ACT News


Gang-gang. Artist's 'playful' gadabout island gambols up to Parliament House

Australia is an island and it gets about a little bit, drifting 70mm to the north east every year. But for island wriggles-on nothing can compare with the island, a small, tropical one complete with waving palm trees, that visited Parliament House on Thursday morning.

This well-travelled islet (it has previously been to Venice, to Denmark and to Victoria's Mount Hotham and has travel plans to soon go to China, Israel and Holland) is the creation of Danish artist and mild-mannered climate change activist Soren Dahlgaard. We discussed his island in Wednesday's action-packed column for it is about to star in the Two Degrees climate change and art exhibition at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

But on Thursday morning it was brought to Canberra by its creator (when deflated it fits into a big suitcase) and electronically inflated outdoors and in front of Parliament House. Already surreal (a nomadic, inflatable, tropical island!) it became more surreal still on Thursday morning as the same bracing breeze that was fluttering Parliament House's giant flag did its best to turn the teeny atoll into a flying island.

It is made of the same parachute silky material as hot air balloons and would fly a treat if allowed to. Artist Dahlgaard, CCAS curator Alexander Boynes and this reporter sprang to the island's guy ropes and foiled its attempts to take off. Tethered at last, the chilly Nordic wind ruffled the palm trees in much the way that the real palm trees of the Maldives are swished by the balmy breezes of the Indian Ocean.

As reported Dahlgaard's island is a kind of dramatic prop within a travelling Maldives Exodus Caravan Show. It represents just the kind of low-lying tropical island, especially of the Maldives group, that seem set to sink as climate change sets oceans rising.

"The Maldives are in the Indian Ocean and so are a kind of neighbour to Australia," Dahlgaard fancies.


"My wife is from the Maldives. We met in art school in London. My in-law family is from there and I have lived there.

"Of course," gesturing at his windswept island, "this is a a kind of cartoon version of a Maldivian island, and I use it in a playful and engaging and inclusive way. Through it I meet people, I meet kids, and we talk and the educational part of the dialogue is important, discussion of how humans change the landscapes of the earth.

"I don't have a dystopian, negative approach to the future; but of course climate change, climate refugees are a huge topic, a problem so big it is hard to grasp. So I'm trying to deal with it somehow, sometimes playfully and with a sense of humour. So it's a playful island, but it's talking about serious issues as well."

The little, gadabout, fidgety island's next port of call is the Two Degrees exhibition at the Canberra Community Art Space at Gorman House, Ainslie Avenue, Braddon. It will repose there (among the climate-connected works of seven other artists) from Friday and until 20 August.

Although this columnist is to be deployed elsewhere in The Canberra Times, (for example with a column in Saturday's Panorama section) this is the last Gang-gang column.

And so I have assembled the Von Trapp children (pictured) to sing to you their deeply irritating Adieu song from The Sound of Music. Take it away, children.

So long, farewell

Auf Wiedersehen, adieu.

Adieu, adieu

To you and you and you.

That's more than enough of that, children. And we hurry on to explain today's picture of two Gang-gang cockatoos in conversation.

We wanted to finish with a picture pulsating with Gang-gang column nostalgia. Gang-gang cockatoos as well as being the faunal emblem of our territory and the emblem of this column have had considerable coverage in the column, because of their loveliness and because of newsworthy studies of them and their mysteries. One issue we covered was the scientific study (by zoologists at Macquarie University) finding that almost all cockatoos are "left-handed" in that they hold their food up to their bills with their left "hands".

An orgy of Gang-gang watching and photographing ensued as readers tried (almost, but not completely in vain) to find a contrary Gang-gang dining right-handedly. Geoffrey Dabb, a prime contributor of ornithological expertise and fun to this column overheard and portrayed (the picture was published in June 2015) two trickster Gang-gangs conspiring to delude those gullible humans who were watching them.