Tag Archives: craft

The Future of Street Art

Will in the future street art have that church fete moment? When the artist discovers their own work amongst some tatty lamps and ornaments. All the magic has been sucked out, the art reduced to an outdated fashion object for sale at a discount price. This is also the point when collectors start rummage through garage sales looking for treasures from the past.

Will street art become just another viral meme on the Internet? The image of day – something that you look at for a few seconds, “like” or “share” on Facebook and then forgot. Instant classics like instant coffee are lacking so many qualities. This is also the point where street art becomes democratic and the institutions of the art curators, collectors and academic critics are overturned.

Will street art become another step in the career path of artists on their way to major galleries or corporate sponsorship? Major art galleries around the world competed to show the first, major street art exhibitions. In the future Melbourne could have a street art gallery where the crowds exit through the gift shop to buy the t-shirt, posters and other souvenirs. This is also the point that street art becomes an art movement recognized in books on the history of art.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station

Or will street art remain a kind of design/craft? Street art has always been so close to a craft as design, illustration and craft are major features of street art. Street art is the folk art of the 21st Century. Folk aren’t making corn dollies anymore or whittling wood – we are urban folk now and we use of modern technology: spray cans, Photoshop colour separation, modern printing technology for and modern materials for vinyl stickers and photocopy enlargements.

Design/craft are both a strength and weakness for street art. Often there isn’t much more to street art than craft and daring. Take that away and you are left with things like Ghostpatrol illustrations on limited edition ceramic plates. Sure there are exhibitions of basket weaving and patchwork quilts at major art galleries and I’m not disputing the quality and craftsmanship of William Morris wallpaper, nor the relevance of exhibiting a sample of his wallpaper in an art gallery but it is great design/craft and not great art.

Popular culture theories applied to street art shows the usual trends. There is the conservative theory of mass society where moral and aesthetic degradation accompanies a loss of authority. There is the left wing/structural theory of culture industry where the culture industry adopts and capitalizing on street art in the same way those other groups, the punks and the hippies were adopted. And there is the whiggish theory of progressive evolution leading to more democratic participation and more authentic opportunities for personal expression. All of these theories can be supported with some choice examples from street art – the question is which of these theories street artists are going to apply to their own work.

These popular culture theories are could be portrayed as class based. The institutional elites are conservative because it protects their control of culture. The institutional theory appears Marxist in considering the culture industries as just another way of making a living by manufacturing widgets – art/design/craft makes no difference. And the whiggish, internet-idealist progressive theory can quickly degenerate into a Facebook ‘Like’. The issue of street artists “selling out” and making money only applies in the progressive theory.

Maybe it was seeing Banksy’s film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and Thierry Guetta’s mass-produced, copyright violations, massively hyped art that put the fear into me. This is the way that street art ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper but with something crass and stupid.

Dface, spray cans, 2011

Dface, spray cans, 2011


Soft Toy Art

Toys are functionless and as useless as art. Toys appear to be a category that runs somewhat parrel to art; it is hard tell what the divides the two categories of objects maybe it is all the “do not touch” signs on one side of the division. Toys, unlike most art, are intended to be touched. Toys are intended to be touched, handled and played with.

Toys do not just act as the tokens or signifiers for the imagination at play. Toys are animated with a spirit, a kind of childhood voodoo. And for this magic reason their spirit depends on who is touching the toy, that this spirit can be desecrated by the wrong kind of touching by the wrong person. It is not simple selfishness that restricts sharing toys.

In this new brow era (you know, new brow, neither high brow nor low) there are art/toys created artists are art/toys. There is a lot of it about. Toys created by artists are becoming increasing common in art exhibitions. Toys are part of the street art influence on contemporary art. “Urban Art 10A” earlier this year at BSG included custom soft toys by Amy Calton, Antonia Green and Rob Thompson, from the Australian Guild of Toy Makers, amongst the work of stencil, cartoon and aerosol artists. Snappy Yabby was exhibiting stuffed toys in the window of White Elephant Artspace in Brunswick in August. Cecilia Fogelberg’s “Super Groupie” at Craft Victoria in 2008 was clearly soft toys art for adults. There is also the Toy Society, what started as a small street art project in Australia is slowly spreading around the world.

Sounds fun. I often describe art that I like as fun, as I would like to see more fun art. Fun is a big category, from silly to serious, that excites people’s body, emotions and imagination. Fun has rarely been taken seriously but it is important to life (and not just human life, all vertebrates, like Cindy Lauper’s girls, just want to have fun). Food and sex, the basics of life, are often fun for vertebrates (the same cannot be said for invertebrates). And toys are unashamedly fun creations.

What I find uneasy about much of this art/toys is that although toys can be a miniature representation of the real world but they are not a comment on the world. Toys are a withdrawal from the world rather than an engagement with it. And that most of these art soft toys are ugly monsters.


Grab Bag

2009 Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program part 2

By Mark Holsworth with Catherine Voutier

The design and editing of the Fashion Festival Cultural Program was obnoxiously bad without any organization alphabetical, geographical or thematic, just a random list. And it is on two sides of a four-fold sheet with the bright pink printing making it almost impossible to use. The exhibitors who paid to be included in this program did not get value for their money (according to a recent comment it did not cost anything, that explains a lot). Fleur Watson, the Cultural Program Manager, appears to have done nothing more than copy and paste information from the events that paid to be included. That this grab bag of events had a theme, ‘Cause and Effect’, is curatorial balderdash.

The Fashion Festival’s Cultural Program is a random selection of fashion related events. In Bloom, at RMIT’s First Site Gallery was a good fashion exhibition exploring floral themes with work from RMIT students and graduates. Unfortunately it closed before the opening of the Fashion Festival. Why Bus Gallery paid to have Skin and Bones 09 in the program and then ran different exhibitions I don’t know.

Everyone need fashion accessories and there were, of course, a many of Melbourne’s jewellery designers were included in the program. There was Leah Heiss’s hi-tech jewellery at 45 Downstairs. It was nothing special to look at, new materials like heat sensitive wires are interesting but it failed to be made into anything attractive. In the other direction at Glitzern in Crossley Lane there was plenty of jewellery from recycled and found material with a nautical theme. There were bracelets of brass buttons, a hat like a ship, a black sequinned lobsters and fun eye patches with sequins and netting.

The Stiches and Craft Show at the Melbourne Show Grounds was also part of the 2009 Fashion Festival Cultural Program. Taking fashion back to its basics. This featured an exhibition of women’s dresses the 1890s to the 1960s, one from each period. The dresses were not couture but handmade or made by local dress makers. Also bringing fashion back to the grassroots, craft bloggers had their own spot at the show.

Also taking fashion back to its roots Craft Victoria had Chicks On Speed, and it looked like it. It is a fun packed exhibition, a mash-up of workshop, performance space and installation. Visitors had to carefully pick their way between all the stuff. It had rock’n’roll levels of energy – not surprisingly Chicks On Speed are a punk rock band with several CDs of music and they take the little old lady out of embroidery. Poking critical fun at the fashion industry Chicks On Speed have a funky, punk do-it-yourself style. Rock’n’roll has always been an adjunct of modern fashion as Chicks On Speed are effectively demonstrating.

On the other hand Prostitution Institution by Trimapee at No Vacancy Gallery looked impressive with black figures like ninja’s hanging from the ceiling, large extreme contrast paintings of women, decorated Doctor Martens Boots and photographs in light-boxes. However, it didn’t have any depth and wasn’t doing anything new.

“Black is the new red, again.” Read the acetate lettering in the light-boxes in Brad Haylock’s installation, Everything you never wanted to know about fashion  (but were too afraid to ask) at Vitrine in the Degraves Street Underpass. This should have been included in the Cultural Program but obviously they didn’t pay to play (or didn’t get his application in on time, see comment below).


Anzac Biscuits

“Chocolate box art” is another way of saying a schmaltz painting; the decoration biscuit tins and tea tins used by Anna Davern have a similar aesthetic quality. However, Anna Davern tin collages at Craft Victoria are not just an exercise in playing with kitsch aesthetics. Combining the exaggerated sentimentality of images of England and Australia emphasizes their disconnection. Davern creates absurd, surreal images with humor and fun commenting on a post-colonial Australia. The images of England are as alien as the images of Beefeaters in Australian landscapes.

The Buena Vista of the title, the beautiful view is watched over by absent aboriginals. The silhouette or cutout and therefore absent figures of aborigines watching the scene remind the viewer of the genocidal practices of colonization. The indigenous people are removed or disconnected from the scene. The silhouette figures and the reworking of traditional media with post-colonial themes that Davern uses is similar to the art of Nusra Latif Qureshi.

Davern asks in some of the pieces what if Australia had colonized England? Would there be platypus swimming in the Thames and aborigines in English flower gardens? The Beefeater wearing a Ned Kelly helmet is another of the strong images from this show.

The Anglophile obsessions with the ‘mother country’, England are illustrated in these old biscuit tin lids. It is an obsession that still influences Australian politics. This week Tony Abbott MP has chosen to highlight in criticizing the draft national history curriculum prepared by Dr John Hirst, of La Trobe University for not being focused on England. (The Age 16/10/08) So Davern’s exhibition is a timely, expanding our view of the current ‘history wars’ in Australia. Davern has not simply jumped on this topical issue but has been developing it in her craft/jewellery making practice for several years.

Australia needs more intelligent craft like that of Anna Davern that explores and plays with national identity rather than producing props for nationalists.


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