The Many Faces of Dada

The Many Faces of George Grosz (Degenerate Comix) is a graphic novel by Keith McDougall about the life of the German artist, George Grosz, adapted from the writings of Weiland Herzfelde. (See my review of The Many Faces of George Grosz #1)

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In #2 the narrative has changed from Herzfelde being the narrator to Grosz being the central character and Herzfelde’s brother becomes John Hartfield. For like George Grosz’s costume changes the Dadaists were often changing their names, working under different names or living under false names; their identities were mutating.

Who were the Dadaist exactly? Avant-garde cabaret act, radical artists, publishers, medical students every time you look they change into something else. If the Dadaists were alive today what would they be doing? Bands, zines… would they even be together at all? Given that the Dadaists appear to be a disparate bunch of hippies (Hans Arp & Hugo Ball), punks (Richard Hulsenbeck), new agers, goths, head-bangers (Max Ernst’s nickname was “Metal Head”) and other, perhaps, yet unclassified freaks. Back at the beginning of the 20th century there was still too few of any of them to bother with such classifications. However in retrospect the classifications appear clearer. “Freaks” that  very 60s word, comes from back in a time when they were still working out the identity of some of these youth tribes. In The Many Faces of George Grosz Grosz is presented as an unclassifiable freak, a proto-Dadaist.

McDougall has done his research both historically and graphically, at the beginning of Chapter 5 in Grosz autobiography there is a small illustration of a smiling man dressed up as an American Indian. In #2 Grosz takes the two Herzfelde brothers to see the Berlin’s Café Oranienburger Tor. The band at the Café Oranienburger Tor is described by Grosz in his autobiography: “the band leader known as “Mister Meshugge” carried on like a lunatic. He pretended to be quiet out of control and kept breaking his baton or hitting the poor fiddler over the head with violin.” (George Grosz, A Small Yes and A Big No, Zenith Books, 1982 p.75)

Dada history was made for comic books, the conjunction of text and images. What I dislike about many comics, including this graphic novel, is the way that story is drawn out, it worse than watching a TV series because the wait is longer. Now two years later #2 has arrived – will #3 be finished in time for the centenary of Dada? A century later it is worth re-examining Dada and the Dadaists.


Studio Visit

The sculptor, William Eicholtz’s studio is at the far end of a graffiti covered back streets of Windsor. He and other artists have shared this former factory space for about twenty years and the idea that the area will someday be redevelop keeps Will awake at night.

As is customary in Melbourne when visiting shared studio, Will took me around to meet each of the artists. Some I had seen some of their work before but had yet to put an artist to the art, or type out their name multiple times in a blog; that does help to imprint it on my mind.

The main studio space is set out like an open plan office where five of the artists worked. There was another room with ceramics kilns, Will’s moulds and two of his sheep that he had carved in marble in China and that had recently sold. As well as, a small store room for smelly chemicals and paints. Only Jennifer Pinder had a separate room; Jennifer was half way through a complex abstract painting of weaving lines that would give an ancient monk a psychedelic trip.

There is Janet Beckhouse who the Melbourne Now Exhibition Guide described as “one of Melbourne’s foremost contemporary ceramists”. Janet, like Will, has a rococo style to her ceramics but her version is much darker; beautiful, delicate and horrifying. There was a moment of terror as we look at her work as Janet’s black cat, Noodle jumped through the handle of one of her vases. It was such a tempting cat shaped opening and, of course, Noodle didn’t touch the vase.

Louise Rippert, a mixed-media artists who was working on a post-minimalism great grids of perforated, painted cardboard squares and transparent plastic. What Louise wants to emphasis is the way that her work changes as the viewer moves.

Rose Agnew was working on small paintings based on Alice in Wonderland for the Linden Post Card Show. She was not the only one in the studio planning to enter the show; Will was showed me some small base-relief, faux or imitation grate covers that he would be entering. Will’s small workspace was crowded with earlier sculptures. A small glass cabinet hanging on the wall with small bronze sculptures, Will’s stock room for studio sales.

There was another space, a painter, also new to the studio, who wasn’t there when I visited.

After touring the studio I sat down to tea and marble cake with all the artists to talk about all kinds of things, from the balance between doing larger scale work and the limited studio space to the trial of Paul Yore. Was I just working on background information, developing contacts for future articles and blog posts? One reason why I haven’t written about artist’s studios is that the chaotic, communal studio environment is worse than an un-curated group show as far as viewing the art. I wasn’t sure, I was enjoying the conversation so much that I forget to take my camera out and shoot some ‘studio porn’ as Hyperallergic calls it. Finally, the main reason that I’d come to the studio, the commission for the figure of Justice for the County Court but that will have to wait for another blog post.


Street Up

First a few terms:

Fling-ups – shoes or other objects hung on overhead wires by flinging them up. (not to be confused with throw-ups) I have to say that I’ve seen some good one’s recently.

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Paste-ups – paper printed or drawn pasted up on a wall. Known in North America as wheat-pasting due to the glue used.

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Throw-ups – A rough outline of a piece in one or two colours, areas not filled in or only filled in roughly. Lush does a lot of throw-ups.

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Up-Cycling – the downwardly mobile cousin of recycling, up-cycling is decorating discarded objects on the street, like drawing on a discarded lounge chair or mattress.

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

I could go on in the usual slag dictionary fashion but there is more to this than just new terms; there is an up side to mashing a patois dictionary.

“The words we call expressions of aesthetic judgment play a very complicated role, but a very definite role, in what we call a culture of a period. To describe their use or to describe what you mean by a cultured taste, you have to describe a culture. What we now call a cultured taste perhaps didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. An entirely different game is played in different ages.”

Wittgenstein #25 Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford) (Alternative from James Taylor: “To describe a set of aesthetic rules fully means really to describe the culture of a period.”)

The word ‘up’ used in these expressions is revealing about graffiti and street art culture. Things are “up” in the street, even pin-up girls, for one-upmanship is its core. The aim of graffiti and street art is to be on the up and up amongst the graffiti and street art community; to be more prolific, to cover more walls, to be more notorious, to get more Facebook ‘Likes’, to do bigger pieces, higher up in the heavens.

Up on a train

Up on a train


Ghost Signs of Melbourne

New Theatre

On the corner of Flanigan Lane there is the hand painted sign stating: “New Theatre”. Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow give a short history of the New Theatre in their book Radical Melbourne. The sign dates from around 1937 when the New Theatre occupied “an old tin-doffed loft above a dishes garage next to the Duke of Kent Hotel on La Trobe Street.” (Sparrow and Sparrow Radical Melbourne p.28). The New Theatre was established by the Communist Party in 1937 and  continued into the 1990s. The theatre at Flanigan Lane saw the first performance of Bertolt Brecht in Melbourne. In 1939 the theatre was declared unsafe and closed down but the sign remains on the stone wall.

There are plenty of other ghost signs in that small network of lanes but the new theatre was the only one that I researched. The interest in finding and photographing ghost signs grows. My own take on it is less about the hand painted signs and more about the history and culture that the sign represents.

Telephones

The “Do Not Spit” signs at Flinders Street Station tell of a past Melbourne with an expectorating population that had to be told not to. The metal “telephones” sign in the Degraves Street underpass points to a locked door behind which banks of telephone booths once stood before mobile phones made them obsolescent. The boomerang shaped sign from former Brunswick continental supermarket on Lygon Street and Australian identity; for more see Our Fading Past – Our History in Old Signs.  I have not been able to find out anything about the sign for Balkan Club in Melbourne, but there has always been a Balkan Club somewhere around the city.

Loucas & Christororou boomerang

I am suspicious of the ghost signs from around Chinatown like “Commit No Nuisance” Heffernan Lane in Chinatown. These signs looks too good, perhaps they were restored in an earlier revival of interest in ghost signs. I saw them listed as number 4 selfie spots in Melbourne.The aesthetic popularity of ghost signs is leading to some being purposely revealed, restored or rectified.

commit no Nusaince + paste-up

After the collectors, the fans and the academics, comes the photography exhibitions of ghost signs. Stephanie Stead’s “Signs of Our Times” at the City Library in July was the first of these that I’ve seen but I’m sure that there have been others. Stead’s silver gelatine prints are black and white except for the signs that have been hand coloured in oils. This old fashioned technique matches with the old signs producing beautiful nostalgic images.


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.


West End Public Art

Melbourne’s west end is dominated by courts, the lawyers offices, the associated lunch and coffee places; it is not an area of the city that I regularly explore as both street art and art galleries are rare in the area. However, this year I have been in the area as I have been covering the Paul Yore trial. I did find some street art off Healeys Lane, a large stencil work by E.L.K. and some paste-ups by Sunfigo and there are a few public sculptures by Paul Montford, Andrew Rodgers, Tom Bass and Robert Juniper.

E.L.K., You are free...

E.L.K., You are free…

Flagstaff Gardens is like a suburban park in the city, the children’s playground, the adult’s playground (tennis courts and bowls), the residual base of small bandstand and the expanse of lawn. Its hill no longer affords much of a view but there is a Gothic revival sandstone obelisk monument to estimated six pioneers who were buried at its summit,  in 1871 the Department of Public Works then commissioned Samuel Craven, one of the stonemasons who campaigned for an eight hour day, to carve a memorial to mark the site of what was once called Burial Hill. Paul Montford’s bronze sculpture The Court Favourite stands further down the hill near the tennis courts.

Andrew Rodgers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers City Living, 1996 is a series of bronze figures of naked men, women and a baby rising up on hemisphere fans of bronze are up on a plinth. It is a kind of modern vision of escaping to an abstract spirit. Central Equity Homes commissioned the sculpture in June 1995 and donated it to the city in 1996. The sculpture is sort of hidden away a little way down Jeffcott Street; I saw it from the hill of Flagstaff Gardens.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

There is another sculpture by Rogers nearby on the Queen and Lt. Bourke Streets, Rhythms of the Metropolis and more recent sculptures by him in the Docklands. Roger has a diverse sculptural practice from these modern bronzes to his gigantic dry stone wall land-art in desert locations around the world, his “geoglyphs”.

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

High on the wall of 160 Queen Street is Transportation 1963-64 by Sydney sculptor, Tom Bass. The figure with aeroplane wings stands in a boat triumphantly holds aloft a wheel, perhaps representing modern transportation. The form of the figure resembles a secular crucifix, this is modernism looking back to the ancient ways of representing ideas. In the niche beneath the sculpture is a small circle of benches and wheelchair ramp.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

BHP House at 140 William St. was constructed between 1967 – 1972 and added Robert Juniper’s Shadow Form III out the front in 1988. Shadow Form is steel simplified organic form, a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer. The plinth provides seating mostly used by office workers eating their lunch.

What once was the centre of the city in the colonial days when the city’s focus was on the port and there was a flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens. Now the old colonial stone buildings like the Langdon Buildings from 1863 abut modern buildings of glass and steel. The life has been slowly drained from the area. Melbourne has since looked south, north and east and real estate agents describe the area as ‘on Melbourne’s doorstep’ in billboard advertising for empty office buildings. There is the city’s first cathedral, St. James from 1839 with it odd octagonal top to the spire, surrounded by an old iron fence (although it would be a mistake to image that this is its original location, it was moved there in 1913-14). Further down the road there are the three spires of the theatre restaurant, Witches in Britches.


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


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