Tag Archives: performance art

Performprint Spectacular

“Extreme printmaking and macho ritual fuel Performprint – a ten-hour exploration of masculinity, live art and print reproduction in the 21st century.” Publicity promised a spectacular event from 9am to 7pm at the Arts House/Meat Market as part of the Festival of Live Art on Sunday March 23rd in Melbourne, Australia.

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The first question that I asked Joel Gailer, when I saw him a weeks ago. Joel looked relaxed, he was leaning on the cast iron lace railing of his terrace house veranda. “Are you in training for Performprint?”

“Yes, I did some training earlier today,” Joel replied. He had been in training. A few days later he and Michael Meneghetti, painted silver and orange, staggering through the Bourke Street Mall, in the centre of Melbourne with very large BBQs strapped to the backs. The ‘Stations of the BBQ’ was a live performance in the lead up Performprint. The masculine domain of the BBQ are locally believed to be quintessentially Australian; “throw another prawn on the barbie” comedian Paul Hogan would say in old Australian tourism advertisements.

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At Performprint, in the historic setting of the old Melbourne Meat Market printer, Joel Gailer and his old friend and collaborator, performance artist, Michael Meneghetti were both in sunglasses, t-shirts, black jeans and boots. They were constantly working with a silent concentrated intensity for the ten hour event except when Gailer would, megaphone in hand, would climb to the top of a ziggurat of half finished copies of Warhol’s Brillo Box to announce his print manifesto and laugh at painters. Gailer proclaimed that “the truth is a copy”, “the copy is primary” and “Warhol is our god”.

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Joel Gailer is an experimental printer; he presses hard up against the boundary of the definition of printing to get a good print of its relief. He has printed in many different processes from etching to commercial printing in art magazines for which he won the the Fremantle Acquisitive Print Award for Hot Process, a page of paid advertising in Art Almanac magazine. Action printing was the next logical step; the LPG gas fire in an iron grill for branding on slabs of pig skin. Branding is a form of print making.

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Gailer and Meneghetti were using many different printing processes from the traditional cast iron printing press to using a lawn roller to make giant prints with large plywood letters. Printing on a giant scale you need a casking gun of tar for ink and a line of rope strung across rigging.

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Meneghetti’s performance art a lot of stilt walking while wearing masks; see his YouTube page. As well as, assisting Gailer with the printing Meneghetti was occasionally walking around in several different versions of the stilts including one made crutches and broken surfboards. There was a video loop of two of his four legged creatures walking around on the rocks of the tidal zone as the water slowly came in.

Other looping videos showed Indonesian fighting cocks being prepared for battle, a man with a spectrum of coloured underpants and a hand holding sprigs of wattle flowers above a flame. The wattle is a reference to both the right-wing nationalist, Australia Natives Association’s ‘Wattle Day’, as a symbol of Australia, and Monty Python’s parody in their Bruce Sketch. Together Gailer and Meneghetti have refined and redefined ideas about Australia and country boy machismo into masochistic endurance performance art. Machismo and masochism are very close.

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There was skateboarding on two ramps at your own risk, with t-shirts printed with legal waivers for the event. The skateboard wheels were carved with letters and the ramps were covered with the printed word. There were many carved wheels and tires that Gailer and Meneghetti pushed around printing words onto the bluestone cobbled floor.

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It was somewhere between print making and rock’n’roll; smoke machines, spot lights, multiple TV sets, video projectors and Harley-Davidsons. This was an event with a bar, a coffee bar and a catering van.

At the end there was the cacophony of competing bands, MY ‘Michael Yule’ Band and Coffin Wolf, and the human branding. At 7:59pm Michael Meneghetti that night posted a photo on Facebook of Joel Gailer at the emergency ward. Gailer went to hospital on Arts House staff advice worried about alcohol poisoning after he consumed a bottle of gin too quickly during and post branding. He sat around for a while and then left before being examined.

A video of a 2013 outdoor version of Performprint.

A video on UStream of the Meat Market event that will make you head spin.

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Little Diver Remembered

Melbourne’s street artists have been recreating it in tributes ever since Banksy’s “Little Diver” in Cocker Alley was destroyed in 2008.

Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes – Sunfigo above, Phoenix below

The first artist to document create a paste-up tribute images was Phoenix. Phoenix created an identically sized Little Diver figure that was revealed by the dripping paint that destroyed it. Phoenix continues to refer to the Banksy’s Little Diver, this time with a cross over reference to Warhol “Famous for 15 minutes comments.” (See “The Resurrection of Banksy’s Little Diver” by John Raptis.)

Earlier this year Sunfigo remembered Banksy’s “Little Diver” in a work that parodied the Melbourne City Council’s Laneway Commissions. Sunfigo is a good multi-layer stencil maker and knows Melbourne street art and graffiti history including references to HaHa, Hugh Dunit, Sync, Phibs, the notorious CCTV, and others, as well as, Banksy.

Melbourne street art performance artist, Bados Earthling has been creating his own tributes to Banksy with performances and songs. When a Banksy rat was destroyed in Prahan in 2012 Bados held a candlelight vigil in Prahran to mourn the loss. Bados Earthling and his band the Wild Audio Society’s have a Banksy tribute songs: ““Be Like Banksy” with the chorus “Where’s the Banksy?” Bados Earthling says “the most comonally asked question I get from the general public is where are all the banksy’s located… They never asked about any Austrtalian street artist.” (You can enjoy Bandos’s performances on YouTube.)

In 2010 another Banksy rat was destroyed in Hosier Lane, local street artists reproduced it and added other work commenting on it. (See my blog post: Street Art Notes July)  Do all of these tributes to Banksy really contribute anything to Melbourne’s street art? Even though the tributes to Banksy by Phoenix, Sunfigo and Bados are all quality and nuanced works of art but repeating the legend of Banksy is not the subject of significant art. Apart from serving as a reminder of the hypocrisy of Melbourne City Council towards street art – and politicians eat hypocrisy for breakfast. There is an element of the cultural cringe in both the council and Melbourne street artist’s continual celebration of a visiting British artist.

Rather than dwelling on the past maybe these artists should think about the future of street art in Melbourne. Street art is ephemeral and has little room for history – maybe it’s time to forget about Banksy.


Strange Streets Indeed

Guerrilla gardening, urban interventions, performance graffiti: many of these wild and freaky ideas that are only now being realized on the street have been around since the Yippies and Mail Art in the 1960s, probably even earlier. Maybe these ideas have been floating around in an idealistic haze of the adolescent Dadaists a hundred years ago. And finally the praxis is possible for these strange utopic ideas; they are practical. These ideas never really worked before because of the limits of communications; underground magazines were underground. Only Fluxus had the celebrity names and the cheap communications, courtesy of the US military mail; until the internet came along, again, courtesy of the US military. Not to get all internet utopian about it but the impact can’t be ignored, see my post about “Street Art and the Internet”.

Nick Iltons "Suggestion Box" 2010 with peace sign

And if it didn’t start in the 1960s it happened soon after. Liz Christ and the Green Guerrilla group in NYC started guerrilla gardening and “seed bombing” in 1973. This was just a year after the first graffiti exhibition in NYC by the United Graffiti Artist group. (Maybe street art should be called “guerrilla decorating”.) The Wikipedia entry on “urban interventions” cites The Diggers theatre of San Francisco and the Dutch Provo movement as precursors. The Digger’s Free Store on Page Street, San Francisco, had a sidewall covered in frames called “Free Frame of Reference” The Dutch Provo movement were notorious for their happenings and white propaganda.

Amongst the many stranger street art activities currently in Melbourne there is Bados Earthling who calls his work “performance graffiti”. His character, a man from the future allows him to comment with confusion about the kind of activities that humans are currently engaged in. As Bados explains: “I’m like a child seeing something for the first time, with a million questions.” (See Invurt’s inteview with Bados.) Bados Earthling’s speech balloon blackboard creates a visual communication that the audience can participate and interact with.

Bados Earthling @ BSG Sweet Streets 2010

There are lots of these ideas floating around the collective consciousness like the spores of mushrooms just waiting for exactly the right conditions to germinate and fruit. “The question of ancestry in culture is spurious. Every new manifestation in culture rewrites the past, changes old maudits into new heroes…” Greil Marcus wrote in Lipstick Traces (p.21) and like Marcus I’m looking at the traces, the tiny amount that remains indicating the former presence of a thing. This is just an outline. It is an attempt to find or hunt down something.

And there are still stranger ideas that I have yet to trace amongst the drivel that various people from the 60s wrote (re-reading parts of Richard Neville’s Playpower has not been enlightening). What traces can we find in the past that explains present street art? And what new and strange will we next see on the street?


Painting Ideas

I must really like the Tim Johnson exhibition, Painting Ideas, because I’ve seen it twice. Last year I saw it at GOMA and this year I went to see at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. And I keep on thinking that I want to think about this exhibition a bit more before I write anything – but the exhibition is over already.

The exhibition reminded me of the Gilbert and George exhibition that I saw at the Tate Modern in 2007. Although Painting Ideas is considerably smaller, the story is the similar. A conceptual, performance artist in search of a way of turning ideas into images. After some difficult and strange art the artist finds their voice and now their art is in the collections of major museum.

When I saw “Painting Ideas” at GOMA the open plan gallery arrangement lead me chronologically through the development of Johnson’s now familiar style. At the Ian Potter Museum, the history was told backwards from galleries filled with Johnson’s now familiar style and then upstairs to his early work. Telling a history backwards or forwards does not make a big difference; it is just another way of looking at the causal relationship.

Tim Johnson’s early work was not familiar to me but I’ve seen plenty of similar art from that era. The punk energy that Tim Johnson pushed on the boundaries is familiar. The variety of conceptual and performance art of the time indicated a growth in the arts, as well as, a desperate search for a solution. And the solution for Johnson was to return to painting images and to collaborate with other artists. And Tim Johnson collaborators with many other artists: Tibetean born artist, Karma Phuntsok, Brendan Smith from Brisbane, Vietnamese born, My Le Thi, or the Australian Aboriginal painter Clifford Possum Tjapaitjarri. Not that you can tell where the work of one artist begins and ends, given that the images in the paintings are all from somewhere else, some other tradition.

Tim Johnson’s mature paintings are post-modern pastiches (as in “cut up” – see the comments for more about the word pastiche, which isn’t esactly right) of icons from everywhere contained in a field of dots over a field of colour. They are not so much paintings of ideas but the flow of images in a visual hypnagogic revelry of consciousness.

The paintings are images of a mindscape of a multi-cultural, multi-faith Australian identity. The use of dots is an attempt breaking down the apartheid walls in Australian art. The paintings are landscapes of the mind; mytho-geographic landscapes of Buddhist/Hindu and Australian Aboriginal mythology mix in his paintings along with contemporary manga and pop images.

There is a Youtube Video of Tim Johnson in his studio.


Performance Art in Singapore

The exhibition, At Home Abroad, at 8Q sam featured six contemporary Singaporean artists whose art practices are largely or partially based abroad: Choy Ka Fai, Jason Lim, Ming Wong, Sookoon Ang, and Zulkifle Mahmod. I was surprised in the first gallery with the work of Jason Lim as Jason Lim is a performance artist. Jason Lim’s performance the “last drop” was about space, balance and water. It was documented in the exhibition with videos and the remains of a performance. Jason Lim’s performance consisted of various ways of pouring water. His attempts to catch a drop poured from a glass in the same glass were captivating.

Most of the other artists in the exhibition also had performance art elements to the art. Zulkifle Mahmod created electronic soundscapes with natural samples in both recordings and live site-specific performances. Ming Wong performs in an art video re-enacting and playing every male and female role in a Fassbinder film. Choy Ka Fai is a performer as well as, a visual artist. She performs as a guide and narrator in her video installation about public housing flats in Singapore. This would not be remarkable in most other countries but is in Singapore because of the 1994 controversy, that gives performance art a historical charge that is unique to Singapore.

Performance art emerged from neo-Dadaism, like Allan Karprow’s happenings and Fluxus, and merged with the extreme logic of the avant-garde art in the late 1960s. Performance art focused on the body and the then current political issue of breaking social taboos. American artist Vito Acconci plucked his hair and inflicted painful injuries on himself. In Australia artist Stelarc suspended his body using multiple hooks. And the extremes of the Viennese Actionism that concentrated on breaking taboos.

This trend in performance art continued until at the height of the punk rock movement. When it appeared that all the taboo breaking goals had been accomplished and Sid Vicious was doing Acconci’s masochistic act for the masses. A more elegant and technologically savvy form of performance art started to emerge, like Laurie Anderson in America. And in Australia Stelarc engaged with technology and prosthetic limbs. And all of the Singaporean artists in the At Home Abroad exhibition with their use of video and other digital technology.

Art history is not a neat time-line, art trends generally do not occur in different places simultaneously and local conditions will influence these trends. So the history of performance art in Singapore is different to this broad over-view. In 1994 in Singapore a major controversy erupted following the New Years Day performances by Joseph Ng, who cut off his pubic hair and Shannon Tham, who vomited into a bucket. This already outdated Acconci influenced performance and the subsequent controversy led to a ban of government funding of performance art in Singapore. Extensively documented by Lee Weng Choy in “Chronology of a controversy” (1996). The ban on performance art in the 90s reinforced international perceptions of Singapore as an extremely rigid and controlled state.

In December 2003 the Substation art space hosted a performance art event, Future of Imagination, curated by Lee Wen, the first performance art event that was funded by the Singapore National Arts Council in ten years. As the pendulum of taste swings in the opposite direction with equal force Singapore now has an International Performance Art Event at Sculpture Square; The Future of Imagination is now in its 5th year.


New Sculpture @ Michael Koro

On Friday night I went to the opening of Obecjkt (new sculpture) at Michael Koro Galleries. Adrian Doyle and Joel Gailer curated the exhibition; selecting a wide variety of contemporary sculptures from notable sculptors ranging from the monolithic to the street.

The opening was worth attending not just to drink the wine and to talk to the curators and artists. I was shown work in progress in Blender Studios out the back, watched Michael Meneghetti’s performance and the live spraying in the laneway. I almost forgot to look at the Melbourne Propaganda Window by video artist Pip Ryan; this is the first time I’ve been there after dark.

Michael Meneghetti "Vixen"

Michael Meneghetti "Vixen"

 

Michael Meneghetti did a performance of “Vixen”; body art is another type of contemporary sculpture. The leather and pine wood harness that Meneghetti uses in his performance are displayed vestigial remnants propped up against the gallery wall. The actual performance was impressive for the modification of human movement and Meneghetti’s half-hour endurance. Meneghetti did not restrict his performance to the art gallery; he dodging traffic crossing Franklin Street and wandered around. The performance incorporated sado-masochistic references in the saddle and headwear and also the idea of objectifying the body.

I had seen Natalie Ryan flocked animals earlier in the year at her solo exhibition at Diane Tanzer Gallery. Combining the kitsch aesthetics of flock covered toys and taxidermy Ryan has produced uncanny sculptures – a pink fox, a white skunk and a black hare. Taxidermy only preserves the skin of the animal, the eyes, the tongue and the form of the animal underneath the skin is artificial. Ryan has replaced the skin with synthetic flock fibers. The viewer might want to stroke the flocked covered animal forms but is stopped by the artificially unremittingly gaze of their lidless prosthetic eyes.

Ben Fasham has been a finalist in the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award 2008 and the Montalto Sculpture Prize (2009). His elegant formal geometric sculpture is exhibited in a study maquette and in monolithic scale in white painted aluminum. His “Unexpected interruption” is a geometric phallic erection.

There were three of the bent skateboards of Jason Waterhouse from the Federation Square Skateboard Series. The worn decks had been carefully sawn up and reassembled so that the plywood decks bent around corners.

English culture-jammer street-artist, D*Face Big Mouth Project was previously on exhibition at Lunar Park. It had been moved to the end of the laneway adjacent to Blender Studios. Big Mouth is a large open mouth. This is an old take on an old image: the mouth as a gate, like the mouth of Hell in medieval mystery plays or Melbourne’s own Lunar Park entrance. It is crude but effective.

D*Face Big Mouth

D*Face Big Mouth

 

I was un-impressed by Tim Sterling post-minimal assemblages of white paper clips, black cable ties and colored pins form rectilinear areas on the wall particularly as I had seen many better works by him. I also felt indifferent towards Andrew Gutteridge’s basic sculptures; in  “Twisted Ink” the dynamic ribbon of twisted aluminum spans two points.


Indonesian Art @ Bus

Having seen “Kompilasi: A survey of contemporary Indonesian art” at Bus I would have to conclude that contemporary art in Indonesia includes a lot of performance elements. Having missed the opening of the exhibition I was mostly looking at the ghosts of the performances in the galleries, ghosts captured in photographs and videos.

The star of the show is Jompet Kuswidananto’s “Java – the ghost warrior”, a video installation. It is instantly engaging and entrancing, the slow motion dancer on the video and the figure made from empty helmet, drum and boots. And then I realized that Jompet has done something amazing; the ghostly drummer beats his drum in time with the video. Having made such an impressive impact I was well prepared to meditate on Jompet’s post-colonial themes.

Attending artist Tintin Wulia’s wall painting map “Terra Incognito etcetera” was the remains of a performance, with its trays of flags and wine glasses with dried paint. Bambang ‘Toko’ Witjksono’s installation and performance “Future House” felt as ghostly as an empty real estate office in a new suburb. The table of colour printed and die-cut cardboard box houses looked like McHappy Meal boxes.

Angki Purbandono’s “Anonymous project” and “The Indonesian Wedding Photo Ritual” looks at the ordinary performance of ordinary people in photographs, like wedding photographs. Angki Purbandono playfully examines the structure of Indonesian pre-wedding, during wedding and post-wedding photographs. The inclusion of a mock Gilbert and George performance in “The Indonesian Wedding Photo Ritual” series is more insightful than a simple homage.

The Taring Padi collective have 2 large woodblock prints on canvas banners in the exhibition. In 2002 I first encountered the art of Taring Padi in a small exhibition of posters, publications, banners and videos of their performance at Irene Warehouse in Brunswick. At that time the Taring Padi collective had been working for 4 years, now they are over 10 years old. 10 years later Taring Padi’s people art style is still recognizable and is even more intense.

Curators Kritis Monfries, Tim O’Donoghue and Georgie Sedgwick have made an excellent selection of contemporary Indonesian art. The exhibition fills the whole of Bus gallery including the stairs and in a painting on the front wall of the gallery. The selection of contemporary Indonesian art is fun and engaging without any loss of serious content. Not having a lot of knowledge of contemporary Indonesian art I don’t know if “Kompilasi” is representative survey but it is a good exhibition.


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