, on the third day of the third month, to be left on display for three weeks only, named The Trilogy – a little like the Bacon/Olley studio transplants that are to endure forever: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/bacons-sacrambled-studio-francis.html

Gehry

Hadid

And we could go on: the next space might perhaps be an oversized goldfish tank filled with twenty-one identical Pisces, its title; with the neighbouring area holding three naked figures – one male and two female, (gender self-allocated), wondering what to do with themselves as they wander around slowly and deliberately in the smoky haze that catches beams of light moving just as slowly and deliberately: MEMEME. Again, there might be yet another area with, say, a stuffed bear and a badger standing side by side, with a carrot hanging nearby: Eden.



One could go on and on, but the scene has been set. The point is that any of these scenarios could be real; that we could, at any time, be asked to consider these displays in a gallery as art and be told: “You sort it our with your baggage.” Of course, one can already see the frenzy created by the dead cats in L: the gallery would at first refuse the media’s cry, presented as the public’s demand, for the exhibition to be closed down – animal welfare. And this would go on and on generating huge crowds until someone was silenced. It would be the same response given to, say, a crucified Christ-like figure being displayed upside-down in a red room - Geez!! Protesting crowds might gather around the gallery demanding blood in the very best Christian manner. Perhaps we have already seen all of these works of art and their responses, or ones very like these?

Gehry

Hadid

If art is to be completely value-free – well, might try to be with no serious idea of depth, or statement of intent – then simply anything can be put before the public to allow it to respond: a tangerine room with a red dot in it titled Green; a mirrored room with a moving mirror on a mirror ball - Reflections 2 (there was no number 1; the ball uses Star Wars BB-8 technology); a pool of water shaped as a splash - Dessert (a poor pun); a huge sculpture of nothing at all, called - well, whatever you want it to be: maybe this is a competition with a T-Shirt prize? The public is encouraged by the media hype, and lines up to pay and parade past the art, knowingly. Is this called ‘bringing baggage’? Is this what art/architecture has become: anything at all: the more alarming the better? One can already start to write the artist’s statements to accompany all of the above phantom ‘works’. The range of examples, real copy, is best exampled in the SWELL Sculpture Exhibition catalogues: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/09/swell-sculpture-festival-2017-catalogue.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/09/swell-sculpture-festival-2016-catalogue.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/swell-sculpture-festival-catalogue-2015.html and other links in these sites.

Gehry

Hadid

The big challenge for us today is to demand more of our art and our architecture: of our artists and our architects. Using ‘baggage’ is not good enough. ‘Baggage’ is something that is always there. It is how to transcend this raw, personal experience that needs to be pondered: how to transform it; enrich it; to make living something surprisingly otherwise. One has to ask if today’s mental health issues might have something to do with allowing our ‘baggage’ to become the centrepiece of our being.

All above images of Meuck's show by Sean Fennessey

How can things be bettered? Skull art seems to be an excuse rather than anything else; a way for nothing to become something using the techniques of media advertising and promotion: make an attraction; create a public discussion; establish a demand to be counted in the millions; then claim the greatness of the art has been confirmed: and is it in the sales room – again by the millions: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/05/graphic-freud-design-as-sex.html

This image and the one below by Tom Ross

What must one do? Where does our ‘baggage’ come from? Ironically, one has to ask if it is being shaped, has been shaped, by media promotions: and art? Do we have to accept art as an enigmatic enigma for everyone to indulge in - for MY and someone else’s ‘baggage’ to become entwined in a ‘meaningful’ mishmash of randomness? What about life and its living - flesh and blood?




CAMBODIA
some images





'Life-sized' skulls





Try bringing your 'baggage' to these Cambodian lives. Do we have to turn things stark, stern, and shocking into a scene to entertain our ‘baggage’ - a stageset for our selfies?


NGV Triennial

NOTE
18 December 2017
It is strange to see that the hypothetical exhibition outlined in the SKULL ART text appears to be not too different to the actual NGV Triennial show:

Omega House


NGV Triennial

The article in The Guardian puts yet another layer on things arty – they become props for selfies; decorative backgrounds! So we are able to not only bring our own ‘baggage,’ but we can also photograph its presence too, for personal delight and promotional social requirements, all to confirm and declare ME.

NGV Triennial

NGV Triennial

Then there is yet another aspect to art and galleries: the commerce. The NGV has, amongst a range of items, a Skull Skateboard, a Temporary Tattoo Set, and a Triennial T-Shirt! It all appears to fit the same mould as that prepared for ‘baggage’ - adding to it as it trivialises everything.





We should not forget the killing fields.








We should heed this request, this history.