Adrian Mauriks 1942 – 2020

Even if his name is not, Adrian Mauriks’s public sculptures will be familiar to many Australians. As they are in every major Australian cities — in Melbourne, there are sculptures in the Docklands, in Laverton, and Richmond.

From multimedia installations to spiky, monumental forms and then curving smooth white biomorphic creations; Mauriks was a prolific artist who kept on developing his art rather than reproducing the more of the same kind of works.

Influenced by Arp Mauriks’s white curving sculptures with their organic forms were surrealist without being pretentious, for this was not surrealism of hyperreal dreams but the poetic totems. Landscapes of surreal white gardens with gateways and organic growths. Maurik’s Silence, 2001, commissioned by MAB Corp for Docklands, New Quay precinct, Melbourne is part of this later body of work.

A teenage Adrian Mauriks arrived in Australia in 1957 from Holland. He went on to get undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the Victorian College of the Arts. Through his teaching at various tertiary institutes, including the University of Melbourne and Ballarat University he influenced many young artists. But it will be his many sculptures that will be his longest lasting legacy, a legacy that is not for an exclusive few but everyone, for people like me have never met him, but who enjoy his art.

Adrian Mauriks “Opus 15”, 1995, steel

Guy Debord is Really Dead

Guy Debord is Really Dead by Luther Blissett (Sabotage; pamphlet edition, London 1995)

Guy Debord is dead but is he really dead? Guy Debord is considered by many to be the philosopher who articulated avant-garde art, the post-modern equivalent to what Andre Breton was to Surrealism, providing the intellectual framework for both punk and the May 1968 revolts in France.

Twenty-five years after it was published, I found the pamphlet by Luther Blissett on my bookshelf a few books along from Debord’s tract, Society of the Spectacle. A pencil mark on the cover indicates that at the time I paid $3 for it.

Is this a case of zombie situationism where dialectics demands an anti-thesis to progress? Or is this an elegy for the Bore (Debord) written shortly after his death? And what does this critique of the Debord and Situationist International mean today on the internet?

Goodreads has 21 ratings for the forty-page pamphlet averaging out at 3.86 stars. It also has one review that is a link to a WordPress blog that reproduces the entire text (the complete text is available online at multiple locations). Goodreads correctly identifies (if ‘identifies’ is the right word to use in the situation) Luther Blissett as a “multiple name”.

This open identity is more than just a pseudonym or a disguise, for multiple identities are essential to Blissett’s argument. For he, whoever he is, is critiquing the spectacle of Debord, which he calls “the Bore”, rather than the French guy who was alive between the 28 December 1931 and 30 November 1994. It condemns the Bore for becoming a conservative spectacle that denies meaning to any action. Reporting in pointless detail arguments against any dogmatic approach to situationism. The obvious problematic contradiction is that if Blissett’s argument is correct, then his text is as dead as the Bore.

Amazon’s customer reviews rate it as one star and offers it for sale at a ridiculous price. It has two “customer ratings”. One describes it as a “mean-spirited tirade” and the other “one of the worst literature on the subject”. I don’t think that either of the reviewers got the joke, prank, and punk iconoclasm.

In his introduction Stewart Home describes Guy Debord is Really Dead as “a ludic excursion” and notes the relationship between the Lettrists and the Parisian hash trade. And although it would be incorrect to summarise, Guy Debord is Really Dead as a studied parody of political history, Marxist orthodoxy and disunity, it could easily be read as one.

“Guy Debord Is Really Dead” is also a CD single by The Playwrights (Sink & Stove, release date: 2004-11-01). It has not been rated and is free to listen to on eMusic.

Stewart Home rated Blissett’s pamphlet five stars on Goodreads. (Home doesn’t list it on his three pages of books, so I am assuming that he didn’t write it, but I could be wrong.) 


Walls in Brunswick & Coburg

Desperate to see some new art, I have searched the laneways of Brunswick and Coburg for graffiti. These northern inner-city Melbourne suburbs are old enough to have a network of granite paved laneways that make for excellent and discreet locations for painting.

I have this paint-spotting addiction that can’t be satisfied by seeing photos on the internet. I want to do two contradictory things: to get up close to the wall to see the technique and to look around at the whole location.

Often very suburban locations: the sides of garages, parks and garden walls. For, although there still are factories and warehouse in Brunswick and Coburg, they are being demolished to be replaced by high-density housing. I hoped to be able to see more graffiti revealed by demolition. However, I couldn’t many places where I could photograph anything.

There are some fantastic pieces of wildstyle graffiti overflowing with style and energy. A few old-school pieces along with bombs and tags. Love the bomb from Nong, a tag with a nod to old Australian slang for ‘stupid’.

I was intrigued by this wall in suburban Coburg that had a mix of techniques and styles. There was everything from old-school bubble letters to experiments that mix street art techniques, like stencil with aerosol graffiti. It made me think of the new possibilities.


Social Hieroglyphics

WTF in 24-carat gold leaf on a marble tombstone sits on an artificial lawn in front of a wallpaper sky. Local artist, Daniel Worth’s small exhibition, Social Hieroglyphics, ticks so many boxes: contemporary yet reflecting on the ancient history of sculpture, complete with interactive, site-specific, performance elements and a sense of humour.

Daniel Worth, WTF

Carving hieroglyphics has been done since the ancient Egyptians, but Worth has updated them carving the emojis and abbreviations that we regularly use today into stone. This isn’t a cheap stunt of contemporary references there is depth to these works. The ancient Egyptian were communicating information by carving hieroglyphics, whereas Worth is quoting; removing the poo emoji from its original context. The difference between an ancient Egyptian carving hieroglyphics and what Worth is doing is art. That short word; ‘art’ is a significant difference, referring to millennia of history while finding new and contemporary expression.

Worth clearly enjoys the beautiful and luxurious materials that he is using. Yet, 90% of the stone in the exhibition has been found or reclaimed. Some of the stone came from stonemason’s off-cut bins and from an 1840s drainage system at York’s first railway station. Only the Carrara marble for the big Stone Phone, the centre-piece of the exhibition, was bought.

Daniel Worth, Stone Phone

I asked Worth about the ethics of sourcing stone. “I feel it important to use stone that is being discarded because it gives it a second life, it also works with my frugal and resourceful nature. Sometimes that chance encounter with a found stone mixes with an idea that transforms it into something new.”

Some of his carvings only exist in a stone rubbing in crayon and 24-carat gold leaf on paper as the carved stones have been installed in undisclosed locations. One a small brick of marble found along Thames foreshore was carved with LOL, and the Worth threw it back into the river. If future mudlarks along the Thames resemble the present ones, they will research these letters and laugh.

There is an interactive aspect to the rubbing carvings. Wax crayons allow visitors to make their own laughing tears emoji rubbing from one of Worth’s carved stones. Visitors are encouraged to use the back-half of the room-sheet to add a rubbing. So you get your own souvenir piece to take home from the exhibition.

Daniel Worth, stone rubbing table

There is so much potential in this solid exhibition. Worth’s art is infinitely scalable; scalable is what every internet business is looking for. Worth could do more with the ideas in this exhibition, more art, exhibitions, even giant works of public art.

This was the first exhibition that I have seen since the COVID-19 lockdown. I had to make an appointment to see it at Noir Darkroom Gallery, and when I did, I was the only visitor to the shopfront gallery on Moreland Road.


Stendhal Syndrome

My head was spinning, my heart was pounding. I was worried about hitting the stone pavers on the gallery floor if I fainted. I took a deep breath and walked slowly and carefully to the next one of the large paintings. It was my first experience with Stendhal Syndrome, but it would not be my last.

It was disorientating and confusing, but there is also the attraction of the art to consider. In this way, it was different from the pain of a panic attack where there is a powerful motivation to escape the experience.

It was in 1994 sometime between 9 September to the 3 October, and the exhibition was James Gleeson, Paintings from the Past Decade at the National Gallery of Victoria. I hadn’t planned to see it and had just wandered in. The sudden shock of this powerful aesthetic experience caused a physiological reaction.

Gleeson’s paintings had subtle references to the history of art, and I was aware that there was something that I couldn’t  place. It was like the moment just before you get a joke or recognise a face but extended into minutes.

I had no idea what was happening. Thankfully, it did not last long and was over after an hour. I would go on to have experience Stendhal Syndrome on a few other times and read other first-hand accounts of it.

Although Stendhal wrote about his experiences in 1817. Stendhal Syndrome only made medical literature when Italian psychiatrist, Graziella Magherini wrote about it in 1989. It is also referred to as Florence Syndrome and “hyperkulturemia”. Alternately it could be diagnosed as mild ecstatic epilepsy.

It wasn’t long before it made popular culture. Wm Burroughs wrote, “My ambition is to evoke Stendhal Syndrome!” He wanted to have people carried out of his art exhibition on stretchers (Painting and Guns, 1992). Later Cerise Howard showed me the 1996 Italian film Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal) by Dario Argento.

Music and dance performances have provoked powerful effects on me. These have been extremely cerebral, closer to a mystical experience, where I felt as if I was floating and had no bodily sensations. I wonder if standing and walking when viewing visual arts as opposed to sitting comfortably account for different experiences? Risk factors for Stendhal Syndrome, such as inadequate hydration and nourishment, would indicate a physiological factor.

However, first-hand accounts are the lowest form of evidence. How could I even be sure that experiences, which occur years apart, are the same? What, if any, was the medical or psychological explanation for what I had experienced? There is little medical literature on the topic, and it is clear that more research is required.

Here are some free articles for further reading (thanks to Catherine Voutier for finding these): 

Palacios-Sánchez L, Botero-Meneses JS, Pachón RP, Hernández LBP, Triana-Melo JDP, Ramírez-Rodríguez S. Stendhal syndrome: a clinical and historical overview. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2018;76(2):120-123. doi:10.1590/0004-282X20170189

Nicholson TR, Pariante C, McLoughlin D. Stendhal syndrome: a case of cultural overload. BMJ Case Rep. 2009;2009:bcr06.2008.0317. doi:10.1136/bcr.06.2008.0317

Arias M. Neurology of ecstatic religious and similar experiences: Ecstatic, orgasmic, and musicogenic seizures. Stendhal syndrome and autoscopic phenomena. Neurologia. 2019;34(1):55-61. doi:10.1016/j.nrl.2016.04.010


Street Art Notes June 2020

During the lockdown I was walking different paths to the popular locations for street art and graffiti. There are walls in Coburg that are well worth a second glance, to admire the elegant form and clean technique of the writer. Many of these lanes are so narrow that it hard to get a good photo of the billboard sized pieces.

I will write it again because it bares repeating. What I admire about graffiti is that young men are talking about calligraphy and colours rather than, what I all too often had to listen to in my youth — football, cars, and Hitler. This is why I think that painting walls is a good thing and if someone does an inferno of a piece; so much the better for everyone.

When I did return to look at Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane the street art and graffiti were still there. But they were so empty. The only reason why there was anyone besides myself in Hosier Lane was that meals for the homeless were being distributed. Still, there was some evidence that artists had been active in the area. Osno is a French artist from Dunkirk who has become stranded in Australia during the pandemic lockdown. Mr Dimples and others have sprayed some stencils (see my post on Mr Dimples). Yes, the street artist are returning to Melbourne’s lanes (not that they ever really left) but not the tourists.

Did the lockdown inspire people to create much street art? (Aside from children drawing in chalk on the sidewalks.) Some feared that there would an explosion of yarn bombing from people knitting during the lockdown but I’ve yet to see any indication of that. I came across an unfinished piece by an obviously trained artist, it had a grid of pencil lines for scaling up the image.

During my walks in Coburg I’ve photographed many street signs that have witty messages written in grease pencil on them. I’ve been informed that they are across the northern inner suburbs and from comparing the handwriting it appears to be the same person.


Statue Wars 2020

The statues are falling so fast. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement statues to racists, slavers and corrupt cops have been removed around the world. It reminds me of the end of the Soviet Union. Statues are being painted, vandalised, removed or pulled down around the world. In the USA it is Christopher Columbus and Confederate generals, in Belgium Leopold II, in England Edward Colston… the list goes on.

Sir John Tweed, Captain Cook, 1914

However, in Australia, no statue has been removed. Not that there aren’t plenty of memorials to racist colonials around. In October 1991 Gary Foley and Robbie Thorpe put the statue of John Batman in Melbourne on trial (developers have since removed that statue so the area could be redeveloped). In 2017 I wrote about the Statue Wars, in 2019 I wrote about the campaign to remove the statue of William Wentworth from Sydney University. Still, I never expected that there would be so much interest in public sculpture.

Public art has always been part of a culture war. So it is not surprising that public art continues to be a cultural battlefield. Before the twentieth century, the purpose of public art was to support the authorities. Defacement was an official practice in the Roman Empire before it came into common, popular use, faces were officially removed from monuments when they fell out of Imperial favour.

I’m reminded of the destruction of the Vendôme column, a monument to Napoleon, that was pulled down in 1871 during the Paris Commune. And that the French Realist artist, Gustave Courbet maintained, in his defence, that he had only called for it to be dismantled and displayed for educational value.

The statue wars have been going on in Australia for a long time, a symbolic battlefield for displaying Australia’s cultural divides. And conservatives are not above vandalising and removing statues and other public sculptures. In the 1980s, people saw the internationalism abstract public art as a cultural battlefield. Consider the year-long controversy over Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault which was known at the time by the racist phrase: “the Yellow Peril”. And there are also Australia’s most vandalised sculptures: Yagan and Liz and Phil by the Lake

Now the cultural battle has switched to the removal of figurative public art representing and glorifying colonialism and other racism. A change in attitude towards public monuments is sweeping the world. A change of symbols of the collective consciousness is an indication of a shift in consciousness. The fall of statues is both a symbolic and real change in the way that public space is seen.

It raises many questions for me. Why should the public space be some triumphal version of colonial history excused with the dubious claim that it is educational? Why do past generations get to dictate what the future will look like by erecting statues? And when will Australia start to change? Is conservative Australia is too powerful, and too deeply in denial, to allow even a symbolic gesture?


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