Australian Art Terrorists

A few Australian groups have acted or threatened to take action outside of the law to achieve artistic and cultural objectives. Most are right-wing conservatives — so much for the so-called ‘cancel culture’ of the left.

A.C.T. target Picasso’s Weeping Woman

In 2003 the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places threatened to destroy a number of pieces of public art. That the “spokesman, Dave Jarvoo, told The Australian newspaper” about the threat speaks to the conservative taste of this so-called Revolutionary Council. The fact is that they were all talk and no action, and the spuriously named, Dave Jarvoo appears to be the only member of this organisation. 

Their targets were modern sculptures Fairfield Industrial Dog Object and in Sydney; Ken Unsworth’s Stones Against the Sky ‘poo sticks’ in Kings Cross and Brett Whiteley’s Almost Once giant matches behind the Art Gallery of NSW. David Fickling for The Guardian came up with several more deserving targets in Sydney (see his article), and I could do the same for Melbourne (perhaps in another post). (Thanks to Vetti Live in Northcote for drawing my attention to the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places.)

The Australian Cultural Terrorists (aka A.C.T.) stole Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV, held it to ransom and then returned it undamaged. They seem to have twice as many members as Dave Jarvoo’s Revolutionary Council; at least one man and, maybe, one woman. They were more successful than the Revolutionary Council but, perhaps, no more radical given their demands for more art prizes for local artists. They had no follow up aside from stories that the following year they also wrote some  libellous letters about people in Australia’s art world. The A.C.T. wrote lots of jeering, satirical letters, several of them attacking state Arts Minister, Race Mathews.

To this list, we could add the Catholic Church for their attack on Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in the NGV. Graffiti writers, like Pork, that cap and tag as a form of conquest and censorship. And BUGA-UP, graffiti to stop tobacco advertising, vigilantes with a specific type of art, selling a particular message in mind, not exactly the artistic kind but still ‘art’ in the advertising copy sense.

Revolutionary Council target Fairfield Industrial Dog Object


Rendall’s Plastic Things

The last time that I saw Steven Rendall’s art was at John Buckley Gallery; I wrote a blog post about it over a decade ago. It included two large paintings about things on shelves. This time I’m looking at his Things Between Other Things on window frames of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The exhibition is “The Space We Live, the Air We Breathe”, curated by Jan Duffy and Matthew Perkins. And Rendall is still making art about things.

Things Between Other Things is a collection and a reference to filling in time with this project. For time makes an appearance amongst the materials listed: “scavenged plastic, time, polymer emulsion, glue, screws and various other things”. A metaphor for life, sandwiched between things, waiting for the next thing.

As Rendall’s artist statement iterates. “These are the things between other things. They are sculptures in the domestic filed. They find their place between other moments and actions, between breakfast and going to work. They are easy to store and transport.They are endless and can be made of anything. They are a subsets with the overall scheme – some are more like fantasy gaming figures; some are more like modernist found object assemblages; some are made from a unified colour range; some are painted; some aren’t; some are inspired by practical special events; some can relate to art historical references. They exist.”

Rendall’s things are evenly spaced along the gallery’s window frames. This means that they can be seen from both inside and from the outside on Sydney Road. I wonder what the people waiting for a tram will make of these beautiful and frightening Anthropocene mash-ups. Cthulhuloid monsters with scuttling claws glued together with other broken toys. The true horror is the materials sourced from the infinite amount of plastic in our time. It gets everywhere, from the depths of the oceans to placental fluid.

Many creative people are trying to use what they can of this pollution, recycling, or just up-cycling. For art is about using up the surplus materials, as well as, time. Lego Lost At Sea (@LegoLostAtSea) documents and creates photographs of carefully laid out collections of plastic found on the beach. For more plastic recycling see my post on local jewellers.

The other two exhibitions at the Counihan, Jessie Boylan’s “The Smallest Measure” and Mikaela Stafford “Proximity”, are presented in association with CLIMARTE: “Arts for a safe climate”. Boylan is about air and measuring gases in the atmosphere. And Stafford has a strange beauty, both digital and biological. However, Rendall’s Things Between Other Things really made me think about the environment, the space we live, and the air we breathe.

My view of parts of Mikaela Strafford “Proximity”

Create Dangerously

Trying to walk down unfamiliar streets and lanes rather than using the same path. This post might be just an excuse to show a few photographs. On the other hand, I’m reading Albert Camus Create Dangerously and thinking about anarchy.

I was in Brunswick when I met a person involved in Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. They mentioned how few signs of any radical politics they were seeing on the street. I differed as I had just seen a set of recent anarchist paste-ups, only a couple of blocks north.

Drafted a blog post about anarchist posters but delayed because, as a bit of research on the images showed, they were not created locally. However, I admire their dedication to distribution, along with the neat and often colour co-ordinated placement.

That draft was then rewritten when a friend started posting images of some of the same anarchist posters in Reservoir. So my potted history of anarchists activity in Brunswick that noted Barricade Books and the annual Anarchist Book Fair at the Brunswick Town Hall was irrelevant.

Are these analogue agitprop paste-ups a Luddite throw-back? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work online than on the streets? Being on the street is different from an online armchair activist as it occupies, uses, and appropriates actual space and not virtually nothing. Being on the street is propaganda by deed, a fact testified by every protest march, by those occupying the street, by every political slogan written on a wall…

Create Dangerously is a speech that Camus gave in 1957, a few days after receiving the Noble Prize in Literature. In it, he examines the tension between popularism and formalism or art for art’s sake. In Melbourne, there is Lush, who will paint anything that will generate the most likes, and the graffiti writers, who are only painting for themselves and their mates. Camus provokes and challenges artists to find another way to engage with the world.


Fairfield Industrial Dog Object

Banks, bakeries, hairdressers and dry cleaners are the basic requirements of local shopping. Where once there were newsagents, milk bars and tobacconists, there are now yoga studios and cafés. There are almost identical pockets of shops around train stations across Melbourne. More or less, indistinguishable roads, intersections and train stations except for Fairfield that has FIDO.

The city council had tried to bring art to the area to make the intersection less anonymous. The City of Darebin was formed in 1994. In 1994 they installed four mosaics by a young Simon Normand. Normand went on to do more public art in Victoria and Northern Territory. The mosaics have local references to the rail crossing. Mosaics were once fashionable for public art in Melbourne, the whole town was covered in tiles; from pubs to butcher shops. (See my blog post Time and Tiles) But you can’t see the pavement from the train. Something larger was required.

The Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO) by Ian Sinclair, Jackie Staude, David Davies and Alistair Knox is a big dog. It is large enough that a man can walk under it without ducking. And only 29 cm shorter than the 579 cm golden statue of the ruler of Turkmenistan’s favourite dog, so not the biggest dog sculpture in the world.

Made of recycled hardwood, painted brown and standing beside the railway at the Fairfield Station. A geometric industrial mongrel, there is a bit of Mambo and Keith Haring’s dogs in it. It is somewhere between another ludic sculpture for public amusement, like Larry La Trobe, and, as the acronym suggests, Emily Floyd’s self-descriptive Signature Piece (Rabbit).

There was the usual controversy about the sculpture when it was first proposed in 1999. People who believe that local government should only be about road and rubbish collection objected to money being spent on anything else. Like Cassandra, their predictions of doom were ignored; unlike Cassandra, they were wrong.

The dog is not a Trojan Horse with a couple of Greek heroes hiding in its hollow torso. The metal access hatch in the belly is cut with stars and, the other metalwork on the dog is by Jackie Staude. It provides access to the machinery that operated the dogs interactive functions. The interactive parts stopped in 2006 but FIDO continues to serve as a minor landmark for the suburb.


Edgelords of Art

‘Edgelord’ is a mock honorific of penultimate edginess, typically given to a Nazi fanboy on Reddit, 4chan, or Tumblr. For more about Edgelords, see this definition. Another thing that screams Edgelord is owning a subterranean art gallery full of art with dark, controversial and morbid themes. Unlike buying a black trench coat, few people can afford to do this — one person who can is David Walsh.

The gambler from Tasmania who collects edgy art is a clear example of an Edgelord. Even though he doesn’t, as far as I know, have an online presence on Reddit or 4chan. Art and antiquities with themes of death are the domain of the Edgelord. I have long had my reservations about MONA (Museum of Old and New Art); see my blog post for my initial impressions.

What drew attention to this was the controversy over the now cancelled Union Flag by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. It was to be part of the Dark Mofo festival at MONA. Asking Indigenous people to donate their blood so that a flag can be soaked in it to serve as a festival attraction might have raised some warning flags but didn’t because Dark Mofo was focused on being edgy. More than enough Indigenous blood has already been spilt. So, no one should be surprised that some Indigenous people are calling for MONA’s Edgelord and his crew to have cultural sensitivity training. See ABC news report on the subject.

Blood and flag are conservative symbols; by creating controversies, Edgelords foster conservatism because it emphasises their edgy qualities. After all, what makes things edgy is the strictures that define their perimeter.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge how close I am to being an Edgelord. The name Black Mark does suggest that, as does my habit of dressing in black and painting neo-Baroque still life. And having explored this territory, I can point out differences in its geography.

Consider the stratigraphy defining Dada and Surrealism. Both are nihilistic, utopian and progressive. Yet, there is a marked increase of sexism and homophobia in the Surrealist layer almost absent in Dada. Surrealism is advertising’s wet dream; it is so commercial and exploitable. The corresponding increase of Edgelords in Surrealism exposes one cause of this increase.

Not all controversies or nihilists are edgy; Dada’s nihilism comes with a smile, a laugh, and liberation. It celebrated and enjoyed the random, meaningless nature of the world. For if all things mean nothing to you, then you are free to enjoy the world.

This world does not need more Edgelords; it requires fewer Batmen, lone wolves, and brooding übermensch hanging around in the dark hoarsely whispering edgy things. It does not need another treasure horde of antiquities and high priced art. What the art world needs instead is to show others the possibilities in this world.


COVID-19, street art and graffiti

Melbourne street art and graffiti riffs on topical themes, and, currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most topical. And there has been a mix of politics and personal responses in street art and graffiti.

This is not a collection trawled from the internet, to attract page views without knowledge or information on the background, but a limited selection that I have gathered on my walks in Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg. Some of these images have appeared in previous blog posts, but there is also some new work. Cell Out paste-up in Hosier Lane refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine’s problems.

In a surprising practical move, the City of Melbourne stuck social distancing markers in Hosier Lane. It is one of Melbourne’s tourist hotspot, but without international tourists, there are now far fewer people in the lane.

I saw a couple of visual references to the virus combined with other images. The grenade is obviously explosive. The tennis ball is a reference to the 2021 Australian Open spreading the virus, remembering that the state government favoured sporting events over culture consistently during Melbourne’s several lockdowns.

Stickers were the most political media on the street during the pandemic. They focused on state politics. Although State Premier Daniel Andrews gained many fanatical supporters during the pandemic, he was also hated by others. (I have the opposite view to Daniel Andrews on many things. He supports the police and cutting down trees, whereas I support cutting down the police and not trees.)

Given Victoria Police’s history of racism and connection to extreme right-wing politics, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, I was surprised that I didn’t see more graffiti and street art about the use of police to enforce the lockdown.

Other pieces were more personal and representing the change of image from wearing masks. Given that graf writers tend to mask up anyway it wasn’t much of a change.


Unmissable

It is Unmissable, a giant bronze face of a man. The centre of the face is bright as if spot lite. He is looking out from the side of Readings Books on Lygon Street in Carlton. Who is it? Why is it there?

Pimpisa Tinpalit, Unmissable (Attila Bogat)

On the wall beneath the face, a plaque provides an explanation.

“Attila Bogat has been missing since 2014 and has been made Unmissable by artist Pimpisa Tinpalit. Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) launched The Unmissables to reignite the search. By going beyond the vital statistics – capturing the essence and telling the unfinished stories of our missing loved ones.”

The sculptor, Pimpisa Tinpalit, is the director of BlackCat Gallery in Collingwood. The Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) launched a campaign three years ago to use public art to draw attention to missing people. This is not the only piece that they have commissioned; Heesco has painted a mural for them. But it is the only one that I’ve photographed and looked closely at.

Have you seen this man? Some statues commemorate recognisable famous people, others attempt to make a person more recognisable, but this is a statue about looking for someone who is missing. Instead of celebrating, glorifying, and deifying, this is a public sculpture about searching. It is a bit of a change from the usual missing person advert. It is a more present, practical, and ominously more, permanent.

And I know that in the course of researching this blog post, I’m going to see the statistics for missing persons. But like Unmissable, do those numbers capture the essence and tell the unfinished stories of missing people like Attila Bogat? Can we really comprehend the idea of so many families and friends?

Attila Bogat is still missing.


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