Gulag @ Counihan

In September 2004 the Counihan Gallery had an exhibition, “Pracitice in Process” that looked at studios in the Moreland area. The catalogue for the exhibition described Gulag studios, amongst the other spaces that were not included in the exhibition as “a private studio housing 4 artists”. It is evident, from the Counihan’s current exhibition “Gulag”, that Gulag studios has grown since 2004, at least in the number of members.

Phe Rawnsley wrote in the catalogue for Practice in Process (2004): “The social psychology of communal studio life shares much in common with that other workplaces. The dialogue, interaction and sharing of ideas that can take place within smaller studio complexes has its social counterpart in the meeting rooms of smaller business organisations. The preservation of past traditions and technologies by artists manifests itself in the heavy printing tables and piles of oil-soaked rags that can be found in many studios. Examples of artists with similar methodologies banding together to share resources are widespread, particularly where that methodology requires the use of large and expensive equipment.”

There is little sign at the Gulag exhibition of shared tradition or technologies or methodologies amongst the artists. Although many of the artists use digital or print technology, there are also a lot of paintings and works in other materials. From the exhibition Gulag studios appears to be occupied by a truly diverse group of contemporary artists.

Some of the artists at Gulag are working with new technology. There is the John Waller’s elegantly simple, prize-winning digital work “Green (breath)” from 2003, Damian Smith’s stereoscopic photographs and Karen Casey’s brain wave generated media. Between the high tech and traditional techniques is Martin King’s etching and hand drawn animation video.

Many of the artists at Gulag work in painting, drawing and printmaking. The paintings by Gary Willis are particularly powerful; in his “Dig” (2001) a green black figure, presumably the artist as he is holding a paintbrush, looks up in desperation from a book. Full of painterly power and set against a burnt orange landscape and sky, this is a great Australian image.

And there are still other artists working in directions as different as Sam Fisher modelling his perspex shirts and other strange garments to Samaan Fieck, Eric Demetriou and Andrew Turland’s “Vent Assemblage 1” (2009). This impressive multimedia construction of DVD, air pump bubbling in an iron tank partially full of water and the longest audio tape loop that I have ever seen or heard. The audiotape looped around a corner of a cell of iron bars and two reel-to-reel tape machines. “Vent Assemblage 1” feels redolent in references to the US detention and torture centre at Guantanamo Bay.

Curator Dr Sheridan Palmer has done a fine job assembling and organising these diverse art works. Evident in the exhibition is the artistic changes that each artist has made in their studio practice at Gulag studios as each of the artists is exhibiting an earlier and current work. 

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

2 responses to “Gulag @ Counihan

  • Stan Marks, OAM

    I would appreciate how the Gulag Studio got the GULAG tag?

    Has it any association, or remembrance, of the dreaded Russian Gulags?



    • John Waller

      Hi Stan,

      I realise that this response is over 10 years late but I only came across the comment just now now, completely by chance.

      The art studio known as the Gulag is/was an un-renovated, un-insulated, un-heated warehouse. The father of one of the original artists at the space used to visit from time to time and declared that the place was so bitterly cold in winter it was like like a gulag. And the name stuck.


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