Archive for January, 2009

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Modern Times, Modern Shapes

Modernism in Australia

As some of you are aware, when I am not waxing lyrically about the subtleties and intricacies of our most beloved beverage, I am usually up to my waist in a hole somewhere, looking through 200 year-old garbage; part and parcel of my day job as a historical archaeologist here in Sydney.

The vast majority of our work deals with the period 1788 – 1900, however I am part of a growing number of archaeologists, heritage specialists and historians who are now casting an eye to our most recent material legacies – those of the 20th and early 21st centuries. This has become known as contemporary archaeology, or the archaeologies of the contemporary past. Just as we may say one thing whilst doing something completely contradictory, the material record of the recent past offers us a separate and oft-times divergent account of human behaviour in the recent past. Moreover, the material remains of the recent past are subject to hyper-depletion; because it is ‘new’ or ‘mundane’ or ‘every-day’ we value it less than a piece of material culture of which we have fewer examples,  or are of greater antiquity. Academics are beginning to realise that the designation of ‘archaeology’ as a discipline which deals solely with the ‘old’ or ‘rare’ is problematic at best, and entirely fallacious at worst.

With this in mind – we are now asking an intriguing series of questions regarding our most recent tracks in the sand. What is it about the late-20th century that speaks to us? What is it about the modern period which we must conserve for future generations? The answers to these questions may be more surprising than you would expect (for instance, the case may be made that a 1970s car-park is more worthy of conservation than a church of the same period, as the former is a far more diagnostic entity, indicative of technological and social change in the late-20th century).

I am currently writing a thesis on the archaeological and heritage values of an architectural style which became known as The New Brutalism – a form which, whilst initially highly popular amongst architects and civic planners, would later be widely decried as ugly, obnoxious and a blight on the landscape. This, however, was also said of ‘Art Deco’ buildings during the 1980s, High Victorian buildings during the 1950s, and so on… judgments made almost solely on the basis of subjective aesthetics and perceived social ‘value’. Whilst some Brutalist buildings do look out-of-place and could be construed as unattractive – this cannot be said for every building, just as it cannot be said of all Postmodernist, Constructivist, Functionalist or Millennial Minimalist buildings. We require a more sophisticated approach to the archaeology and heritage of Modernism in Australia, and the Powerhouse Museum is currently hosting an exhibition which beautifully showcases the scope, scale and power of Modernist architecture and design in Australia.

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Posted by Robert on Jan 25th 2009 | Filed in Events,History | Comments (0)

Sydney Festival 2009

The legendary Grace Jones, part of the Sydney Festival line-up.
The legendary Grace Jones, part of the Sydney Festival line-up.

Well, it is Sydney Festival time again, and this year has to be one of the best in recent memory. I had the near-religious pleasure of seeing the one and only Ms Grace Jones at the Festival First Night in the Domain last evening, along with around 250,000 of my closest friends. Having been a devoted Jones fan since a tender age (about 9, in fact. Very innapropriate, but I think the Slave to the Rhythm video did something instrumental to my immature little mind), I could not pass up the chance to see her in the flesh, as it were. With a different Philip Treacy head-piece and costume for each song, the woman shows no sign of slowing down even though she is in her sixth decade on the planet. You can experience the icon which is Grace Jones too, if you are anywhere near the Enmore Theatre, from tonight until the 13th.

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Posted by Robert on Jan 11th 2009 | Filed in Culture,Events,News,People | Comments (0)

Happy 2009!


We would like to wish all of our subscribers and fellow absintheurs in Australia and around the globe a happy 2009. May the absinthe flow freely!

Posted by Robert on Jan 4th 2009 | Filed in Culture,History,News,People | Comments (0)