Tag Archives: RMIT Gallery

Wrapped & Revealed

Callum Morton’s exhibition Neighbourhood Watch at Anna Schwartz Gallery is a lot of fun. Morton’s art is generally a lot of fun; Morton’s Motel is a familiar sight to drivers on the Eastlink Freeway and would also be familiar to listeners of the Triple M breakfast show where mistaking Morton’s Motel for the real thing has become a long running joke.

The game of Morton’s Neighbourhood Watch is a guessing game. If you have lived in Melbourne and are sighted you should be able to guess the identity of the wrapped statues. All the wrapped statues are familiar public statues that are located in Melbourne’s major streets and parks even if only their feet are visible underneath the brightly coloured plastic wrapping. What might also confuse the guess is that although the statues are a quarter of their actual size, the simplified plinths on which they stand have only be scaled down to half their size.

They are all memorial statutes but do we remember? The exhibition could have been extended into a social sculpture with a survey to find out which of these five statues were most recognised and which had been mostly forgotten.

I could go on about these wrapped statues, with reference to the work of Christo or Man Ray, but I think that I’ll use this to segue to another sculpture exhibition Revelations – Sculpture from the RMIT Art Collection at RMIT Gallery. RMIT’s art collection has the benefit that many of the best sculptors in Australia have at one time been students or staff or both. A lot of what I have to say about RMIT and sculpture can be found in my catalogue essay for Revelations “From Great Men to Landmarks”.

Revealing what is in RMIT’s sculpture collection makes an exciting sculpture exhibition that tells the history of sculpture in Melbourne from plaster casts of the Parthenon frieze, through modernism to contemporary sculpture. The exhibition also supplements the Inge King retrospective at the NGV (see my post) with more work by King and other members of the Centre Five group, so I would urge anyone going to the King exhibition to also see Revelations.

It is a great time to see sculpture exhibitions in Melbourne.


Mushroom @ RMIT

Melbourne + Me at RMIT Gallery celebrates “40 years of Mushroom and Melbourne’s popular music culture”. This should be a great exhibition and I must tell all my friends.

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I have no argument with the proposition that popular music should be the subject of serious exhibitions. I have no argument with celebrating Australian music with the focus on Mushroom records. Rock music and art converged at the Velvet Underground gig at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in 1967. Now, decades later there is so much that needs to be remembered and preserved from the development of this important multi-media art form.

At the time it might have appeared ephemeral entertainment but now it is being exhibited in major institutional galleries, like this exhibition at RMIT and ACMI’s music video exhibition, Spectacle.

However, Melbourne + Me does raise the problem is how to display rock music in an art gallery. Lots and lots of photographs, posters, magazine covers, record covers and videos don’t make very exciting viewing. There were several technical issues going on with various videos and computers when I visited – technology is only part of the solution on how to present the multi-media spectacle of rock’n’roll. There is a huge public program of talks and film screenings to accompany the exhibition.

There are some spectacular costumes from Kylie, Skyhooks and Crowded House. However even the giant Skyhooks backdrop and Pegasus from Kylie’s Aphrodite Les Folies 2011 world tour didn’t really do it for me.

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There are attempts to make the exhibition more coherent with the sticky carpet room about the band venues (but without a carpet sticky with beer) and the imagery office of Michael Gudinski, the director of Mushroom records. Here there are trophies, records, autographed guitars, gold records and odd bits of paraphernalia. The crates of records to flip through was a good touch.

There is no outrage at the idea of an exhibition of Australian popular music, as there is with street art (see the comments on my post about a street culture centre); maybe, rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment. Maybe there should be more outrage as lack of context was the main problem with the exhibition. Sometimes it felt like a random display of stuff – why are Kylie’s costumes on the same platform as outfits worn by Skyhooks? Why are the international acts and local acts all mixed up? I feeling of being lost at the exhibition wasn’t helped by the layout of rooms at RMIT Gallery.

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The Spectacle of Art

I had a look at some art galleries at RMIT on Thursday: RMIT Gallery itself, First Site and the School of Art Gallery. I didn’t get to RMIT School of Art Project Space “Spare Room” in Cardigan Street, it would have completed the set but I didn’t want to walk to Carlton and back. Instead I walked around exploring the street art and graffiti in the laneways around Chinatown: Croft Alley, Heffernan Lane, Tattersalls Lane, Stevenson Lane and others. In the window of Villain at the QV Centre there was a display by Junky Projects. The contrast in the spectacle of Junky Project’s figures made of found bits of wood and junk and the manufactured customisable kits for sale in the shop made me stop and think.

Junky Projects in the window of Villian

Maybe it was the winter blues, I was not having a good day  – the reality of art reviewing, sometimes the reviewer is having a bad day. Maybe it was re-reading Stewart Home’s The Assault on Culture on the train. Reading about utopian post-WWII art movements put a kind of political edge to my dissatisfaction with what I was seeing in the galleries.

What I saw was all very nice, even the street art, but it really didn’t motivate me to want to writing about it. What was there to say? It was just more of the same. Yes, sure I could throw a few hundred words together about Marco Cher-Gibard and Caleb Shea exhibition at the School of Art Gallery. Both RMIT alumni have this untitled show. Cher-Gibard’s quadraphonic electronic sounds matched by Shea’s equally formal and synthetic sculpture. I’m sure that Shea’s sculpture would look great, maybe in a larger scale, out the front of or in the lobby of a corporate office block to add style while saying nothing.

The work of the gold and silver smithing students at First Site was very attractive, especially the work of Naoko Inuzuka, the winner of the 2011 Maggie Fairweather Undergraduate Award. It is hard to expect that jewellery would be relevant to anything but fashion – so, maybe my random selection of exhibitions didn’t fit my mood.

None of the art addressed anything of any relevance to where we are right here right now or the big issues of life and because of this it would never amount to anything. Maybe that doesn’t matter for the jewellery, maybe it should just as much as the sculpture which were basically jewellery on an architectural scale.

I didn’t start this blog to write endless reviews about Melbourne exhibitions or to cheer at the latest piece by a fashionable street artist. This blog is not a celebration. I started this blog because there was a lack of critical discussion about Melbourne’s art and culture. I think that Melbourne’s culture is too complacent and comfortable. I want to shake up people and get them to think more about their culture rather than simply comment on the production of more of the same.


LMFF Culture Part 2 – or is it?

Wandered around the city on Saturday looking at elements in the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Culture Program. As I was near RMIT Gallery I went there and found textiles exhibitions that are not part of the LMFF Cultural Program. The LMFF Cultural Program is so large that you would think that every fashion/ textile / jewellery related exhibition in Melbourne would be in it but you would be wrong. Just as if you imagined that every good window display in Melbourne was part of the LMFF’s “Windows by Design” but more on that later.

“1st Tamworth Textile Triennial
- Sensorial Loop” at RMIT gallery is an impressive exhibition. Most impressive is the relationship that two of the pieces make of video and performance and textiles. Martha McDonald’s “The Weeping Dress” is seen in a video of a performance and in the washed out relic from the performances of a once black Victorian style mourning dress stained with a fugitive dye. (It was part of last year’s LMFF – see Vetti’s post about it.) Carly Scoufos’s “Panels from the Interlaced Manuscript” also has a video and some of the panels, part of a wall from a shed, containing two doors, onto which Scoufos has embroided with woollen thread and nails. Amongst the exhibition there are also two impressive works of post minimalist sculpture Tania Spencer’s wire donut, “Would you like some cake”, and Lucy Ivine’s black, groovy and curvy, “Continuos Interruptions” made from irrigation pipe and cable ties.

“Joyaviva: Live Jewellery from across the Pacific” and “Double Happiness: Portrait of a Chinese Wedding” were also at RMIT Gallery. “Joyaviva” captured something of the personal, magical and interconnecting aspects of jewellery with its pin board style of exhibiting. “Double Happiness” is a set of contemporary Chinese wedding fashion for the whole family.

Nicholas Bastin’s “The Sleepless Hero” at Craft Victoria is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Bastin’s funky mixed media jewellery is beautifully installed on diagrammatic depictions of partial figures. But Bastin’s jewellery is too “hyper-real”, too much in the realm of art for the magic of jewellery to be credible. Craft Victoria’s three exhibitions are typical of its avant-garde approach to craft; the other two are more contemporary art than craft.

The NGV at Federation Square has a fashion exhibition of the work of Australian designer, Linda Jackson that is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Jackson’s designs are from a very foolhardy era of Australian fashion – the 1980s. Some might be kinder and say that these are ‘brave and bold’ designs but the kind of bravado seen in Jackson’s 80s fashion lacked any good sense.

Detail of Zambesi's window

In the windows of Zambesi we saw one of the LMFF “Windows by Design” by Marcos Davidson. The windows are full of a variety of pillars of readymade objects carefully arranged and curated. Between these pillars you can just make out some mannequins in fluorescent clothes. Shop window displays are an interesting aspect of culture. Almost every time I go past Aesop I have to remind myself that I’m not passing a contemporary art gallery but an up-market cosmetics shop. The design is so elegant and minimalist. What is the difference between a shop window display, especially those in the windows of Aesop or Alphaville, and an art installation? I always think about Walter Benjamin wrote about shop windows. For more about Walter Benjamin and shop window displays see “Speculative Windows text” by m-a-u-s-e-r (Mona Mahall and Asli Serbest). http://www.m-a-u-s-e-r.net/?p=4


The Future @ RMIT

The New Year is a good time for thinking about the future. Reading stories like: “Ten 100-year predictions that came true” from BBC News Magazine and seeing RMIT Gallery “2112 Imagining the Future”, a diverse and engaging exhibition of art from local and international artists about the future. Will the future be utopic or a dystopic or some kind of combination, a strange, cool Japanese future where people wear costumes? Will it be the end of the world?

Hisaharu Motoda, Opera House, image courtesy of RMIT Gallery

In imagining the future there are still paintings – that probably wouldn’t have been predicted a century ago. Maybe the future never happened, maybe, as Sam Leach’s painting, “We Have Never Been Modern” (2011) suggests, we are still living in a mythic past. In the painting priest/scientists in their white coats unveil something that an eagle perches on.

Leach was not the only painter in the exhibition: Tony Lloyd and Darren Wardle’s landscapes. However, photographs, video art, sound art and sculptural installations dominated the media used for visions of the future. Using 3D stereoscopic technology NOW and WHEN “Australian Urbanism” shows amazing images of Australian cities and giant mines. (“Australian Urbanism” was featured in the Australian Pavilion at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia 2010). There was the constant hum of machines throughout the exhibition.

Kenji Yanobe’s “Atom Suit Project: Antenna of the Earth” (2001) is an impressive centrepiece for the exhibition. http://www.yanobe.com/aw/aw_atomsuit.html Surrounded by hundreds of miniature versions of the Atom Suit, some lighting up and going “ping” occasionally. (Could this have something to do with Geiger counter?) The figure in the Atom Suit with his ocular wand is between a scientist and shaman. On the back wall in a large photo, Kenji Yanobe is shown wearing the suit on a desolate saltpan, like a shaman in the land of the dead.

Around the corner Patricia Piccinini’s “Game Boys Advanced” lean against the wall absorbed in their game. They are well positioned near Keith Cottingham’s “Triplets”, 1993 and the colour palette of an imaginary seed bank by Lyndal Osborne. All works considering the genetic implications of the future.

Lyndal Osborne, 0 ab ovo, image courtesy of RMIT Gallery

Another stunning work is Ken + Julia Yonetani “Still Life – The Food Bowl”, 2011, cast from the pinkish salt of the Murray River. This dystopic vision of ‘the food bowl’ of Australia made of salt. It is a traditional European still life with a table, glasses, fruit bowl, cutlery, fish and crayfish all solid salt. On a similar environmental theme Debbie Symons digital video work “Arrivals/Departures” 2011. Positioned beautifully over the gallery door “Arrivals/Departures” uses the familiar transport screen to record introduced and endangered species.

Now that I consider it, these visions of the future are all very pessimistic, predicting an imminent environmental catastrophe. There is a great deal of pessimism in the visions. There are ruins in Hisaharu Motoda’s lithographs, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre photographs of destruction and Kirsten Johannsen’s bean sprouts had wilted under the lights. But it didn’t feel that way when I saw it; it felt fun, intriguing and engaging.


Civil Civilization

Imagine a lonely person who believes that they are the last person alive on earth walking through a modern city. The place could be anywhere in the world. The architecture is international modernism; glass walls and the Brutalist concrete constructions. The modern forms repeat endlessly down the empty streets. The city grid is all empty and quiet and perfectly undisturbed. It is a sterile environment where not even weeds grow.

The lonely person walks down empty streets desperately searching for signs of other life in the empty buildings. Then the person sees a fresh tag, spray-painted on a wall – a handmade sign. This in itself is a reason not to commit suicide. Then another tag – and following the trail of tags the lonely person comes to a huge painted sign. A clear indication of another living human, like Robinson Crusoe seeing Friday’s footprint on the beach.

The tag is an intentional human sign that says I exist.

Civil suggested this story in his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” that was part of the Space Invaders exhibition at RMIT (26/9/2011).

Civil’s early stencils really turned me on to street art. I always remember seeing his early stencils around Richmond but unfortunately I didn’t carry a digital camera in those days so I can’t show you any (I will always regret that). They were very political, a bowler hatted man in a suit with polite, civil slogans encouraging revolt. Then I saw his stick figures – I was slightly disappointed that he had changed style and I realized that I was already a fan. I was not that disappointed because the simple stick figures are like those simple figures of Keith Haring, or Henri Matisse in the Rosaire Chapel. They are perfect and beautiful figures in their pure simplicity. There is still a political message in these mass figures – they are a civil community. The community of figures interact in their individual ways, sitting talking with another figure, walking with their dog, riding their bicycle.

Some of these figures are done with stencils (as can be seen in this photo of Civil working at the first Croft Alley Project) but many are simply ‘throw-ups’ drawn freehand with a spray can. And when you see them you recognize that other humans exist.

Civil is a veteran of Melbourne’s street art scene with a particularly strong sense of community that came with that scene. A graduate of Monash University in Environmental Science rather than design or fine art, which, I think, gives his simple art a political focus. In other parts of his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” Civil spoke about the unresolved and still relevant protests of John Howard era against the Iraq war and World Economic Forum 2001. The disproportionate anger towards graffiti compared to the ugly aspects of urban development. And reclaiming public space from advertising; Civil pointed out that Sao Paulo, another city notable for its street art, has banned outdoor advertising.

Here are some more signs of civilization.


Vandals or Vanguards?

Who decides what the future will look like is always a political issue. Will it big business, big government or a network of creative individuals on the street?

As part of the “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT gallery there was a street art seminar, moderated by Jaklyn Babington, Assistant Curator of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books at the NGA (National Gallery of Australia). It was a panel discussion featuring Luke Sinclair from the Sticky Institute and artists: Nails, Civil and Jumbo.

The discussion looked both back at the exhibition and forward to the future of street art. And from this naturally lead onto the politics of the street and the politics of underground art. All of the speakers emphasised the importance of networking to the scene. Most importantly there is the power of networking through the internet but there is also the networks of collaborating street artists and the networks of zine distributions.

Some hardcore street artists and others might wonder at the inclusion of zines in the exhibition and Luke Sinclair from Sticky Institute on the panel. The NGA sees their collection of “street art as a paper based, alternative print making and drawing”, curator, Jaklyn Babington explained. And zines, like street art, are definitely an alternative tradition in print making and drawing. Zines are part of the same d.i.y. culture as street art. They are an urban sculptural object, a handmade art version of the common magazine that you pick up and hold in your hands.

The exhibition is a retrospective of look at the NGA’s street art collection and any examination of the history will naturally lead on to politics. Civil looked back at the exhibition as street art from the Howard-era when there were mass protests against the Iraq war and the World Economic Forum. Looking back Sydney artist, Jumbo spoke about how he began experimenting on the street beyond the formula of aerosol graffiti. Nails was interested in the legitimisation of street art through the communication between street and art gallery. And the concern expressed by some parts of street art community that something was being taken away through the legitimisation. Luke Sinclair also talked about the politics of underground work, the responses from both the mainstream and the underground to being exhibited or included in a zine book, as in the case of Fanzine, by Thames and Hudson. (For more information than anyone could want about this controversy see the website.)

Civil spoke about the politics of street art as the “broad conversation off different voices” on the streets, of “the handmade gesture in the city”, “markers” and “memorials” in the street. The title of the seminar, “Vandals or Vanguards?” contrasts the ‘vandals’, the way that street artists are portrayed in the mass media, or the ‘vanguard’, the leading front line position. Nails said that the vanguard is frustrated with how slow the mainstream responds, that he has become middle-aged waiting for it to catch up. But like the other speakers Nails is hopeful about the future of street art, comparing it to the punk scene “that died and then became even more interesting.”

Civil, "Freedom" 2010


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