An ‘artistic’ experience

Inside the National Gallery of Victoria. Picture: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

ONE of the more humiliating experiences in a human lifetime is to be at an exhibition and recognise a familiar object from your childhood that is now a museum item. The first time it happened, I recognised the type of toaster that we would probably still be using if I hadn’t inadvertently stuck something in its innards while removing the toast. Or the charcoal object I referred to as toast. It was the model that did two slices of bread at a time, but only one side of each slice at a time. You pulled down the flap each side to lay in the bread, then put it back into place with one side of the bread close to the hot element. When you judged the time right, or your saw the first wisps of smoke, you pulled down the flap and turned your now hot slice over, put the flap back up and waited until ditto. A refinement on the “put the flap back up” operation that was added to models in my lifetime was a spring that sent the flap snapping back into place as soon as you let it go. This accounted for (a) lots of fingers being snapped by hot metal and (b) terror of ever having to touch the thing again. Unfortunately, these dratted toasters appeared to be indestructible — as my mother frequently pointed out, they built things to last in the old days. But even well-constructed toaster element innards give up when molested by foreign bodies that could not be instantly burnt to a crisp. The problem was that our toaster was by then so old that we couldn’t get the part required to make it work again. “Oh woe,” I said, and rushed out to buy a toaster that that did both sides of the bread at once. As more recently manufactured things were not built to last as long, I eventually had the opportunity to buy a pop-up toaster that ejected the bread before it became a charred ember. It’s true that things break and wear out sooner than in grandma’s day, but that’s progress and I say nothing. I don’t like to be seen as a person who has put their brain into retirement and isn’t techno-savvy. Although I did have some difficulty with the new mobile phone that takes photographs. I point it the wrong way or something because I keep taking close up selfies of my nose instead of children admiring a wombat or doing dangerous things on an escalator. However, our friend Alice took pictures with her spiffy phone when she took me to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne while I was visiting there a couple of weeks ago. She was a keen gallery goer and showed me around all the most fascinating exhibits – things like about 100 shinny, see-through plastic and chrome chairs that at first seem ordinary, but each one has something odd. Some had legs that sort of wandered away from the rest of the chair, others had their backs turned around or a leg that went over instead of under the seat. It looks more exciting than it sounds. There was a replica of an apartment that was covered with red flowers and we were allowed to take another one each and put it somewhere there wasn’t yet a flower. Again, you had to be there. A roomful of giant plaster skulls was obviously Alice’s favourite. Go figure. There were interactive works that were to especially attract children. We mingled among some families with excess youngsters so we could participate in the carpet of coloured plastic pegs, something with pot scrubbers and I think a mural done with flip-flops. All was going well, I wasn’t likely to run into a humiliating experience in such a swish art establishment. Although I did think the installation that you could decode into a meaningful phrase by matching the smell of cardboardy panels with numbers and letters was a bit on the nose — the two we tried smelt horrible. Then we suddenly came on a little gallery with a display of “modern life table ware”. There was the first coffee pot we had ever owned (we were more into tea), in exactly the same pastel shade. There were the absurdly heavy lidded casseroles all of us modern young things loved;the odd shaped sauces that served as a plate for your cupcake while still leaving room for your cuppa that somehow never caught on; the almost fluorescent breakfast sets; and I swear some earthy toned crockery that I still use. I was so shocked I put my hand on a piece of broken rock to steady myself and was gently reprimanded by a gallery attendant not to touch the exhibits. “Time to go,” I told Alice firmly. I didn’t want to be mistaken for a relic, even an artistic one.

* The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.