Tag Archives: Counihan Gallery

Wunderkammer

The lighting in the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick was subdued and dramatic for “Wunderkammer: The Museum of Lost and Forgotten Objects” by Nadia Mercuri and Sarah Field and “Epitaph: Bird Specimens and the Culture of Collecting” by Bianca Durrant.

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The two exhibitions, both with lots of wonderful boxes and vitrines of objects are good but they could have been great. On seeing them I wish that these separate exhibitions had been completely combined, their themes and style are so close.

Guest speaker, Dr. Michael Vale, lecture in Fine Art at Monash University gave an excellent speech at the Thursday evening opening about the wunderkammer and the politics of display. Vale spoke about the way collections dislocate their objects, the currency of the exotic and the power relationship between the collector and the objects. He pointed out that each of the exhibitions subverted the idea of the collection turning wonders to laments.

There really are three exhibitions for although Nadia Mercuri and Sarah Field are exhibiting under the same exhibition title there are no collaborative works and the work has separate themes.

Nadia Mercuri presents her collection of glass from the Australian Studio Glass Movement of the early 1970s through to contemporary glass work. She examines disappearance of glass blowing techniques in Australia. The old movie of the glass tea pot being made projected on the wall with the actual glass tea pot underneath is perfect. This is one of the best exhibitions of glass that I’ve ever seen. Her collections of objects is fascinating because it covers the whole range of glass making from the decorative to the scientific, from finished work to the raw materials (the great box of rods of coloured glass). The rusting glass making tools contrasting the pristine glass. There are even moments of humour with metal spoons suspended in furnace glass.

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Fields works polemically examines violence against women. Although this fits in with the wonderkammer aspect, with the large glass tubes of human hair and the power relationship of collecting. Field’s braiding of human hair is of exceptional quality; Mourning Pieces, 2013-14. However, Fields’s polemic wasn’t that clear in her work; the white ceramic feathers reminded me of the white feather’s that women would send conscientious objectors in WWI and the vitrine of fur, fabric with fur print and white flesh made me first think of the violence against animals for fashion.

Bianca Durrant brings together works in many different media with a focus on the Bird of Paradise. I wondered why there wasn’t a sound aspect to this exhibition as Durrant is the general manager of Liquid Architecture, the National Festival of Sound Art, maybe Bird’s of Paradise are only about the visual. Durrant’s works are mixed, her specimen drawings from the natural history collections of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin are beautifully presented in contemporary style paintings. There is a fantastic beaded feather in a vitrine (Specimen Sculpture – Astrapia stephanie duclais, tail feather, Ernst Mayr) however her beaded Birds of Paradise were a bit of a let down.

Collecting exotic birds returns to the theme of the wonderkammer. Cabinet of curiosities are part of the development of science and precursors to museums. They showed the magic of the natural world but lack the categorical boundaries that divide and organise. They are shrines to wonders and reliquaries for scientific treasures. As the modern scientific world replaced the wonderkammer there has been a resurgence of artistic interest in them.


Sydney Road Brunswick

The psychogeography of Sydney Road part 1.

Sydney Road is long straight road; it is the golden lay-line of the road leading to the gold fields. Originally constructed by convict labour so that prisoners could be transported to Pentridge Prison. The convicts then had to build the prison at the end of the road. Later in the Great Depression sustenance pay workers (work for the dole) cut much of the granite bluestone for the curbs and gutters.

It has always been a busy road, leading north out of Melbourne and that was before cars and bicycles, now it’s a nightmare. Sydney Road varies wildly between upmarket, fancy and then in the next block or next door it is a run down building selling something cheap. There are pockets of different kinds of activities along the road, clusters of shops or restaurants and all along the road are all the wedding boutiques and Islamic fashion boutiques.

I’ve been researching Sydney Road by foot, tram and bicycle. Riding my bicycle as it makes it easier to check down the lane ways looking for interesting street art.

Franco Cozzo

The sight of the Franco Cozzo furniture shop with its pseudo-rocco bedroom sets instantly brings to mind seeing his trilingual adverts on late night TV in the 1980s (I’ve been told that his Greek was as bad as his English). Now there is the smell of the shisha (or hookahs, Turkish tobacco pipes) bubbling along the footpath on warm Friday night.

I’ve recently read Robyn Annear’s A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne (Black Inc, 2005, Melbourne), a kind of reverse history of Melbourne by demolition archaeology, recording the destruction and what was discovered, through the history of an iconic wrecking business. The business closed in the 1991 but Whelan’s sign is still up on Sydney Road classified as a heritage feature and the permit for new development at 605 Sydney Road required preservation and restoration of the sign.

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Sydney Road is so complex and I needed a more systematic approach. I travelled by tram north taking note of the landmarks between stop 19 at Brunwick Road in Brunswick and Stop 40 at Bakers Road in North Coburg.

19. Leaving the parkland of Parkville I enter Brunswick at Brunswick Road. This stop is in a kind of no-man’s-land, a traffic island in a place that once was a colonial hub complete a drinking fountain, a Boar War memorial and a brick clock tower from the nationalist, ANA (Australian Native’s Association). Parkville washes up with the last of the motels and guesthouses. On the corner of Sydney Road there is a fake Irish pub (I used to have a weekly gig there when it was the Sarah Sands) on the other side of road a medical clinic, after this the fashion boutiques start.

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20. The shopping hub of Barkly Square. Down Little Gold Street is Jewell Station. Discount warehouses and, on the corner of Weston Street on the other side of the road is the Brunswick Hotel, a fine music venue where I’ve enjoyed a few gigs.

21. Glenlyon Road and Dawson Street are the same road except that Glenlyon goes east and Dawson west; Melbourne is full of such street name anomalies. This is the official cultural centre of Brunswick: the Brunswick Town Hall with public library, hall and the Counihan Gallery, the Mechanics Institute with another hall for performances. The town hall is an impressive 19th Century building from when every Melbourne suburb had its own city council. Further down Dawson Street there is the Brunswick Campus of RMIT.

22. On the western side Albert Street leads to Brunswick Station.

23. In a painfully sweet Victorian manner, Albert Street is followed by Victoria Street, Brunswick Station where the shopping is less refined with a Mitre 10 and a discount warehouse.

24. Blyth Street, bridal shop and a church

25. Stewart Street, there is a steep hill between stops 24 and 25. At stop 25 there is a bridal and children’s wear shop.

Bronze gold nugget Brunswick 1

26. Albion Street an unofficial cultural centre on Brunswick with 696 Ink, the laundromat and Edinburgh Castle Hotel creating an underground arts hub. There is the bronze “Gold Nugget” at the entrance of the parking lot. It is one of the worst public sculptures in the world; this sculpture is both badly conceived and located. Didn’t anyone in the process of making this memorial that a gold nugget modelled in bronze would look like a lump of bronze? Anstly Station is to the west.

27. Brunswick Tram Depot, Donald Street. There are several empty lots where demolished between stops 26 and 27 – this is an area of transition. The demolition of the old funeral business.

28. Moreland Road, Moreland Station is across the street and further west down Moreland Road. At the tram stop there is pawnbroker and a pub. Moreland Road marks the division between Brunswick and Coburg.

Part 2: Sydney Road Coburg.


Campy minimalism & the Minimalist camp

Two local contemporary artists start the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick’s program of exhibitions for 2014. At the exhibition opening on Thursday evening the older locals around the cheese board were all aghast. They felt alienated and annoyed by the two exhibitions. Maybe the opening remarks of Su Baker, Director of the Victorian College of the Arts might answer their many questions. I don’t know if it did, I wasn’t going to hang around just to find out. I’d seen the exhibitions; there isn’t that much to see but what is there isn’t bad.

In Gallery one is “Diagonals and Some More Tangents” by Laila Marie Costa. It is Latino campy minimalism and subtle amusement at the materials along with some less subtle fun with the whole game of consumer culture, mass production and football. I loved the display case of the revolving Playboy and Win lighter case in the vitrine You Spin Me Right Round (Like a Record), 2013, along with her minimalist tributes to Barry Humphries, Jules Verne, Robert Rauchenberg, Paul Klee and others. Some of the work was a little obvious in the visual puns, like Dipped Wick 2012-14.

Laila Marie Costa is a Melbourne based artist who last year was artist had a residence at Residencia Corazon, La Plata, Argentina (she has a photo blog about that which is worth a look and shows her visual humour). Also worth a look is Laila Marie Costa there is Jason Waterhouse’s blog post about exhibition at Stockroom Gallery in March last year.  She is described as a cartoonist/illustrator, a zine editor and she makes funky plastic rings (there were some plastic rings on an egg cartoon in the exhibition Untitled (for Jean Paul Gaultier) 2012.

In Gallery two there is “Social Resonance” by Ben Taranto. Most of the space is empty except when it is filled with the sound of the the large steel sheet reverberating like thunder. There are two video projections of water; one over a blue black lenticular triangular forms, like a bar graph of the resonance. The sonic waves are portrayed as the ripples on the water. A single spotlight on a done of slumped glass on a steel square creates shadows with chaotic edges. You can transition through the surface of the water, you can see through the glass and you can walk through the space. Carmen Reid has written an introduction explanation of Taranto’s installation on the room sheet but the locals at the cheese board were unlikely to read it. Lots of stuff about Buddhism and empty space…

Ben Taranto is a recent graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, in sculpture and spatial practice who is focused on absence. This is his second solo exhibition although he has exhibited at the Counihan before as part of Moreland Summer Show, 2012. He has exhibited in places where I must have seen his work before including Brunswick Artspace 2013 Annual Open Entry Prize but I haven’t mentioned him before.

When a member of the cheese board jury declares that there was nothing to engage with in the exhibition I had to point out that the steel sheet made a sound when engaged. I wanted to add that if you can’t get mental laugh when looking at the work of Laila Marie Costa you either haven’t really looked or you don’t know enough about art history, football and what is unimportant in life but as the cheese board jury weren’t impressed with my first remark I kept it for you. Good selection on the cheese board, a good feta and a blue with bite – I didn’t try the brie or the hard cheese.


Moreland and Art

Moreland Summer Show, the last show in this year’s season of exhibitions at the Counihan Gallery is an exhibition of 40 artists who live and work in Moreland. Don’t fear the community art show; there is no bad café art in this exhibition. None of the art is so terrible that it never should have been exhibited. Most of the works are in traditional media, oils, acrylics, photography, etc. Charlotte Watson’s hard edge abstraction Sans Two in cutaway layers coloured wax showed that innovation in media is not absent. Elwyn Murray used the Oxford English dictionary’s new word of the year #selfie for a backlight outline of a figure taking a selfie on their cell phone etched on mirror; a motion sensor switched off the light showing the viewer their own image. Julian Di Martino had a painting and reference sheet tallying various types of people, 2013 with references. One albino a summer does not make; as the Surrealist proverb goes.

Julian Di Martino, 2013 with references with Julian Di Martino in front making a reference.

Julian Di Martino, 2013 with references with Julian Di Martino in front making a reference.

Good ideas; I mean that, but nothing exceptional in the final analysis but I don’t want to write a boring blog post reviewing the Summer Show piece by piece. That’s not the point of the exhibition. This is not a display of talent/contest demonstrating the glory of Moreland’s artists. This is not about the being biggest, the best or the most innovative.

If we want to get into hyperbole… the opening of Summer Show on Thursday night was one of the most important cultural events in the northern suburbs this month, maybe even this spring. The arts in the northern suburbs art are saving it from becoming a post-industrial wasteland zombie dormitory. As I’ve said it thousands of times (quoting Gregor Muir) – artists are the storm troopers of real estate in transforming urban areas.

There were plenty of artists at the opening meeting up, not just artists in the show, lots of local artists, all networking, catching-up, and general chitchat talking. People kept on starting friendly conversations with strangers asking: “Are you one of the artists?” This is important; it makes the local art world go round.

I was working the room too; glass of red in one hand, pen and gallery list in another. Julian Di Martino was laughing telling me: “The theme of current tendencies is one of the broadest themes for a group show that I’ve seen in a long time.” I talk to the curator, Victor Griss; check that I’ve spelt his name right because I want to give him credit for a good exhibition hanging given the diverse variety of artists and styles.

Where did Benjamin Sheppard go? He was just talking to someone in front of his drawing. I wanted to talk to him because I’ve already written about a hundred words written about his last solo exhibition at the Counihan before I ran out of steam. His very large drawings with multi coloured biros on paper are a great take on ideas about high and low art; the whole idea of illustration and of art media and non-art media, that sort of thing.

See you the same time next year.


In the Public Interest

“Benway’s first act was to abolish concentration camps, mass arrest and, except under limited and special circumstances, the use of torture. ‘I deplore brutality,’ he said. “It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence gives rise, when skilfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt.” (Wm. Burroughs, Naked Lunch p. 31).

The Counihan Gallery had some excellent exhibitions this year with pertinent political themes like the intervention in the Northern Territory (see my review) and the people smuggling (see my review) but “In the Public Interest” is not one of them. “In the Public Interest” is too vague and stupid; in “celebrating activism, public protest and free speech” the exhibition is pandering to political delusions that Australia is a liberal democracy with free speech and that the government tolerates political dissent and protest.

At the entrance to the Counihan Gallery there is a banner stating that the Moreland City Council welcomes “refugees and asylum seekers”. What is the word for people who want to distract attention from the malefactions through rhetoric and tokenism rather than disassociate themselves from the criminal organization abusing the human rights of refugees? Hypocrites, charlatans and frauds are too weak a collection of words to describe such despicable behaviour.

Simon Perry, 1994, Brunswick

Simon Perry, 1994, Brunswick

Across the road from the Counihan Gallery outside of the Mechanics Institute on the corner of Sydney Road and Glenlyon is a 1994 sculpture by Simon Perry. A plaque provides a strange explanation for the sculpture that appears to be a cage being veiled by a dove. The plaque reads (in part): “…to commemorate the free speech campaign of the 1930s…” Consider the definition of the verb commemorate:

1.            to honor the memory of somebody or something in a ceremony

2.            to serve as a memorial to something

Noel Counihan’s free speech campaign did not accomplished or changed anything – he didn’t have free speech, he was in a fucking cage! The sculpture honours the memory of his failed campaign for the fundamental human right of free speech. For the pedants out there who might point to a High Court decision recognizing freedom of political speech in Australia, I would reply: how has this protected the speech of Albert Langer, the editors of Rabelais (La Trobe student newspaper), Bill Henson, Paul Yore or anyone else? For freedom of speech to be effective in Australia it would have to protect the rights of people other than those in the major political parties who form government.

I want to make it clear that I regard the so-called Australian government as a criminal organization without any moral, political or legal legitimacy what so ever.

Australia is full of bigots with no regard for the human rights of the indigenous population, refugees…. basically any minority that these popularist politicians want to attack. When confronted with these facts Australian bigots will scream that others have committed more crimes than they have. They will point to China, Russia, France and the Spanish Inquisition and say: “look at them, don’t accuse us”; as if someone else committing crimes makes these shit-heads less guilty of the horrendous crimes that they are committing. In this exhibition, this exceedingly stupid attitude is represented in works by Wendy Black, Penny Byrne, Nick Devilin and William Kelly (and the curators Leon Van De Graaff and Victor Griss who choose to include those works).

The worst work in the exhibition goes to George Matoulas who has created a shallow and unpoetic painting, the visually vacuous equivalent of a poem by Rick from the Young Ones – BOMB.

There is some good art in this exhibition, both aesthetically and conceptually but given the confused and stupid politics of the exhibition’s theme I preferred seeing that art when it was in other exhibitions.


Play Money, Radish & other exhibitions

On Thursday night I went to the opening of “Play Money” at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The exhibition examines ”the anxiety surrounding the acquisition of real estate and the legacy of land ownership in Australia”. It is pertinent subject especially in Brunswick where houses prices are rising in the wake of the artistic revival; Gregor Muir described artists as “the storm-troopers of gentrification.” The irony of the welcome to country at the opening was not lost at either.

Curated by Jane O’Neill “Play Money” is good as far as it goes but it is taking up valuable real estate with an exhibition that didn’t fill up all the walls. The suburban subject is very current in Melbourne art; the Ian Strange exhibition at the NGV Atrium came to mind (see my post) along with the art of Jason Waterhouse and Adrian Doyle. I wanted more.

On my Thursday afternoon gallery crawl I was impressed with “Radish” by Diego Ramirez at Seventh Gallery. The two videos in the installation contributed to the sad story of a radish headed man. The videos had great production quality overall but especially the make-up and prosthetics. I was wondering if the radish headed man finally found a home buried in the back room of Seventh Gallery as the radish top was poking out from the gallery floor.

I also enjoyed seeing Penny Pekham’s “A Taxonomy of (Art) Cats”. A series of prints upstairs in a small room at 69 Smith St amidst some bad and ordinary art, including Pekham’s series of paintings based on Leonard Cohen lyrics. The lino-cut prints reproduced cats by famous artists (Hiroshige, Toulouse Lautrec, Steinlen, Beardsly, Manet etc.) arranged in grids. Simple but effective and combining cats and art history is a way to my heart.

I saw Little Woods Gallery for the first time. It is a small gallery space that is part of the Jesuit Social Services on Langridge Street. Lauren Dunn’s “We are all friends” a series of photographs of Lauren’s friends. The larger than life photographs were too close, both intimate and a bit intimidating. There was some attempt to trace the connections between these faces and Dunn but not enough was made of that.


The Intervention @ Counihan

Jason Wing’s “Intervention: Criminal” speaks powerfully. It is a giant paste-up photocopy of a photo of himself with the words “An Australian Government Initiative: Criminal” on a sign hung around his neck. The image has all the sympathy of a mugshot. In 2007 by act of federal legislation the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation better known as “the intervention” removed the rights of the Aboriginal population in the NT. The Australian government gains political power by marginalizing and criminalizing minority groups.

Jason Wing’s image is the centre-piece image of the exhibition “Ghost Citizens: witnessing the intervention” at the Counihan Gallery and features on the exhibition flyer. (In 2009 I wrote about Jason Wing’s first solo exhibition of  in this blog.)

My favorite images from the exhibition are Chips Mackinolty’s digital prints “National Emergency Next 1,347,525km” “…and there will be no dancing”; signpost the incredibly vast territory that as an emergency is absurd. I had seen Bindi Cole’s work at the NGV’s Studio space last year but her series of photos are well worth another look to see the absurdity of the idea of the standard image of aboriginal Australia.

The paintings of Dan Jones, Kylie Kemarre, Sally M. Mulda and Amy Napurulla provide a colorful accompaniment to the other works and the bleak subject of the exhibition. Fiona MacDonald’s woven archival print of the landscape of James Cook Island at Sylvania Waters in NSW provides the contrast and made me question who is need of an intervention. There is so much balance in this exhibition between the works of 8 Aboriginal and 5 non-Indigenous artists.

The excellent curatorial skills of Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM make this exhibition a powerful experience. The Counihan Gallery has done another great job at bringing together art and politics in this exhibition, a feature of their program this year.

The subject of the exhibition is extraordinarily important to Australia’s culture and its claim to be a civilized nation. Considering the up-coming federal election everyone should make an effort least see this exhibition and try to understand what is happening with the “Basic Card”, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in the NT and the “intervention”.


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