Monthly Archives: January 2009

January Heat

As Melbourne bakes in major heat wave nobody will be visiting any galleries; last week I did get to see a couple of exhibitions. Many of the galleries in Melbourne are still closed and their front windows covered in paper. Those commercial galleries that are open in Collingwood and Fitzroy are having stockroom exhibitions or exhibitions of aboriginal art. Many of the other rental spaces and artist run spaces throughout the city are filled with the extensive Midsumma Visual Arts program.

I met Tim, who headed Midsumma team organizing the visual arts program when I was visiting 69 Smith St and congratulated him on several years of producing excellent programs

Midsumma at 69 Smith St. has five exhibitions of nude photography. Downstairs there is Rick Connors expanding a strong graphic idea from Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of contrasting colored torsos. Alexander Edwards exhibition Touch Me works on the idea of writing the thoughts on the body. Upstairs David Khan’s Naked makes much of its use of ordinary men as models but the results just look like professional models. Chris Nash’s haunting little exhibition “Could I exist as just one these elements” is the most original and interesting of these exhibitions. (I reviewed Midsumma @ Platform in an earlier entry).

BSG is open and filled with exhibitions of massively varying quality from paintings by 2-year old, Aelita Andre (see my entry Toddler Arts) in one gallery to This Is Brunswick Arts in the next. The 9 artists that run Brunswick Art Space annually have group exhibitions in other galleries. Their work varies from photographs by Alice Dunn and Catherine Evans, paintings by Alison Hanly and James Wray, a large drawing by Alister Karl, a neo-baroque wallpaper cut-out by Karis Sim and sculptures by Lenni Morkel-Kingsbury, Kieran Stewart, Erin Voth and Benjamin Webb.

In yet another room photographer Christopher Atkins “Hidden in Plain Sight” at BSG is sub-titled “Re-imaging Masonic Architecture”. It is a series of b&w and color photographs of the suburban Masonic temples in Melbourne from the outside and inside. The Masons are not a secret society; their temples are everywhere, old buildings from the first half of the 20th century when Free Masons were a popular organisation. Atkins both documents the changes in the architecture and the function of the Masonic temples; some are now converted into apartments or medical clinics. But Atkins photographs do more than just document; the old Masons alone inside their empty halls are haunting in their emptiness.

As this heat wave continues I will be staying out of the sun and so it will be unlikely if I see any exhibition in the next week.


Australia or some other Day

What is today – Invasion Day or an official holiday to celebrate a nation state or just another long weekend?

“Spud thought that it must be really crap to live in Australia. The heat, the insects, and all those dull suburban places that you see on Neighbours and Home and Away. It seemed like there were no real pubs in Australia, and that the place was like a warm version of Baberton Mains, Buckstone or East Craigs. It just seemed so boring, so shite. He wondered what it was like in the older parts of Melbourne and Sydney and whether they had tenements there, like in Edinburgh, or Glasgow or even New York, and if so, why they never showed them on the telly.” From Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

The post-modern nation state is a brand name to be marketed to tourists as a holiday destination and multi-nationals as a place to do business. The old quasi-religious image of the state has to be re-branded with a new more marketable image that emphasises the product. The Australian Export Tourism Council spent $40m to fund Baz Luhrmann’s movie epic “Australia” to create a hyper-real version that is more marketable than the reality. Patricia Goldstone in Making the World Safe for Tourism (Yale University Press, 2001) examines the relationship between tourism, international politics and big business. She looks at how countries are marketed as a brand and the influence that this has on the governments of those countries.

The aesthetics of the modern nation state itself is a shabby patchwork assemblage with a few tatty old items bought from a junk shop, glued together and freshly painted.  A modern state decks itself out in the old regalia of a feudal sovereign with a banner and the coat of arms. Without the blessings of priests, the state must make a religion of itself, with hymns and holy days. So, I am not celebrating Australia Day (I had better things to do today). I would take a day’s leave from a corporation, if they employed me, but I would not celebrate that corporation. I am sure that certain international corporations have had substantial influences on my life but I do not celebrate this.

I support Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson’s suggestion to change the calendar date of Australia Day. I can guarantee that everyone would be celebrating Australia Day if it were January 1. The Australian constitution came into force on 1 January 1901. And if celebrations started at the stroke of midnight the party has already been primed. This subversion of already popular celebrations is the one way to ensure that new holiday is celebrated: it worked for the Christians when they converted Mithras’s birthday into Christmas.

Midsumma @ Platform

*UQ/Midsumma Queer City at Platform Artist Group, curated by the Art Pimp (aka Din Heagney), is a fun exhibition. The artists selected by the Art Pimp are playful, even trivial rather than serious. (“Life is too important to be taken seriously” Oscar Wilde) And there is enough variety in the art for the viewer to find something that appeals to them from photographer Linsey Gosper’s installation in Vitrine to Sam Wallman’s comic illustrations in the Majorca building cabinets.

Frame cabinet has an exhibition of records and flip animation books by the artists involved in TAPR Tape Projects. Neither music records nor flip animation books for a good exhibition in a glass case, so two videos display these works in operation.

The Underground Garden by Matt Shaw is a miniature cityscape at night. The succulents planted in a black pebble ground are trees next to the metal grates that form skyscrapers. Matt Shaw is the garden artist for Collective Melbourne, a craft/art/garden/coffee-shop in St. Kilda.

In the Platform cabinets there is, from the USA, Jombi Supastar’s extravagant multi-media drawings have the intensity and primitive power of an outsider artist. And from NZ, Jason Lingard’s elegant erotic idols are the thinking person’s eye candy. For me local artist, Freddie Jackson’s digital print morphing a mirror-ball and the death-star is one of the stars of the show; Star Wars is such high camp.

Hannah Raisin’s “Suger Mumma” in Sample is an installation that uses a lot of Fruit Loops, the brightly coloured breakfast cereal. Mounting the Fruit Loops on cling-wrap she made a one piece bathing costume and bathing cap. Then she takes a milk bath by the sea. This is all recorded on video and photos and displayed in the Sample cabinet. The sickly sweet Fruit Loops provided a counterpoint to the excitation.

Platform and the Art Pimp do not appear to be suffering any chill effect from the censorship by the City of Melbourne last year of the nude photographs in exhibition, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’, by Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn. The work in *UQ are fun, erotic and sexy.

Rosalie Gascoigne

Some people froth at the mouth at the mention of Duchamp, I know as my master’s thesis was about Duchamp’s readymades and I have been on the receiving end of their vitriol. Marcel Duchamp is still seen by them as the ultimate slap in the face to their idealization of art. Other people, like Rosalie Gascoigne, find Duchamp’s readymades as an inspiring liberation.

The Rosalie Gascoigne retrospective exhibition at the NGV shows how from a starting point of Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel”, along with training in Sogetsu ikebana. Gascoigne developed her own unique style of formal abstract collage with found wood and corrugated iron. Gascoigne’s style is so clearly defined that a few years ago I saw some fake Gascoigne’s (not forgeries since there was no claim of authenticity) on sale in a trendy Fitzroy furniture store.

The NGV was encouraging the children to this exhibition to imitate Gascoigne’s style. Tables and chairs had been set up in the third floor foyer outside the Rosalie Gascoigne exhibition with glue sticks and exhibition promotion material to cut up and collage. It was school holidays and the chairs were packed with children, parents and grandparents all making Gascoigne style collages.

Art always starts with imitation and Rosalie Gascoigne started her artistic career imitating Joseph Cornell’s boxes of collaged material. Aside from the boxes with an obvious Australian references, like “Pub” (1974), or her use of local materials, like Toohey’s Flag Ale beer cans, Gascoigne’s early boxes are very similar to Cornell’s. Gascoigne, like Cornell, would include references to European art in her boxes and early assemblages, including a bicycle wheel for Duchamp. Imitation is a learning experience and after successfully imitating Cornell Gascoigne found her own style.

Gascoigne then recognized what was different about her boxes from Cornell’s. Her materials were more weathered by the harsh Australian environment than Cornell’s American materials. Gascoigne was familiar with the wabi-sabi of Japanese aesthetic from ikebana and looked for it in the materials she selected.

Moving on to the rest of the rest of rooms of the Rosalie Gascoigne exhibition at the NGV there were some curatorial problems. The narrative of the retrospective was occasionally confused by a work that chronologically belonged in the previous gallery. There was only one short didactic panel explaining the exhibition but did not even note her death a decade ago.

Remembering Australian Graffiti History

Tram Stop 21, outside the Brunswick Mechanics Institute, has a photograph of light graffiti by local artist Robyn Cerretti. Cerretti spells out “forever” using a sparkler against a dark urban setting. It is an ironic comment on Arthur Stace’s famous chalk graffiti “eternity” as ‘forever’ is a synonym for ‘eternity’. But a lit sparkler does not last forever, nor does Stace’s chalk on pavement. A word does not equate to the existence of a thing and so the ontological argument for the existence of God (or eternity), formulated by St. Anselm, leaves reality in the perfect, super-fast spaceship.

Arthur Stace is also the subject of a film by Julien Temple, The Eternity Man (2008) based on the stage opera by Australian composer Jonathan Mills and poet Dorothy Porter. Arthur Stace was an illiterate Sydney ex-alcoholic with an obsessive compulsive disorder and a one-word evangelical mission tag that made him an Australian legend. Stace lead a very dull life and both the film and opera have to work hard to make it interesting for even a short time.

The calligraphic appeal of Stace’s Copperplate letters made his work visually unique at time when graffiti was more concerned with the message and not the media. In the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s graffiti in Melbourne was limited to aphoristic slogans (rather like the art of Jenny Holtzer) written in simple fonts using house paint and a brush. It was more a form of literature than visual art. I found an old notebook of mine with a short list of graffiti slogans from the ‘80s and early ‘90s:

“Bite the wax tadpole”

“Real punks can’t spell capocino”

“Stilettos are a push over – wear bovvers”

“Nuclear families have fallout”

“There is only one thing worse than the desire to command – the will to obey.”

“1991 the year of LOVE (on the dole)”

Rennie Ellis exhibition “No Standing Only Dancing” at the NGV has nine photographs of Australian graffiti in the 1970s and 80s, at the very far end of the exhibition. Ellis photographs are social realism and his photographs of graffiti simply document them. It is mostly political slogans like “Smash the Housing Commission” along with photographs of two modified billboard advertisements and the photograph that gave its title to the whole exhibition “No Standing Only Dancing”. Ellis has an extensive collection of photographs of graffiti from this time and published three paperback books of photographs of graffiti: Australian Graffiti (1971), Australian Graffiti Revisited (1979) and The All New Australian Graffiti (1985).

I presume than in 20 or 30 years the NGV will have an exhibition of some photographer’s images of Melbourne’s current street art and that future artists will celebrate its images, when it is safely history.

Trouble in Toyland

On Thursday evening, 15 January, the Counihan Gallery had its first exhibition opening of the year and launched its annual program of exhibitions.

“Trouble in Toyland” is a gem of an exhibition; a small group exhibition by five notable artists from Australia’s eastern states, “exploring the seductive, sinister and anthropomorphic qualities of toys.” Toys are an obvious theme in contemporary art from Jeff Koons’s “Pink Panther” (1988) to Takashi Murakami “The castle of Tin Tin” (1998). Toys are a feature of contemporary life for both children and adults. Every movie has action figures (even “Reservoir Dogs”) and the computer game industry out grosses Hollywood.

Toys, like art, are part of the excess of culture. They occupy our spare time and are bought when the necessities of life have been paid for. Toys, games and art are part of the same excess in culture. “Poetry and pushpin” are not alternatives for pleasure as Bentham suggested but are part of the same excess that is the source of pleasure.

Martine Corompt’s kinetic sculpture “Scared chair with anxious cat” was very popular with all the little kids at the exhibition opening. The kids enjoyed the anxiety of the wondering if the toy cat, with a bass shaker fitted inside, would fall off its little chair as it vibrated around.

Christopher Langton’s very large inflatable figure “Plastic Man” also impressed the kids, along with the adults “Plastic Man” is modeled on Captain America and it is capable of shock and awe by its size, but it is not as friendly and ultimately just full of air.

Michael Doolan’s ceramic toy figures with platinum luster look beautiful. The toys that they are modeled on were not beautiful or elegant but cute and sentimental. Once they were soft and plush; now they are ultra shiny and hard ceramic forms highlighting the superficial quality of beauty.

Van Sowerwine has a series of videos using dolls and stop motion animation along with photographs of this miniature world. Using dolls Sowerwine creates a child’s world full of pathos. In contrast to the videos and photographs Sowerwine also exhibited a shadow-box sculpture with hand-cranked animated figures, a simpler version of the same vision.

Anna Hoyle’s whimsical delicate and detailed drawings of fluffy animals and psychedelic glitter decorations were the small stars of the exhibition. Squirrels wearing gym shoes pamper pompadour pets with phallic blow dryers. Hoyle creates a fanatic world of toys, consumer culture beauty treatments with a cute overdrive.

In the back half of the Counihan Gallery was Keiko Murakami’s first solo exhibition: Kizuguchi. (I presume that Keiko Murakami is no relation to the more famous Takashi Murakami). Keiko Murakami’s paintings and prints also depicts a troubled child’s world; the exhibition’s title ‘kizuguchi’, means a “wound or cut to the body” in Japanese. Murakami’s Goth-Lolita figures all bare a symbolic wound, a vaginal symbol imposing reality on their doll-like qualities.

The world is not safe for children; that is why they grow up.

The Streets of Melbourne

“Post No Bills” is a small exhibition of posters from the City of Melbourne Art & Heritage Collection at Melbourne City Hall. It features two large art noueveau posters for electricity, posters for WWII food appeals, a poster from a WWII brothel and an appeal to “Kill that Rat”. It was mostly a history exhibition but did have a slideshow of contemporary posters. And it completely ignored the paste-up street-art posters.

“The Streets of Melbourne” was a three-day program of street performances mostly around Fed Square. I saw a bit of Circus Trick Tease and other acts, the usual street circus acts, with a big build up to a rather ordinary acrobatics.

“The Streets of Melbourne” had a small program of public art installations. Sugar Art by Pip & Pop (Nicole Andrijevic and Tanya Schultz) was typical of many installations that I have seen in the last year creating a scatter of miniature island worlds, this time in sugar candy and plastic toys. “IMAG_NE” by Emma Anna was proving popular with people taking snapshots of friends sitting in the “I” position. (I have previously reviewed her “Dear Indigo exhibition at BSG in 2008.)

This official festival was ignoring the other art and entertainment on the streets of Melbourne the buskers, the street artists and the protesters. The Anonymous protest against Scientology’s tax-exempt status was certainly entertaining and visually appealing. What they lacked in numbers the masked Anonymous protesters made up for in style. Guy Fawkes masks copied from Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” graphic novel and Goth clothing were the de rigueur. A protester carried portable amplifiers playing music. It is important to be more entertaining and better dressed than the cult that you are opposing.

Anonymous Anti-Scientology Protest Flinders St. 10/1/09

Anonymous Anti-Scientology Protest Flinders St. 10/1/09

It was also the first protest that I have ever seen that provided a 7-minute, free DVD to explain what their position. I happily signed their petition and watched them proceed on their merry way. No cult/religion/business deserves tax-exempt status just because they have some unprovable beliefs and a militant membership.

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