Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic.

Melbourne’s Weather

On Thursday, taking advantage of one of the last sunny days of autumn, I bicycled along the Merri Creek to the old Kodak Bridge on Edgar’s Creek. I didn’t expect to find street art in the wilds of North Coburg but the pillars underneath this unused bridge is an excellent location. There above a couple of superb graffiti pieces with gold paint splatter highlights was a whole set of paste-ups by Phoenix.

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The graffiti writers below had carefully buffed their undercoat around Phoenix’s skull.

The remains of a camp fire under the bridge reminded me that although there are still pleasant days like this, the nights are getting colder. I’ve been resisting commenting on this for over a year now. I heard about Elmor Leonard’s rules for writing a novel – never start with the weather. Weather is dull conversation. However, Melbourne’s weather is part of its psychogeography, it influences the way that we move about the city, and it influences the writing of this blog.

Terry, the postman had a story for me about delivering mail in the city. “Looked out the back of the building it was all sunny, looked out the front of the building the city looked all sunny. Went outside and it was raining, directly above. Typical Melbourne weather.” That night we had the strongest winds in thirty years.

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Looking through my notes from January: “Street artists painting in the heat of the day. Too hot for me to attend; there is a heat health alert in the city with a maximum of 36 degrees is predicted. I feel like I have become a vampire living in perpetual twilight – the sun, it burns! It burns!)” This extreme weather does effect the culture, artists living in rural areas have to prepare their art collections for bush fires.

Melbourne’s weather influences when I choose to go out. September and October’s uncertain weather are Melbourne’s choice for arts festivals. You roll the dice, you take your chances, it could be good, it could be fantastic, it could be horrible. Melbourne’s population are tired of the bleak wet and cold winter weather (now for my Canadian cousins when I say cold I’m not talking about freezing, sub-zero Celsius temperatures that you would call cold – Melbourne’s cold is a freezing wind coming off the antartic ocean with or without rain).

Then the are the heat waves of extreme baking heat, days above 40 degrees and nights where the temperature does not get below 30. There is no humidity, the sun bakes the leaves on trees and bushes to a brown crisp. After a sever heat wave lasting for days there is a feeling like jet lag as your body deprived of adequate sleep catches up with the rhythm of the day.

Although Melbourne’s weather is a major topic of conversation there is very little contemporary art about the weather. It is not as if there isn’t modern and contemporary art about the weather; consider Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade exposed to the Parisian elements or Joseph Beuys’s claim of artistic responsibility for any snowfall in Dussseldorf during February 1970. The artists who do comment on Melbourne’s weather are the paste-up artists, including Phoenix whose street art paste-ups warn about global warming are exposed to the elements.

Phoenix Kyoto t-shirt


Performprint Spectacular

“Extreme printmaking and macho ritual fuel Performprint – a ten-hour exploration of masculinity, live art and print reproduction in the 21st century.” Publicity promised a spectacular event from 9am to 7pm at the Arts House/Meat Market as part of the Festival of Live Art on Sunday March 23rd in Melbourne, Australia.

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The first question that I asked Joel Gailer, when I saw him a weeks ago. Joel looked relaxed, he was leaning on the cast iron lace railing of his terrace house veranda. “Are you in training for Performprint?”

“Yes, I did some training earlier today,” Joel replied. He had been in training. A few days later he and Michael Meneghetti, painted silver and orange, staggering through the Bourke Street Mall, in the centre of Melbourne with very large BBQs strapped to the backs. The ‘Stations of the BBQ’ was a live performance in the lead up Performprint. The masculine domain of the BBQ are locally believed to be quintessentially Australian; “throw another prawn on the barbie” comedian Paul Hogan would say in old Australian tourism advertisements.

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At Performprint, in the historic setting of the old Melbourne Meat Market printer, Joel Gailer and his old friend and collaborator, performance artist, Michael Meneghetti were both in sunglasses, t-shirts, black jeans and boots. They were constantly working with a silent concentrated intensity for the ten hour event except when Gailer would, megaphone in hand, would climb to the top of a ziggurat of half finished copies of Warhol’s Brillo Box to announce his print manifesto and laugh at painters. Gailer proclaimed that “the truth is a copy”, “the copy is primary” and “Warhol is our god”.

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Joel Gailer is an experimental printer; he presses hard up against the boundary of the definition of printing to get a good print of its relief. He has printed in many different processes from etching to commercial printing in art magazines for which he won the the Fremantle Acquisitive Print Award for Hot Process, a page of paid advertising in Art Almanac magazine. Action printing was the next logical step; the LPG gas fire in an iron grill for branding on slabs of pig skin. Branding is a form of print making.

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Gailer and Meneghetti were using many different printing processes from the traditional cast iron printing press to using a lawn roller to make giant prints with large plywood letters. Printing on a giant scale you need a casking gun of tar for ink and a line of rope strung across rigging.

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Meneghetti’s performance art a lot of stilt walking while wearing masks; see his YouTube page. As well as, assisting Gailer with the printing Meneghetti was occasionally walking around in several different versions of the stilts including one made crutches and broken surfboards. There was a video loop of two of his four legged creatures walking around on the rocks of the tidal zone as the water slowly came in.

Other looping videos showed Indonesian fighting cocks being prepared for battle, a man with a spectrum of coloured underpants and a hand holding sprigs of wattle flowers above a flame. The wattle is a reference to both the right-wing nationalist, Australia Natives Association’s ‘Wattle Day’, as a symbol of Australia, and Monty Python’s parody in their Bruce Sketch. Together Gailer and Meneghetti have refined and redefined ideas about Australia and country boy machismo into masochistic endurance performance art. Machismo and masochism are very close.

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There was skateboarding on two ramps at your own risk, with t-shirts printed with legal waivers for the event. The skateboard wheels were carved with letters and the ramps were covered with the printed word. There were many carved wheels and tires that Gailer and Meneghetti pushed around printing words onto the bluestone cobbled floor.

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It was somewhere between print making and rock’n’roll; smoke machines, spot lights, multiple TV sets, video projectors and Harley-Davidsons. This was an event with a bar, a coffee bar and a catering van.

At the end there was the cacophony of competing bands, MY ‘Michael Yule’ Band and Coffin Wolf, and the human branding. At 7:59pm Michael Meneghetti that night posted a photo on Facebook of Joel Gailer at the emergency ward. Gailer went to hospital on Arts House staff advice worried about alcohol poisoning after he consumed a bottle of gin too quickly during and post branding. He sat around for a while and then left before being examined.

A video of a 2013 outdoor version of Performprint.

A video on UStream of the Meat Market event that will make you head spin.

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Ten Great Street Installations

I have love street installations. I write about street art installation in my book on Melbourne’s public sculpture because street installations, although not officially sanctioned, are still seen by the public.

Junky Projects, All Your Walls, 2013 (2)

The new Junky Projects that is part of All Your Walls in Hosier Lane is the largest that I have yet seen on the streets, becoming more abstract in his compositions. It a Dadaists/Futurists.

Pop Cap, All Your Walls, 2013

The Lego men in also All Your Walls by Pop Cap.

Will Coles, Nothingness

Will Coles, Nothingness, does anyone notice if a pigeon dies?

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Photograph that Psalm sent to me, this urban Rainbow is some of some of his fine work. Showing that he can do installations and other street art.

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Another photograph by Psalm of his work, Drain, its an old gag but worth doing well.

GT Sewell, Clown Serpent, 2013 (2 Blender Alley)

A great serpent clown by GT in Blender Lane.

Tea pot CBD

Yarn bombing referring back to the tea-cosy. Is yarn bombing trying to make the city more cosy?

Les Futo's spiral of lighters

A temporary installation; Les Futo’s great spiral of used lighters, presented at the Brunswick Festival in 2008.

Buckets in AC:DC lane

Can fling-up be art? In 2009 these buckets appeared in AC/DC Lane.

B1 Crucified, Brunswick

B1 Crucified in Brunswick in 2013. Is this a reference to cuts to the ABC?


Prolegomena to Australian Culture

The terrible “Australian” identity debate continues to stumbles around like a drunken bogan. I feel forced to comment because of the subtitle of this blog (the “cultural critic” part) and because of the pathetic nationalist culture statement made by the imbeciles and criminals based in Canberra.

I don’t want to dignify anything that they have said by even commenting on it. Instead this will be a partial prolegomena (I don’t believe the spell checker knew that word – “you know, prolegomena, the clarification of the ground in preparation for further discussion, as in Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics” – thanks to Richard Meltzer’s Aesthetics of Rock for clarifying that). So before anyone says anything more there are a few things that need to be clarified.

Recently the word “culture” has been applied to many things from the “work culture of Systems Administrators” to “deaf culture”. Discussion of “Australian culture” assumes that culture is a singular noun and this may be a grammatical error. The word “culture” may be a collective noun like “water”, “wool” or “dust” so that you have “some culture” or a “lots of culture” and not “a culture” anymore than “a water”, or “a wool”. A quantitative examination is a better foundation for discussion of culture rather than an examination identifying a unit.

Culture is more than the arts; it includes language, education, science, ethics, etc. It is the way that people behave in business, in medicine, in government etc. The limited understanding in Australian major political parties culture policy reduces culture to the arts. This is a narrow, limited understanding of culture and it is typical of the lack of depth to most Australian politicians understanding. Artists are culture workers, that is people working directly on their culture and not as a by-product of a culture.

A culture has material expressions, e.g. fashion, food, figures of speech, activities that identifies and defines the culture to both it members and others. That is cultures have identifiable clothes, food, dance, customs and practices. Vague claims about “mateship” or “ANZAC spirit” are not evidence of a culture. Furthermore, while I am stating the obvious, neither are national constitution (flag, etc.) nor geography evidence of a culture.

A language, in and of itself, does not constitute a culture. There are many languages that have no culture: trade languages do not belong to any one culture but facilitates communication across cultures. Likewise computer languages facilitate operations and communication without belonging to a culture. English is a language that has become free, in the processes of attempting to global dominance, of its original culture. As a language, English, does not necessarily signify any culture but particular expressions can identify the culture of the speaker. Slang, in itself, is not evidence of a culture; a person speaking Singlish is no more authentically Singaporean than a person speaking standard English.

There is so much that could and should be noted: Why have a culture? How do cultures develop? Are all cultures equal? This will have to be part one of this prolegomena.


DAMP @ Neon Parc

Why break ceramic objects (vases, plates, statues, a bathroom sink)? Why paint them with acrylic paint with references to the whole of art history (ancient Greeks to modern masters, including Picasso’s Weeping Woman) and then glue them back together again with polymer adhesive (as best as possible, given that some pieces might go missing in the process)?

Why? I was just re-reading an essay by Arthur Danto on this very subject; “Fine art and functional objects” (Danto, Embodied Meanings, critical essays and aesthetic meditations, 1994). Danto looks at an ancient Greek krater from the sixth century BCE, by the potter Euxitheos, decorated with red-figure paintings by Euphronius and considers the way that the art is now seen, as it is on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as separate from the function. Danto points out that until the eighteenth century, “the distinction between painting and decoration was all bout nonexistent, and pictures were thought of as functional objects as well”. (p.300)

Danto concludes that the distinction between fine art and functionality is “historically contingent and constantly under negotiation.” (p.303) Clearly for this exhibition negotiations had broken down. In negotiating the functionality of the ceramic objects DAMP had broken them to remove their functionality. However, attempting to separate the art from its support is impossible.

Breaking the ceramics reduces their value to almost nothing, they are then transformed into art; a routine practiced by Japanese Buddhist monks, as well as, DAMP.

I walked two or three times around the “Harrison Collection” of painted ceramics by DAMP in the small single room of Neon Parc, chuckling to myself. There were plenty of details to keep looking. DAMP is a Melbourne-based art collective with a fluid membership that started in 1995.


Marblephilia

The immense, almost two metres long, polished, muscled torso turning at the waist, made of the white marble is Peter Schipperheyn’s most recent sculpture, River God. It refers back to figures one of the figures on the Parthenon’s tympanum (you know, that triangular bit filled with carved figures under the pitched roof).

Peter Schipperheyn, River God, 2012/13

Peter Schipperheyn, River God, 2012/13  (photograph courtesy of Mossgreen Gallery)

Peter Schipperheyn loves carving marble, particularly Carrara marble. Marble is a metamorphosed limestone, the crystals in the white stone is vary in size and occasionally mixed with tiny specks of mica. The white marble can be naturally stained with yellow with iron oxide or green with copper oxide. The block of marble is then under goes a second metamorphosis when it is carved.

Schipperheyn wants to be part of the marble carving tradition around Carrara. Marble has been quarried in Carrara since the Roman Empire. Quarrying and carving marble in Carrara is a tradition that might appear conservative but it also includes a tradition of anarchist radicals since the 19th century.

Peter Schipperheyn was first inspired by the large marble, stainless steel, silver bronze, nickel-plated steel sculpture in the NGV, Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy’s Death of the father (La Mort du père) 1967-1968. I always wondered what influence this macabre installation like an exploded medieval tomb of a bishop would have on Melbourne’s art. Schipperheyn understood the power and the instinctual desire to touch that that polished surfaces of Ipoustéguy’s sculpture generated. This desire to touch is expressed in several of Schipperheyn’s sculpture including Erotica, 2009.

Ipoustéguy had other resonances in Schipperheyn’s life. Eric Westbrook, the director of the NGV who had acquired Death of the Father also wrote a letter of reference for Peter that helped get his first trip to Italy where discovered his love for carving marble. Years later Schipperheyn managed to meet Ipoustéguy in Choise La Roi, on the outskirts of Paris.

Peter Schipperheyn carving the River God (photograph courtesy of Mossgreen Gallery)

Peter Schipperheyn carving the River God (photograph courtesy of Mossgreen Gallery)

I met Peter Schipperheyn at an exhibition of his ten of his recent works in marble and bronze at Mossgreen Gallery. Peter was wearing a bright orange linen suit and plain t-shirt. His marble carving tools, still with marble dust on them, are on exhibition in the built in vitrines at Mossgreen Gallery. He is happy and relaxed, he is on a hiatus after a lot of hard work, at the same time he is keen to get back to work.


Warehouse vs ARI

Daniel Lynch posted on Facebook today. “If you have ever been helped out by the warehouse. If u ever crashed there while u found your way. If u ever painted the walls. If you shot a film here or even just came to party, well come hang out today. I got a garage sale all day and I will be working around the place ripping the old beast down.”

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Times Studios

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Things Studios

I was looking at Facebook as I was thinking about how to reply to an email from an artist about volunteering at 69 Smith Street. The combination started me thinking about arts warehouses vs ARI; so instead of going to hang out one last time as Daniel ripped the studio walls down I thought that I’d write a blog post. I’d been to Good Things Studio on Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick a couple of times for various reasons since Daniel established it in 2011. (In a 2012 post I call it Coco Jackson Studios I don’t know if it has changed its name or I just misnamed it with its address.)

There are some important art warehouses in Melbourne arts scene: Irene’s Community Arts Warehouse (where I first met some of the Indonesian artists involved in Taring Padi) and Blender Studios.

So how does this compare to ARI? ARI (artist run spaces) emerged in the 1980s; in 1982 Roar Studios in Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first ARI. Aiming to be bridge between the art school and major art galleries, ARI’s became part of the institution of art exhibiting. They look the same as the major galleries only the white walled spaces are smaller. But perhaps they have run their course especially as exhibiting in a gallery space is no longer essential to contemporary art and when even commercial galleries are opening what they call “project space” or dropping the word “gallery” from their name.

Warehouses combining artists studios and other events have been around since the 1990s. Warehouse parties, Warhol’s Factory and the old mystique of the artist’s studio all contribute to the warehouse vibe. The flexible warehouse space provides better matches contemporary art that might be seen on the street or a site-specific location. It allows for both artists who exhibit in galleries and those who don’t. It mixes the arts; musicians, film-makers and visual artists mixed at Good Things Studio. The community of artists working at the warehouse has a more direct influence on the work of the artist’s involved than the opportunity to exhibit.

For a young or emerging artist in Melbourne establishing an arts warehouse is more artistically significant than establishing an ARI.


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