Goes both ways

I often talk about what it means for me to write. To be able to translate the wrangling mess of confusion bubbling on the surface of my mind, to put it down on paper or screen, bare. To rid myself of that pressure, so intense that it sears my being every time I postpone writing. It’s a privilege to have the freedom and capacity to sit down and ball up all that thoughts into a form that could hit people, make them pause, muse, smile, relate, and even change their minds.

In a way, creating art is such a selfish act. I write because I want to spew out ideas galloping in my head. I expose part of myself when I write, and I do so willingly, deliberately, consciously choosing and trying to achieve the emotion I wish to impart.

In other words, artists often create art to satisfy themselves and their egos.

What of the consumer, though?

Graffiti in Melbourne

Browsing through photographs from Melbourne, I came across one of a graffiti. It was at one of the many infamous graffiti alleyways of the city. And on it was a piece of advice you’d least expect to receive from an overcrowded wall. Free your mind, it said. As if it knew that despite wandering around town ecstatic at the experience of exploring a new city, I was processing angst and fear. Although I was in the moment, taking in the beauty that sprawled around me, inhaling the chemical scent of rebellion splashed across the walls, I still had other things in mind. Some of those were important things but most menial—like where I’d go next or what I’d get for dinner afterwards. And as if it knew the meaningless banter cantering through my head.

It wasn’t new. I’d heard the same words many times in various places. And yet, that work of art spoke to me. Waking me, throwing me off of everything I could’ve hoped for.

That’s what art does to the consumer.

Art, when delivered at the right time to the right person, becomes a conversational medium. The creator doesn’t need to intend to self-satisfy, but instead to share, inform, and educate.

That’s when art transcends personal involvement, transitioning into a commitment to convey something to society. From being what the artist feels, it becomes what they want you to feel.

Making sense of Mint

When I awoke this morning with nothing to do, I mused at the rarity of it. I always have something to occupy myself with over the weekends. After rummaging Facebook for a while, I concluded that I could either go to a street market, where I knew a few of my friends would be, or take a solo trip to the Royal Australian Mint—something I’d been putting off for a long time because it was just too far away.

The food market sounded fun, but considering I’d probably buy nothing and wander around aimless, I decided to do the wandering at the Mint instead.

After two buses and about 45 minutes, I entered the building that runs Australia’s coin system. A big pot of gold coins greeted me. Next to it, a staircase led to the upper level and the main exhibition. Stepping upwards, I couldn’t miss the thousands of coins studded into the stairs.

On the upper level, famous Australian bushrangers greeted me in large cutouts. From time to time, the Royal Australian Mint makes comparative coins marking important events and people. This year, they’ve made a unique set of coins to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of bushrangers to Australian cultures and stories. It was an excellent way to remember history’s villains, most of whom died in captivity.

Moving on, I entered a corridor full of stunning displays. Hundreds of coins marked the timeline of Australia’s currency system, dating way back to the first foreign coins found in shipwrecks. Since some of the first outsiders to arrive in Australia were prisoners and war slaves, most of their currency became the initial seedling for Australia’s current monetary system. These coins gradually replaced the natives’ barter system.

Walking my way down the timeline, I learnt how, from using coins of unknown lands, the country progressed to establishing a proper way to assess the value of these random coins. From there, they moved on to adopting the shilling-and-penny system that Britain was using. As a country, Australia was under the British reign for a long time, and it only made sense to use the same coins. 

Then came the decimal period. From farthings and halfpennies, Australia went to cents and dollars. Displays showed how designers formulate the images and engravings that mark a coin. Looking at the detailing of each drawing, I was amazed to see how most of the coins in current use incorporate unique Australian fauna. There’s more to this country than kangaroos and possums. And sometimes, even though we handle and pass on these coins countless times every day, we don’t often pause to observe. 

Apart from these coins, the Mint also had displays of other collectible coins and medals that it’s made over the years. There were 1kg coins in both gold ($3000) and silver ($30) marking the Mint’s partnership in the 2016 Olympic games. There were gold, silver, and bronze medals offered to winners at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Also on display were the medals presented at the 2019 INAS Global Games. And my favourite, three special coins celebrating the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef - collector coins - Royal Australian Mint

It took me about an hour and a half to look and read through all the displays. From the various metal combinations tested for a single coin and the different designs they considered, to the actual robot that helps with heavy lifting and transporting during the minting process, the Royal Australian Mint has so much awe to offer. I’m glad I skipped the markets for this.

The small Tudor village

Art finds countless ways to make history. When in Melbourne, attending a work conference, I managed to wander into the Fitzroy Gardens. It’s a massive nature haven with a 150+ year history. What’s more, it’s in the heart of the city, making the city far more prone to desirable infection from beautiful greenery, flora, and thousands of chirping birds.

Part of Melbourne’s charm, aside from its century-old Victorian architecture and artisan coffee, is that everything has a history worth remembering—or trying to remember.

To appreciate how deeply history and art are embedded in Melbourne’s lifestyle, I had to see the Tudor Village.

Tudor Village in Fizroy Gardens, Melbourne

Among the many historical elements in the Fitzroy Gardens, The Tudor Village is a piece of art and a gift from a British artist. Mr. Edgar Wilson was 77 and lived in Norwood, London when he made villages as a hobby. Modelled in cement, the Tudor Village is one of his three works and is a miniature replica of an English village during the Tudor period.

It took me a while to notice them, but the village comprises of thatched cottages, a church, school, hotel, a barn, and all the public buildings you’d expect in a self-sufficient small town. Even the architectural elements were precise to that period.

The Tudor Village, however, isn’t just any gift. It was a symbol of gratitude to the city of Melbourne for sending food to Britain during the Second World War.

It’s such a great icon in the gardens. There I was in Victorian Melbourne, dropping my jaw at an ancient Tudor-period village.

If you visit Melbourne, stop by the gardens. There’s plenty more to see as well.

Seeing nothing

Art is seeing things no one else does. From nothingness comes beauty and a stream of endless creativity.

Street art in Melbourne

I came across this piece of work in one of the many alleyways in Melbourne. Like most of the graffiti there, it was insightful and stunningly beautiful. But it was more than just eye candy. It made me stop and stare. Even after browsing through countless alleys and numerous shades of black and brown and everything else in between, after taking photos from all angles that my camera could twist into without losing its stamina, this art stopped me in my tracks.

It was powerful because, unlike most art you see on a daily basis, it stood out in a different way. It requires the viewer to look at it from a certain point of view. From close by, the art is nothing but a bunch of oddly stuck pieces of paper with strange ink marks. From close by, it’s easy to assume it a worthless waste of space. You have to be far enough looking into the art to see it for what it is. You have to have a mind and eye open enough to entertain the possibility of blending a physical product with a patchwork figurine. 

And that’s what good art does to you. It makes you consider aspects you’ve never considered before, see visions you’ve never envisioned before, and feel emotions you’ve never thought you were possible of feeling.

Art forces you to become aware of what’s around you, in such a way that you start sensing the wetness of the dense air that hangs right above your shoulders, like a ghost’s arm, invisible but so clearly present.