Review: Marina Abramovic’s Project 30, Sydney



24 June – 05 July 2015
12 noon – 7pm daily


Pier 2/3
Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney

Only a few days left to catch Marina Abramovic (I can’t figure out how to put the accent over the ‘c’) if you’re living in Sydney and haven’t experienced it. If you’re going, then just go, and don’t read this review…

If you went, what did you think?

I wanted to go without knowing anything about the installation, and I’d count myself lucky that I only briefly read about two of the six parts. I won’t list each one, but in brief, the artist, with a large number of helpers, created full immersive experience, multifaceted and interconnected. Not only did we take part in the artwork, but our interaction was part of it and even visually so.

There was something haunting about watching various people slowly walking down a long edge of the space, quietly, mindfully in short footsteps.

Perhaps the simplest of the parts, where participants were placed in a tableau, some on blocks, some in chairs, and asked to close their eyes, was as powerful as any of the others. I became quiet. With the noise-reduction headphones, I could hear my heartbeat. I felt completely alone in the space, even though I knew there were many other people surrounding me. And I felt a communality in our aloneness.

Being tucked into the womb of a camp bed, in rows of camp beds, at the end of the space, was unique. Where does the mind go in these circumstances? I relaxed and felt deep calm at moments; my mind wandered at other moments; I mused, also, at the uniqueness of being tucked into this bed, in this big open space on a pier over the Harbour.

I have done exercises of looking strangers or near-strangers in the eyes; I enjoyed it so much I did it twice, and if I had wanted to, could probably have contemplated the single panels of colour that some people were placed, or placed themselves in front of. It is an exercise in time, patience, choice, connection and vulnerability. How long to meet the gaze for? How long to make the moment last? What is the other person thinking?

The part that most people talk about was sitting down to separate and count a pile of black lentils and white rice. It was more of an interesting task than I thought. What technique would I use? How would I keep track? A fellow next to me seemed to be separating them all out, without counting. I noticed most of us needed help from our pencil to separate and count the objects. I began counting right away, in groups of five for the lentils and ten for the rice grains, and at times became fascinated by the shapes of the items: how many broken parts of rice? Does one count a full grain, or each part of a grain? Had I ever really noticed how pretty a black lentil is? It was an impossible task, and at the end, the end that I chose, I’d only done a small portion of the pile. I think I counted about 500 lentils, and decided at the end that while I had written down 500 grains of rice, my system was confused and skewed.

While doing this, I mused on how we keep ourselves occupied, on whether a task is a pleasure or a burden, the differences in approaches that everyone must have brought to the task, and why were we doing it anyways? It felt to me that by having the choice to do this strange task, that it became pleasurable. While there was a simple instruction, in fact, there were no rules. No one would be grading me on the task, no one monitored it. There was something soothing and calm about doing the exercise, and most of all, I thought about how we create meaning in our lives.

Without a watch or a phone, I had no idea how long I’d stayed, but when I left, I’d been there nearly two hours. And I was sad to leave this strange, beautiful world, full of meaning, and quiet.

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Food Diary: Una’s, Sydney

Unas - 2

Una’s in Darlinghurst, Sydney, is an absolute institution. They’ve been around for 45 years! They’re remarkably consistent, and the food tastes pretty much exactly as it has the last times that I’ve been over the last 15 years or so. It’s hearty, heavy and sticks to your ribs. The service is always reliable and efficient.

I always end up ordering the Jagerschnitzel, in one of its pork, chicken or veal varieties (above is veal), smothered in thick mushroom sauce and with a generous serving of rosti potatoes. This poses a dilemma as the wonderful crisp batter will slowly get soggy from the gravy if you don’t eat it quickly enough.

As I only go to Una’s about once every two years, various memories come back. First of all, I love the little coleslaw (below) that they serve with every meal. And I do remember enjoying a variety of the appetizers and mains: beef croquettes is what we had this time, although I’ve had deep-fried camembert in the past, as well as goulash as a main and pork knuckle. But I also remember the stages of eating the main course. First bite: a delight! Deep-fried battered meat, crispy hashbrown potatoes. It’s tasty and feels naughty as well to eat something that is considered particularly health-conscious these days (as a side note, I’m always amused how many gay men eat in Una’s, considering how health and body-conscious gay men are, it’s seems a funny contradiction). And then the second bite: hmm, there’s a lot of food on this plate. And then, by the time I’ve finished it all: agh, I ate too much, and don’t feel wonderful. The quantity and heaviness seems to outweigh the initial pleasure.

But then again, I should know better.

Unas - 1

Click to add a blog post for Una's Café & Restaurant on Zomato

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Food Diary: Tim Ho Wan, Sydney

Tim - 2

Ever since I found out there was a Michellin-starred Dim Sum house in Hong Kong, the most inexpensive Michellin-starred restaurant in the world, I’ve been recommending that friends go there if they’re in Hong Kong. I’ve never managed to get there myself. Cameron told me a wonderful story that the prices were so cheap, he reckoned that the prices were for individual items, so ordered numerous quantities of each… and then had to give away food to happy neighbouring tables at the end.

Tim - 1

I was very excited to find out that Tim Ho Wan has made it to Sydney, though it took me a while to get there. I’d heard the lines were terrible, and indeed they could have been. Except we were going to a friend’s photography exhibition and so went somewhere around 5:30 I think (on a weekday). We got a table without problem though by the time we left, there was a rather large queue already. So, all you haters who couldn’t appreciate the food because of the line, go when it’s less crowded!

Tim - 3

There are already a million photos of the individual dishes on the net, from the Sydney restaurant and other location… So, here are just a very few. Was it good dim sum (or yum cha as they call it in Australia)? Yup. Was it great? Yup. Did it blow my socks off so I knew why they got a Michelin Star? Not really. But with reasonable prices, and really very tasty food, I’m happy to give my recommendations.Tim - 4

And this: these famous baked pork buns. My friend Malu finds them too sweet, but I say ‘Nooooo’. There is a magical combination of sweet, savoury, crispy and soft.

Tim - 5

And I would go to Tim Ho Wan anytime for these. Though I liked most of the other dishes well enough, including my hot barley tea. Uh, I did think the Mango Pomelo Sago dish was weird; I was expecting something much nicer. But the Malaysian steam cake was delicious.

Tim - 6
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Food Diary: Chonsiam, Sydney

Chon 2 - 2

Sydney has such freaking good Thai food. An unmentioned friend of a friend won’t eat the Thai food here in Sydney because it’s not as good as in Thailand, but the thing is: a lot of people think the Thai food is better here. Thai chefs have more space to experiment, freed from tradition, and have higher quality ingredients.

I’ve loved the look of this hole-in-the-wall, and stopped by after a late morning meeting in central Sydney. Since Masterchef had just had an episode where someone made this dish to emulate Thai street food, I couldn’t really go past ordering the pork omelette. I’m not sure how you can go wrong with this dish, and it was delicious.

I was too shy to order the $5 boat noodles, since part of me was thinking: how can they keep a restaurant afloat if people are only paying $5! But I’ll try it next time. Seems like a specialty of the house. Chon 2 - 1

Click to add a blog post for Chonsiam on Zomato

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Food Diary: La Cuchara de San Telmo, San Sebastian, Spain

pintxos - 7In August 2014, I had the most stunning pintxos I’ve ever had. This is partly because although I’ve had many tapas, as they’re known in most places, I’ve not spent time in Northern Spain where they call them pintxos.

pintxos - 2But this place was just ridiculously good. Absolutely packed from about ten minutes after it opened, a crazy wonderful and buzzy atmosphere, and amazing folks behind the bar sending out food and wine, and the two times I went, the fellow behind the bar remembered my name and took great care of me.

pintxos - 4We managed to try a lot of dishes. The goat’s cheese, veal cheeks, pig’s ear, calamari or squid, pork belly, fish and foie gras, I believe were our choices (or at least the ones I took photos of). If you’re ever in San Sebastian, this is the place to go…

pintxos - 1  pintxos - 3  pintxos - 5 pintxos - 6

Ah, but wait, there’s more. I said we went back a second time, didn’t I? This allowed us I think to try basically everything on the menu!

pintxos 2 - 1 pintxos 2 - 4pintxos 2 - 5pintxos 2 - 2    pintxos 2 - 6pintxos 2 - 3 pintxos 2 - 7


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Food Diary: Sepia, Sydney

Crazy dessert at Sepia

Crazy dessert at Sepia

September 2013, I took a colleague out to Friday lunch at Sepia to thank her for her professional kindness, and she arrived to tell me big and wonderful professional news. It was a great occasion to eat somewhere I’d heard of for ages and wanted to try.

Since then, the reviews and notices keep coming. The restaurant is lauded and loved.

I’d agree. This menu was so interesting and engaging.

new doc 4_1

What I remember very clearly was not just how delicious the food was, but that every dish had a really interesting textural element. The dishes were complex with many elements, but didn’t seem fussy or overcomplicated, and had a wow factor.

The dessert above was the biggest wow factor for me. A dozen different rich flavours of chocolate and other delights: ‘Spring chocolate forest’. My god, I dreamt of this afterwards.

Click to add a blog post for Sepia on Zomato

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Food Diary: Gagging for Gaggan, Bangkok

Gaggan - 7Sorry. I couldn’t resist the wordplay. Gaggan was just rated the world’s best Asian restaurant, and is #10 on the world’s best list of restaurants that comes out every year. ‘Progressive Indian Cuisine’ in the Lumpini area of Bangkok, I went last year in June 2014 and never blogged about it.

Gaggan - 1

It’s in a lovely old house back from the street, and I didn’t have any problems getting in for an early dinner. There were a few set menus to try, multi-course degustations, and I think I tried not the cheapest and not the most expensive. All up for a glass of wine, a cocktail, some soda water and the ‘India Reinvented’ set, it set me back 4055 Baht, which is about $160 Australian. Standard enough for top-class world cuisine.

Gaggan - 5 Gaggan - 6 Gaggan - 3Gaggan - 4

I do have to admit that I was charmed by the modern take on Indian cuisine, some playful molecular-type techniques, and unusual flavours. Beautiful and unusual presentation. The service was top-notch. The Spanish waiter handsome and charming and I was glad to try it. The top photo, of some concoction that required squirting the sauce from the syringe into the haute cuisine version of a puri (deep-fried bread) was brilliant and I love the paan (spices) in a little ‘plastic’ envelope that melted in one’s mouth.

Gaggan - 10

Gaggan - 9

But for me, the food didn’t sing to me. It was interesting and original but for a restaurant so lauded, it felt somehow short. Readers of my food blog will know I’m pretty generous in my reviews… and it’s not that I had high expectations before I went, but to get such a high ranking on that list (which I’ve used to hunt down other restaurants, and am pleased to have eaten at some of them)… I guess I don’t agree.

Gaggan - 8

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Food Diary: The Governor’s Table, Sydney

Pork Belly

Pork Belly

We had a very pleasant early meal here, ahead of the Vivid opening party at the Studio in the Opera House. It’s good to have another option for eating in this area. I’ve refused to go to the strip of touristy restaurants along Circular Quay leading up to the Opera House, and though the fast food at the Opera Bar is tasty, it can be a bit manic if it’s too crowded.

I’d never noticed this place when it was the MoS (Museum of Sydney) Cafe. Here they seem to be trying for broader appeal, a modern Australian take on colonial food. Or something like that.

The host was a lovely woman from Versailles and we were served by a friendly Canadian. I liked my salt cod croquettes with lemon crème fraiche and caviar. My better half’s BBQ lamb ribs with quince and goji sauce were probably the night’s highlight, all juicy fat married with sweet fruit. He found his main, an orrechiette with crab and guanciale too salty, my Kurobata pork belly with baked potato puree was tasty.

The food was good, but didn’t stand out for me. But polished off with a bottle of rosé named Jose (seriously), and with an entertainment guide coupon that gave us a free main course, it was A-OK, and we’ll try it again.



The Governors Table on Urbanspoon

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Concert review: Sufjan Stevens, Sydney Opera House

Photo by Jules Minnis via (He was looking older and sadder than this…)

Monday night, 25 May 2015, we caught one of Sufjan’s shows at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Vivid Festival. Pretty amazing, he did four shows, I think all of them sold out.

I’ve been to at least three other of his concerts here in Sydney. The first time I went just because he sounded cool. I didn’t know his music. It was so long ago that he was cool, and somehow, strangely, a decade later, there are articles being written about he is now considered uncool.

In any case, I loved his music: haunting, simple, beautiful melodies. Even when ramped up into bigger production numbers, there was also a tunefulness that I liked, as well as his soft voice, sliding in and out of falsetto. He also is a supremo musician, and so quirky: his songs sometimes have crazy-long titles, and can be slightly impenetrable as a whole, yet with line after line that is simple and touching. He also doesn’t shy away from the big issues, while painting an intimate image of being held or the colour of the day, within questions about life and death and god and human nature.

Previous shows had him bouncing around the stage with back-up musicians and singers, I think they were dressed as cheerleaders once, a full brass ensemble and even he joined in with some crazy costumes on his Age of Adz tour.

But this was different. The album Carrie and Lowell is based on the death of his mother, who had all sorts of mental illness and who was an intermittent presence in his life. An interview with him said that he went off the rails after she died, indulging in substances and sex, and falling into grief and depression. So, this show was quiet, with vertical stripes of light behind the stage with projections of his mother and his childhood and the landscape of his youth. I think he played the whole album and nearly every song mentions loss, death and a mother figure, or his mother.

He spoke not a word to the audience until fairly late in the set, when he started talking about the way he’s been thinking of the different meanings of ‘occupation’ lately, how it has come to mean so many things, occupation as a job, occupying time and space, and yet its original meaning is to take something by force. Grief occupies you after the loss of someone, he said, and then spoke of the word ‘reside’ and how those gone reside in us: we are the way people carry on, we hold communities within us. I’ve certainly heard this idea before, but I liked his spin, and that he is honestly thinking this through, and that he shared it with us honestly and openly.

I also was struck by his voice. It’s as if he’s created his own instrument out of it. He doesn’t bother to sing full voice, but mainly whispers, mostly in tune, but sometimes slightly in between notes, speaking, murmuring, never straining: I found it kind of fascinating and with a timbre that is haunting. On his album, he sometimes doubles his voice to get it more strength; here, there was a crazy echo effect which I found sometimes too much, to be frank.

(As a side note, the Opera House is now allowing people to bring wine into the theatre in plastic cups, all through the evening, particularly noticeable during the quiet songs, the sounds of these stupid cups falling over and being accidentally kicked down a row. Crazy-making)

I also like that in some of his songs, he just simply trails off, where he’s said enough, or where words are inadequate to say anymore, so the song either stops, is silent, or moves into music without words. One of his early songs was quite extraordinary starting as a sad, gentle folk song, and quite late it suddenly became loud and happy, the same melody and lyrics but suddenly completely transformed. Near the end of the show, a wordless song grew and grew with a light show also taking off and I felt a bit like the Radiohead concert I went to a few years ago: it was an intense, multisensory experience.

The audience stood and cheered at the false end, and the encore featured some of his more well-known songs from early years, but I think all of us felt a bit of his raw grief and felt privileged for him to be open and share it with us. When I think of the word ‘artist’, I think about that kind of vulnerability.

Posted in Music, Review, Theatre/Show | Leave a comment

Thor and Freyja Playing

Because there are not enough kittens on the internet:

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