Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Sublime to the Spooky

I saw a few exhibitions this week that ranged from the sublime to the spooky in some unusual locations and some of the usual locations.

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock’s New Hypothetical Continents is at Dome Gallery. Dome Gallery is at The Mission to Seafarers, one of the few old buildings in Docklands. Under the great domed space, the lights of Maddock’s new continent twinkle in the circular space. The continent’s scale matches the space and creates a beautiful spectacle in a location that resonates with sea transport. Maddock’s work references the modern fascination to discover or create a modern Atlantis. Maddock came public attention when he and Isaac Greener were part of the Melbourne Sculpture Prize in 2011 and his Apostle No.2 stood in Federation Square.

Like many people I went to see The Vivisector to see Andrew Delaney has sewn soft tissue sculptures; it was clearly a very popular little exhibition. It reminded me of soft versions of Damien Hirst, The Virgin Mother, 2005 as well as, what I know of the history of anatomical models. All the fabric hearts, arms and other body parts were very good and impressive but not brilliant. The work has a visual sensationalism with an instant appeal, of transferring anatomical models to fabric but after that what is left. It was a bit too slick, showing evidence of Delaney’s decade of work at Myer, as a visual merchandiser and stylist. It has a strange corny macabre aesthetic; the kind that does attractively present a fabric model of a foetus nestled in a broken down arm chair. I thought that the work looked better when I saw some of the work amidst all the clutter at his studio, Anno Domini Home at the back of Harold and Maude than in Edmund Pearce Gallery also on Level Two of the Nicholas Building.

Hidden Faces of the Archibald Exhibition, also known as ‘the Melbourne Salon de Refuses’, the best of the Victorian rejects from the Archibald Prize in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. With the Archibald there are so many entries that these little side exhibitions have been going for decades, each with their own people’s choice prize. Looking at most of the portraits you can instantly see why they didn’t get into the Archibald: tired old techniques, awkward poses, really odd ideas (like, why is Ted Baillieu’s head on a tree?) or too obscure a subject for the Archibald’s idea of a notable Australian.

At Screen Space Patricia Piccinini Swell, 2000 made me feel slightly unbalanced watching the three screens of animated waves but I was more impressed with Leela Schauble’s Synthetic Species Motion Study No.7 because it was creepy and relevant to plastics in the ocean. However my preference for Schauble’s work may be influenced by the development of digital animation in the last 14 years.


Conspirators

“Noooo! I don’t want to leave.” said the little girl to her father and walked defiantly away to look at the bandaged baby carriage creature with its grinning teeth on the far side of the gallery. She didn’t want to be torn so quickly from this world of strange creatures, uncanny objects and compelling machines and went around the exhibition again to see her favourites.

Sally Field

Her father wasn’t insistent, everyone in the gallery could see her point, this is a fantastic exhibition that well deserves a second look. Curated by Carmen Reid, Conspirators is at the Yarra Gallery in Federation Square and is part of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. I hadn’t been or heard of the Yarra Gallery before, it turns out it is the building opposite ACMI where most of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival is being held.

The exhibition is by local artists with a similar aesthetic to the work of Jan Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s stop-motion animations, ordinary objects, often as simple as stones, clay or cutlery, are both transformed and allowed to remain as it is. The walls of the exhibition display panels about his films and career and that also serve as an indirect explanation of the exhibition. Švankmajer’s themes of puppets and fetish sculptures are reflected in the work of a over a dozen local artists.

Aly Aitken grinning creatures of bandages and leather, like a combination of Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Bacon’s Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The clay manipulated by Duncan Freedman’s Love and other machines, reminding me of early Švankmajer animations, like Food. Freedman’s hand cranked machines making desperate sexual allusions in a purely mechanical manner. Nadia Mercuri’s work with glass and spoons reminding me of many animations of cutlery by Švankmajer.

The surreal appreciation of objects that gave material form to the surreal vision. Displaying the surreal aspect of objects as totem or taboo, repulsively and attractively physical. Sarah Field makes a lot of use of hair: a tea trolley of hair cakes, on a cow skin rug (I wonder what hair would taste like with chocolate and tea?), her long haired mop and bucket, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust, and her long haired toothbrush.

James Cattell

There are many fantastic sculptures in this exhibition. From Robbie Rowlands wooden suitcase that has been cut in a precise way, making what was once firm flexible whereas Terry Williams and Jenny Bartholomew’s grotesque stuffed objected are flexible by nature. The high light of the exhibition has to be the complex and macabre automata machines of James Cattell, that have to be cranked to be fully appreciated.  In curator and artist, Carmen Reid’s, Dwelling machines, two objects are connected with wires, threads or chains. Bringing these artists together creates an exhibition that, like the sculptures in it, is much more than the sum of the parts.

Carmen Reid


Three Sided Football

“It appears that the first person to come up with the idea of three-sided football was Asger Jorn, who saw it as a means of conveying the notion of dialectics. We are still trying to discover if there any actual games organised by him. Before the LPA organised its first game at the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School in 1993, there is little evidence of any games being played.”

“There is, of course, the rumour that Luther Blissett organised an informal league…”

“Luther Blissett Three-Sided Football League”, Stewart Home, Mind Invaders (Serpent’s Tail, 1997, London, p.56)

I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarism any more than I am claiming that any of the information in the quotes is accurate. Even though Gabrielle de Vietri’s Three teams 2013 has no reference to earlier three-sided football games in her extensive artist’s statement but Neoists like Stewart Home were kicking lots of ideas around, hoping that some would catch one of them and run with it. A further complication to any accusations of plagiarism is that: “Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name.” (Home, Mind Invaders p. 44)

Gabrielle de Vietri Three teams 2013 is part of the Basil Seller Art Prize 2014 at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. There are many differences in football codes, media and the expression of the idea, but both have the intent to refute the dualism of the game of football and thereby, through Neoist reasoning, refute the dualism in life.

Gabrielle de Vietri realised the idea of three sided football recording the development of the game. “The game was played on the oval of the Taylors Lake Football & Netball Club in October 2013 between the Horsham RSL Diggers, Noradjuha-Quantong and Taylors Lake teams.” Her dual-channel HD video in 16:9 ratio with sound is 30:07 minutes long. It is interesting to watch because all of the participants are enthusiastic and thinking deeply about how a game based on Australian rules football would work with three teams. If you can’t imagine footballers taking conceptual art seriously you must watch this video. It is really the integration of art and life, or at least football, which to many Australians is the equivalent.

The historicism of the what was once considered underground art means that it is time to reconsider Neoism. Neoism, the art movement to end all art movements, was just another Neo-Dada movement. The word that reverberated around the art world since it was first spoken in Zurich in 1916 is still echoing the echoes.

Was Neoism the art movement that ended all art movements? Since Neoism there really hasn’t been another art movement, just geographic clusters of artists (unless we count Stuckism as an art movement). I remember reading somewhere that Stewart Homes was criticised for taking Neoism seriously; now the whole art world (except for Stuckists) takes Dada and some of its off spring seriously.

On the subject of open identities, another open identity like Luther Blissett, Monty Cantsin has been in the news attacking a Jeff Koons exhibition with a blood X and marker pen a signature. There is something wrong attacking the authenticity of Koons when you are also attacking the authenticity of identity by adopting the open identity of Monty Cantsin. Splashing blood around just further confuses any message and, or metaphor. (Cries of: “No, I’m Monty Cantsin” continue to be heard off stage.)


Noula Diamantopoulos’s Quest

Noula Diamantopoulos is performing Quest at the Melbourne Art Fair and I had an interview with her on Wednesday morning. Quest consists of Noula sitting on a pile of cushion on a carpet in a quiet space with mirrors. There is a low table with coloured pens and another pile of cushions for the visitor. The visitor writes a question on paper that has already been painted by Noula and the quest begins. In silence the visitor asks five questions and gets five written responses back. “The silence is intimidating” Noula told me, “The writing makes it concrete.”

Noula Diamantopoulos

You would think that a punk philosopher, like myself interviewing what appears to be a new-ager is bad idea but keep in mind that art is not what it appears to be. Often with good art some people forget that it is art. Quest might look like a meeting with a spiritual guru, but it is not. Some people ask Noula questions as if she were a fortune teller: ‘will I fall in love?’

Noula Diamantopoulos is a performance artist and performance art it is closer to sculpture than spirituality. “I sculpt” Noula said, paused and then explained that her work is like moulding clay only it is a collaborative participation on a conceptual work of art, sculpting both the physical and the conceptual.

In preparation for my interview I looked at several of her websites; Noula told me that she doesn’t have a main website but that she finds them a way to organise her ideas. Noula studied at Sydney sculptor Tom Bass’ school in 1998. She remembers Bass dressed immaculately in white (Noula is also dressed all in white except for a pink scarf) and that his studio smelling of mud. He was very strict in teaching sculpture and wrote poetry. People in Melbourne would know Tom Bass’s sculpture from his Genie in Queen Victoria Gardens or the Children’s Tree on Elizabeth Street.

On one of her many websites Noula had written: “Art making is a transformative process.” People expect transformation from the spiritual but art really is a transformation, something changes into art. In making art you have to have the intention to change something and that requires awareness of what you are intending to change and what you changing. Noula told me that generally by the third question that people ask her things have changed. “Questions have the seeds of all answers.”

In the rush of the Melbourne Art Fair performance art involving a quiet space for reflection is a rare opportunity.

Noula and Peter Burke

Noula Diamantopoulos and Peter Burke


Melbourne Art Fair 2014

The full-scale Dalek and the woman dressed as My Lady in Red would be more familiar sights at a comic book or sci-fi convention but they were at the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF). Not only was there a small booth from Thrill, the cosplay magazine but also at the MAF Edge there was tattooist Mat Rogers of Dead Cherub, French antiques, car drawings, free-form knitting, other displays that you would not expect at an art fair.

Thrill magazine's cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

Thrill magazine’s cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

The MAF is still at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton and there are still booths from 70 art galleries from Australia, Asia, Europe and the USA with more than 300 artists filling the building. However, there more than that both at the Exhibition Building and 53 other locations across Melbourne. There are performance artists, project rooms, a video space, a creative space for the younger visitors, a platform for young galleries and art run initiatives at the Exhibition Building. Outside of the Exhibition Building there is a free public performances, pop-up exhibition, art talks and walks. It is more like a visual arts festival than simply another art fair.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

There are lot of art fairs around the world now and there has been a lot of criticism of art fairs as the new monster predators in the art world. Lucinda Schmidt reports in The Age about the competition between art fair and commercial galleries. The commercial galleries pay thousands of dollars for a stall at the art fair, just like artists paying to hang in rental space galleries. However, art fairs are not static systems and it is clear that MAF has responded and changed.

Some of the galleries at the MAF have moved away from stock shows at their booths to curated exhibitions. On Wednesday morning Wynne and Archibald Prize winning Melbourne artist, Sam Leach was still installing his exhibition of large scale paintings and geometric sculptures at the Sullivan + Strumpf booth. Leach’s new work connects the past to present, his detailed fine painting of landscapes and animals now combine elements of hard edge abstraction that are reflected in his small sculptures. Along with Ashley Crawford and Tony Lloyd, Leach is also curating the Not Fair in Collingwood.

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Mikala Dwyer’s The weight of shape, a large mobile commissioned by the Melbourne Art Foundation, hangs, turning and transforming slowly in the Exhibition Building. The unlikely mix of acrylic, fibreglass, copper, clay, bronze and stainless shapes some how balance each other. After the MAF is over The weight of shape will be given to the National Gallery of Australia.

“Art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art” Barry Keldoulis told the media preview on Wednesday morning. It is a big change since I was last at a Melbourne Art Fair in 2002, after that I thought that it was better, cheaper and less crowded to visit the galleries individually. I can now report that the Melbourne Art Fair has changed a lot in those twelve years.


Nauru, Art and Refugees

As a teenager I briefly landed on Nauru as the single aircraft in Air Nauru was the cheapest way to fly to Japan from Australia. I was in the cockpit as we landed, sitting behind the captain; it was common practice back then for the captain to invite children into the cockpit, although being in the cockpit during a landing was unusual however there were so few passengers on the flight that my brother and I were the only non-adults.

The island is tiny, the runway being the largest feature of the island seen from the air. There was a policeman manning a boom gate that stopped the cars crossing the runway as the plane landed. It looked like the dullest place in the world; it was dull for me and yet there were fat, bored locals sitting at the airport just to watch the plane arrive, probably the most exciting thing to happen all week on the tiny island.

This was at the time when Nauru’s sovereign wealth fund made it, per capita one of the richest countries in the world. It was during this period of prosperity that Melbourne was given a “gift of the people and government of Nauru” the sculpture “Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston and Hoddle” (aka “the metal men”) 1993 by Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn.

Now that the phosphate mines on Nauru and it administer sovereign wealth fund has been exploited and mismanaged Nauru has once again become, in all but name, a colony of Australia that uses it as a concentration camp for refugees. There are currently more refugees on Nauru than citizens.

I was reminded of this when I saw Kelvin Skewes, What was taken and what was given an exhibition of photograph at the Counihan Gallery. Skewes photographs of Nauru’s destruction shows the mix between the tropical island and the industrial wasteland, the jagged limestone exposed by the phosphate mining and the new industry of abusing refugee’s human rights.

This not the first time that landscape of Nauru has been the subject of art. In 2010 “The Nauru Elegies: a portrait in sound and hypsographic architecture” by architect Annie K Kwon and musician Paul D Miller, aka DJ Spooky. (See my post.)

Also at the Counihan Gallery is local artist Liz Walker’s The Wave, that also refers to the Australian regime’s criminal treatment of refugees. In the middle of the gallery Walker’s impressive post-minimalist boat made of 37,697 sticks (one stick for every refugee who has travelled by boat to Australia from 1976-2012). One wall of the gallery is covered in old suitcases, Memorial to the beginning of an unknown end, each of the open suitcases contains an assemblage, like Joseph Cornell’s boxes, with a reference to refugees coming to Australia. Walker’s use of worn and aged found materials combines both the poetic and the polemic. (For more on Liz Walker’s art do a search using the search box at the top of the right bar, put quotation marks around her name – there are about ten posts.)


Censorship, Barry Keldoulis and Paul Yore

Prior to the Melbourne Art Fair I asked Barry Keldoulis some questions about the censorship of art by Paul Yore and Tyza Stewart at Sydney Contemporary in 2013 and assured  him that his replies would be printed in full.

Barry Keldoulis: Thank you Mark, and some of my answers are going to be fairly long winded as to answer the question properly will require background information on the circumstances.

Black Mark: What I am concerned about is what happened at the Sydney Contemporary. In your statement about removing the work of artists at Sydney Contemporary you were definitive that the artists were on the wrong side of the law, how were you able to achieve this degree of certainty with a law that has never been tested in court?

Barry Keldoulis: I think it’s worth noting firstly that some of the work of Paul Yore and Tyza Stewart were removed form the fair, and those that were not found to contravene the laws of NSW remained on display. I am not a lawyer or a policeman, so when it became clear that there was some elements of the Yore installation that may contravene the law, legal expects were asked to view the work. Three barristers who specialize in this particular area, typically and often successfully defending the accused, came and spent a couple of hours examining the installation.

It may be worth noting here that I had spoken to Paul on a number of occasions and sought his assurance “that nothing in this work will contravene the Australia Council’s Protocols for Working with Children in Art or relevant existing laws in NSW.”

I had reminded Paul that the laws in NSW were different to the laws in Victoria. Indeed they are considered by many to be the strictest in the land, and do not refer to ‘child pornography’ but the wider term ‘child abuse material’.

His written response to me was : “I understand and obviously accept these conditions for my new work at Sydney Contemporary’s installation section.” And furthermore, “I am acutely aware of the need to respect relevant laws especially in relation to children”.

However, the barristers found that, and I quote, “The Large Installation, I am afraid offends in many varied ways the provisions of the Crimes Act legislation in NSW.  The Large Installation is interesting and intrinsically devoted to the display of boys, probably under 16 years of age in Child Abuse Material under S91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).  The definitions of these Materials are wide and includeS91FB(1) (b) depiction of child (under 16), S91FA, and furthermore in “sexual pose or implied in presence of another in sexual pose or sexual activity, or private parts of person apparently involved in sexual activity.”

They added, “Accordingly, the Installation in spirit and in detail come within the definition of “child abuse material” and is fatally doomed to probable conviction of your client for possession and /or exhibition.”

My understanding is that conviction would mean a jail term. Some seem to think that Paul should go to jail. I acted to protect him from that eventuality.

But it was not as simple as that. The legal experts also informed us that under the laws of NSW that “The mere possession of such material is potentially an offence.”

This meant that my initial idea to bring one of the theatrical curtains in the space forward in front of the work and signpost it to only allow adults in and to warn of possible offence, as is often done in institutions, was not an option. With Child Abuse Material,  the existence of the material is the problem, not its exhibition.

And in these circumstances, the exhibiting institution is considered the ‘publisher’, which meant that the staff of Carriageworks could be looking at conviction for possession and /or exhibition. People who have a long history of being incredibly supportive of artists at the forefront of experimentation and diversity were also in danger.

Black Mark: Why do think that censorship is “in the best interests of all the galleries showing” (from your statement re: Sydney Contemporary)?

Barry Keldoulis: In this discussion and can be easy to forget that the event involved some 80 galleries and the work of hundreds of artists. Had the work been allowed to stay and become the subject of a police enquiry the media tornado would have sucked in all the oxygen and denied any attention to the hundreds of other intriguing and stimulating works on display.

Black Mark: Why do you think that acting as a cop in censoring art works is part of your role as director of an art fair? Why not wait for the real police to follow their normal procedures and wait for a report from the public and investigate?

Barry Keldoulis: I did not act as ‘cop’, but on advice from legal experts, and others.  I took no pleasure in the proceedings, but acted in the best interests of the persons concerned.

An art fair, being open to the public and attended by tens of thousands of people, including children, does not seem the appropriate place to pursue this issue to it’s legal conclusion. However I think your suggestion is interesting. Perhaps the gallerist involved and who surely advises the artist on these matters, and may  disagree with the legal advice we received, should take a space in NSW and re-create the installation in its entirety, and invite the police to have a look, remembering that possession is a crime, not just exhibition.

Black Mark: How does the diversity of income streams (galleries, sponsors etc.) of an art fair influence this position?

Barry Keldoulis: This was a legal issue around the possession and exhibition of Child Abuse Material, and ‘income streams’ had nothing to do with it.

Thanks again Mark for the opportunity to answer your questions with more than a sound bite.

*      *      *

Obscenity laws are prima facie unjust because it is impossible for a reasonable person to know before conviction if something is obscene. No other crime is so open to such subjective interpretation. Although some crimes, manslaughter for example, do not require an intention to commit a crime, no other crime convicts a reasonable person acting in good faith.  The obvious intention of obscenity laws is to force everyone to conform to the thinking of the dominate institutional power in this society.

We live in a society where laws have been made by the state, under the influence of the religious institutions; a society where both the state and religious institutions are currently under investigation for child abuse and the covering up of these crimes (The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse). Why does anyone believe that such institutions have any moral authority or even any morality? Why does anyone tolerate the unjust and amoral dictates made by these institutions – because of the threat of violence?

“The State does not permit me to use my thoughts to their full value and communicate them to other men… unless they are its own… Otherwise it shuts me up.”

– Max Stirner, The Ego and its Own, 1845


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