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I took yesterday off work so we could go see the Ron Mueck exhibition at the National Gallery Victoria.

Mueck is sculptor who creates hyperrealistic statues of people, mostly nude. And he plays with scale: the scupluters are tiny, or huge. The work that made him famous was Dead Dad, a three foot long scuplture of his father lying naked and dead on the floor. The exhibition also includes Wild man, a nine foot tall bearded giant perched on a wooden stool the size of a table, and A girl, a 5 metre long newborn infant.

The photos I'd seen of his work made them all look kind of creepy.

But in the flesh (so to speak), the first thing that struck me was how dream-like these sculptures were. There's an Alice In Wonderland quality about them and their sizes.

The second thing you notice is the detail. Every skin crease, every blemish, every hair is there. The detail on these sculptures is astonishing.

And then, after the obvious, the third and most important thing I noticed about these sculptures is how vulnerable and how endearing they are. The wild man looks shy and self-concious, as if he'd like to go back outside now, please. The Dead Dad is so small and fragile. One of my favourites of the works displayed, Man in a boat, features a naked middle aged man peering with keen curiousity out from his rowboat.

There's so much character and expression in the faces of these works, you can't help imagining stories about them. The catalogue even mentions that Mueck doesn't like his works to be displayed too close together, because it creates unintended narratives between them.

What Mueck's insane detail and wild distortions of scale ultimately reveal isn't the weirdness of these figures - it's their simple humanity.

This is a small exhibition, with only a dozen works. But it's utterly fantastic. I definitely recommend it.

(If you're going, try and go early in the day, before the crowds get too thick. That way you can appreciate the scale of these works more.)

Interesting Facts:
Ron Mueck was born in Melbourne, Australia. He moved to London to make props for advertising and film. One of those films was Jim Henson's Labyrinth, in which he provided the voice for Ludo.
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Jel and I spent the afternoon taking photos in the Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery. I've put a selection up on Facebook.

The Syme Memorial is quite impressive, with its pseudo-Egyptian theme. David Syme was a proprietor of The Age

But the stand-out was the Springthorpe Memorial. It was built by Dr. John Springthorpe for his wife who died giving birth at age 30. It's a beautiful --if somewhat over the top-- Victorian monument complete with marble sculpture, red stained glass dome, and inscriptions of poetry by Rosseti and Tennyson.

There's a great article in The Age archives explaining the history beind it.

Springthorpe Memorial, Kew Cemetery
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Jel and I went to the Hocus Pocus exhibition at the City Museum this afternoon.

It traces the history of stage magic in Melbourne, from the first performances in the gold fields onwards. There are lots of advertising posters, potted biographies of the magicians, and various props.

The posters were wonderful, but it's quite a small exhibition - just two little rooms. Not a patch on ACMI's Eyes, Lies and Illusions exhibition from a few years ago.

Still, it was only $5. And that included entry to the rest of the ground floor of the museum.

Where we saw a great documentary about Melbourne's old cable tram system.

It ran from 1885 to 1940. The trams were powered by clamping on to a moving cable that ran beneath the streets. The cable was powered by giant steam engines in the various powerhouses around the city, like the one on the corner of Nicholson and Gertrude street (photos at

The documentary had lots of 1930's footage of the trams and the powerhouses in action. It took some wonderfully and absurdly elaborate engineering to make it all work. Very, very steampunk. Not to mention dangerous to maintain, as the documentary narrator explained in a jolly voice. 

From the 1920s, the cable tram system was slowly replaced with electric trams. The last cable tram ran on October 26, 1940.

The weird thing?

No one told the public. Patrons caught the tram in to the theatre that evening. But when they came out, the trams had been replaced with double-decker buses.


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February 2019

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