Tag Archives: Federation Square

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


Keep Hosier Real

Approximately 2000 people visit Hosier Lane every weekend, even on a cold, rainy Sunday in May. On this particular cold, rainy Sunday there were more than the usual number of people in Hosier Lane. People had to squeeze through the crowd that had gathered to rally in protest at a proposed multi-story hotel development in the aerosol paint covered lane.

Bride keeping Hosier Real

If you think that the lesson of the story about the goose that laid the golden egg couldn’t be more obvious, then you are seriously under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both greedy and stupid. The current proposed redevelopment of the old MTC/Chinese theatre site on Russell Street, that backs onto Hosier Lane into a multi-story hotel is not just an inappropriate development, it is a greedy and stupid.

Inner city Melbourne’s rejuvenation, the result of decades of planning, creating an event and spectacle based city brings people into the city. This in turn created a market for restaurants, shops and hotels – hotels, that would include the proposed multi story development.

Now a reasonable person would think that it would be in the interest of a development next to one of Melbourne’s major tourist attractions to be designed appropriately for its location but this would, again, under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both stupid and greedy.

I am not against development; I am not like Jeff Sparrow in Radical Melbourne moaning that the Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters, at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939, is now occupied by a restaurant. What is needed is development that is appropriate to the location, that doesn’t simply occupy the space, that doesn’t simply take things away from the place without giving something back to the area.

Professor Roz Hansen, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy points that the development doesn’t just threaten the tourist value the street art and graffiti in Hosier Lane it also threatens to overshadow the ‘Winter Garden’ in Federation Square.

This new development will also impact on the Babylonian-revival style Forum Theatre – the proposal admits it has no plans regarding the known vibrations from this live music venue. No doubt after it is constructed they will make a complaint and attempt to shut down the venue?

This is not to forget that Hosier Lane is distinctly different to the designed attraction of Federation Square or even the heritage listing of the Forum Theatre. The development also threatens services to the homeless that are provided by the Livingroom and Youth Projects in Hosier Lane. As well as, the pedestrian zone that the lane way has become.

Adam Bandt Keep Hosier Real

Describing these developers as “the real vandals” as Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne, did at the rally today is being too poetic and too kind. Perhaps I am being too kind in simply describing them as stupid and greedy.

There is an online petition and it is interesting to see that people are signing it from Brazil, Croatia, India, Italy and the USA, indicating that this is not simply a local issue.


Worst of Fed Square

“Paparazzi Dogs” was specially commissioned and made for Federation Square. It was intended as a backdrop for more selfies (photos of yourself). “Visitors can go there to take their own photos with the paparazzi, allowing them to become their own celebrity.” (Gillie and Marc’s website.) Do tourists really measure their enjoyment of a place in photos? Is a photo opportunity the best function for a public sculpture?

Gilles and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

Gillie and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

The street artist CDH subverted “Paparazzi Dogs” by replacing the plaque with his own notice using the same layout and font as the official Federation Square notices. (See his website under reviews.) CDH’s notice read:

“The sculpture equivalent of ‘dogs playing poker’, the work is symbolic of the culturally vapid public art commissioned by Melbourne’s civic institutions. / The dog/human mutations in suits reference the base and deficient character of a bureaucracy as a system of selecting art. / The cameras pointing outward invite the viewer to go into Melbourne’s laneways in search of the authentic and organic street art culture that the city is internationally renowned for.”

Instead of committing to a single image for Federation Square it keeps on changing with temporary sculpture. Instead of committing to a single public sculpture when tastes will change in another decade or two Federation Square has decided to have a series of temporary sculpture exhibitions. Now this might be a good strategy and some of these sculptures have been good, like Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” in 2012, but recently the sculptures have been kitsch, like Gillie and Marc’s “Paparazzi Dogs” or Xu Hongfei’s “Chubby Women” sculptures.

Xu Hongfei series of fat women sculptures is currently in Federation Square. Xu Hongfei is the president of the Guangzhou Academy of Sculpture and the Chinese government sponsors his sculpture tour of Australia. His “Chubby Woman” series was exhibited earlier this year in Sydney and at the National Art Museum of China. In this case the bureaucracy of selecting sculpture for Federation Square has gone for diplomacy over taste.

As Xu Hongfei said about his sculptures on Radio Australia: “Many people enjoy this type of artwork very much, it’s very direct, not very deep nor complicated.” (Girish Sawlani, “Chinese sculptor brings ‘Chubby women’ exhibition to Australia”, Radio Australia 16/7/2013)

Deep and complicated do not preclude being enjoyable to many people. Theo Jansen’s walking machines was fascinating to all ages. And Jansen’s work can lead to deep and complicated thinking about kinetic art, engineering, wind power and biology as well as being enjoyable aesthetic experience. Xu Hongfei’s work leads to nothing but more selfies, BBW sculpture porn and filling Federation Square.

Kitsch functions as a cultural gap-filler, ersatzes culture filling the spaces instead of work that might lead to thought. In filling the gap it excludes better work.

 


Monsters, Divers and More on the Street

Walking around Melbourne on Thursday I saw a variety of art on the streets from street art to public art, along with some art in an art gallery that referred to the street.

In Federation Square Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” were walking around delighting young and old. The two walking machines made of PVC pipes held together with cable ties are a combination of art and mechanical engineering. Although the larger one is meant to wind powered, that was in short supply on Thursday and pneumatic power was being used instead.

Another, and in my opinion the best yet, tribute to the destroyed Banksy’s Little Diver has been placed in Cocker Alley where the Banksy once was. This is stencil piece contains many references to Melbourne street art including Ha-Ha’s Ned Kelly, Phib’s hand with an eye, Hugh Dunnit’s Pinocchico, and the infamous CTCV capping.

I spotted a couple more of Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahls prowling around the laneways and drinking coffee. (For more on Steaphan Paton’s “Urban Doolagahl” see my recent post: An aboriginal art walk.)

There were fashion shoots in both Duckboard Place and AC/DC Lane; given the use that Melbourne’s fashion industry (along with the wedding industry) makes of Melbourne’s graffiti covered lanes it makes me wonder if they are doing anything to support the street art scene or if they are just exploiting it. I assume that Melbourne City Council charges for the right to close down the lane for a photo shoot (more exploitation of street art).

Further up Flinders Lane I saw Pamela See’s exhibition “White Wash” at fortyfivedownstairs. “White Wash” refers to buffing in Beijing and Brisbane. Brisbane based artist, Pamela See has made paper cuts and cut stainless steel versions of the white brush marks used to cover up unauthorized material on the street. The paper cuts of the brush marks complete with cut paper drips reminded me of Roy Lichtenstein’s enlarged abstract expressionist brush strokes.


Urban Sculpture @ Fed Square

Today I went to see the exhibition of six finalists for Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2011 in Federation Square. I looked at the sculptures and observed how the public was reacting and interacting with the sculptures.

The exhibition contrasted the obvious and constant sculptures and the intermittent and obscure sculptures. “The aim of the 2011 Prize is to focus on the urban environment and importance of sculptural practice, in its all its forms, and its role of informing and enriching public life and civic space.” How does the obscure inform or enrich public life? And how does an intermittent sculpture enrich a public space?

Greener & Maddock, "Apostle No.2", 2011

Isaac Greener and Lucas Maddock’s “Apostle No.2” is a reinforced polyester resin version of the original natural tourist icon that collapsed in 2005. People still pose for photographs with this smaller, semi-transparent version, as they did with the original monolith, but this time they can touch it.

Hester, "a world, fully accessible by no living being", 2011

Bianca Hester, “a world fully accessible by no living being”. Although this sculpture is the winner of the Melbourne Prize the public were ignoring it; a man lights his cigarette in the shelter of the breezeblock wall and Xavier College students sit with their backs to the wall as they are lectured about the cathedral’s architecture. I didn’t see anyone else take the tabloid of proposals/propositions, stacked in a hole in the wall. The grey breezeblocks merged with the grey stone of the square.

Leber & Chesworth, "We, The Masters", 2011

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth “We, The Masters” (vinyl, 2 channel audio, speakers etc.) was only partially there. I saw the small vinyl banners text in the trees but in the text filled environment of Federation Square they made less of impact anymore than the other signs and advertising logos. I tried to hear if there was any sound coming out of one of the many speakers but I didn’t hear anything; I leaned so close that I bumped my head against the speaker – definitely no sounds were coming from them.

Murray-White "Sara Delaney - a head of her time", 2010

Clive Murray-White “Sara Delaney – a head of her time” is the most traditional sculpture in the exhibition; a face made of Chillagoe marble with a plinth of granite and galvanized steel. It was attracting some attention from other people in Federation Square; I had to wait for the cyclist to finish looking at it before I could photograph it.

Stuart Ringholt & Mark Holsworth

Time to look for Stuart Ringholt’s “Do you want to talk about sculpture?” Today I was the first person who had said “yes”. He said that it was difficult to get people to talk about sculpture. Stuart is recording the conversations to document them and photographing his contact. Stuart had a yellow plastic children’s seat with him as a token object or sign of sculpture.

I didn’t get to see Tom Nicholson’s “Unfinished monument to Batman’s Treaty”. This sculpture was another public action; for the duration of the exhibition with off-set printed black and white sheets, except that the woman had run out of copies by the time that I encountered her.

Dface, spray cans, 2011

Not part of the exhibition but also temporary sculpture in Federation Square, were Dface’s two concrete spray-cans that appeared to break through the pavement. I don’t know if Federation Square is a good environment for sculpture, as the architecture of the square denies focal points. The square is designed to control the civic space and restrict public interactions.


Miso’s Smoking

A bunch of white paper arrows hang from the white gallery wall, the delicate cut paper creating the veins of their feathers, their thin shafts and arrowheads. Cut paper forms art noueveau patterns and fantastic images of dogs with monasteries on their backs.

Miso "Paper Birch"

Notable Melbourne street-artist Miso specializes in paper cutting and paste-ups. Her current exhibition at No Vacancy Project Gallery features some fine paper cuts along with images made from the patterns of holes from needle pricks.

Miso’s paper cutting is a reversal of the stencil cutting techniques of many of Melbourne street artists. Instead of using cutting to create a stencil the cut paper is the image. Both Miso and US artist, Swoon have taken paper cutting up a level both in the scale and the artistry of their work.

The techniques of cutting paper tends to be overlooked, relegated to a folk art from another time, the silhouette cutter working their trade on the cusp of photography. Overlooking the old hands of Matisse as he cut colored paper to make works like the Blue Nude towards the end of his life. Overlooking also the hands of Hans Christian Andersen and William S. Burroughs as they cut up paper. (Cut-Outs and Cut-Ups, ed. Hendel Teicher, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2008) Hans Christian Anderson was a master at traditional folded paper cutting. Andersen used his delicate paper cutting technique as an adjunct to his story telling; keeping his audience’s attention as they watched his large hands delicately cut paper as he told his story and unfolding the completed paper at the end. William Burroughs used Brion Gysin ‘s “cut-up” technique in both in writing and visual art. Burroughs also used it to create stencils for spray paint.

The installation of Miso’s exhibition “Les Fumières” is impressive; the small No Vacancy Project Gallery at the Atrium, Federation Square has been lined with white painted bits from old houses, windows, doors and boards. At the far end of the gallery on a white wall of boards the neon sign “Les Fumières” glows. Impressive though the installation is I’m not convinced by the aesthetic connection between the paper-cuts, the installation and the artist’s statement about the future of cities. The work on paper do not connect with the old doors and windows, with the exception of the figures of “Ellen” 1 & 2 that bracket an old arch sash window. And, as much as I like the idea of urban gardens, I didn’t see how the plants connected with the exhibition, apart from visual relief from all the white. But this does detract from the smoking hot quality of Miso’s cut paper.

Miso's installation with "Ellen 1" at No Vacancy


Goth Glamour in 3D

I was seduced by the opening of Rising 5 – by the promise of an exclusive event and 3D fashion photography. I wasn’t sure what to look at: the clothes, the models, the 3D photographic effect or the other guests. It was like some strange kind of goth nightclub, with a DJ, hundreds of people, boys in black dresses, strangely dressed women and security at the front except that nobody was dancing. All this was for a little fashion photography exhibition in the Atrium at Federation Square.

Mark @ Rising 5

Even looking at the photographs I wasn’t sure what I was looking at: the fashion, the styling or the 3D effects. The 3D photography by Mark Ruff didn’t require special glasses to see, it was like the lenticular 3D effects of the old postcards with the image separating into distinct several layers. It was difficult to look at the photographs in the diminished light of the Federation Square Atrium; the partitions did not have spotlights illuminating the images and the 3D effect was going out of focus.

A passing photographer showed me a sharp image on his camera that he’d taken earlier of the 3D photographs and he recommended seeing the exhibition in daylight to enjoy the best of the 3D effect. There were two videos where the 3D effect could be seen but these were just compilations of the existing images and didn’t add anything new.

A passing make-up artist involved with the project (was it Shella Ruby?) told me that the models were all photographed in front of a blue screen and the backgrounds were added in digitally. She also told me that it was all for charity so it was important that I got the names right (Beyond Blue, but how I don’t know; nothing was for sale and I wasn’t asked for a donation).

Although Simone Ling and Izabel Calgiore’s art and styling emphasized the goth look; with backgrounds including Melbourne University’s carpark (that was used as a set in the original Mad Max film). The fashion of Lui Hon, Dhini, Richard Nylon Millinery, Nadia Napreychikov, Cami James and Alistar Trung ranged from 80s cocktail dresses to ball gowns that could have been designed by Alexander McQueen. Some of it, like Metal Couture jewellery is hardcore goth, all of it was over the top.

Not that it mattered on Friday night. Almost nobody was looking at the dozen photographs and two videos anyway – mostly they were air kisses, schmoozing and posing for photographs in front of them.

Rising 5 is part of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and I was a guest of Madam Virtue & Co.


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