Koalas & Contemporary Art

On Wednesday I booked a trip on the Koala & River Cruise, taking me 70 minutes up the Brisbane River to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where I saw, as you may have already guessed, koalas. Lots and lots of koalas. The Sanctuary also has kangaroos and wombats and reptiles and birds. The roos live in a large area, lounging in the shade of a warm day and waiting for eager visitors to feed them. The Sanctuary also offers a short but entertaining raptor show featuring a barn owl, a falcon, and a kite (a kind of eagle).

By 3:30 I was back in Brisbane, at a jetty near the Cultural Centre. So I headed over to the amazing Gallery of Contemporary Art. Most of this museum is free, but there was one exhibit, opened just within the last week, called “Water” for which there was a modest charge. It was totally worth it. Two rooms in particular are worthy of mention. In one a host of animals from various continents and climates are gathered around a single pool of blue water. Water trips from above every few seconds to alert visitors that the water is live, even if the animals are not. It served to remind me that despite our differences we have a shared responsibility for that which makes all life possible.

A second, huge room, was covered with a variety of river stones on a slope with a stream of water meandering through. Visitors are encouraged to climb on the exhibit and even rearrange rocks as they see fit. And all this under the bright light of fluorescent fixtures standing in stark counterpoint: nature below and artifice above. What a weird way to experience nature: in the air-conditioned comfort of a clearly artificial space. I found it quite provocative.

And then I found a snowman carefully preserved and displayed in a freezer. It begs the question: how are we sharing and preserving nature?

And, being a gallery of contemporary art, there was lots more to see, including the work known as “White Wash.” Black vinyl letters are covered with ashtrays. But look closer: each of the ashtrays draws on aboriginal themes and images, all used in the service of white culture. In a land very aware of the impact of European colonization on the original peoples of Australia, this installation requires thought and care. It is, one may say, enough to get a brain to think!

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