Rename this place – Guerrilla Geography II

Australia, unlike other countries, has not removed any statues dedicated to racist colonials. Still, Calla Wahlquist’s powerful article “‘The right thing to do’ Drive to rename places exposes a ruthless past” reminded me that changing place names is also important. For names are not trivial, in Australia are racist. “In 2017, Queensland renamed seven places that included the word “nigger”.”

New street signs, new names for places rewrite the old city for its inhabitants. Geography is as much about the way space is remembered, recorded, mapped and navigated as it is about areas on this or other planets. Desire lines are created by people repeatedly wanting to walk from one spot to another, ignoring the paving. Guerrilla geography maps of those paths, giving names to them, making them places. It is creative, as well as investigative. And although officially a place might be called something that is a matter of politics and language rather than how people to it. Anarchic acts can, given time, be officially recognised.

In Melbourne, many of the city’s service lanes have never been named. And new names are embraced as more detail means better directions for emergency vehicles. Thus, Blender Lane has now been officially designated by the City of Melbourne, complete with a street sign. This is years after Adrian Doyle gave it that name because it was the lane next to Blender Studios. How many art punks get to name streets? I suspect there are several now. In Bendigo, Dimples Lane is officially named after the street artist, Mr Dimples, whose work is there.

So, we can all play our part in this project to end colonial place names. Mail art projects from the past tell me that Australia Post will deliver to a street name and number and postcode. After that, you could put Bulleke-bek instead of Brunswick or Ngár-go instead of Fitzroy. (For more, see Ben Tyers in Melbourne List.)

We navigate the city by different means: I see it as a mental map of memories. Others see it on Google as a network of roads, train, tram lines. In the inner city suburbs, people would navigate by the pub on the corner. Others, landlords, bureaucrats, and lawyers, see it as a ‘laws-cape’ of regulations and title deeds. Dogs navigate by smell and sight, possums by the trees, telephone lines and eves of buildings, the pigeons, crows, magpies and seagulls see it from above. (Understanding that others see things differently was one of the most important things that my father, a zoologist, taught me.) But only humans use names to navigate.

Place names like statues are honours but without explanative notes they are malleable. So can DC comics help save the name of Batman Station by changing the image from a villain to a hero?

See my earlier post on Guerrilla Geography.


Created in the last lockdown

On Tuesday night, there were two exhibitions opening at fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit gallery on Flinders Lane in Melbourne: William Eicholtz ‘Greedy Pixiu’ and James Grant ‘Retreat’. Both were created during last year’s lockdown but the sense doom has not left Melbourne.

William Eicholtz, Pufnpixiu

There were a few cases of COVID-19 in greater Melbourne that night, and masks became mandatory indoors at 6pm. I’ve had one shot of the vaccine, and I was determined to get to another exhibition opening before another lockdown. Not even Melbourne’s cold, wet weather was going to keep me away.

At the exhibition opening, William Eicholtz told me about last year and being alone in the studio, which he usually shares with four other people, without a model, without students, without commissions, wondering what to do. There were many artists, musicians, dancers, etc., in Melbourne wondering the same thing.

“I first saw pixiu, a pan Asian mythological chimera, on an artist’s residency in Beijing… Alone in my studio, the sketches I had done of Pixiu years before beckoned to me, and this group of sculptures was born.”

Made from glazed earthenware ceramics, some with embedded vintage Swarovski rhinestones, the pixiu are meant to represent good fortune through greed and over-indulgence. Money-boxes that you will never open. Others are greedily consuming social media or chocolate or eating lotuses. Other pairs of pixiu are dressed up in various costumes, invasive species, cicadas, and even 70s tv dragon H.R. Pufnstuf.

James Grant, Liv’s Apartment (photo courtesy of Grant)

In the large gallery at fortyfivedownstairs was James Grant’s ‘Retreat’. Landscapes and still life of the familiar world around Collingwood, Fitzroy and East Melbourne. Scenes of living rooms, artist’s studios, garages build on the modern democratic attitude of depicting the ordinary rather than the great and the grand. A world full of stuff, books with recognisable titles and products with labels. Paintings that show an appreciation and enjoyment of local life. Familiar environment because we were all looking at similar scenes for so much last year. Retreating from the pandemic, we watched our world become smaller and smaller.

On reading Grant’s artist statement, ‘Retreat’ turned out to be another lockdown inspired exhibition. I emailed him to let him know about his blog post, and he told me about painting them in his home studio in Collingwood during the second lockdown.

I left the exhibition opening minutes before mask-wearing became mandatory and headed home. Victoria is now in a fourth lockdown. Back to drinking Shiraz, doom-scrolling Twitter and getting flashbacks of last year.

These, and all other exhibitions, performances, etc., will close for at least the next seven days. Some might be able to go online, others may be rescheduled, but the majority will have to be cancelled. Remember that these two exhibitions represent about half a year’s work for the two artists. The resilience of Melbourne’s culture looks like it will be determined through destructive testing.

James Grant, Fitzroy Houses (photo courtesy of Grant)
William Eicholtz Cornocopia Pixiu

Burn your money

This week Doosie Morris wrote about NFT and Melbourne’s most boring urban artists GT Sewell, Rone and Lushsux, in The Guardian. Morris implied that NFT is in the same league as Yves Klein. Without mentioning that Klein’s immaterial art, like the K Foundation burning a million pounds as an art, are acts where the artist/s removed monetary value from the system. So this might be a subtle suggestion that you could invest in NTF or just burn your money.

According to Morris’s article NFT is Sewell, Rone and Lushsux current business ventures. Sewell has been spruiking cryptocurrency for years on social media, and Lushsux has been positing similar stuff, including income tax avoidance on NFT sales. 

These are boring artists because they are focused on money; there is no other objective to their art. For them, even popularity is just another revenue source. Remember that Rone received $1.86 million from the Federal Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) for a project that won’t be seen until 2022. Rone does decor for a coffee shop at Melbourne Airport, decorating walls on construction sites, modelling clothes for a high street clothes shop, that kind of thing.

But aside from the dodgy economics, the environmental impact of blockchain technology, two problems aren’t being discussed with NFT; provenance and digital art preservation.

Anonymous churn is even more a problem for provenance than it is for trust in the market. No institutional art gallery will buy or even accept gifts of art with a secret origin because of stolen art, fraud, and forgery. After the artist’s death, how would you prove that it was their work?

Digital art preservation is an even more complex issue because substantial parts of the technology will eventually change. For example, the online links may become broken. And in 30 years, when you can’t see the art on an LED screen because that technology is now redundant, the art will not look the same. So now your expensive work is the equivalent of a photograph of a Monet oil painting or just unreadable code.

Bubble art to rival Millais. NFT art, along with most of the art market, is divorced from any significant culture but still living on alimony and hasn’t changed its name back. And if you don’t want to burn your money but want to give it to artists there are plenty of more better hands to put it in.


Confined 12 and Culture

Culture is something that takes you to inspiring and unexpected places. I know this because it brought me to Confined 12, The Torch’s annual exhibition, artwork by Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prison in Victoria. 379 works. Walls of paintings of totem animals: birds, fish, turtles, platypus. Thousands of dots of paint, as wells as ceramics, woodwork, basket-making and textiles.

Daniel JC’s Darug Archway framing Sheldon’s Dhuringa Burrundi Guyang Dreaming (Born of the Black Fire) at the Confined 12

This is the fifth Confined exhibition that I have seen and written about. I don’t want to just repeat myself explaining the work of The Torch or the variety of art. (See my earlier posts: Confined 8, Confined 9, Confined 10, and Confined 11.)

This year’s exhibition is in the gallery at the white neo-classical Glen Eira Town Hall, a minor symbol of colonial imperialism. It is a change from last year when it was all online or previous years at the St Kilda Town Hall. Nevertheless, it is a better, more coherent gallery space (even though it can’t accommodate the massive exhibition launch parties that used to happen at St. Kilda).

Looking at the exhibition, it was clear that Daniel JC (Darug) is an outstanding artist. His art needs to be in a public collection so that it can be seen by more people. His Darug Archway, a sculpture employing woodcarving, pokerwork, and inlaid shells, is impressive. It conveys the gravity of the sacred, the knowledge of Darug totems and which animals may be eaten. Then there were his three carved and painted sculptural pillars, a carved bench and a walking stick.

Daniel JC has so much energy. He reminds me of the energy that I saw when I first saw the work of Robby Wirramanda (Wergaia/Wotjobaluk). And there, along with four didgeridoos, was painted guitar by Wirramanda, Lake Direl, Grandfather’s Country #2. (Wirramanda also did the music for this year’s online launch.)

Robert P’s Culture #2 on kangaroo hide along with Roger Sims Old Black Tree Goanna Swimming at Confined 12

There is always some pokerwork in the Confined exhibitions. Still it seemed like there was a lot more pokerwork this year; on wood or leather, like Robert P’s (Yuggera) Culture #2. But the fire work of Sheldon (Murri), Dhuringa Burrundi Guyang Dreaming (Born of the Black Fire) went further. A section of burnt hardwood, real, actual, and natural; a solid work of contemporary art but with ancient connections to stories told through fires and smoking ceremonies.

Teaching Indigenous prisoners to be professional artists achieves a great recidivism rate (11% compared to the wider Victorian rate of 53.4% for Indigenous prisoners). But art and the culture is more important than all of that. It is not just about training to become professional artists, it about keeping culture alive. For genocide is just as much about destroying a culture as it is about destroying a people.

Reminding people that culture is part of the present is this pandemic’s compulsory fashion accessory by Manuel (Wiradjuri/Yorta Yorta). A painted face-mask, Rainbow Serpent, Baiame the Creator (and a baseball cap, Octopus Dreaming). Art keeps culture fresh, relevant, inspiring and unexpected.

Manuel’s painted face-mask, Rainbow Serpent, Baiame the Creator and Octopus Dreaming baseball cap

The Architect’s Shopfront

Thursday evening, another 6 pm art exhibition opening; what is different about this one is that it is in an architects office in North Fitzroy. A couple of times a month, the studio of DiMase Architects become a small gallery, Shopfront-342. Shopfront-342 has a theme, interpreted broadly, art with a relationship to the built environment. 

That night at Shopfront-342, a small group of people had gathered. (How many people would you feel comfortable inviting into your office?) But small is good, small is sustainable and small is friendly; charmingly inviting in an interested person passing by. And there was even a sale while I was there.

A unique hanging system made of wood (architect designed) for displaying work on the internal walls allows for quick and easy hanging. And a shelf facing the shop’s front window for displaying sculptural work.

It was like one of those opening at an artist-run-space where everyone is an artist, except everyone was an architect, even the two exhibiting artists: Bruce Katsipidis, an architect/sculptor and an architect/painter Elaheh Mohamed. Had I slipped into an alternate reality? Memories of reading about Frank Lloyd Wright’s claim to be the first non-figurative abstract artist because he did a panel for a house a year two before Kandinsky (really, it was neither man but a woman many years earlier).

Melbourne-based Iranian artist Elaheh Mohamed is showing two series of abstract paintings. An earlier series inspired by Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow by the acclaimed Greek auteur Theo Angelopoulos and her most recent paintings by locations around Western Port Bay. Calm abstracts with sweeping atmosphere and lyrical gestures created in the manipulations of the picture plane with layers of paint.

Katsipidis inspired by Brancusi, including the combination of carved wood on a cast concrete base and the erotics of the smooth curving forms. His four wooden sculptures are made with hand tools only as he made them in his architect’s office from found timber.

Alternate exhibition spaces in shopfront windows support local artists and culture. Businesses should look at what they do for the local community, not just their clients but also the people who have to walk past it or wait for a tram in front of it. For example, Shopfront-342 started as a way to engage local children on their school walk. Further along, the tramline is another shopfront art gallery, Dolls House.

Bruce Katsipidis, Penguin

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”

%d bloggers like this: