Installing Ursa Major

I was a bit too early on Monday morning for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014 as some of the sculptures had not yet arrived. The information stands were up and installation was underway but for a while the only thing that I could of the finalist’s sculptures were Geoff Robinson’s coloured poles (“spatial markers”) that are part of his work, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days. Then I saw parked on the Russell Street part of the square, where the tour buses pick up passengers a polar bear on the back of the truck and the name of business: J K Fasham Pty Ltd.

Louise Paramor Ursa Major

J K Fasham Pty Ltd in Clayton South is a firm that specialises in architectural metal fabrication, mostly windows and doors. They have also fabricated and installed sculptures for over four decades and have done work on public sculptures for Inge King, Anthony Pryor and Deborah Helpburn. Moving a large sculpture is an expensive operation it itself and can be a major item in the budget for a sculpture.

The polar bear was the most recognisable object in Louise Paramor’s Ursa Major, 2014, another one of the finalists in the Melbourne Prize. The sculpture is an assembly of unlikely objects, a chance encounter of the surreal kind in the warehouse that allows “industry, novelty and domesticity to collide”. The bear is seated on a stack of palettes, with a table balanced on its head and a slide on his back.

Considering the size of the plastic and fibreglass sculpture of the polar bear and objects and compared to some of the other sculptures that they have installed this was not going to be a demanding job. However, it was worth watching to observe a professional installation of a temporary public sculpture.

Louise Paramor Ursa Major unloading

The sculpture is installed in a little used part of Federation Square at the back of the Atrium overlooking the Yarra River. It was a precision operation carried out with care, attention to detail and professional experience. The sculpture was attached to the concrete base with long steel bolts.

It was installed by two men, a truck with a crane, a pallet jack and another small crane. The second crane was a fantastic little piece of machinery, with retractable bracing legs that lifted the single track vehicle off the ground. It was perfect for the small pedestrian space.

Installing Louise Paramor Ursa Major

Louise Paramor Ursa Major Fed Square

Everything went smoothly. Louise Paramor, the artist was watching and photographing the process.

“We can still move it, if you want.” I heard one of the men say to Louise.

In the end the biggest problem was where to put the laminated “Do Not Climb” sign and how to attach it. It was a problem for the artist and Melbourne Prize organiser, Simon Warrender; the two men from J K Fasham Pty Ltd were packing up the small crane and moving it back to their truck.

Louise Paramor Ursa Major installation finished

Louise Paramor with her Ursa Major

Louise Paramor with her Ursa Major


MoreArt 2014

James Voller in Fragmented Patterns, uses the side of an industrial rubbish bin and a public toilet on Victoria Street in Coburg, as the support for photographs of the facades of suburban houses where the classical arch has become an architectural cliche. The sense of perspective given by these large scale prints distorts/transforms the surrounding environment. Is it a toilet block or the front of a small house?

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

A nineteenth century iron lamp post outside the Brunswick Town Hall is covered in gold leaf; Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument. It made me question if I could remember the lamp post before this transformation.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Seeking to transform the way that people look at urban/industrial landscape of Coburg and Brunswick is the intention of the annual MoreArts exhibition of temporary public art. Not all of the art succeeds in this kind of transformation, some of it has just been plonked in a location.

Others suffer from other more complex urban problems, including tagging and stickers on the billboard style works of Benjamin Sheppard’s Crown in the Jewell and Chris Mether and Anthony Mecuri’s Bubbles. Not that this is a major problem in itself but it does highlight MoreArts ignoring the greater quantity, more permanent, but unofficial transformative art occupying the same area, the street art and graffiti.

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree or

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree (or do you see the street art?)

Carla Gottgens Baggage, is a series of old suitcases supporting photographs of scenes from Gottgens life recreated in miniature models. Along with Gottgens Baggage at the Coburg Railway Station bike shed there was a little sign to indicate that it is an art installation in case the increasingly paranoid and insane people, who are increasingly treated as reasonable, sane and normal, might think it is a bomb. (“If you see something say something” – I see fear mongering and encouraging violence, paranoia and war crimes. What do you see?) At this point the attempt at a transformative experience is diminished.

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Moreart has a badly designed guide, available online in PDF format, that needed to be rotated multiple times in order to read it. It has been a great irritation to use; I assume that it makes sense only if you know what it is meant to mean and have it printed out in hardcopy. So why bother putting it online in that state?


It’s Alive!

Candy Stevens Changing Landscapes at Yarra Sculpture Gallery is an exhibition of living and growing sculptures; rye grass is growing over everything. The sculptures are beautifully tactile, the growing grass creating a fuzzy distortion to their outlines. It is a fun exhibition with amusing ideas and punning titles.

Candy Stevens, "Please Keep Off", 2011

Candy Stevens, “Please Keep Off”, 2011

Landscapes have long been the subject for paintings but until Earth Art in the 1970s it was not a subject for sculptures. In Stevens’s Lambscape the visitor has to navigate the space between 49 cut outs in the shape of sheep-sized hides in order to get to the darkness of her video installation space. In her wall work Ha Ha! there is a reference to ha ha fences, a cunning design that allowed the English upper class to have views of uninterrupted lawns without allowing the sheep and cattle to approach the house. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha-ha Crown Land, a great circular crown with a 4.3m diameter, refers both to a crown and to public land. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_land Outside the gallery on a tagged and stencilled wall, Stevens has added her own grass covered bomb, Jonx.

Candy Stevens, Jonx, 2013

Candy Stevens, Jonx, 2013

It is not just growing grass that Stevens is commenting on but also the way that we consume it. In Mother’s Milk a calf, covered in grass, looks in a fridge, also covered in grass, for milk, while her grass covered mother-cow stands nearby. Milk being a type of processed grass.

Candy Stevens, The Conversation, 2014 (with Candy Stevens and Black Mark posing in front)

Candy Stevens, The Conversation, 2014 (with Candy Stevens and Black Mark posing in front)

Candy Stevens told me at the opening of the exhibition that she had finished hanging ten minutes ago, started installing three days ago, started growing the sculptures three weeks ago and has been working on the forms for four years. However, she has been working with grass a medium for sculpture for longer than that. I first saw Stevens work Keep Off the Grass in the Moreland Sculpture Show 2008 and again in MoreArts 2010 where her Rocks of all Ages received a commendation, and again in MoreArts 2011 where her Landscape Gardeners, a grass covered ewe and lamb were stolen (someone so loved her art that they scaled a fence to steal them).

Candy Stevens, “Landscape Gardeners”, 2011

Candy Stevens, “Landscape Gardeners”, 2011


More Microparks

Microparks, or how local city councils in greater Melbourne are learning to practice the art of urban acupuncture trying to hit the magical lay lines of psychogeography. Melbourne is well known for its parks; Victoria’s car license plates once sported the slogan “the garden state.” Large parks surround the city but beyond that parkland in the inner city can be sparse. Local councils are finding vacant land between two buildings, at a corner or on an under-used section of road to rejuvenate an area with a park.

DSC09878

The City of Yarra wants to create new open spaces in Collingwood as the area was originally overbuilt. Wandering the Collingwood gallery district I find a new park on Oxford Street with lots of decking, a drinking fountain and contained patches of grass. It looks as if it is primarily intended for sitting and eating lunch. There is another new small park only a few blocks away on Peel Street with its curved red seating and piles of concrete blocks, as if that part of it was designed using Minecraft.

DSC09876

Compared to the earlier micro park on the corner of Gertrude and Smith Streets, where two benches and a hippy looking garden bed is dominated by the billboard advertising, these new parks are masterpieces in urban architecture and design. Novelty seats by artists are out, now seating has to have design features. (See my post Crazy City Comforts) and, basically be a comfortable place to put your bum. The architecture of discipline is out for these parks; the anti-sleeping, anti-skateboarding bumps are not visible but rather subtly understood in the design. Design is the key feature of these parks, not an anonymous utilitarian effort nor a naive hope that the community will do the rest.

In Brunswick off Sydney Road there is Wilson Avenue existing pop-up park from last year is now to be made permanent. Wilson Avenue in Brunswick, off Sydney Road. An urban bouldering wall allowing people to do more than just sit in the park.

Temporary or permanent these spaces are mostly about rejecting the dominate car culture to provide more space for pedestrians. It takes more than a few seats and a little bit of vegetation to make a successful urban micro park or pedestrian space. If you build it will they use it?

On the subject of sitting, with the television full of documentaries about Tony Robinson, Will Self or Alan Cummings going for a walk, I have decided that sitting is going to be the next big thing. Sitting is what is required for style and comfort. My cat does a lot of sitting; for her there are seats of power, seats of comfort and seats to explore. In the 21st century everything is extreme and there is the extreme sitting of Maria Abranivich sitting in MOMA for day after day. Public seating is a civic necessity for the aged, the sick, the tired. Having public seating reduces isolation. The Guardian reports on the City of Dijon in France introduced public armchairs, as it is easier for the elderly to get up from a seat with armrests.


Open Entry Art

The Linden Post Card Show 2014 at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art has hundreds of entries. There are so many entries because it is a long established open entry show. (Did it start in 1986 when the Linden Centre opened?) Open entry means that anyone paying the entry fee of $55 for one work, $66 for two works, $77 for three works is exhibited. All the work must measure 8” (20cm) x 10” (25.5cm) (landscape or portrait) including any frame.

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Looking at the entries and thinking why are there so few photographs, given that it is a popular media and the winner was a photograph. The winning entry was from WA artists and 2013 Archibald Prize finalist, Abdul Abdullah. His The Reintroduction of Australian Knighthood is a powerful, frightening and topical image of a masked thug draped in the Australian flag.

I was also thinking why are there so few artists that I recognise? With hundreds of artists on exhibition I started to wonder if I had missed an entry, forgotten a name (I don’t have a great memory for names). The mix of “professional, emerging, amateur or hobbiest” in the exhibition was not the problem because I regularly review that kind of mix of artists. But it did make me think that maybe there needs to be more short hand descriptions for artists, more words than: established emerging, professional, amateur … I mean what do you call an artist who has been around for a couple of decades but is not represented by any gallery and has not won any major prizes?

Linden Post Card Show 2014

Not that a lack of such terms is the biggest problem, the problem of the term ‘art’ is enough of a problem. Sometime in the seventeenth century, as the Enlightenment took the epiphany and mystery out of religion, Art emerged: Art with a capital A, Literature with a capital L and Music with a capital M. Robert Dixon’s The Baumgarten Corruption – From Sense to Nonsense in Art and Philosophy (Pluto Press, 1995) identifies the start of this process with Alexander Baumgarten’s use of the word ‘aesthetics’ in the 1750s. Roberto Calasso in Literature and the Gods (Vintage, 2001) places that start of what he calls “absolute literature” in 1798.

For me, it obvious that there is Art and art and after a walk along the Sunday market at the Esplanade, or even, a look at some of the entries in the Post Card show, you might agree. Oh, look another version of the Redhead brand match box, this time it is made out of bits of tin nailed together.

You might not agree, many people at the both the Post Card show and the Sunday Market clearly did not. The word ‘Art’ is probably more divisive than the image of the ‘Australian Knight’ by Abdul Abdullah.


Random Gertrude Street

A walk along Gertrude Street to look at the current exhibitions at Dianne Tanzer, Seventh and Gertrude Contemporary.

At Dianne Tanzer Paper Trails features new work by Victoria Reichelt and Carly Fischer. It is an exhibition of opposites, replicas of the paper products that have either, in Fischer’s work been casually transformed instead of normally thrown away, or, in Reichelt’s paintings, water damaged archived papers. A few weeks ago I’d seen Carly Fischer exhibition, Magic Dirt at Craft Victoria (see my review). Reichelt’s paintings depict the theme of archiving, files in shelves all with a heart sticker on them and its watery perils, split boxes of wet paper. I hope that Angy Labiris, who was exhibiting some very ordinary paintings at 69 Smith Street, ventures up around the corner and up Gertrude Street to see Reichelt’s great contemporary still life paintings. (I went into 69 Smith Street to see the recent renovations to the gallery, the art on exhibition was as ordinary as ever.)

I was about to go into Seventh Gallery when I was recognised. Diego Ramirez introduced himself, I had previously reviewed his exhibitions Happy Summer Tank and Radish. Ramirez has an exhibition A Primitive Movie in Gallery One and his studio is upstairs. A Primitive Movie is not a movie, it is an installation about a movie, Axolotl, another mutant creature from Ramirez imagination. It was a good idea for an exhibition, the movie poster projected onto the wall, a light box and a wooden kinescope screen but there wasn’t to the installation enough for my taste.

In Gallery Two Louise Meuwissen and Lotte Schwerdtfeger, Intense, Intents, In tents. Remember when you made tents with sheets and blankets in your house and how good it was? Intense, Intents, In tents is much better, it is beautiful, magical fun. Combining LED lights with embroidery works beautifully and reminded me of the artistic possibilities opened by this new technology allowing artists to work with light where previously this would have been a fire hazard. Louise Meuwissen was the winner of the Dumbo Feather Award at Craft’s Fresh! exhibition this year also an interview with her.

Gertrude Contemporary had a group exhibition from Gertrude Studios; a good opportunity to see eight artists working in Gertrude Studios. Installations, photographs, painting; Sean Peoples floor work intrigued me, the contrast between the artificial and the natural, and the connection to all the flower arrangements of art. It also reminded me of Duchamp’s Trebuchet, 1917. As an exhibition Gertrude Studios made as much sense as my random sample of exhibitions along Gertrude Street.


Are You Experienced?

In covering the Paul Yore story I felt hopelessly out of my depth, as an art critic I wasn’t experienced reporting on politics and law. I persevered, determined to follow the story to the best of my abilities for over a year.

From the start, covering the case felt like a futile task as I already knew the outcome, it was as predictable as continued government funding for the National Gallery. Sure, it might not happen, especially if people treated the outcome as predictable and that any energy spent on it wasted but realistically, what are the chances?

If Paul Yore had been found guilty it would just been a further repeat of what happened to Mike Brown with the sentence reduced to practically nothing on appeal. To expect anything else is to expect a revolution, art galleries ransack, Chloe seized by police from Young and Jackson’s…. As much as such a purge might be the wet dream of some right wing conservatives, it is not something that magistrates and judges would want to encourage. What they want is to preserve the status quo.

However in Australia, the status quo includes the random persecution of artists. I’m concerned that this could happen again, not in Victoria, not for a few years at least, after the police pay costs for the case, but to another artist in another state in a couple of years. Following the police raid on the Linden Centre gave me the feeling of the repeated witch hunts in Australian culture.

The typical Australian mob chants: “We don’t like it. Ban it!” Art, books, clothing, people…. “We don’t like it. Ban it!” The mob needs to shut up, listen to reason and understand that just because they are the mob doesn’t mean that they should dictate taste. That instead of banning art and the expensive circus of police raids and court cases that we should engage in a democratic discussion. But what are the chances of that happening?

Being out of my depth with covering a criminal case there were things that I could learn, how to find court dates, get media statements from the police but as I learnt I also realised one of the drawbacks of being a blogger and freelance writer. What I was missing as a freelance writer and blogger was the experience of a large newsroom where I could have consulted with, or even collaborated with, the regular court reporters and the politics reporters.

Now I’m not asking for your sympathy but for you to consider a world with smaller editorial departments, smaller news rooms, more freelance journalists trying to tell larger stories. In the current world experience is too often dissipated rather than concentrated.

Sometimes I felt like a vulture lopping over to the carcass of an artist’s career, amid the flapping wings of other vultures and having a feed on the remains. Choosing to stop by Neon Parc on my rounds of galleries in the city to see if I could pick up something.

I wrote a summary of the case for the online art magazine Hyperallergic and an article for Vault Magazine that examined Yore’s use of collage and assemblage in the light of Max Delany’s testimony to the court.


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