“Happy Summer Tank” by Diego Ramirez is a great little exhibition about cosplay and issues of dressing-up in trans gender and race characters. These are a serious issues; culturally there are off-limits in dressing up as a different gender or race. It leads to another issue: are the culturally acceptable trans gender and race issues different for Australia or the USA or Japan? Does a country’s history change what is culturally acceptable? These issues could be heavy and confronting but they are not in this exhibition because the cosplay is so beautiful and fun.
The cosplay is excellent; the costumes were perfect. The cosplayers who are interviewed are shown as be intelligent, thoughtful people who take the issues seriously and who love dressing up.
Ramirez has paid attention to detail in the installation of his videos at Blindside. This is something that initially attracted me to his work when I saw his video installation Radish at Seventh Gallery in August last year. The walls at Blindside match with the backgrounds of two of the videos and there was a long table of mock ups of tangible/virtual products, reimagined with the cosplayers. I can make sense of the mixing of Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed in the games packaging on the table but what was the pile of dirt about?
The other exhibition at Blindside, “FAB(ricated) LYF” by Emma Collard, Cherie Peele and Natalie Turnbull didn’t work for me. I could see what they were trying to do mediating between art and life – maybe I was put off by their Gen-Y optimistic solutions, maybe I was the wrong gender.
It was the first time that I had used to new lift in the Nicholas Building. I miss the old lift operators and their decorated lifts but the new lift is a lot faster at reaching the seventh floor where Blindside is located. It is always enjoyable to be inside the Nicholas Building with all its faded gold rush marvellous Melbourne optimism. Outside on the back of the building the gold leaf that Bianca Faye and Tim Spicer applied in 2008 as part of the Laneways Commissions Welcome to Cocker Alley… continues to cling to the external pipes.
Riding around Brunswick enjoying the sunshine and looking for interesting things to write about I couldn’t go past the Brunswick Pop Up Gallery. Especially after I looked in the window and saw a giant pink dust mite and some other puppets.
Felipe Reynolds, Dust Mite
The curator, Joe Blanck was gallery sitting at the time. Joe told me about the dark exhibition opening where they had covered up the windows and visitors were given lanterns like the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1938. Joe is evidently a fan of Surrealism with a Dalian soft watch tattooed on his wrist. In the darkness of the opening he had moved his puppets around the crowd.
There are 18 artists exhibiting in this exhibition and there is a lot of humor in the dark exhibition theme, like the puppet “Spanky, the manic teddy”. Some of the exhibition is in the realm of fantastic art; sculptures by Richard Mueck, brother of Ron Mueck, the paintings by Beau White and Isabel Peppard’s “Pupa” sculpture.
Chip Wardale’s “ installation “7 music videos, 7 questions and self-reflections” was effective and lived up to its title. The outside of the installation didn’t contribute but it didn’t really matter once inside. Watching industrial music videos inside a mirrored cube was like being in your own small private world.
Recently when discussing the architectural work of late 19th and 20th century sculptors I was asked if there were the same amount of work for sculptors today. Classical inspired architecture requires bas-relief and other sculptural ornaments. The Corinthian columns with their stylised Acanthus leaves on their ornate capitals all had to be designed and carved. Now with modern architecture eschewing ornamentation, where had all the work for sculptors gone? The Darkness Within provides ample clues to answer that question, there has been a growth of scenic artists for movies, theatre and advertising. Joe Blanck, for example, works at Creature Technology Company, the company behind recent arena spectaculars like Walking With Dinosaurs and How To Train Your Dragon.
(Brunswick Pop Up Gallery, it’s sort of, new Brunswick Pop Up Gallery on Albert Street, I’m sure I’ve seen exhibitions there over the years under different names. As if there weren’t enough galleries with “Brunswick” in their name in Melbourne….)
“The Elaboratorium” by the Scale Free Network at the Counihan Gallery is an exhibition that attempts to unite art and science. To the puzzlement of many a science student, atheists and cultural commentators we don’t see enough art about science. (Except in the areas of scientific imaging – scientific imaging has become so much better and is producing amazing and beautiful images. There was a very brief time in the 19th century when painters were the best people to recreate ancient temples or prehistoric animals but now we don’t have to recreate the images, so where does this leave the artists?) The problem with art and science collaborations is that it often produces sterile mules; a fertile collaboration that will generate the next generation of artistic and scientific collaboration is difficult to produce.
The Scale Free Network (SFN) is a collaborative group of artists and scientists (a “scale free network” is a scientific way of say social network). “Combining the interdisciplinary skills of artist Briony Barr, microbiologist Dr Gregory Crocetti and art teacher Jacqueline Smith, SFN works with creative combinations of science and art to design participatory experiences for children and adults.” The strength and weakness of the exhibition is really aimed at all ages. I’d seen that kind of thing before as a child; as the son of a zoologist I went to see many science exhibitions and it did leave me with a strong impression about the quality of work in these exhibitions.
“The Elaboratorium” takes its name from a 17th century term to describe where chemical substances were made and ‘elaborated’ upon. The best parts of the exhibition are the digital projections they are impressive compared to the average art gallery video installation. Digital projections of water-life recorded at 100 -400x magnification along with the shadows cast by the lab equipment and the “suspended circles” of rotating drum skins. Accompanied with classical music looked like a theatrical version of science.
Some of the works like the “Particle Chamber”, a vitrine with polystyrene balls and a fan, failed to show anything exciting; you get that with science experiments – there is the real possibility of failure.
The viewing station parts of the exhibition are interactive but I can’t imagine that many people, except for children, who haven’t seen such images before. In keeping with the gallery setting there are samples of gallery dust and Ben Sheppard’s drawings from the exhibition in the next gallery space. There are other local elements to examine under the stereo-microscopes – I spent some time looking at the micro-cosmos of some local moss.
On Thursday morning on the 7th floor of the Nicolas Building a small group of high school kids were waiting outside Blindside for the gallery to be opened. When the gallery attendant arrived about 10 minutes late and unlocked the door the school kids then lined up in the gallery along the path taped on the floor marked “End Zone”. They waited for the video and sound to be turned on and then took one look at Blaine Cooper’s installation “End Zone (Always do the Bad Thang)” and then left.
I was also waiting and watching the jeweler at work, a floor down across the light well at the Nicholas Building. I was hoping to the school kids would engage with the installation; jogging on the treadmill or playing the guitar as Blaine Cooper suggested in his notes on the exhibition. But the video montage of movie explosions and the rock music were not that inspiring or motivating rather they are too familiar and mundane. And neither the Marshal amp nor the treadmill had been turned on yet.
The gallery attendant told me that later that day at the exhibition opening Blaine Cooper would be running on the treadmill with guitarist, Nicholas Lam of The Vaudeville Smash, cranking up the amp.
I don’t know if I want to put that much effort into making some piece of contemporary art work and this not an isolated incident. Too much contemporary art is like a lame performance where audience participation is a demand rather than an option. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, not that the demand for participation encourages me to feel generous in my mood. Demanding that an audience participate is a sure way to annoy those who are feeling uncommitted and undecided. An audience may be willing to participate when the artist has already won the audience’s interest, sympathy, respect…
I’m bored now – I’m leaving.
I could get cosmic about the Gladwell’s art and write about the spinning fat god that is the turning universe. I could art historical and refer to Gladwell’s references to Turner and Caspar David Friedrich. Or examine his cinematic references to Mad Max and Ozploitation films. Instead, due to my interest in street art, I saw something else in Gladwell’s art a kind of physical graffiti.
Shaun Gladwell is most famous for his video “Storm Sequence” (2000) (it is not in the ACMI exhibition) but how did he come to this? I vaguely remember some of his early paintings. Joanna Mendelssohn reviewing Shaun Gladwell’s exhibition at Sherman Galleries in Sydney has clearer memories of these paintings. Mendelssohn notes that Gladwell started painting giant copies of Penguin paperback classics. (Artlink Vol 23 no.3 2003) There is nothing of this early phase in Gladwell’s art in the ACMI exhibition. There are still a couple of minor works on paper scattered through out ACMI’s exhibition but they are largely incidental. One drawing, “Untitled” (2011) does provide a key to Gladwell’s art showing a diagram of train surfing yoga positions.
When Gladwell stopped focusing on painting and drawing and turned to video he was able to better integrate his art and his own life. Videos of Gladwell’s street movement; skateboard riding in “Storm Sequence” or hanging from the handrails of a Sydney train in “Tangara” (2003) became the foundation for his video art. Using BMX riders, break dancers, graffiti artists, skateboarders, pole dancers for his videos – this is physical graffiti.
Contemporary movement defines space in a creative, interactive way: what can be done with this space, what orders can be found, explored, used and created. Movement and perspective are not determined by the space but by the person using the space. This is body art as an urban intervention, captured in the locations and the momentum in Gladwell’s videos. In his photographs of the rollerblading police at the Louvre Gladwell is documenting changes in contemporary movement. “Planet & Stars Sequence: Bondi” (2011) looks at the movements of an aerosol art busker routine.
“Shaun Gladwell: Stereo Sequences” in the large Gallery 1 space at ACMI is the first in what ACMI promises to be a series of commissioned new works by ”leading Australian and international contemporary artists.” The horizontal tracking and the walk through “Parallel Forces” (2011) curiously reminded me that the long Gallery 1, deep under ACMI, was once a platforms at Flinders Street Station. It is an engaging exhibition and I hope that has an influence on Melbourne’s street art scene.
I saw exhibitions in the various galleries at RMIT in May.
Sharon West, who also has work in the exhibition, curates “Girt by Sea” at RMIT School of Art Gallery. (See my reviews of Sharon West’s earlier exhibitions – just enter her name in the search box on the top of the right column). “Girt by Sea” is in observation of Reconciliation Week 2011 and combines the art of indigenous and non-indigenous artists. Maritime themes are not usual for Australian contemporary or indigenous art even though Australia is surrounded by oceans. The most popular work of the exhibition is Kirsten Lyttle’s “Kuki”, the three Hawaiian shirts with images of a dead Captain Cook. They are cool, self-referential (as Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii) and graphically appealing. The variety of art, from Simon Rose’s video work to the folk art paintings of Aunty Gewen Garoni and Aunty Frances Gallagher, in the exhibition is fun and engaging.
First Site had 3 photography-based exhibitions looking at the human subject: subjectively, objectively and “transpersonally”. The 3 photographers were working in different directions looking at the body or thinking about the self as a subject with memories as in Stephanie Peters “I Know You’re Stalking Me”. This installation using video, photographs and online interactions deals with idea of identity, truth is distorted and rearranged, who are you dealing with – I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Kawita Vatanajyankur takes an external view of bodies as beautiful objects, combining still and video photography, water or sand and the body. In Luciana Vasques “Transpersonal Photography” personal exploration finds new meaning in the interaction between people, objects and photography. Vasques makes excellent use of the space in First Site, a cluster of peep viewers attached to ribbons flutter in front of the air vent and a convex mirror. None of these photography exhibitions are great but they are not bad, there are some good parts and there is nothing wrong with the directions that these photographers are exploring.
Things were not working for me at RMIT Gallery. In Chelle Macnaughtan “Spatial Listening” I tried to listening to “Listening through Stillness” 2011 but my black Dunlop Volleys made no sound on the etched aluminum plates – there was some irritating electric whine going on somewhere in the gallery. I twice became trapped in dead end parts of Ainslie Murray’s “Intangible Architecture”. I didn’t have any problems with Malte Wagenfeld’s “Aesthetics of Air” even though there were warning signs about the lazars. Aside from the warning signs the “Aesthetics of Air” was like a disco without the music or the mirror ball but with the smoke machines and lazars. The aesthetics of air is lightweight.
The exhibition was so good that I had to turn around and go back into the gallery and look at it again. I don’t write this blog to gush about exhibitions but I feel compelled to write that this was the best exhibition that I’ve seen all year. I went back to Anna Schwartz Gallery the next day and saw it again. It is that good.
Why is it so fantastic? It has the charming aesthetics of bricolage combined with slightly banal illusions to a glamorous jet-setting life. Ian Burns combines video installation, sculptural assemblage and kinetic art. It moves. There is sound. It is a whole lot of fun. There are illusions and the magic behind the illusions is revealed. The three dimensional nature of these sculptural assemblages provides different information as you walk around them. On one side you see the video monitor with them image and on the other side you can see the image being created.
The way that they image is created is such a disappointment and so exciting at the same time. It is disappointing to realize that the images have been made so cheaply and exciting to see the effective ingenuity of how it was done. Simple camera and theatrical special effects have been employed.
The video illusions that Burns creates are comments on the superficial illusions of everyday life. Watching the sunset on a beach of golden sand while the waves gently roll in might look like paradise but the image is created from tiny video camera placed amongst a length of clear PVC pipe, a lightbulb and a mannequin holding a boogie-board posed like Botticelli Venus. Burns art asks if the image lives up to the bricolage of electronics, furniture, toys and other objects used to create it.
Burns combines his academic degrees in engineering and art. His use of materials is paradoxically both elegant in the solution and inelegant in the odd collection of ordinary household materials that his assemblages are made from.
Out of all Marcel Duchamp’s art that has been repeated and regurgitated by contemporary art, his very last posthumous work, has been not often been emulated. “Given: 1) the waterfall and 2) the illuminating gas” is a curious work. People hardly knew what to make of it, a diorama scene with a few illusions (the curators are surprised that the primitive motor driving the waterfall mechanism still works). To Duchamp’s “Given: 1) the waterfall and 2) the illuminating gas” Ian Burns adds “And then…”