Mitsubishi i-MiEV

What is it?

Australia’s first volume production all-electric vehicle, with zero drive time emissions (depending on how its owners source their electricity, potentially zero emissions, period). First seen on a billboard hovering over the CityLink tollway.

The i-MiEV (which we presume stands for the obligatory “i” followed by Mitsubishi Electric Vehicle) is powered by an electric motor driving the rear wheels that generates 47kW of power and 180Nm of torque, and produces a top speed of 130km/h. As the motor is mounted in line with the wheels, the transfer of energy is direct so no transmission is required. Electricity is stored in a 16kWh bank of lithium-ion batteries that require 7 hours of charging from a standard power point and enable a maximum driving range of 160km.

What do we think?

Normally, we do not look too favourably upon Mitsubishi vehicles. Even aside from their recent and much-publicised financial woes, they generally produce bland cars that are long on features but short on style and driver-enjoyment. In this vein, the i-MiEV has cute exterior styling let down a little by predictably plasticky interior detailing – hardly the looks of a visionary car of the future. Its short range (compared to petrol engine cars) will further limit buyer interest. It is undoubtedly best suited to individuals who make short trips around town or companies whose staff do.

Nevertheless, this car represents a big step in the greener direction almost every car manufacturer is scrambling to take. It’s an important step too: the WWF Energy Report released earlier this year (and discussed in a previous post, here) cited the transition away from liquid fuels to rechargeable solid-state energy storage as critical to an environmentally sustainable future.

What should we learn?

With electric cars by Nissan, Peugeot and Citroen also coming to markets around the world, plus many other manufacturers developing their own soon-to-be-released models, we expect to see an explosion of both electric vehicles and fast-charge electric fuelling stations over coming years. Corporate interest for zero emissions fleet cars will further intensify this development – indeed, Origin Energy, News Limited and Google already have their first i-MiEVs on the road.

For Australia at least, dare we say that Mitsubishi has at last given us something to get excited about?

An unusual engagement

What is it?

A photography shoot by Amanda Rynda of newly engaged couple, Juliana Sunmi Park and Benjamin Jinsuk Lee. The Los Angeles shoot overlooks the traditional but bland engagement storyline of boy-meets-girl for an infinitely more compelling narrative.

What do we think?

Somehow, despite their ghoulish appearance and intensely monomaniacal disposition, western culture is in love with zombies. They are everywhere – they have infiltrated mainstream film, literature, gaming, architectural competitions and against all odds, even wedding photography.

Rynda’s photos have a beautifully nostalgic feel, evoking the perfect engagement picnic as well as the 60s era when zombies were first introduced to the world. She has a practiced eye for composition, story-telling and humour. Our particular favourite (not shown in this abridged version – see the full story here) is the photo of Lee gallantly pushing his newly-minted fiancee out of the way of the charging zombie. What better way for a gentleman to show his love for a lady?

Zombies, we salute you.

The Ajiro

What is it?

Entry into, and finalist of, the 2011 James Dyson Student Design Awards by Alexander Vittouris. First seen in a Habitus Living article, here.

With extraordinary technical innovation, Vittouris did not build the Ajiro, a single-person velomobile, but grew it from a rapidly-growing strain of bamboo over a re-usable steel structure. This concept is derived from the field of arborsculpture, which specialises in the “specific modification and grafting of plants to create shaped structures”. Using this approach, the Ajiro (from the Japanese term ajiro-ami, relating to wicker weaving) eliminates the environmentally costly processes of fabrication and assembly.

What do we think?

This is a visionary design for personal mobility that successfully combines the needs of an urban population with low-energy, sustainable production techniques. Vittouris speaks vigorously of the highly refined technical demands of his design at the same time as its far-reaching social opportunities: from issues of weight distribution and cornering, to community farming and local bamboo species variation, he is committed to considering the impact of the Ajiro at every scale.

In a world where production is sadly removed from the daily experience of most individuals, the Ajiro teaches that material value goes beyond that of “discardability”. The exertion of energy and the process of witnessing one’s own efforts bear fruit create a “tangible link to the very history of the product”. This is not a nostalgic return to simpler days, but a smart and thoroughly modern response to many critical areas of everyday life – in one fell swoop, Vittouris addresses questions of urbanism, transport, production, sustainability and our own personal roles in each. We fervently hope he advances his prototype into full production.

Silent Disco

What is it?

A smart, energetic and utterly convincing play by Lachlan Philpott on behalf of the Griffin Theatre Company. Exploring the attitudes, priorities and difficulties of growing up in contemporary Australia, Silent Disco focusses on school life and the relationships between two students and their teacher. Buffeted by difficulties at home and in the classroom, the students, Tamara and Jasyn, learn about love and loss the only way there is – the hard way.

We saw the play last week at The Arts Centre, Melbourne, in the final days of its first tour around New South Wales and Victoria.

What did we think?

All four actors – Sophie Hensser, Camilla Ah Kin, Meyne Wyatt and Kirk Page – were outstanding. Unlike The Haunting of Daniel Gartrell, discussed in a previous post here, there was no delay in our suspension of disbelief. Perhaps it was because we had never seen Hensser and company perform before, so did not need to disconnect their current characters from past encounters; or perhaps it was because of the subject matter – growing up and living the intensely competing emotions of boredom and passion is an experience close to every adult’s heart. Either way, we were drawn instantly into the world of Silent Disco and were effortlessly gripped by its ebbs and flows right up to its dramatic conclusion.

The play interweaves layers of thought, dialogue and SMS with deft fluidity. In so doing, it brilliantly captures the complexity of modern existence, of the pulsing boundaries between these modes of communication, giving life to each. Thoughts are eloquent, fully expressing inner needs, desires and fears. Dialogue is laden with meaning, each character sounding out his or her counterpart so carefully that true understanding seems impossible. And then there are the SMSs, announced in charecteristically short, sharp sentences – instructions or demands, stripped of the meaning the dialogue struggles to contain.

Combining perfectly balanced drama, heartache and humour (this latter element no better delivered than by Ah Kin’s magnificent Dezzie), Silent Disco is a profound play that expresses the unique challenges of growing up and finding our way in the world. It taps into currents born of nostalgia but firmly rooted in the zeitgeist and in so doing, left us absorbed and moved.

MIFF 2011

What is it?

The 60th Melbourne International Film Festival that concluded on Sunday night. We saw four films – Circumstance by Maryam Keshavarz, Super by James Gunn, Bobby Fischer Against The World by Liz Garbus and Another Earth by Mike Cahill.

All four were worth seeing (two in particular, as discussed below) and each was unique: a smart and sexy story about the collision between orthodox and moderate Islam; a darkly humorous Indie film charting the violent revenge of a costumed vigilante; an insightful documentary delving into the life of a great American chess player; and an intimate portrayal of forgiveness in the face of a mirror Earth appearing without warning in our skies.

As always, MIFF 2011 delivered great quality and intrinsic diversity.

What did we think?

Circumstance is a powerful film that reveals the complex struggle between orthodox and moderate values in contemporary Iran. Two 16-year old best friends, Atafeh and Shireen, are coming of age under the strict morality code of an Islamic theocracy. Discovering a burgeoning desire for one another, their dreams of escaping to a less authoritarian life are exposed to the harsh realities of their country.

Deftly exploring themes of sexuality, independence, faith and corruption, the film unravels both the dramatic and subtle effects of religious orthodoxy on a small family living in Tehran. Father, mother, brother and sister are all affected in different ways, influenced by their pasts and by their current outlooks on life. Keshavarz has the confidence to leave much unsaid, relying on body language and fleeting detail to suggest the wider context of the central story. Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy are sexy, endearing and compelling. Reza Sixo Safai, as Atafeh’s born again older brother, is suitably creepy and sinister. Circumstance refreshingly ignores the much-travelled issues of Jihad in favour of painting a frank picture of everyday life in a difficult city struggling to reconcile its past and its future – 5 stars.

Super continues in the vein of recent Indie superhero films, Kick Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) loses his wife (Liv Tyler) to the local druglord (Kevin Bacon) and, encouraged by a vivid vision of the Holy Avenger, decides to seek revenge. Donning the mask of the Crimson Avenger, he takes to the streets, dealing increasingly gory punishment with a monkey wrench.

The camerawork is shaky and screen composition loose, deliberate techniques that evoke an amateur quality typical of Indie films. The Crimson Avenger attacks drug dealers, child molesters and, with shocking hilarity, an obnoxious couple who commit the mortal sin of queue jumping. There are many funny moments in this film – darkly satirical commentary passed on the bland landscape of middle America. But as the film reaches its inevitable climax, the violence becomes truly excessive and the laughs are replaced with shudders. Super is an accomplished small-budget film with a great cast that would be entirely satisfying were it seen on its own. Ultimately however, it cannot compete with the subtle power and more profound content of its company – 3.5 stars.

Bobby Fischer Against The World explores the intriguing life of the great American chess grandmaster whose triumph over Russian Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Championship inspired a worldwide fascination with the game of kings. The key message of the film is a familiar one – that genius is often accompanied by madness, a message no truer than it was with Fischer. After the 1972 championship he went into self-imposed exile and developed a lifelong obsession with nuclear disarmament, the United States government and the Jewish conspiracy (this latter obsession blooming into full-blown antisemitism, an inexplicable paradigm for a man born of two Jewish parents). His life appeared to have been an intensely lonely one, with little evidence of either love or friendship, even amongst those who knew him best.

The film draws on some great footage of Fischer at different stages of his life, together with insightful interviews with relatives, friends, contemporaries and modern chess players. Unfortunately, there are a few significant gaps in the story the film tells – blanks that fail to explain Fischer’s antisemitism or loneliness for instance, along with an unusual lack of chess talk. It left us feeling as though we had learned a great deal of the history surrounding Fischer, but little of the man himself – 3 stars.

Another Earth is a stunning film by first-time director, Mike Cahill. Maintaining exquisite control by also taking on producing, writing, cinematography and editing roles, Cahill has produced a compelling and complex film that, like Circumstance, communicates as much with body language and detail as it does with dialogue.

On the night that an exact mirror of Earth is discovered in the solar system, young astrophysics student, Rhoda (Brit Marling), collides with the car of John (William Mapother) and his family, sending John into a coma and killing his wife and child. When Rhoda is released from prison, she finds herself adrift, every connection with her past life severed – she is a stranger even to her family, and they to her. Her only hope of a life lies in the unlikely possibility of starting afresh on Earth 2.

For centuries, the human species has learnt much from looking outwards to the stars and inwards to the smallest particles that constitute life, but we have perhaps neglected to simply look at ourselves. Though a vast astronomical event, the appearance of Earth 2 provides a mirror to our hopes, intentions and actions at the most familiar of scales. This is an intimately existential movie conveyed powerfully through Marlin’s extraordinary performance and Cahill’s inspired direction – 5 stars.

We would love to hear about other films you may have seen at MIFF 2011 – which ones should we avoid and which should we try to see when they come out on general release?

Emerging glass exhibition

Warped Morphed by Samantha Cuffe

What is it?

An exhibition of glass art currently showing at Glass Plus Gallery in South Melbourne, featuring the work of four young glass artists who have each won the annual Glass Plus award for outstanding graduating glass artists. Mariella McKinley won the award in 2007, Annabel Kilpatrick in 2008, Lisa Krivitsky in 2009 and Samantha Cuffe in 2010. Opening last week, the exhibition runs until the 20th of August.

What do we think?

For a discipline that does not enjoy as widespread practice or patronage as painting or sculpture, it is difficult to consider glass art without comparing it to these more mainstream endeavours. Emerging offers some valuable insight into two contrasting pursuits evident within glass art – those of narrative (painting) and representation (sculpture).

The works of Kilpatrick and Krivitsky both demonstrate an interest in the former, utilising plates of glass carved to reveal pictographic scenes, in much the same way that a painter utilises a canvas. While Kilpatrick’s works in particular possess a nostalgia that is both engaging and beautiful, we find this approach has limited capacity to explore the nuanced and translucent properties of glass.

Taking a decidedly more sculptural approach, the representational work of Cuffe and McKinley fully captured our attention. Rather than regard glass as a blank surface on which to imprint an image, both artists have fashioned small sculptural forms derived from explorations into simple representational ideas.

Mariella McKinley

McKinley uses a complex caning technique to evoke the fractured imagery of the kaleidoscope. Her works have an alluring delicacy with such intricate spiralling geometries that they appear naturally formed or possibly computer-modelled. As well as the kaleidoscope, there are clear references to sea urchins and even woven steel cables.

Cuffe’s works are grouped into a repetitive collection of mirrored baubles, reflecting the viewer in an array of fascinating curvilinear shapes. The collection attempts to reveal the scission between “Our real selves and the reflections we perceive in the mirror… It plays with the subjectiveness of body image and allows its audience to question how they are seen within their environment”. Each piece is a precious object that appears at first glance to have perfectly formed mirror surfaces, but upon closer inspection reveals a satisfyingly handmade quality whose undulations and irregularities create unexpected delight in their grotesque distortions.

Both McKinley and Cuffe are interested in the juxtaposition between precision and imperfection – an exploration well-suited to the unique qualities of glass. Starting from specific representational seeds that could just as easily have sprouted traditional sculptural works, their pieces in glass flower with many potential qualities. Thanks principally to the delightful relationship between form and translucent / reflective surface, they make many analogous suggestions that depend as much on the experiences of the viewer as they do on the finely crafted and beautifully detailed objects themselves.