Monthly Archives: September 2010

Some Brunswick Sculptures

Melbourne’s suburb of Brunswick did not inherit many public sculptures from previous generations. The Temperance Movement from early last century erected a few drinking fountains, a couple of war memorials were commissioned, and there is that ugly bronze lump  – now stuck outside a carpark along Sydney Rd., that commemorates the gold rush of the 19th century.

Peter Corlett “Father John Brosnan” 2004

There are now many more contemporary sculptures including some by notable Melbourne sculptors, Peter Corlett (see my entry about Peter Corlett) and Simon Perry. Peter Corlett’s 2004 statue of “Father John Brosnan, Chaplin Pentridge Prison 1945-1985” is out the front of the Brosnan Centre in Brunswick. Simon Perry, whose best-known sculpture, is the “Public Purse” is in the Bourke St. mall, has a number of sculptures around Brunswick.

Simon Perry, “Rolled Path”, 1997

Simon Perry’s “Rolled Path”, 1997, on the Merri Creek bicycle path, north of Albion St. and south of the Brunswick velodrome, is witty and fun. At the end of a short side path, the concrete rolls up into a large cylinder, like a giant classical scroll, or a carpet waiting to be unrolled were its progression not blocked by a large bluestone rock. The sculpture plays with the parkland environment of concrete paths, the boulder is the local bluestone granite found along the creek. It reminds me of Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”, as a work of earth art because of its form and the invitation to walk a path that ends in the contemplation of art.

“Rolled Path” exhibits many of the qualities that I think are essential to public art. Like all good public art kids can climb on it and you can sit on it. It is practically indestructible without heavy equipment or explosives and even the graffiti that was painted on it when I was there was inconsequential. It fits perfectly into the park environment of Merri Creek, creating an identity for an otherwise nondescript area beside the bicycle path.

“Rolled Path” is a rare example in Moreland of the sculpture that has been incorporated into the design of the landscape. Too often sculpture is put where space can found for it, with little consideration to the landscape or architecture. And for this reason none of these sculptures have become an image for suburb or a meeting place.

At the corner of Sydney and Glenlyon Rd. is a less successful sculpture by Simon Perry. “Monument to free speech” 1993, commemorates artist and activist Noel Counihan. It is a stone carving of a cage being unveiled or covered by a bronze dove. Only 3m high this sculpture is too small to be much of a monument and too ambiguous to be a landmark, given that Australians do not have any rights to free speech. The original commission for this sculpture is probably the source of many of its problems.


September 2010 @ Blindside

I’m thinking about how to write art reviews/criticism as I consider how to review the two exhibitions at Blindside: Amanda Airs “Beach Box Blue” and Jacque Drinkall “Weather Underwater”. Should I bother to review bad exhibitions when I could just use my energy to write about the ones that I liked? But if I were to only review one of the two exhibitions at Blindside it would imply that I didn’t like the other without exploring the reasons for this choice.

Karen Thompson, Melbourne Jeweller wrote in her blog: “I find I can be affected by reading other reviews and media before seeing or writing about an exhibition, such that my reaction can sometimes be unconsciously formed a little by what I read. I counter this by usually not reading anything before seeing the show and writing my initial response, to be sure I understand my own opinion, and then find it really interesting how that can change with further reading etc. So, I’ll write my initial response before doing any research into the exhibition, and then write more after doing some more reading.”

I agree with this approach; in doing further reading I will first try to find out what the artist has done before this exhibition. I will further investigate the ideas behind the art, where it fits into the history of art and what it means to a culture. I will then read other critics opinions on the artist. So where does reading the artist’s statement fit into this program?

Blindside has been providing single A4 sheet folded catalogues with all of their exhibitions this year. Along with a couple of colour images of the work and exhibition details there is always a statement by the artist in these catalogues.

Jacque Drinkall’s artist statement for “Weather Underwater” is pointless nonsense, as opposed to nonsense with a point, like satire, parody, Dada or Surrealist nonsense. It is mental diarrhea – incoherent and messy. Like her exhibition the initial attraction of the photographs, videos and sculptural objects quickly breaks down on realizing that there is little connections between them. It appears irrelevant, so why bother trying to read Jacque Drinkall’s mind when all indications suggest that it is scrabbled?

“The culture and aesthetics of telepathy and psychic life permeates the ‘everyday’. My art works creatively with telepathy to better understand and change the world.” – Jacque Drinkall (“Weather Underwater”, catalogue)

Amanda Airs exhibition statement for “Beach Box Blue” was both coherent and expanded on what was already visible in her exhibition. She has located her work within the history of art (Bridget Riley and op art), she has explained her technique (spatial distortion through colour and the illusion of movement “through the use of contrasting colour and repetition of line and angle”) and, finally, she has added her personal experience of optical effects.

“Beach Box Blue” is a post-minimal installation of colored threads creating optical effects. I have seen other artists in Melbourne using thread to divide up spaces but “Beach Box Blue” is the most intense and optically satisfying of these works due to Amanda Airs choice of colors and painting the gallery wall to emphasize the contrasting colors.

I don’t think that artist’s statement should be included as a matter of course for all the art exhibited. My advice to most artists is not to write artists statements. Artists are often not the best people to write about their own art – how many media do you expect them to master?


Meet the Forsters

At Anita Traverso Gallery there were two solo sculpture exhibitions by husband and wife, Hendrik and Kerryn Forster. In Gallery 1 there was Kerryn Forster’s “Found + Fabricated II” and, in Gallery 2, there was Hendrik Forster’s “Domus”. The game of identifying the artist’s gender from their art is too easy with these two sculptors.

Kerryn Forster’s sculptures have a lyrical surrealism and the objects and the found wooded branches used in them have been delicately treated. In “The Offer” a delicately carved arm and hand reach out from the end of a poplar tree branch.  There are lots of trees in the sculptures of Kerryn Forster; there is a tree house, trees with birds with rusted washers for heads. There are contrasting textures and emotions in her sculpture, the smooth waxed wood and the rough found objects, hope and sorrow. Her work is informed by Surrealist sculpture, like Giacometti, Miro and Ernst, but also other sculptures, like an early Christo piece of a stack of 44-gallon drums.

Kerryn Forster’s use of rusted metal objects for bases for her sculpture is the only obvious similarity with her husband’s sculptures which also shows a love of rust. It is less obvious that both of them are jewellers; Hendrik Forster is notably for his design of the Helpmann Trophy for live performance in Australia.

Hendrik Forster’s iron sculptures have a beautiful patina. The oxidizing agent has been splashed on creating various effects, dappled, running down from the roofs in streaks, dripping on the walls. The series of twelve sculptures are formal exploration of architectural forms of the domus (or “house” for you plebeians who don’t savvy Latin). Actually not all the sculptures are of houses there are also churches and factories with sawtooth roofs. The architectural forms have been simplified, there are no doors, windows or other details – these are not models of buildings but sculptures about the space that buildings occupy. Only on the roof of “Himmel Street Houses” there is the repeated pattern of bombers, a reference to Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief (Picador, 2008).

The Forsters live in East Gippsland and were, coincidentally, visiting the gallery at the same time that I was there. They were checking on the exhibition at the halfway point and I got a chance to speak with Hendrik Forster about his wife’s sculpture. He told me about searching through rural junk shops for the found materials and the aura of reused materials.


New Media More Critics

The gatekeepers in contemporary culture, the publishers, the curators etc. have proved themselves avaricious and irresponsible. The print media’s art section is full of puff pieces copied without acknowledgement from media releases before often the exhibition even starts. The first thing that I learnt about the print media, it is that is mostly cut and pasted from the media release. The arts sections of the print media are tuned into the media management system and know that there job is essentially promotion; so many publications print articles in conjunction with marketing campaigns. There are many more problems with conventional mainstream media’s art journalism, for example, Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper dropped it entire Arts section in mid 2010. (See The Age‘s report on this.)

In this environment bloggers writing reviews about the arts and culture are increasingly being read and recognized as a real alternative to mainstream media reviews. Further threatening the diminishing revenue of newspapers. When the content of bloggers are approved of they the mainstream media describes us as “citizen journalists”. When we are simply competition bloggers are accused of spreading rumours (when the source of these rumours is most often the mainstream media), defamation or that bloggers lack accuracy in their reporting. Blogging is not just being a citizen journalist but a citizen photojournalist with a digital camera and a notepad. I do not write about exhibitions that I haven’t seen for myself and then I check my facts. (Even then, I have made mistakes most frequently over the gender of an artist – I always make corrections and keep the comment noting the error up.)

Against this background Cameron Woodhead has written: “If you’re a critic on the internet everyone can hear you scream.” (The Age Thursday September 23, 2010) Well there is a bit more background, a flame war between Woodhead and theatre blogger Alison Croggon (Theatre Notes). In the article Woodhead repeats the usual accusations against bloggers – lack of fact checking, lack of by lines and defamation. According to Woodhead: “With no editor to rein you in, the responsibility that comes with online criticism is terrifying.” I don’t find this responsibility terrifying any more than the responsibility of acting ethically when not directly policed (as if the police/editors/gods etc. are guarantors of ethical behaviour). Authority does not flow from obligations as Woodhead claims; authority comes from an audience who have accepted the reliability writing of an author and that audience maybe impressed with displays of power, they may seriously deluded or an ignorant mob (remember that the Bible was once regarded as authoritative).

I don’t need an editor but I wish that I had a copy-editor then I wood knot make the kind errors that the spellchecker doesn’t pick up. It would also be good to have the contacts that working in a larger publication would provide. And online critics aren’t forming their own networks. I was only aware of this particular debate (flame war) because I had attended the Critical Failure Unconference at the Wheeler Centre where I met other online critics in Melbourne. Thanks to George Dunford and Trampoline for organizing the event and to all the participants Alison Croggon, Lisa Dempster, Estelle Tang, Angela Meyer, Mel Campbell, Ben Eltham, Nikita Vanderbyl, WH Chong, Richard Watts, Daniel Wood, George Dunford and Pat Allan. This is not a report on the Unconference as I’m still mulling over about all the ideas that were discussed.


Ghostpatrol @ No Vacancy

Opening night crowd at Ghostpatrol's exhibition

On a cold and wet Thursday night in Melbourne a large crowd of people quickly fills No Vacancy gallery at the QV. It is the opening of Ghostpatrol’s first solo exhibition in Melbourne “warp points and seed vault save points”. Amongst the crowd of people there are many men with beards, one of them, a young man with a beard, neck length hair and hooded jacket is Ghostpatrol.

Ghostpatrol first came to the public’s attention on Melbourne’s streets. His particular aesthetic and illustration style making him stand out from the rest of Melbourne’s street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s illustration style meant that he also rode the wave of illustrations that rolled into Melbourne’s galleries in recent years. His coloured ink drawings of children in animal costumes are not realistic; they have the style of children’s book illustrations. His figures are engaging because they are engaged in mysterious activities.

Ghostpatrol’s particular aesthetic of childhood imagination, like the book “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. It is the aesthetic of the tree house, cubby houses, reading books by electric torch light in a tent made of blankets. It is full of the magic and make-believe of childhood exploration. Ghostpatrol’s style and aesthetic translates well into a variety of media from drawings, paste-ups, street art, textiles, video, paper cuts and installations. It is an escapist aesthetic that is retreating into childhood games, even the exhibition title, “Warp points and seed vault save points”, sounds like a video game.

Inside Ghostpatrol's tent

In the gallery Ghostpatrol has made a large tent. Inside the tent there is a pile of cushions, made of fabric printed with his figures, on a rug before a triangular, like a psychedelic altarpiece of framed drawings, paper cuts, a video and objet trouvés. It is like many bedrooms in shared houses that I’ve known. There is a wall painting and a few other works outside the tent; Ghostpatrol told me that he set the exhibition up early last week and spent part of this week sewing and drawing in the warp point tent.  The found objects, like a brass paper knife with a monkey handle set on a triangle of wood, pinecones and plants growing in a book. These objects are not for sale, except for “Two approaching”, the bundle of sticks with two tiny figures painted in the cut surfaces of two of the sticks. As in other exhibitions Ghostpatrol is creating the exhibition as an installation to leave the exhibition visitor with an experience. It seemed like the gallery was only a third full of works by Ghostpatrol, including the objet trouvés (found objects), like a contemporary scatter style exhibition. It leaves me wanting more.

Ghostpatrol's installation style

I asked Ghostpatrol why he hadn’t had a solo show before? Ghostpatrol replied that he’d actually had his first solo show in Adelaide earlier this year, but that the real reason was that he enjoyed the experience of collaborating in group exhibitions too much because working with other people improves his techniques. I also asked Ghostpatrol about translating his work into textiles. He told me that he had fun doing the textiles and breaking away from his usual techniques. (See Invurt for a longer recent interview with Ghostpatrol.)


Art & Sport

The bi-annual Basil Sellers Art Prize (see my entry about the Basil Seller Art Prize)has made me think and write more about art and sport. It is one of the intentions of the art prize not just to have an exhibition and a prize but to encourage a dialogue about art and sport.

This is not the first time that someone has tried to bridge the gap between the arts and sports. In the USA there is the National Art Museum of Sport at Indiana University. NAMOS was founded in 1959 in New York City by Germain G. Glidden, a portrait artist and champion squash player with a strong belief in sport and art as universal languages understood and appreciated by all people. NAMOS’s collection includes paintings by George Bellows, Henry Rousseau and Andrew Wyeth. Also in August of this year there was a football themed art shoe at the Bega Regional Gallery that Megan Bottari reviewed in her blog Glass Central Canberra.

There are some notable artists who had active sporting lives: the Fauvist Maurice de Vlaminck did cycle racing, British painter Ben Nicholson was a keen tennis and ping pong player and contemporary American video artist, Matthew Barney was on his high school wrestling and football teams. And two of the most famous artists of the 20th Century, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, met over a game of totem tennis, providing an initial bond at a time when Man Ray spoke only English and Marcel Duchamp only French.

Enough of this sports/art trivia; moving on to some serious thoughts…

When I was a post-graduate student studying the philosophy of art I was presented with a problem by a philosopher. Aliens arrive on Earth, just outside Canberra. They are friendly but we can hardly communicate with them. To improve communications the aliens want to have a cultural exchange tour. The cultural exchange is a group of aliens who jump up and down for a period of time. Who should fund this cultural exchange the department of sports or arts?

Art and sport, whatever they are, is a cultural expression of excess. There are other cultural expressions that deal with the excesses in a culture from jokes to religion they come in many forms. The excess that must be dealt with is everything from an excess of time, energy, food or any other resources. If this excess is not dealt with through some cultural expression then it becomes threatening pollution. The excess of sport and art is contained within an area, within refined and controlled movements and within the idea of art or sport.

Art and sport maybe substitutes for religion and culture amongst people who have been displaced by modernization. They provide a reason, a connection with something greater and give additional meaning to life.

Time for a match of three-sided football, a sport invented by Danish artist Asger Jorn.


Winter Walls

I’ve been keeping busy over Melbourne’s cold wet winter preparing for the re-branded Melbourne Stencil Festival – now Sweet Streets. I’m doing the secretary role and it all makes for very uninteresting reading – lots of meeting and email. It means that I have too many conflicts of interest to keep the reporting straight and I’m too close to see the picture properly. And Melbourne’s cold, wet winter has not inspired me to do get out on the streets more than I have to.

Excuses, excuses… there are still street artists out there freezing their balls off putting up new pieces all over Melbourne, some idiots are even freezing their balls off capping some of these new pieces. So what is stopping me from writing about them? Stringing together 300 or so words about all of this amazing art and adding a photo, the type of thing that Dr. Brian Ward of Fitzroyalty recommends to boost one’s blog stats (see his article: “A Measure of Success”).

I still see fresh new pieces of aerosol art from the windows of the Upfield train. I saw some yarn bombing on Gertrude St. tied to the chain fencing off a small garden area with an electricians cable tie. And I saw more street art sculpture in Hosier Lane, amongst the many new works of aerosol art there, including the first Sellotape sculpture that I’ve seen on the streets (of course, I’d already seen a lot of it online).

Phoenix, Melbourne

Looking through all the photos that I’ve taken of street art. I notice that at least one Melbourne street artist is still being influenced by last year’s Salvador Dali blockbuster exhibition at the NGV. I also notice that this same artist has used the t-shirt format for another piece that I had photographed earlier. I don’t know who made it, if someone does know please leave a comment. (Thanks Phoenix, now I know.)

The same artist? Melbourne


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