Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Making of MONA

When we were in Hobart in November last year we visited MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art situated on the banks of the Derwent River in a suburb of Hobart.

Adrian Franklin has written The making of MONA in an attempt to explain the vision for the museum of its owner, Davis Walsh, and how the museum was created and promoted. MONA was opened on 21 January 2011 so it is a new feature in Hobart but it has quickly become the major tourist destination when visiting the city.

Visiting MONA is an experience. It is not like any other art gallery in Australia. To start with it is a privately owned gallery designed to store and show the collection(s) of David Walsh. To view the items in the galleries you enter at ground level and then take a lift down to the initial viewing area. There are three levels but the area is designed so that the visitor does not necessarily know where they are in the building. Passages take the visitor in various directions to discover another section of the museum. There is a deliberate policy not to have signage and there is limited use of labels, however each visitor is provided with a device which provides information about items in their present vicinity. Themes of the collection are largely relating to sex and death and some visitors may find some of the exhibits confronting. The general setting of the exhibits is that of Carnival. However it is the arrangement of the items including the juxtaposition of antiquities with modern art that can still intrigue visitors who may not appreciate some of the art works. Visitors can always move on to another section. Standing on the upper balcony viewing Sidney Nolan's gigantic (44.3 metres by 5.6 metres) artwork, Snake, is worth the visit on its own.

The author describes how David Walsh purchased the Moorilla Estate Winery in 1995 and how he developed the property to initially show his collection of antiquities in one of the houses on the property, developed and created a brand for a craft beer (Moo Brew), rebranded the wine from the winery and then, after beginning to collect modern art, decided to build MONA to house the collections of the antiquities and the growing modern art collection. There are also artworks to explore in the area around the main museum building. MONA is more than a museum. The vineyard is a working concern and there are bars and restaurants in the museum and in the grounds. Festivals and entertainments are part of the annual program. Most people travel to MONA aboard the MR-1 Mona Fast Ferry from Hobart to the museum. This is all part of the MONA entertainment experience or package.

The book itself features the black and bright pink colours of the MONA brand. The many illustrations show the concept and building of the property as well as photos of some of the artworks. Having visited the location I found the descriptions of the challenges of the building project particularly interesting and now have a slightly better understanding of MONA and its eccentric owner.For more information on David Walsh, read A bone of fact.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Robert Burns

25 January is the birth date of Robert (Rabbie or Robbie) Burns who was born in Alloway, Scotland, in 1759. He died on 21 July 1796 aged only 37.
Rabbie Burns is a well known and well loved poet not only in Scotland but throughout the world. When we were in Edinburgh in 2014 we found the Robert Burns Memorial. As there was a fence around it plus traffic it was not easy to photograph but it is an impressive monument. However this is only one of many memorials to Robert Burns throughout the world. There is even a memorial in Melbourne in the Treasury Gardens. An article in Wikipedia provides a list of Robert Burns Memorials throughout the world.
Robert Burns: Poems, songs and legacy is a FutureLearn course beginning on 25 January 2016 to coincide with the anniversary of Robert Burn's birth. The three week course has been prepared by the Centre for Robert Burns Studies and will examine three core questions - Who was Robert Burns? What made Robert Burns a poetic genius? And what made Robert Burns a global icon?

In 2011 the BBC made a series of television programs - The World According to Robert Burns. The website prepared in conjunction with those programs provides an outline of the life of Robert Burns as well as a list of his songs and poems. There is also a section on the ceremonies to be performed on Burns Night which is held on or near the anniversary of the birth date of Robert Burns.

Much has been written about the poet over the years and I am sure that we will be introduced to many of these works during the course. One title that I found in the local library was:
Robert Burns: the patriot bard by Patrick Scott Hogg (2008). The book purports to be an examination of the poet within the context of his times as the author examines a selection of Burn's poetry within the biography of his life.

The life of Robert Burns has also been recorded in fiction. James Barke has written five volumes of historical fiction (series title: Immortal Memory) based on the life of Robert Burns. The first volume, The wind that shakes the barley, was published in 1946 and this was followed by The song in the green thorn tree (1947). Wonder of all the gay world was the third volume, followed by Crest on the broken wave (1953) and The well of the silent harp (1954). I found copies of the first two volumes in the large print section of a local library. The author has set out to write a fictional story based on events in the life of Robert Burns. I am sure that the author set out to capture the essence of the life of Robert Burns in these books but I do not like this style of writing, especially when much of the story is based on supposed conversation between the characters , however the books do provide an outline of the life of Robert Burns. I suspect that the books would have been more readable, in my opinion, if they had been heavily edited and condensed into one or two volumes. A paper about three of the volumes was presented at a Calgary Burns Club meeting in October 2010. I also found online an article in the Glasgow Herald (21 January 1984) about James Barke and his books on Robert Burns.

A list of many of the poems and songs by Robert Burns can be found in a section of the BBC website.
Youtube and also have performances of his songs.

Websites include:
Burns Scotland
Robert Burns World Federation 
Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century
Burns Encyclopedia

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Eagle of the Ninth

I first discovered books by Rosemary Sutcliff when I worked as a children's librarian in the 1960s and remember enjoying her books. Although the books were written for older primary / lower secondary age readers they can be enjoyed by adults too. Rosemary Sutcliff obviously enjoyed history, particularly Roman history, and this is the setting for her novels. Eagle of the Ninth is the first of three of her books about Roman Britain, the other two being The Lantern Bearers and The Sword at Sunset. In the FutureLearn course that I did last year about Hadrian's Wall, The Eagle of the Ninth was often mentioned by participants in forum discussions. I therefore decided to read the book again.

Marcus Aquila was appointed as Centurion at a fort on Hadrian's Wall. He is a long way from Rome but he is following a family tradition as his father had been with the Ninth Legion that mysteriously disappeared when Marcus was a young boy. Marcus quickly settled into life on the Wall until  the fort was attacked by local tribes and Marcus was severely injured. No longer able to remain in the army he initially stayed with his uncle at Calleva. When he eventually is able to walk again he set off with Esca, a former slave, to travel north to the other side of Hadrian's Wall in the attempt to discover the fate of the Ninth Legion and to locate the Eagle, the Legion's symbol.

Marcus's quest is an exciting story but what I appreciated was the description of life in Roman Britain encouraging the reader, for a short while, to experience what the characters in the novel are experiencing. Rosemary Sutcliff also examines the relationship between Marcus and Esca who is a Briton of the Brigantes tribe. Esca had been Marcus' slave but before they set out on the quest he is freed and once the two travel past the Wall it is Esca, with his knowledge of the area and the people, who often makes decisions.

Eagle of the Ninth was published in 1954 but has stood the test of time. Charlotte Higgins wrote a long article about the book in The Guardian in 2011, about the same time that a film, The Eagle, based on the book was released. 

Postscript: I have just watched the DVD of the film, The Eagle, made some years ago and supposedly based on Rosemary Sutcliff's book. There was plenty of action but not a lot of resemblance to the story in the novel - still I guess you expect that in films of books.

London rain

The setting for this novel is the coronation of King George VI in London on 12 May 1937. There is much excitement in the city as people plan how they will observe this momentous day. Red, white and blue decorations adorn the city streets and buildings. People line the streets to watch the rehearsal of the royal street procession. Josephine Tey is in London as she has tickets to watch the actual parade with friends. At the same time the BBC has decided to produce her stage play, Queen of Scots, as a radio drama so she attends the first rehearsal to see how how play has been adapted. The BBC occupies an impressive new building but the politics of the nation's broadcaster are about to be revealed when one of its best known broadcasters is murdered after commentating on the parade. Josephine's friend, Archie Penrose, who is involved in ensuring that security arrangements, including crowd control, run smoothly  is called in to investigate the murder.

This is a crime novel with many twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader guessing. It is also a story of several relationships. The portrayal of the coronation and its affects on the population of London plus description of the early days of radio broadcasting provides an impressive backdrop for this novel of 1930s London.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Scam

This is the fourth title in the Fox and O'Hare Mystery series, a collaboration between Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. Nicolas Fox is a con man and thief who for many years was pursued by FBI Agent, Kate O'Hare. Now (most of the time) Nick and Kate are working together undercover to bring about the arrest of criminals who cannot be caught by normal operational means.

Their target in this book is casino owner, Evan Trace, who is is using his casinos for money-laundering. In order to successfully carry out the scam Nick and Kate travel between Las Vegas, Hawaii and Macau. The plot is action driven and at times Kate and Nick need to call upon the expertise of a team of eccentric but highly competent accomplices to successfully carry out their mission. From the ending of the book this will not be the last one in this series. I look forward to the next installment.

Lord of the Wings

Donna Andrews continues her series of books with bird themed titles with Lord of the Wings, the nineteenth in the Meg Langslow Mystery series. This is another tale of the lives of the people of Caerphilly who this time have decided to hold a week long Halloween Festival. For once the town has hired a festival organiser to run the activities while Meg is in charge of the Visitor Relations and Police Liaison Patrol, known to the locals as the Goblin Patrol. However as the festival begins more responsibility seems to be thrown Meg's way.

Strange events begin to occur in the town and it is soon disclosed that a scavenger hunt is being undertaken by some of the visitors. Then a body is found in the woods. As well as the need to discover the murderer there are a number of other matters to resolve to ensure the safety of the Festival visitors as well as the success of the Festival. As usual Meg's family rally around to to help, often in their own unique way. An enjoyable light summer read.

Tricky twenty-two

As the title suggests, this is the twenty-second title in the Stephanie Plum series of books written by Janet Evanovich. Although these books tend to follow a formula it is a formula that provides an entertaining read.

As usual there is an assortment of strange characters, cars are destroyed, Grandma Mazur continues to visit viewings at the funeral parlour, Stephanie's mother despairs of her daughter ever finding a decent job and a good partner while a large number of doughnuts are consumed. Stephanie finds herself in dangerous situations but fortunately, usually, has the back up from Ranger and Joe Morelli. In this book, however, her relationship with Joe appears to be at an end as he struggles with undisclosed problems and this forces Stephanie to also consider her future.

As a bounty hunter her job continues to introduce Stephanie to weird individuals and situations. The main plot-line is the search for Ken Globovic, a member of a fraternity at Kiltman College, who was accused of attacking the college dean of student. When Goltman goes into hiding, his being protected by fellow students make it more of a challenge to find him. However this is not the only problem as Doug Linken, who is associated with the college, is killed when Ranger is employed to protect Linken and his wife. There are many twists and turns as well as laughs as the story evolves.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Dance with Jane Austen

This book is a gem. Susannah Fullerton has written A dance with Jane Austen; how a novelist and her characters went to the Ball.
Anyone who has read a Jane Austen novel will know how the characters enjoyed going to a ball. Apparently this enjoyment was shared by the Jane Austen and in this book Susannah Fullerton uses excerpts from Jane Austen's correspondence as well as examples from her books to explore customs relating to dance in Regency England.

Topics include chapters on learning to dance, choosing appropriate clothes for the occasion, means of transport to and from balls, Assembly balls, private balls, the etiquette of the ballroom, dancing and music, supper, conversation and courtship and men in the ballroom. There is also a section on how dance is used in Jane Austen films.

This well illustrated book is a useful companion to the works of Jane Austen and for those wanting to know more about the Regency period.