500 words; epic human frailty

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On my way to work, I was listening to an RN Breakfast interview with a representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, who was describing the ‘radically new’ approach to addressing the challenges of climate change. One such revelation was ‘working with nature to find solutions’. When pressed, the interviewee said this meant taking lessons from nature and applying them to engineering solutions.

An example; there is too much CO2 floating around in the atmosphere and not enough locked away (sequestered) in the ground. Nature, it seems, has a few ways of sequestering carbon, one of which is….trees.

Woah woah woah…trees turn CO2 into something that isn’t CO2? Yep, the Commonwealth Secretariat doesn’t just make coffee and organise the dry cleaning of the Commonwealth Manageriat.

So I thought; OK, what’s the easiest, most efficient trees CO2-sequestration process?

Is it;

A) stop cutting down trees that sequester carbon? Also, plant some more?

B) dream up some other hugely carbon intensive industrial process that uses orders of magnitude more carbon to establish than sticking a sapling in the ground?

Guess which one the engineers went for? That’s right, a new form of concrete that sequesters CO2, so when you build a new building out of concrete (one of the most intensely carbon heavy products known to man) it will perform some of the same sequestration as a tree.

Some people like to build houses out of trees. They grow the tree, cut it down, build their house and another one grows in its place. Architects have also figured out how to build large structures out of engineered structural timber, instead of steel and concrete, two materials with very high embedded energy.

To be sure, this is not an argument about whether planting more trees would ‘fix’ global warming. It is a discussion about the most efficient tree-like way to sequester CO2. My money’s on….a tree.



Gen Y; Just like Gen X but with interest

With all the media pitching and yawing about Gen Y unable to buy houses for the same reasons as Gen X only people give a fuck about them….it’s worth making the only statement that needs to be made;

Sydney house prices have risen 88% since 2009. The price-t0-earnings ratio is all you need to know. Not much can keep up with that kind of growth. Everything else is just intergenerational warfare to keep us all entertained.

As I have said before, the comes a point where growth impacts its own growth. Sydney is at the point of pole-axing itself. It is reducing itself to a hollowed out facade of banal avarice and 100% proof suburbia, a museum exhibit. I love Sydney but it’s on its way out.

Interesting things about Wellington, New Zealand; No. 3; Mould.

Oh, hello there!

Oh, hello there!

From the air, Wellington looks like the work experience kid got left in charge – the entire city is laid over steep hills and valleys, with houses perched over vertiginous drops or buried amongst sunless thickets. As a result, some houses never see the sun at all, and many more are dug into steep clay hillsides. The back rooms of a house or apartment, usually bedrooms, can remain in perpetual darkness.

The natural light in these ‘dark rooms’ is limited to an eerie verdigris glow, filtered through a thin film of window-moss. The average inner city Wellington bedroom can feel somewhat incomplete without a complement of expanding MDF furniture and an axolotle. The results are predictable – a ceiling in the traditional ‘hot-coco’ style  (spreading patches of brown-black mould) and a wardrobe containing enough polar fleece to upholster a whale.

Polar fleece, incidentally, is New Zealand’s tartan. I am reliably informed that it cannot sustain mould, which I am inclined to believe – even mould won’t cling to something that smells like annealed vomit.

What I am overlooking, of course, is the hidden genius that is Wellington’s building stock – it’s mostly timber, which rolls and bounces with the frequent earthquakes. Having had the entire city wobble over a couple of times, the early settlers abandoned their grandiose colonial dreams of stone and masonry in favour of heartwood Rimu and other beautiful local species, which of course subsequent generations efficiently plastered over with woodgrain laminate. Thankfully, many buildings are now revealing their origins, including  timbers now commercially extinct, such as Kauri.

Attending the opening of a lotus.

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In some ways, Bermagui could be a coastal town anywhere; 1980s feature-brick arches hosting ice cream parlours and shops selling sarongs, the cloying smell of incense cut through with waves of cigarette smoke and urinal cakes from the tavern’s gaping verandah, its armpitty patrons leaning away from the creep of the mid-morning sun. And then of course there’s the ubiquitous seaside motif – seagulls and brightly coloured, swirly whale-tails emerging out of toilet blocks and rubbish bins.

After navigating the mandatory whale tails at Bermagui’s annual Sculpture on the Edge exhibition last weekend, I noticed something that’s made me wonder if it might just be time to rethink this lynchpin of the clunky seaside theme. And that’s because there’s another ubiquitous marine symbol on the rise, one that is invariably represented at art exhibitions in touristy, coastal towns – the pink-lipped muscle.

You’ve no doubt seen this sculpture or one like it before – a set of interleaving ‘lips’, rendered in stone or clay. The artist’s statement usually describes the work as a ‘form’ that represents ‘sacred femininity’, as if there’s something subtle, abstract or interpretive about a weary gash at eye level. It may or may not reference an opening lotus flower.

These vag-sculptures resonate with a zeitgeist of baby boomer towns, full of women who have ‘realised their artistic spirit’ around the same time that they discover purple is their power colour. You can be sure that every stone-vag has had several predecessors, all rendered in felt, by women whose sacred femininity is actualised with the help of unflattering rayon pants and the inability to change a tyre.

This is not to suggest that Bermagui’s Sculpture on the Edge exhibition isn’t without its charms. Whale tails and stone vaginas aside, the exhibition provides more readable works than its Sydney counterpart, running concurrently. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. A well executed figurative sculpture is a joy and a delight. For me, the giant Rhino, artfully plated in translucent white plastic, was eerily compelling, while several other pieces made me smile or think. Most importantly, hordes of people were wandering around, discussing and taking photos of the artworks. There’s definitely room for art that rejects smartypants abstractionism and tired ‘styles’ in favour of something clever, surprising and aesthetically appealing. Sculpture on the Edge contained some quite splendid pieces. If you go, make sure you also have a look at the indoors exhibition at the community hall down the road.

And, as with all regional exhibitions, do check out the large stone flange, if for no other reason than it is set to replace the whale tail as the true icon of coastal Australia, welcoming visitors into its warm embrace alongside a perennially glowing Woolworths and a string of skin cancer clinics.

P.S Bermagui is currently at war over a proposed Woolworths. For all of the above, Bermagui is gentrifying in interesting ways. If I go there again I might talk more about that.