Tag Archives: Brunswick

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.)


The Commons Graffiti

The Commons is a Brunswick residential complex design by Breathe Architecture’s Jeremy McLeod that received the 2014 Victorian Architecture Award for Sustainable Architecture as the year’s ‘‘exemplar of apartment living.’’ Read more about the architecture award in The Age but I want to examine the way that it integrates with the locale in particular the graffiti in the area.DSCF0137

It is not an inspiring locale, at the end of a dead end street on a block between train tracks and a panel beaters. It was previously the site of a single story factory/warehouse stood surrounded by a chain link fence. In its favour it is close to Sydney Road and very close to Anstey Station train station. Anstey has the standard utilitarian construction of a Melbourne railway station from the 1970s, the chain link fence, only the signage has been updated.

I have watched the developments progress as I passed by on my regular ride along the Upfield bike path or when traveling by train in and out of the city.

Now plants are growing up the chain balcony rails, of this multi-story building with an attractive facade facing the railway. On the ground floor there is the coffee shop, Steam Junkies and two large rainwater tanks sit out the back. It contributes and improves its locale rather than exploit it. The Commons is the only building with an entrance to the Upfield bicycle path.

There plenty of graffiti along the bicycle path but the brick walls beneath the second decorative story facade of The Commons had only been tagged a couple of time since its construction. The tags were not removed. It was unlikely that the walls were going to stay that way as they were along the graffiti covered Upfield bike path and it appears that it was never the intention.

Then this week came the Sinch tribute, a massive legal piece that covered The Commons lower walls and water tanks. An awesome group effort featuring parts of the AWOL and Id crews along a few others. See Land of Sunshine for more photos. There aren’t that many graffiti tributes in Melbourne (see my post Rest In Peace).  Sinch (1988 – 2014) died in June; Benjamin Millar “Tributes for street artist electrocuted while train surfing” in The Age.

DSCF0136

 


The Brian Robinson Mix

Working on culture in a post-colonial world is more than just cultural maintenance. The post-colonial experience of travelling between different cultures is reflected in the visual culture just like the music and stories. Brian Robinson is like a DJ, or a curator, he was a curator at the Cairns Regional Gallery; mixing and making new sense out of diverse elements. He creates a visual culture mix, like a DJ mixing different sources with a beat to create new music to keep on dancing to.

Brian Robinson makes the kind of art that is loved by judges and the people; the kind of art that art writers and curators enjoy to write about and he clearly enjoys tells the stories of his art. Robinson also clearly enjoys making images with linocut, paper, spray paint, plastic toys, wood and even a shell can be the image of a shell. Story-telling, the myths and legends, are based on visual images as well as a words and his pictures often say more than a thousand words.

I went to his ‘floor talk’ Saturday 21 June at the Counihan Gallery. Robinson shines with friendly, informal, relaxed manner and he has a lot to talk about mixing memories of childhood with detailed knowledge of literature, Greek myths, Roman Catholic, Phantom comic books and popular culture. See a video interview with Brian Robinson on Creative Cowboy.

Robinson is not scared to do the masters, he references them in his linocuts; Leonardo, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Hokusai’s Great Wave. Why should he be? Brian Robinson from Waiben (Thursday Island), Torres Strait, of the Kala Lagaw Ya language group. He is doing it Straits style, mixing in his own stories and he was the winner the 2013 Western Australian Indigenous Art Award and that year’s People’s Choice Award.

Robinson’s art is beautiful, often intricate but it can also be scaled up as in his massive, mixed media wall friezes. He a fan of the art of M.C. Escher and pays tribute to it in Dawn Raid Strategy, 2011. There is more to this image than just a tribute piece, it speaks of deadly strategies and games of chess. For above all his art is alive because he is playing – he must be a great dad except when he takes his kids toys to use in his art.

Robinson knows what it feels like to look for lost worlds under the sea. In his 2012 linocut, Navigating narrative – Nemo’s encounter in the Torres Strait, he creates an illustration for the one of the several chapters set in the Torres Straits in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

“‘Savages!’ replied Captain Nemo in a sarcastic tone. ‘And you are surprised Dr Aronnax, that when you set foot on one of the lands of this globe, you find savages? Where are there not savages, and in any case, are those that you call savages any worse than the others?’”

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, trans William Butcher (Oxford, 1998, p.152)

There is so much to see and enjoy at Brian Robinson’s exhibition Strait Protean at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The title says so much about the way the Robinson mixes images; Proteus is the ever changing adaptable sea god. Much of the work in the exhibition was developed during a twelve month long residency that Robinson had at Djumbunji Press in 2010, his skill with lino cutting has been refined and developed to an amazing level. His adaptable vision makes him not just an artist for the present but also for keeping the past alive into the future.


My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils

I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.

HaHa Nicky Wynmar

  1. HaHa, Nicky Winmar, The master of multi layered stencils HaHa’s interest in fame and celebrities is at its best with his stencil of St.Kilda footballer, Nicky Winmar’s iconic reaction to racist taunts. What could be more Melbourne than a footballer?Civil - penny farthing - Irene Warehouse
  2. Civil, The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized. Irene Warehouse. This is my nostalgia moment because it was Civil’s stencils that first got me interested in Melbourne’s stencil scene. Civil’s peaceful and entirely civilised anarchic politics is perfectly expressed in this stencil.Kerpy - Flinders St. Station
  3. Kirpy, Flinders Street Station, On the wall of 696, then an urban node for quality work, curated by the Toby and Melieka who ran the gallery/gift shop. A great multi layered stencil of an iconic Melbourne scene.ELK Chimp Jesus
  4. E.L.K. Ecce Homo (observe the man). In this piece E.L.K. is taking the old English tradition of baboonery from the pages of illuminated manuscripts to the street. E.L.K was Canberra based at the time this was done I’m not being picky about where an artist is based in this list. Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes
  5. Sunfigo, Little Diver Redux, In the same location and referencing Banksy’s Little Diver along with many other Melbourne based street artists. This is the ultimate piece of self referencing street art. (In photo, Sunfigo above, Phoenix tribute below.)DSC09008
  6. Calm, Blue Gnu, At All Your Wall in Hosier Lane 2013 before it was covered in tags but then it anticipated all of that.Toys will be Toys
  7. 23rd Key, Toys Will Be Toys, A good stencil and a great reference to both the graffiti insult and Toy Story. Located in the Land of Sunshine, Brunswick.Hanging-boots
  8. Unknown, Hanging Boots, A simple and well-placed elegant still life in Sparks Lane, Melbourne.The Kid Peek-a-boo
  9. Unknown, Peek-A-Boo, Another simple but highly effective stencil because of its placement.This is Shit
  10. Unknown, This is Shit. Sometimes it just has to be said.

Of Wool & Slow Art

“I’m hopping that the sheep like the show.” Dylan Martorell told me.

Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell, from the Slow Art Collective (SAC) have made a gateway for the Wool Week exhibition in the Atrium at Federation Square. A simple but impressive tent of red, orange, yellow and white woollen yarns, held down by eight giant balls of wool, framing the small exhibit of wool in fashion and furnishings. I was amazed that Kato and Martorell were able to pull off such a large elegant work that fitted beautifully with the Atrium’s architecture as often their art tends towards the chaotic.

Wool Week 2014 at Federation Square

Wool Week 2014 at Federation Square

Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell are part of the Slow Art Collective (SAC) which has been around since 2009. The Slow Art Collective is not a fixed group, its members come and go. It continues to explore ideas around slow art and to challenge the conventional fast cultural exchange. Asking for a deeper reading rather than more.

The slow art is related to the slow food and the slow city movement in that it slows the pace down. Slow art involves bring what you are using in your life into art. If you buy materials they have to be re-used. Most importantly slow art is about slow exchanges of value rather than the fast, monetary exchange of value. It is about the slow absorption of culture through community links by creating something together an blurring the boundary between the artists and viewer. It is a sustainable arts practice, not an extreme solution; a reasonable alternative to deal with real problems in contemporary art practice.

Ironically some of the slow art is created very fast, spontaneous improvisation with humble materials and simple techniques. They have been very prolific in the last five years, only last Sunday I was listening Dylan Martorell audio art in the current exhibition at the Counihan Gallery. Visitors to the Melbourne Now at the NGV might have paused, as my brother and I did, in the SAC’s environmental installation, Marlarky made of recycled materials. Many of the SAC’s installations show an interest in functional architecture – their bamboo poles get used again and again.

A fortnight before I went to see Dylan Martorell and Chaco Kato at their Brunswick studio. I wanted to meet them after seeing their work for the last five years. They were busy working on one of the long bamboo poles, that have been used in many of their exhibitions.

Slow Art Collective at work

Slow Art Collective at work

There were boxes of wool in their studio to be assembled. The work is sponsored by Woolmark Company with a campaign slogan of “live naturally, choose wool”. The company and the campaign appears to be perfect fit for the SAC. After the Wool Week exhibition is finished the wool will be donated to the Knitting Group at Federation Square. In keeping with the idea of slow art the wool will continue to be used and reused.

SAC were attaching bundles of wool ready to be unrolled. They opened up the black plastic wrapping of one that they had prepared earlier, a great seed pods of wool, ready to spring out when installed. But it was impossible to imagine what the finished work would look.

The Wool Week exhibition at Federation Square also features three pens of sheep (rams, lambs and ewes). The sheep appeared to have no opinion of the products of their fleece but ewes were keeping a keen eye on the rams and the many people walking past.

Sheep at Federation Square

Sheep at Federation Square


The Plural of Moose

Moose, spiders, giant cane toads, monsters, fantastic fun, unbelievable, strange and beautiful. All of these feature In Your Dreams, the current exhibition at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. Curated by Edwina Bartlem and Victor Griss the exhibition is intended “to spark the imagination of children and the young-at-heart”.

I went to see the exhibition with a person who wished to be described as “boy (aged 11)” and his parents, who are old friends of mine. I wanted to know get a child’s opinion of it because of this curatorial intention and also to get a fresh perspective on  the work from artists that I have enjoyed for years.

The boy aged 11, divided the exhibition into the cool, the good and the alright. In his opinion Kate Rohde’s work was “really cool”, especially Tarantula. Here the boy aged 11 proved articulate, as well as, observant, pointing out the glitter covered bird skeleton and taking about South American bird eating spiders.

Mark playing Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine, You We're in My Dreams, 2010

Mark playing Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine, You We’re in My Dreams, 2010

Words were not needed to express his appreciation of Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine’s You We’re in My Dreams 2010 – the boy aged 11 was fully engaged with it. The stop-motion interactive installation puts the face of the player onto the screen making it entertaining to watch and play. The boy aged 11 played on this as his father and I made our way around the gallery again and then waited, reminding him that, there were other people waiting to have a go (me).

Daniel Dorall model, Game and William Eicholtz’s sculpture, retelling the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Princess and the Pea with lamb princess covered in oak leaves and fake gems, both received the honourable mentions of “pretty good” and “good” from the boy aged 11. I’d have to agree with him about that but use different words and I prefer Eicholtz’s other sculpture in the exhibition, Courage, for its beautiful movement, complex meaning, especially for the glowing red rocks.

I was disappointed that the boy aged 11 didn’t have any comment about Sharon West, photographs and dioramas and how they relate to Australian identity (see my previous posts). I thought that her Cook encounters a very large can toad is hysterically funny. Personally I was also glad to see Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahl again, this time in a gallery after seeing them on the street (see my previous post) and to hear some Dylan Martorell, ambient audio track in the gallery.

In answer to my interest in how the exhibition worked for children, the boy aged 11, declared that it was suitable for children aged 7 or older because of the ideas and level of abstract thought required. I asked him about this because there is very little of what could be described as juvenile in the exhibition, it is not a word that comes to mind when I think of the work of any of these artists.

The exhibition raises questions what is the difference between children’s taste and adult tastes? Some tastes (camp, over the top, psychedelic) require experience (yes, Mr. Hendrix, I am) to fully appreciate but that doesn’t exclude children from enjoying them. It was great to see the psychedelic landscapes of Kate Shaw and Stephen Bush in the exhibition. The weird and the wonderful are strange attractors in chaos of different tastes and they can be read in many different ways depending on the experience of the viewer and how the viewer thinks that others will react.

After leaving the boy aged 11 expressed disappointment that there wasn’t more of the exhibition. I felt that way too, all of the artists in this exhibition have been making really fun art for years and I still want to see more of their work.


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?

psalm-rainb2

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.

psalm-drain2

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?


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