Category Archives: Art

Pokémon Vs The Royal Botanic Gardens

I’m not going to lie. I was practically dragged out of bed last Sunday morning. “I just want to play Pokémon. That’s all I want to do. Yes I’m serious.”

And of course that old adage that would haunt me as a child every Wednesday night at Brownies and every Thursday night at swimming training – You’ll enjoy it when you get there – stings just as much now as it did then. YES, okay, I had a good time. And I got to play Pokémon afterwards when I got home anyway. Now leave me the hell alone.

As part of National Science Week this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney had an Open Day on Sunday 22nd August, offering guided tours of their labs and nurseries and collections, as well as self-guided tours around the gardens and other family-oriented activities. Having attended the Plant Pathology Tour, run by their resident pathologists, and the Herbarium Tour, which took us through the National Herbarium of New South Wales, I was so impressed by the organisers’ ability to cater to both kids and adults in their programming.

Sure, neither of these tours I attended were particularly suited to children, all but one of the four that showed up to the Herbarium Tour slipping out within the first ten minutes, but there was an entire hall filled with activities like plant mounting, botanical illustration and microscope viewing, plus an insect-themed self-guided mystery tour, and guided “bush tucker” and wildlife walks, so no one – not even this grumpy Sunday morning Running Ponies correspondent – could have been bored.

Honestly, how great does this look:

Hands on Science - Royal Botanic Gardens

Hands on Science - Royal Botanic Gardens

Exactly.

Having adults and kids simultaneously fascinated – that’s what Science Week should be about, but it’s a very tricky business to get right.

The Plant Pathology Tour took a group of six of us through one of the new labs at the Gardens, and we learnt about the disease cycle of chestnut rot, funguses, and how to extract, process and photograph DNA. The adults asked a lot of questions. I played it cool and asked nothing. #brainsabbath

Next I did something really stupid and opted not to line up for the sausage sizzle, all like, “Oh my God, there isn’t time!” The Herbarium Tour was in fifteen minutes. I’m not sure who I thought I was at that particular moment, but in hindsight I could’ve probably eaten about three before the tour started. (It was 2pm and I hadn’t had breakfast yet. Don’t judge me.)

I did get a charmingly eclectic sample bag though, its contents going progressively off-topic:

* Science magazines

* A magnetic waratah bookmark

* Stickers of a smiling water droplet

*A ruler with a T. Rex in space on it

* Toothpaste.

Irrelevance aside, it was definitely one of the better free sample bags I’ve picked up at an Open Day. At least this shit I can use.

The National Herbarium of New South Wales looks like this:

National Herbarium of New South Wales
National Herbarium of New South Wales

Thousands and thousands of plastic red boxes in rows and rows and rows containing 1.2 million specimens from Australia and around the world. It might look and sound a bit dull, and I’m not even that into, you know, plants, but they’ve got an art exhibition in the foyer, a library, and every one of those red boxes are filled with these, which are surprisingly fantastic to look through:

National Herbarium of New South Wales
Herbarium specimen mounts

And it’s all open to the public. I went in not knowing that the Herbarium existed, and came out seriously considering coming back and spending an entire day there.

We also had a tour of one of their labs and got an even more thorough walkthrough of the process of DNA extraction. We finished up and went outside and the sausage sizzle was gone. I panicked and wondered if they had food in the Gardens’ Shop. They did not.

National Herbarium of New South Wales
Herbarium bottled specimens

Like the Melbourne Museum, the Botanic Gardens have a great Science Week program. I would have stayed and done the self-guided tour because it was a stunning Sydney day, but I don’t keep biscuits in my bag.

Visit PlantNET – the Herbarium’s online plant identification site here.

– bec

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“The Oscars of Australian Science” – Eureka Awards Dinner 2010

eureka awards 2010

From one madcap taxi ride to Randwick Pavilion to regrettable post drinks at an open-till-5am bar on Oxford Street, the Eureka Awards Dinner is pretty much one of the best parties in town. Established in 1990, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded annually to those with outstanding achievements in science and science communication. This year the highlights included chickens with feelings, photogenic insects and nicely-dressed scientists as far as the eye could see. I love a nicely-dressed scientist.

Sitting at the Science Week table I learnt about Questacon’s badly-behaved talking robot who said inappropriate things to children before they removed and reprogrammed him, and watched the 19 prizes being handed out over dinner.

Chicken sympathisers, Chris Evans and K-Lynn Smith, trumped researchers working on a way to replace animal testing and saving dogs from inherited disorders for the Research that Contributes to win the Prize for Scientific Research That Contributes To Animal Protection:

“Groundbreaking research using new high-tech chook-friendly testing facilities challenges the concept of the feckless fowl… titled Sentient chickens: the scientific case for improved standards, it portrays chickens as social, intelligent creatures complete with Machiavellian tendencies to adjust what they say according to who is listening.”

Given that chicken was being alternated with barramundi that night, I’m assuming they switched meals with whomever was sitting next to them while they waiting in the queue for the bathroom.

“What’s barramundi?” friends from Europe asked me.

“An Australian fish.”

“Sounds like a good name for a cat, or a baby girl.”

Europeans.

A world-first collaboration between a cattle breeder and six scientists won the Prize for Research by an Interdisciplinary Team for their work with Meat Standards Australia, and Amanda Barnard from CSIRO the prize for Scientific Research as she develops an invisible, environmentally friendly sunscreen.

I visited the COSMOS table up the front where things were getting suitably anarchic, before the saddest moment in the evening when our two nominees for the Science Journalism Prize, John Pickrell and Elizabeth Finkel, were beaten by the ABC. Read Pickrell’s incredible piece on feathered dinosaurs and Lizzie’s elegant exploration of genes here and here.

I tweeted/texted double sad faces from across the room.

“Are you blogging right now??”

“No. I’m just texting…”

Guys, I’m not that clever. Sorry.

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Film, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science

Science Week Begins With Melbourne Museum Stealing My Heart

museum victoria qantassaurus

Qantassaurus

Melbourne Museum – I could totally live in you. I know that sounds like something a psychopath would say, but there’s no other way to put it. And it doesn’t have to be the whole entire building, just the Science and Life Gallery would be fine. And yes, both floors please. Just rope it off and everyone else can go crazy everywhere else. Quietly. I get the dinosaurs and the taxidermy and the insects.

Except you’re going to have to move the spiders elsewhere, particularly the live ones and particularly the live ones that aren’t even in boxes. What is that, MM? I honestly stood there for like five minutes straight trying to come to terms with the fact that there’s literally nothing except a giant room-sized web between those orb-weavers and us, and I know they aren’t particularly dangerous and have no reason to come out of their giant room-sized web and mingle with the humans, but that’s not the point. They’re still spiders, MM. You’re playing with fire in a giant room-sized web.

Science on Show

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Mammology Display

National Science Week kicked into gear yesterday and Melbourne Museum was the absolute best place to spend the first day. And I’m not just saying that because that’s what I did and obviously have no comparison. But…

* Live insects

* Museum experts

* Australia’s best scientific illustrators

I rest my case.

I began with Science on Show, which involved half a dozen display tables filled with stuffed, bottled and boxed specimens, Australian megafauna fossils and a model crab the size of a curled up human child and so on, all manned by various experts from the Museum. I got to pat a taxidermied tapir and made some dumb comment about how it looks like it’s stuck in a really powerful wind tunnel with that posture (well it does), rifle through a trolley’s worth of poltergeist-esque sea creatures in jars, and get mad at the terrestrial invertebrates expert for holding up two huge bottled spiders and making me compare their fangs. DO NOT WANT, as they say.

Then I may or may not have rendered myself the creepiest person in the building by deciding I wanted these for my livingroom:

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Ornithology Display

Yes. Rows and rows of tiny dead birds. That’s what I want in my house. Jesus. But it might come as less of a shock to you now when I tell you I want this room as my bedroom:

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Fossils, Free Stuff, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science, Sea Creatures

Wandering Ponies #5

For this edition of WP, I’ll attempt to take you on a roller coaster of emotions, most of which will hopefully be pleasant, and one of which, hopefully not. Unless of course you, I don’t know, find birds scary, squids lame, oil fantastic, and humour not so funny, then I’ve completely misrepresented this entire thing. Maybe you don’t even have emotions. Yeah, exactly. But regardless, I suggest you climb aboard. Unless you’re pregnant. In which case you’re going to have to sit this one out. Sorry, lady, rules are rules.

First up is photographer, Andrew Zuckerman’s, new book – Bird, and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. Described by Erin Estell, a bird trainer who worked on the project, as, “like Vogue for birds,” it features 200 stunning photographs of 75 species, including a baby-faced African pygmy falcon, the most villainous-looking ferruginous hawk you’ll ever see, and my absolute favourite, the secretary bird. You can see most of the photo’s on his website here (I’d post some here if I wasn’t terrified to my very soul by that copyright warning).

And speaking of birds, New Scientist’s wonderfully quirky weekly column about bizarre/extraordinary animals, Zoologger, has a great article on the amazing tool manipulation of rare Egyptian vultures. But before you go all, “Birds and tools = old news, GOD,” this particular story includes coprophagy (not quite as bad as matriphagy, but almost), a fascinating story behind the publication of the original research paper, and one of the best scientific journal titles around. If that doesn’t pique your interest, you can leave (but I’m keeping your shoes):

Zoologger: Vultures use twigs to gather wool for nests.

If you’ve ever simultaneously wanted to marry someone while wishing you could be that same person, you’ll understand how I feel about the Oatmeal Guy. Obviously we haven’t got the technology to facilitate the latter, so I’ll just have to keep working on the former. Regrettable fangirl confessions aside, he really does capture the absolute shit of a hand the male angler fish is dealt in his latest comic here. And when I say ‘absolute shit of a hand,’ I mean everyone else got regular playing cards, while he ended up with a handful of angry grizzly bears who just got told he stole their cubs and called them bad parents:

How the Male Angler Fish Gets Completely Screwed.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute never ceases to amaze with its constant output of incredible footage showing everything from otters holding hands to an inside-out vampire squid. Their latest video shows even more deep-sea squids zipping around and ejecting spawn and whatever else squids do for fun:

And finally, Boston.com’s The Big Picture section has a few oil spill photo collections that are devastating to look at, but so, so important:

The Big Picture – Caught in the Oil // Scenes from the Gulf of Mexico // Oil in the Gulf – Two Months Later

But because I don’t want to leave you sadfaced, here’s a cat swimming in beanbag filling:

<3 U, INTERNET.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Potential Husbands, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Wandering Ponies #3

The Internet pretty much begins and ends with this. The vacant, cock-eyed horse stare. The tiny moustachioed gentleman with the shrunken, useless legs. The buxom peasant woman with the giant meaty paws. It’s got it all. You’ll probably listen to it ten times in a row before realising that you just listened to it ten times in a row before listening to it another ten times in a row. Youtube for techno, acoustic and heavy metal remixes.

SHUT UP WOMAN, GET ON MY HORSE

For a number of reasons (or just one who rather inconveniently requires vaccinations during the ridiculously expensive Festival Season ) I’m still too poor to buy the t-shirts I’ve had on my WANT list for months. But those of you who are in a more fortunate financial situation might want to consider picking up a The Open Dinosaur Project t-shirt here. And if you buy one for me while you’re at it I’ll sing a song about you. In my head. And then I’ll tell you about it, that it was really awesome and stuff and you’ll ask if you can hear it but I would have forgotten it by then because I don’t write these things down. Sound good?

As close to a living theropod as you could probably get, the Secretarybird is pretty much the coolest bird ever. Too bad the zoo guy ruins everything with his shit jokes. You could recruit like twenty of these to form a personal army they’d be the most dainty deadly weapon ever.

Brand new site, Pterosaur.net, launched a couple of weeks ago and it’s a ridiculously thorough and nice-looking project run by the likes of Dave Hone, Darren Naish, John Conway (pic above by) et al. dealing with a creature we’re likely to hear a good deal about this year. Best make sure you’ve got your pterosaur general knowledge up to speed first.

And finally, the devastatingly charming Oatmeal’s guide for How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You. I know I’ll be sleeping with one eye open from now on…

– bec

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Luis Buñuel: Fo (Sur)real!

Un Chien Andalou

I have fairly scattered memories of my three years as an undergrad, but this image right here from Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, the one of a fucking razor blade cutting across Simone Mareuil’s eye, the one that sends shivers down my spine every time it pops into my head (which, surprisingly, is more times than would be considered normal), yeah, this one takes me right back into that Old Geology Lecture Theatre, where I spent hours watching a collection of the most influential and not-so-influential, strange and not-so-strange, extremely boring and not-so-boring films of the past one hundred years. I suppose it is a testament to Buñuel’s brilliance that out of the many hundreds of hours of lectures and the thousands of essay words written, he is the one person/subject that has not sifted through the sieve that is my ‘university brain.’ 

Regarded as the father (grandfather, brother and uncle) of surrealist cinema, Buñuel died in July 1983, leaving behind thirty-two films and one hell of a legacy. Un Chien Andalou, is surrealism in its purist, but Viridiana, is quite possibly my favourite of his films. The context and time in which it was made just adds so much to its fascination for me. After twenty-four years in political exile, Buñuel returned to Spain to make a film about a novice nun who visits her uncle before taking her vows, only to be drugged and raped by him. Needless to say, Franco was not happy (Jan)*. Somehow, Buñuel managed to create a social commentary piece on a country cut off from the rest of the world by its Fascist regime, in said fascist’s own backyard and then slip it straight past his censors. Some sort of genius, definitely. But I wouldn’t really expect anything less from a man who used to dress up as a nun, along with Frederico Garcia Lorca, board trams and then proceed to wink and nudge at male passengers.   

The Spanish Film Festival is paying tribute to one of the most important directors EVER on the 25th anniversary of his death, spotlighting his films for this year’s festival, including Un Chien Andalou and Viridiana. The festival is also presenting an exhibit that has me counting down till the end of the month when I can finally run across the road and get me some lunchtime brain food. The exhibition, Buñuel – Amigos y Peliculas, is (hopefully) a fascinating selection of  photos, letters and posters from the Centro Buñuel de Calanda in Spain.

So, if you too would like the image of an eye ball being sliced in half as firmly ingrained into your subconscious as it is in mine…

Buñuel – Retrospective is screening as part of the Spanish Film Festival at Palace Academy Twin (Paddington), Palace Norton Street (Leichardt) & Chauvel Cinema (Paddington) from May 6 till May 18.

Buñuel – Amigos y Peliculas is showing at Sydney Customs House from April 29 till May 24. 

Oh, and (dot) (dot) (dot)

*sorry

Ra  xxx

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Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno is Luminous

Luminous

In an announcement that is sure to get your little cochlea and oculi all in a flutter, musician, singer, producer, composer and knitter (probably, he can do everything else) extraordinaire Brian Eno, is to curate the innaugural Luminous Festival. A total legend of the music industry, Eno started off in rad as hell band, Roxy Music before going on to produce albums for Talking Heads, U2, and Coldplay, write a regular column for The Observer, publish a deck of cards that can help you solve any quandary you may find yourself in and create an app for the piece of technology that still eludes me – the iPhone. At some point during all this madness, he even found time to compose that short bite of sound you hear when starting up Microsoft Windows. Although, as that sound signals the start of my work day, I can’t say I’m particularly attached to it. Sorry, Brian. 

Surprisingly, Eno has never been to Australia before, but what a way to make an entrance. He’ll be bringing with him math rockers, Battles, reggae and dub god, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and my personal favourites, Ladytron. One of the ten people who could change the world, ClientEarth’s chief executive James Thornton, will be leading a forum on the environment and social change. I’m sure that title sitting on my shoulders would weigh me down far too much to even leave the comfort of my large, mahogany scented office, and this is probably the main reason I am not on that list.

To kick off the festival, Eno’s vivid artwork will be cast on to the sails of the late Jorn Utzon’s architectural masterpice. That’s right, lights and laserZ projected on to the Opera House for three weeks straight. If somebody lends me a tent, I think I might just set up camp on the bridge and stare. If someone else brings me graham crackers and marshmallows, maybe we can have some smores as well. The festival will also feature the Australian debut of Eno’s amazing 77 Million Paintings, a visual and audial delectation that has been described by Time Magazine as “layers of gorgeous, intensely coloured abstract images [that] appear, morph and dissolve into one another, then fade away into something entirely new.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost peeing my pants in anticipation. And I only say almost because, while I’m often accused of being incompetent, incontinent, is definitely one thing I’m not. Luminous takes place at the Sydney Opera House and is just one part of the city-wide Vivid Sydney that begins on the 26th of May, and will sadly come to a close on the 14th of June. There will be so much going on, I can’t even begin to cover it in the few words I have to write before you lose interest, so check out the Luminous website for performance dates, tickets, more info and some pretty graphics. 

Ra  xxx

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