Cultural Wednesdays- Week 7

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote a Cultural Wednesdays post, but I simply cannot let this week’s excursion pass without making a comment. Even the people who find Cultural Wednesdays boring (hello, Mum!) should like it. I hope….

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For the past couple of weeks, I have been seeing countless ads for an M.C. Escher exhibition in Madrid.

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I have always been a big fan of Escher, as I think his work is incredibly clever and interesting. I love the way that he plays with the laws of nature, and the preciseness of his wood cuts and lithographs is absolutely extraordinary, especially given that he didn’t have access to the technology (e.g. computers) that we have today.

Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon, I finally decided to visit the Escher exhibition. And I would DEFINITELY recommend it.

The venue for the exhibit, the Palacio de Gaviria, was absolutely fascinating. It reminded me a lot of the State Theatre in Sydney, with its opulent, old school decoration, and ample use of fake gold. Nothing like a bit of kitsch, I say!

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I didn’t know much about Escher’s life, so it was good to find out more. He was born in The Netherlands, and his early school performance was not particularly remarkable. Apparently, he failed a lot of subjects, and decided to become an engineer, after his father suggested it. However, after a year, he realised that he enjoyed graphic design more, and started experimenting with drawing. And, to use an insufferable clichĂ©, the rest is history.

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But needless to say, the best part of the exhibition was seeing the original prints. I know it sounds cheesy, but there is something so much different about seeing artworks in real life versus seeing them in books. It was weird to think “Wow, there’s that picture I’ve seen hundreds of times sitting RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME.”

My favourites were these ones:

The image on the left was the best. Escher was unable to finish it because he didn’t know how the space would contort in the centre. So he put his signature there, and pretended it was deliberate. Many years later, some American mathematicians decided to “solve” the puzzle. It took them six months. With the aid of computers.

But probably the most fun part of the exhibition was being able to pretend to be a part of Escher’s work. Here’s some embarrassing photos of me “getting caught up in the action”, so to speak.

So if anyone is looking for an excuse to visit Madrid (hint, hint!), here’s one 🙂

What’s a BelĂ©n?

One of the things I was most looking forward to about Spain was seeing what it would be like to have Christmas in Europe. And one of the unique facets of a Spanish Christmas is the importance placed on the Belén.

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Belén

A Belén is a nativity scene, generally consisting of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus at the very minimum, but usually accompanied by shepherds, Wise Men, and a whole lot of other people and animals.

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Subversive Belén in Barcelona, complete with selfie taker

There seems to be an unwritten rule that one must do their best to make their Belén as fabulous as possible. For instance, the Plaza Major in Madrid was filled with stalls selling all manner of Belén necessities (think moss, bark, sculptures, small barns), whilst my school had its annual Belén making activity.

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Life size Belén in Zaragoza

To say it was competitive is the understatement of the year.

On the first day of December, each grade was told which part of the BelĂ©n was their responsibility. Year 6, being their final year, were told to make the three “main players” (Mary, Joseph and Jesus), whilst Year 5 were allocated the shepherds and Wise Men. I’m not too sure who decided that Year 4 would make windmills and bridges (were windmills even around 2000 years ago?), although I’m guessing that it was getting a bit difficult to think of different things that the kids could make by this stage!

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Note windmills

The children were then put in teams, and told to make their BelĂ©n things after school and on the weekend. Two weeks later, they brought them in. I was amazed at how much effort had gone into it. A lot of the kids (and parents, I’m guessing) had clearly spent ages making sure their cows looked just right and that the cloth on the Wise Men’s camels was precisely the right shade of blue (I’m serious).

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During the last week of school, the entire entrance foyer was turned into “BelĂ©n-land.” The Head Teacher (whose job seems to consist mainly of arranging festive decorations and parties) assembled a big collection of tables, covered them in sand (bags not cleaning up after…) and then the class tutors chose the best creations for the BelĂ©n.

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Whilst it looked great, I did feel a bit sorry for the kids whose figures were deemed “superfluous to requirements”. These offerings, which included a beautiful pink Barbie house (very nice, but anachronistic), some tables whose legs had broken off, and a couple of very creepy looking scarecrows (which may have been recycled from Halloween, I’m beginning to think) were banished to the library, where their indignant creators complained bitterly to each other that their work had been snubbed.

But I’ve got to admit, my favourite BelĂ©n figurine was the one below. I’m not too sure if a student, teacher, or parent made him, but I congratulate them for their sense of humour.

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The king!

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 6

This week’s Cultural Wednesday was an afternoon of modern art, of the more, well, “unusual” kind.

I caught the train from my school, and got off at Atocha, where they have some rather interesting giant sculptures of babies’ heads outside the station. I’m really not too sure what they are meant to symbolise (if anything), but they seem to attract a steady crowd of tourists, keen to be snapped with said objets d’art

I then walked to the nearby Parque de El Retiro, the Spanish equivalent of Sydney’s Hyde Park or New York’s Central Park. Whilst I’ve been to the Retiro a few times before, I didn’t realise until last week that there are a couple of exhibition spaces there, where they often hold different art shows.

The first of these spaces is called the Palacio de Cristal, and is an enormous structure built of glass and metal.IMG_8232.JPG

The artwork (installation? creative piece? insert word of your choosing?) which is presently showing is a soundscape by a German artist, who had spent over 5 years recording the noise of ice cracking and falling (can’t fault him for his dedication). He had used these recordings to create a 2 hour (!!!!!) work of ice sounds, which was played on a loop in the Palacio.

Because the sound of ice cracking is similar to that of glass shattering, the effect was kind of eerie, and it seemed like the walls of the structure were about to fall down.

Ingenious, yes, but not exactly pleasant listening. I felt incredibly sorry for the security guards, who have to stand there and listen to the soundscape for hours each day. They must be going a bit batty.

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The second art exhibition, in the nearby Palacio de Velázquez, was even more esoteric.

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It was a series of works by a Basque “conceptual artist”, with installations such as Bastardo, which consisted of a school table and chair suspended from the wall, and Gimme Shelter, shown below.

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There were also a few written works, which I couldn’t fully understand with my bad Spanish, but here’s a picture of one below (anyone who can translate it accurately gets a prize!):

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But the most interesting piece of modern art I saw on Wednesday was in the process of being constructed. At the Retiro Lake, I walked past a couple who had their two tiny dogs perched on a post, and were trying desperately to take their photo. Unfortunately, the dogs had other ideas, and refused to look at the camera at the same time.

I imagine that perfecting this artwork may take longer than the 5 years of recording the ice cracking…

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My new Wednesday ritual

On Wednesdays, I am fortunate enough to only have three classes at the school, which means that I finish work at 11:15 a.m.

Needless to say, Wednesdays are my favourite school days…

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The first few weeks of the school year, I ended up wasting my half-day off by hanging out at home or doing something thrilling like the grocery shopping, but last week, I decided that I should expand my mind with more worthwhile activities (Oh dear. That sounds insufferably affectacious). I was at a bit of a loss as to what I could do, but then I remembered that on the way to the station, I pass a couple of small museums, and so I decided that Wednesday afternoon would be my Official Museum Visiting Time.

Today was Day One of my new Wednesday ritual, and I went to the Sorolla Museum. Here’s their website.

JoaquĂ­n Sorolla was a Spanish painter (interesting aside- well, interesting for me!-JoaquĂ­n is my absolute favourite Spanish boys’ name)  and after his and his wife’s deaths, his house and artworks were left to the state on the proviso that they be turned into a museum.

The museum is absolutely amazing, because it’s a perfectly preserved early 20th century house, surrounded on all sides by ugly apartment blocks, and with a main road right out the front (thankfully, the house is shielded by a beautiful garden).

Inside, it’s like a time warp, because all the furniture is original, and they’ve tried to leave it as it was when Sorolla died in 1923.

One of the most interesting rooms is the studio. The walls are covered in Sorolla’s pictures, and the unfinished canvas that he was working on when he died is still there, with the paints and brushes laid out in front. It looks as if it is still being completed, and the artist has just nipped out for a break.

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To be honest, I didn’t know anything about Sorolla’s art before I decided to visit the museum. From looking around the house, it seems that he mainly focussed on landscapes and portraits, using oils. It was really interesting to see that the faces in a lot of the portraits were being reworked, so I’m guessing that he mightn’t have felt so confident in trying to capture likenesses. This was comforting, and now I don’t feel so bad about desperately trying to avoid drawing faces in Year 10 art!

Of the completed portraits, I especially liked two, a self-portrait Sorolla had painted for his wife, and the other of his daughter. The self-portrait says “To my Clotilde, JoaquĂ­n” down the bottom, which is think is lovely.

So, this was my first educational Wednesday excursion. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up! Madrid is full of small museums, so I don’t think I’ll run out of possibilities in the time I’m here 🙂