Thursday, 29 June 2017

Exhibition : Van Gogh and the Seasons

A few weeks ago I went to see Van Gogh and the Seasons at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was a typical Winter day in Melbourne: sunny and clear but cold. There was a lot of excitement surrounding this exhibition, as it's the first time that many of the paintings have travelled outside Europe. I have to give credit to the NGV for securing agreements like this one in the last few years. It allows us on the far side of the world to see influential works of art without having to travel the long distances we would normally.

But back to the exhibition. I went with Husband and my Mum. She made a special trip down from the country and spent the weekend at our house in order to see the exhibition, so I was hoping it would be good! We purchased tickets online beforehand and I was very glad I did, as there was a long queue to purchase tickets, and a second, even longer queue to get in for people who already had tickets. Thankfully it moved quite quickly though.

The first room we encountered was a cinema showing a short movie of Vincent Van Gogh's life. I was looking forward to this as I'd heard it was narrated by David Stratton (a famous Australian movie critic) with the actor David Wenham as the voice of Van Gogh. I was too impatient to stay until the end though, I have to admit. Next, we had to negotiate a corridor with textual displays of biography and quotes which felt a bit like a laboratory maze, before we could enter the first room. It was rather slow going as we had to wait for space to free up in front of us each step of the way.

As is usually the case, the rooms were overcrowded and there was a wait to see each artwork. (Unless you wanted to see it like this:)

The first gallery contained prints of 19th-century European paintings and illustrations that had influenced Van Gogh, and the second Japanese prints. While these were interesting, it wasn't clear at first that these works weren't actually by Van Gogh himself without reading the information cards. In the end I bypassed them, as the wait to see them up close was so long and I believe most of them were from the NGV's collection so I could see them another time.

Finally, we reached the main event. Unlike most exhibitions I've been to, the artworks were arranged not chronologically, but by season, starting with Autumn. I found this very appealing as someone who has always been attuned with nature and the seasons. Van Gogh's emotions were always affected by the seasons, and he let this show in his work -- from the melancholic greys and browns of Winter, to the bright, joyful blues and yellows of Summer. Despite the distractions of tour groups, selfie-takers and pushy children, I found myself becoming entranced by this progression of the seasons. As we moved into Winter with its stark, bare branches, I started to feel melancholic myself, and longed for the lighter colours and blossoms of Spring. While a little incongruous with the Australian Winter outside, I'm glad the exhibition ended with Summer -- it would have been too depressing otherwise.

The final work was a self-portait, one of many that Van Gogh painted, but the only time his face is seen in the exhibition. Because of this perhaps, I found it especially poignant. Painted only a few months before his suicide, the sharp strokes of pink, yellow and blue paint seem to reflect a mind in turmoil.

Providing an almost absurd contrast, to exit I had to step over some children sitting in the doorway doing their Van Gogh colouring-in books, and found myself, of course, in the gift shop. (Those of us who know the work of Bansky like to think we do that ironically but in reality it's more like helplessly.) I came away with a catalogue, a fridge magnet and some postcards for my inspo wall.

While some of Van Gogh's iconic paintings were notably absent (Starry Night and Irises come to mind), I found the selection of works from throughout his career to be representative and satisfying. I'm certainly glad I went. While it was a struggle to deal with the crowds, it shows how much the artist's vision is valued today. Van Gogh died unrecognised and penniless. Not long before his suicide, his brother Theo wrote to him: "in the course of time they will become more beautiful and they will undoubtedly be appreciated some day."(1) I'm sure both brothers would be astounded and very pleased by how much Vincent's work is loved today.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Re-Starting My KonMari Quest

I've decided to renew my commitment to KonMari'ing my house -- all of it. I wouldn't say I gave up, just that it was on "accidental hold" for a while. I got a job, then I had an exhibition, then I got another job, then winter hit, then ... well, life just gets in the way sometimes. I'd always meant to get back to it. For some reason, now feels like a good time. I'd been undecided on whether to get Marie Kondo's second book, Spark Joy, but I ordered it a few weeks ago and am about halfway through it. The follow-up book can be described as an expansion of the first, with illustrations of the folding techniques, common questions answered and re-inforcement of the most important points. There are a few stories of clients peppered throughout, which I enjoy reading about. As embarrassing as my underwear drawer is, there's always worse out there!

To mark this commitment to re-start my quest, I'm writing this post with some of the points I feel are most important to remember. Perhaps someone else will find them useful, too.

I am so glad that I made up a spreadsheet of all the categories of items in my house before I started. I started with a basic list that I found online and customised it to fit my belongings. If I thought any categories were too large, I broke them down into smaller ones. I went round my whole house with a clipboard, looking into every nook and cranny to make sure I didn't miss out on any. (Don't forget the garage, shed and garden!) The list is like a master plan. If I start to feel overwhelmed, I refer to it to see what to do next. And of course, after a break, it's invaluable to know where to pick up from again.

I can't tell you the number of times I look at an item that I know I've already KonMaried and think, "Why did I decide to keep that?!" These are usually things that I dealt with early on, before my sense for what sparks joy was well-developed. As Marie Kondo explains, the more you practice the process, the faster and more decisively you will be able to determine what items spark joy. This makes me think that I'll probably change my mind about many items in my home sooner or later. In fact, I don't just KonMari twice -- I'm always KonMariing. Every time I use an item, my brain almost unconsiously goes through a process of re-deciding whether I still want to keep it, whether it still sparks joy. And there's nothing wrong with that. Everyone changes -- I've changed a lot in the last year. It makes sense that the things that once brought you joy might no longer. That's when it's time to say goodbye.

Often, when I stand in a room and look around, I feel overwhelmed. There are still boxes full of things stacked up in corners. (The amount of stuff has increased since my first KonMari effort, I have to admit!) When I open up cupboards, they still look full. My coffee table is still littered with stuff. I can't picture how it will all be in the end, how it could possibly ever be neat and tidy. I feel overwhelmed and I just want to give up. I have a feeling I'm not alone in this, though. At the start of Spark Joy, Marie Kondo re-iterates her instruction to find an inspirational photo. Look through magazines or the internet, and find one photo of an interior that encapsulates what you want your home (and let's face it, your life!) to look like at the end of the process. It seems like a small and trivial thing, but I'm starting to see how it's very important. I haven't yet retrieved that one photo which represents my ideal, but I can imagine how I would feel when I look at it -- my spirits will revive and my heart will lift. I'll again be able to imagine my house being a place where everything will have a home.

Much of the KonMari process has been quite hard for me, emotionally as well as physically. Not only that, but starting something again that you didn't finish the first time always comes with extra baggage attached. The very first section in Spark Joy is entitled "tidying is the act of confronting yourself." It's no wonder that people find the KonMari process and tidying in general to be filled with difficult emotions. It's essential to acknowledge the feelings and blocks that come up during the process. As Marie Kondo reminds us, it's a natural part of the process -- it shows us how attached to our belongings we are, and how important it is to have a home that sparks joy. So, take a break, take a bath, have a cup tea, celebrate every milestone, no matter how small it is. You will get there.

Check back for more posts on KonMari, clothes and crafts.
(Not necessarily all three, I just like alliteration!)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Movie Review : Wonder Woman

Spoiler Alert!
Like always, I try not to give away the ending of the movie,
but you may not want to read my review until you have seen it.

Wonder Woman (2017) tells the origin story of Wonder Woman, AKA Diana (Gal Gadot), formed from clay by her Amazon mother and given supernatural powers by the Greek gods. She grows up on the island paradise of Themyscira, protected by a barrier which keeps the corruption of the world out. The Amazons still train for a war that may never come, and Diana begs her mother to be allowed to learn to fight as well. The Amazons soon discover that she has powers beyond any of them.

One day, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashlands his plane just off the island and Diana rescues him. He reveals that war is raging in the world outside, and Diana believes it is her destiny to find the god of war Ares and kill him, therefore ending all war. She leaves the island, taking the weapons given to the Amazons by the gods: a sword capable of killing Ares, a lasso which compels truth from anyone bound in it, and a pair of armbands which can repel bullets.

Captain Trevor agrees to take Diana into the war zone, first having travelled to London to deliver a notebook which contains formulas for a deadly gas that the Germans have been developing. Diana's naivety is on show as she angrily tries to convince the British high command to end the war immediately. Failing at this, she renews her mission to go to the front, find Ares and kill him. Captain Trevor, wishing to go to Germany to stop the gas from being released, recruits a small band of misfits to accompany them.

I don't normally like superhero movies, but I enjoyed this one very much. Seeing strong women fighting and winning against men is such a rare thing in movies that it was very exciting to watch. Diana is portrayed as a complex character -- strong and angry, yet also naive and gentle. Her efforts to stop war with love and compassion are portrayed in a way that is heroic, not cheesy. It was refreshingly different from so many other movies where the aim is to fight out the war until the 'good guys' win. I found that I liked her superhero outfit much more than I thought I would: it was less stereotypical and more reminiscent of Ancient Greek battle gear. Chris Pine as Captain Trevor provides some nice man-candy to look at, and it was interesting that the gender roles weren't simplistically reversed. His character was more than just a one-dimensional love interest and was more balanced -- he followed Diana and helped her, but also performed his own heroic deeds.

The minor characters were all quirky, and funny and tragic by turns. Captain Trevor's secretary Etta Candy is a larger-bodied woman with a sarcastic wit. The three companions who accompany the pair into the war zone are Charlie, a fighter who can no longer shoot straight due to alcoholism and PTSD, Chief, a Native American who fled from persecution in his native land, and Sameer, a failed actor turned conman. I found all of their stories interesting and compelling.

The villains were more one-dimensional, but I guess that's to be expected from a superhero movie. General Ludendorff was a power-hungry megalomaniac, looking to gain approval from his superiors by using the gas created by Dr. Isabel Maru (also known as "Doctor Poison"), a mysterious and obsessive figure whose face is partially obscured by a mask. I found Dr. Maru an intriguing figure and wished I could have found out more about her.

The main action is set against the backdrop of World War I, and the movie is not afraid to show the tragedies and struggles of war. This helped to accentuate Diana's feelings of anguish and desire to help humankind. The scenes set in the French village of Veld, with elderly people dancing and Charlie playing the piano, were very poignant. While some reviewers complained that there was not enough action in the movie, I found it pleasing that there were slower parts which enabled me to appreciate other aspects, like the relationships between the characters and the pathos of war. And this list of things that happened in just one kindergarten after the children had watched the movie brought tears to my eyes.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Wonder Woman as a refreshingly different take on the superhero genre. Much more importantly though, the movie provides a strong, compassionate and likeable female role model for children to look up to.

Would I watch it again? YES!!!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Temperature Scarf : Update #3

I'm just checking in quickly today to show my Temperature Scarf at the 3-month mark. The colours that the cooler temperatures correspond to are:
20-23: grass green
17-19: light blue
14-16: medium blue
13 and under: grey

I don't imagine it will get much cooler, but Winter has only just started and it's been very cold already, so it's possible I might need to create a new category. I have to admit that would be a little exciting!