Gang-gang. Art show tropical island to pop up in cold Canberra

Gang-gang. Art show tropical island to pop up in cold Canberra

As Canberra does its best impersonation of midwinter Iceland, a tiny tropical island, complete with palm trees, is coming to visit us.

Today's picture of an inflatable, portable tropical island visiting not-at-all tropical Venice is so eye-catching and so strange that we hasten to explain it, lest readers become agitated by it.

Soren Dahlgaard's inflatable tropical island visits Venice.

Soren Dahlgaard's inflatable tropical island visits Venice.

Everything in this parochial little column must have a Canberra connection and in this case the connection is that the island is by Danish artist/climate change activist Soren Dahlgaard. Some of his works, including this very island, are part of an exhibition that opens in Canberra on Friday. But before then, on Thursday, Dahlgaard (who is bringing his deflated island to Canberra in a suitcase) hopes to be able to pump up his island in front of Parliament House.

The inflatable island is part of Dahlgaard's The Maldives Exodus Caravan Show, an ongoing photo series drawing attention to the plight of the inhabitants of the alarmingly low-lying Maldives as climate change raises sea levels.

Aggressive, bullying exchange in Cairo. 1916 postcard.

Aggressive, bullying exchange in Cairo. 1916 postcard.Credit:National Library of Australia

The Maldives Exodus Caravan Show was first shown in Venice (like the Maldives, a place given the shudders by rising sea levels) in 2013. Since then the show has visited landscapes elsewhere in the world, including Denmark and Australia. For the show the little island acts as what the artist says is "a visual prop ... representing the climate refugees from Maldives and elsewhere, who are or probably will be looking for a new home sometime soon".

So it comes to pass that in the artist's photographs of the island we see it as a kind of orphan, a refugee cropping up in all sorts of improbable places. In one photograph we find it, tropical and green and palmy, on some bleak and snow upholstered alpine slope. In another it has bobbed up in the front garden of a suburban home (an anxious householder is looking out of the window at it) as errant hot air balloons sometimes come down in the front gardens of genteel Yarralumla. Now, on Thursday, it is scheduled to float into view, perhaps to stand in a blizzard, at our Parliament House.

"As the island travels around in the new geological era known as The Anthropocene (shaped by humans) landscape," the artist wonders, "will it find a new home in any of these foreign lands?"

Soren Dahlgaard is one of eight artists represented in Two Degrees, an exhibition about art and climate change. It opens on Friday evening at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space at Gorman House in Braddon and continues until August 20.

Turner's Powerful Owl (and possum meal) in its Autumnal tree.

Turner's Powerful Owl (and possum meal) in its Autumnal tree.Credit:John Bundock.

Although he remains tight-billed on the subject of climate change, the Powerful Owl of Turner (the Powl) is surely very concerned about it. All wild creatures great (like the towering owl) and small are going to have to cope with whatever changes the climate flings at their habitats.

It is some time since this column, the home of the Powl Fan Club, brought readers a bulletin of this most famous, most-photographed individual animal in the history of the ACT. We asked roving wildlife photographer John Bundock (contributor of many Powl portraits to this column, often with the Powl accompanied by the grisly remains of its latest kill) for a State of the Powl update.


He reports that the Powl is alive and well (still finding lots to eat) and still haunting the neighbourhood of the RUC Canberra North Bowling Club at Turner. In his latest photographs of the owl, taken this week, it as usual fixes him with the stare (part hostility, part contempt) of its fabulous eyes.

"I've recorded Powl's hoots," he reports, "and compared them with calls that those who claim expertise in such matters identify as being emitted by males of the species, and those emitted by females. I am now confident Powl is a he."

If this column has been a bit obsessed with Turner's most famous inhabitant (readers, too, tell us they have greatly appreciated the column's coverage of Powlery) it has been because it has somehow seemed a symbol of our Bush Capital's bushiness that a creature so wild (usually a denizen of mountain forests high up behind the city), so magnificent, has been among us in suburbia.

And while on the subject of pugnacious Australians (powerful owls are models of pugnacity) here on today's page is a 1916 postcard of an Australian soldier behaving badly in Cairo.

This unsettling image (perhaps thought highly amusing 100 years ago) is from a new book Jim Davidson's Moments In Time – A Book of Australian Postcards, published by the National Library of Australia and using the library's fascinating collection of postcards.

We know that some Australian soldiers, having their first experience of funny foreigners and funny unhygienic foreign places, behaved abominably, racistly in Cairo. In this postcard the Australian is biffing the poor, barefoot local who has just polished the Australian's boots to a glowing sheen. How has he, the dusky local, offended this handsomely Anglo-Saxon representative of the Empire?

Ian Warden is a columnist for The Canberra Times

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