Yesterday I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see their current special exhibition, Escher X nendo | Between Two Worlds, before it closes next week. First off, if you live in Melbourne and you have the time between now and 7 April, please do try to give it a visit. The fantastic show creates a dialogue between the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, most known for his fantastical optical illusion creations, and Japanese design house nendo, who drew inspiration from Escher’s art to create a series of interactive displays and installations that guide you through the exhibition and into a dreamy, yet high-contrast world of black and white geometry.
I brought my camera intending to take a few photos of works in the exhibition, but instead I found myself captivated by other people’s photos. Everywhere I looked, folks had their phones out, cameras on, capturing their own photos of the lithographs, prints, and installations. I was fascinated to get this glimpse into everyone else’s experiences of the show. It’s so rare that we get to see through someone else’s eyes in real time, our windows into their perspective coloured after the fact by the pictures they choose to share, the filters they use.
As I walked through the exhibit, I spent as much time looking at the other visitors as I did looking at the works of art. I loved seeing which pieces they connected with, which ones they wanted to remember. I liked seeing the way they chose to document the art they saw: did they faithfully capture the full work or try to put their own artistic spin on their photo by cropping a detail or including a companion? Did they photograph the information card as well, or were they content to divorce the image from its title and history?
With apologies to the people through whose viewfinders I creepily photographed, seeing the exhibit through multiple points of view added a new layer to my understanding and enjoyment of the art. Escher’s work is all about reflections and twisted perspectives, and looking at the photos that others took brought that fascinatingly distorted outlook to my own experience of the exhibit. I definitely recommend seeing Escher x nendo | Between Two Worlds at the NGV if you can, but whether you go to this exhibit or any art show in the future, look around at the other visitors and see what they see for a moment or two.
After General Leia, Finn’s face, and those cute little floofy owl creatures, the star of The Last Jedi was surely Skellig Michael. Throughout the film, magnificent shots of the Irish island punctuated the intergalactic action.
While this little island is now famous worldwide as the hideout of Luke Skywalker, it has always been an important part of Irish history. The site of an ancient monastery, it is also well known as a conservation area for an array of seabirds such as puffins. Skellig Michael can only be visited from May to October because of the rough ferry route, and unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to explore it yet, but while I was in Ireland this fall Steve took me around the Ring of Kerry and we were able to see the Skelligs (Skellig Michael and its smaller companion) in the distance.
I’m sure I’ll get the chance to explore Skellig Michael and its craggy, epic cliffs at some point in the next few years, but there’s no shortage of impressive historic sites in Ireland, and I have been lucky enough to visit a number of them. Here are a few of my favourites.
Brú na Bóinne / Newgrange
Stonehenge may be the most famous example of a neolithic site in the British and Irish isles, but it’s also one of the most overrated. You have to drive nearly two hours from London to walk around a largely unimpressive circle of rocks—at a distance and on the other side of a cordon, mind. Newgrange, on the other hand, is a chance to get up close and personal with a way cooler instance of neolithic architecture and design. This site is located a mere 45 minutes from Dublin and consists of a circular mound with an underground passageway made of stone that you can actually enter.
The most notable feature of this site is that the upper entrance of the mound aligns with the sun on the winter solstice so that a ray of light shines through into the inner chamber. To be inside the mound on this special day, you have to enter a lottery on your visit, and one of the reasons this site holds such a place in my heart is that I was actually lucky enough to win the lottery while I was living in Ireland. Unfortunately, the weather was too cloudy (in Ireland in December? You don’t say!) for any sun to make its way into the chamber, but it was still an incredible experience to know that we were standing in the same place, doing the same thing, as those who lived five thousand years before us.
As a kid, it took me some time to realise that everyone in America didn’t grow up within minutes of important historical locations. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so I would always say I was from “outside Philly” but whenever I need to give more specificity to people familiar with the area but who didn’t know my small town, I described it as “near Washington Crossing… as in Washington crossing the Delaware.” In addition to being just a few minutes’ drive from this historic location, the towns around mine are full of houses and buildings that date back to the colonial era, I used to work at a school that was owned by a doctor during the Revolutionary War (and is allegedly haunted by a Hessian soldier he operated on there), and, of course, the city of Philadelphia is only 40 minutes away.
Yesterday I visited Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution. A few blocks away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the museum is the perfect addition to the area. Tracing the events leading up to, during, and through the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, this well-curated exhibit features artifacts from the time period and thorough explanations of significant happenings and people. Highlights include the excellent orientation video, the original tent Washington used as his personal office during the war, and one of the oldest preserved Revolutionary-era flags of the soon-to-be United States. Most of us are already familiar with the basic history due to years of primary education (is it just me, or did we learn about the Revolutionary War pretty much every year?) but the museum does a great job of providing a comprehensive overview while also delving deeper into lesser-known moments, people, and things.
This past weekend, while half of the students in my program were in Granada (I’m going this upcoming weekend!), and my roommate was in Paris, I took off on my own for the north: to Bilbao and San Sebastián. After deciding that Vueling is definitely my favourite low-cost airline (they let you have a carry-on and a purse! Anyone who has ever flown Ryanair knows what a big deal this is), I took a bus to San Sebastián and I immediately fell in love with the city! The walk from the bus station to the hostel was along a river and crossed a bridge just before it reached the ocean. The hostel I stayed in, Olga’s Place (highly recommended!) was just a block from the ocean. After I checked in, I decided to take a walk along the beach. La Playa de la Concha stretches in a curve around the edge of the city. Even though it was foggy and not particularly warm (a nice change from the heat in Sevilla, I must admit), that didn’t stop people from going to the beach. I saw so many people walking, playing with their dogs, even kayaking and surfing in the (freezing) water.