Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Museum of old and new

Last Wednesday, Farmdoc and I visited the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart's controversial new art gallery designed by Nonda Katsalidis. I've been dying to go but this was our first visit to Hobart since the museum opened in January.

The whole visit is an experience, from having to walk across a tennis court to get to the entrance, and being greeted at the door and herded into a group to have the O thingies (more about those in a minute) explained and demonstrated.

The building is reputed to have cost over $100 million and is owned by David Walsh, who apparently earned his vast fortune from gambling. Well, better him than the casinos and their rapacious owners, I say.

From the entrance we headed down a staircase  that encircles a glass elevator and plunges down into sandstone cliff. At the bottom of the steps we were met by a bar and a long line of seating that looks like it belongs in someone's formal sitting room. Bewildering, to say the least.

The art. Where to start? There's so much, and it's arranged in apparently no order, all chosen and arranged by Walsh according to his taste and whim. There are also no signs on the walls, not even the names of the work or the artists. You press a button on the O - an mp3 player you are now wearing around your neck - and up come pictures of the art nearest you, complete with details. Pressing further buttons lets you read reviews or explanations of the piece and sometimes there's audio, which you play through head phones. This can be interviews with the artist or just a piece of music to look at the art by.

When I tried to decide what the highlights had been, it felt impossible - it's all highlights. Sydney Nolan's vast Snake; ancient Egyptian tombs; Chris Ofili's controversial The Holy Virgin Mary; work by Damien Hirst, Brett Whitely, Juan Davila, Marina AbrimovicHow do I remember all this? I don't. When I got home I received an email setting out all the works I'd seen, as recorded by my O, and a list of all that I'd missed.

Farmdoc and I spent four hours there, including 30 minutes for coffee and a vegie baguette in the cafe on the top (ground floor) level. It was a little disconcerting to eat the same food we'd seen fed to 'Cloaca' earlier.

'Cloaca' is a room-sized digestive machine by Dutch artist, Wim Delvoye. It turns food that is fed in at one end through a garbage disposal into faeces that are excreted at the other end via a series of large glass containers. I think it has to do with demonstrating the pointlessness of life. We watched the thing being 'fed' at 11.00 but we didn't return at 2.00 for the defecation. I've seen enough poo in my day. I think I'd be more impressed by a machine that can clean it up. Still it is a spectacle.

And that seems to be the point - spectacle. It's art as spectacle, like a rich kid's toy box - the excess leaves you dazzled and dazed. It's Australia's largest private museum and it's stuffed full.

We emerged into the daylight, dizzy with all we'd seen and felt. Amazed, entertained and spat out.

There's no committee that chooses the art - it's all David Walsh's taste - and I felt very aware of that. The individual pieces don't actually have much opportunity to shock or inform. There's too much.

Overall I think it's amazing. The gallery is set in the grounds of the Moorilla Winery on the bank of the Derwent, with lovely views across the river. You can stay there too: there are four quite stunning one- and two-bedroom pavilions. There's an upmarket restaurant and a wine bar as well as the cafe, and beanbags are spread out over a large lawn area, so you can relax with a glass of wine in the fresh air and recover  from your subterranean adventure.

Entry to MONA is free - at least for the moment. There's talk of charging in the future though.

For all my misgivings I'd definitely recommend a visit or three. Hobart's such a pretty city and you can  take a ferry to the gallery, enjoy a day there, and then eat at one of the many restaurants around town in the evening.

Farmdoc and I will be back in Hobart in a couple of months and I'll definitely be returning to MONA. You shouldn't miss it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Race

Brett Hoffmann's not very popular around here at the moment. Or rather he is with me but not with Farmdoc.

I just got hold of Brett's new book - his second thriller involving Australian Wall Street analysts, Stella Sartori and Jack Rogers - and I can't put it down.

'Are you ready?' 
'Did you hear what I said?'   
‘We’re running late.' 
'Can you put that book down for a minute!' 

Well, you get the picture.

About two years ago, when Brett's first book, The Contract, came out, I worried that I wouldn't like it and wouldn't know how to tell him. I was so relieved that I loved it. This time I didn't worry. I knew this novel would be at least as good as its predecessor. I think it's better. 

I was engaged from the first scene, lulled into a state of mellow enchantment by the prose. A postcard photographer is hovering in a helicopter above Nice. 'It wasn't a hot day but the sun had the freedom of the sky...' How lovely, I thought, and then wham! an explosion rocks both me and the book and I was hooked.

That explosion destroys a private jet carrying the heir to the Aretino empire, and in the aftermath of that and other disasters to befall the family and its businesses, the Aretino's bank calls on Stella and Jack to investigate why the family is losing money.

The Aretinos are an ancient Italian family with an ongoing link to the Order of St John and an involvement in Formula One racing.  This is a case that calls for skill and discretion, which makes it ideal for Jack and Stella’s new consultancy. But a series of murders shakes everybody, and Jack and Stella find themselves under surveillance, their own lives now at risk. There is obviously a dangerous conspiracy behind all these events, but they have no idea who’s responsible.

Jack and Stella’s fight to save themselves and discover the truth is told in spare prose, with just the right details chosen to set the scene and portray the characters. The settings and background are all obviously meticulously researched. We are whisked back in time to ancient Malta and then forward to the Grand Prix at Monza.  The book’s not called The Race for nothing!

The story is intricately plotted, with seemingly loose threads picked up and woven back into the story in ways that I for one didn’t see coming.

I could feel my heart thudding as I sped along narrow mountain roads or battled alongside Stella (not that she needed my help!). The ending was unpredictable enough to surprise me but at the same time it felt very satisfying. I was sorry when the book finished but now I’m left wondering about Jack and Stella’s relationship and what they'll get up to next. I know Brett's hard at work on the next novel in the series: The Cure.

The Race would make a great Father day gift. And if you buy it at Dymocks they have a buy The Race get The Contract free. How could you resist?

‘Ok, Farmdoc, what was it you wanted? Farmdoc? Farmdoc?...Oh bloody Brett Hoffmann and that infernal book! Can’t you read it later?’

Monday, August 1, 2011

No Sting in this Tale

I've been dying to make stinging nettle pesto ever since I came across it in wholelarderlove.com, which is the blog of a photographer friend of Number One Daughter's.

To begin with I pulled on some gloves and strolled a little way up the drive, where I picked a colander full of nettles, trying for the youngest and tenderest looking.

Back in the kitchen, I boiled the nettles for a couple of minutes, just long enough to wilt them and get rid of their sting. Then I drained them (keeping the water for use in soup) and threw them, stems and all, into the food processor, together with a clove of garlic, a big handful of pine nuts, some grated parmesan, the juice and grated rind of half a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Finally I trickled in enough olive oil to blend.

It turned out the most amazing shade of green. It tasted wonderful too, very fresh and citrusy.

I thought it would be delicious on pasta but Farmdoc had baked a loaf of bread so we just spread it thickly on large slices of that and it went in a flash. Next time I'll try to save enough for pasta.