Monthly Archives: March 2009

Street Art Media Watch

Street art is still a sexy topic in the media and a good way to sell a product. It can be any product from shoes, to magazines, to books, to cars, to politicians. Victoria’s anti-graffiti laws advertising campaign is now, after the initial public poster campaign, used by politicians and some hardware stores to advertise their toughness and anti-graffiti credentials.

There is now the sub-genre of street-fabric-art. Perri Lewis reports about yarn bombing in the Guardian but ultimately this is simply promotion for a book. In Melbourne there has already been lots of street-fabric-art: the word “Material” made from stuffed fabric letters has been up in Hosier Lane for almost a year now and there is the crochet-covered tree on near the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick St.

Crochet covered tree in Gertrude St.

Crochet covered tree in Gertrude St.

The double page advertisement for the Suzuki Swift (Attitude, #62, 2009) exploits Melbourne street art. The background for the advertisement has been heavily photoshopped but includes a few easily recognizable stencils, paste-ups and aerosol work. For example, Debs phone-car image is visible although her tag has been altered to “Dep”. I hope that someone is taking legal action against Suzuki for this breach of copyright. (Yes, if you paint it on a wall, legally or illegally, you have published it and in Australia it is automatically your copyright.) Do not support corporations that exploit street art – I won’t be buying a Suzuki – a bicycle is better.

Finally, to end on an up beat, A1one is featured in a one-page profile in Juxtapoz (Feb. 2009) magazine. A1one is an Iranian street artist. I met him when he visited Melbourne last year for the Melbourne Stencil Festival; it was his first trip abroad. Like many street artists he is a quiet, intelligent young man with an interest in local history and the community. His work can still be seen on some walls around Melbourne. Juxtapoz may be an American magazine but it has never been isolationist in its view.

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy


The Yard

Yard Shows are one-night only art exhibitions at 696 held fortnightly from November to April. The fact that exhibitions openings are when most people come to galleries in Melbourne has been taken to its logical extreme – just the opening. And there are the other advantages of exhibition openings for the artist: the feedback and networking opportunities. This works at 696 because they are able to later rotate the work in the front shop space, so that people are still able to purchase the work after the show.

The Yard, 696, Brunswick

The Yard, 696, Brunswick

The Yard, the backyard at 696 is a small urban wonderland of defunct architecture, strange signs and street art. There is a small platform stage covered in astroturf to emphasise the gravel ground. And plenty of wall space to hang pictures.

I’ve been to two show in the Yard this year. The first was the “Ill Rubber Ducky” show – “a character building experience”. For a young artist an exhibition can be a character building experience. For an aspiring character animation artist it has a double meaning. “Ill Rubber Ducky” is inspired by the lean angular figures of Peter Kunshik Chung’s animations. That night the art was being sold by a silent auction, a way of selling art that is becoming increasingly popular in Melbourne.

Ill Rubber Ducky

Ill Rubber Ducky

The second Yard show I went to was Clogged by studio mates Simon Gardam and Rhen Dodd. This time the art was hung inside 696 because it looked like it might rain. It didn’t rain and it was wonderful hanging out in the Yard having a beer and talking with some of Melbourne’s prominent street artists. Conversations that evening in the Yard were peppered with “Yair, Yair”. It reminded me that almost a century ago and half way around the world at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich the Romanian artists kept on saying “Da Da” (Yes Yes). The Yard has a great atmosphere.

Simon Gardam and Rhen Dodd share a studio space in Hope St. but their styles are completely different. Dodd is a stencil artist whose work, notably the man sleeping on a park bench, can be seen on the streets. Gardam is a savage painter who wants to depict “thought processes rather than things”. Regardless of the vast differences in their styles Gardam and Dodd were exhibiting two collaborative works in the show.

Clogged

Clogged


Legal Street Art in Brunswick

Aeroskills, Brunswick 

 

Aeroskills, Brunswick

 

There are some great fresh aerosol pieces in Brunswick along the Upfield train line. Both of these works employ a dynamic ribbon design that ties these very long works together. At Brunswick station there is very large legit works, replacing a piece from last year that had been viciously vandalized. Maybe that is why there are some very angry figures in the piece near Brunswick station.

Street art near Brunswick Station

Villain presents AWOL DRS ALPHA near Brunswick Station

Each year I try to do a survey of the graffiti and street art along the Upfield train line. It is of course easier to see it all on bicycle as the bike path runs along the train line and the trains on the Upfield line only run every 20 minutes at their best. Prompted by an article in The Moreland Leader (9/3/09) “Writing’s on the wall” by Brigid O’Connell this year I decided to focus my attention on the legal street art.

In “Writing’s on the wall” by Brigid O’Connell provides a balanced report on the Moreland Council’s policy of promoting businesses to use legal street art as a way of stopping tagging. The opinions of the extreme anti-graffiti faction were reported, along with the experiences of local traders. A photo of a smiling convenience store owner Hamid Jalal next to his beautifully decorated shop wall says it all.

Brigid O’Connell refers to two Brunswick businesses that have employed legal aerosol art to reduce tagging: Lygon Convenience Store, on the corner of Brunswick Rd. and Lygon St. and Ling’s Fish and Chips on Glenlyon Rd. (Ling’s Fish and Chips is by Kinyobidesigns) Both are in areas with medium level graffiti, that is, you can see a few tags and bombs on disused surfaces and in alleyways. Hamid Jalal told me that some of his neighbours didn’t approve of his new street décor but that he was still happy with it.

Lygon Convenience Store

Lygon Convenience Store

Ling’s Fish and Chips

Ling’s Fish and Chips

Many businesses and private houses in Moreland commission street artists to paint walls with street facing; I looked at dozens on my bicycle ride. Many of these works have lasted for years, even decades: Jamit’s coffee cup, the first two colour stencils I ever saw, is still on the wall of a house along the Upfield train line a decade later. The piece with the anarchist robot on the side of a terrace house near Moreland station has been up for many years. The owners of the terrace house have had the advertising billboard removed preferring street art to advertising.

House, Moreland Station

House, Moreland Station

It is difficult to determine if legal aerosol art reduces unwanted graffiti in the area. Only in areas of very intense graffiti was there any damage to legal pieces and in areas of moderate graffiti there was no damage at all to legal pieces. It is obvious that in the Moreland area legal street art reduces unwanted graffiti on the area covered by the legit art. It is impossible to asses the fallacious argument of Scott Hilditch from Graffiti Hurts Australia that legal aerosol art attracts unwanted graffiti any more than because that is a post hoc ergo hoc (y came after x therefore y was caused by x).

Safeways and Connex and are the two corporations most intolerant of graffiti and street art in the Moreland area. Neither corporation has done anything to improve the aesthetic quality of their area, sometimes at great expense, like Safeway’s chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

Safeways, Brunswick

Safeways, Brunswick

If you want to support beautiful street art then shop at businesses that give local artists opportunities.


Installations & Environments

 

I thought that installations and environments would be the major art form of the 21st century when I was a teenager. The total environment, the multiple techniques and media used in their construction all appealed to me. There are a lot of installations and environments on exhibition but they are not the major art form although video art has contributed to the growth of installation. But my enthusiasm for them has been tempered.

Firstly allow me to make a technical distinction between ‘environments’ and ‘installations’; not that it really matters that much which word is used. Installation art emerged from Minimalism and Conceptual art and are often site-specific works; the word refers to the installation of the work in the gallery. Environments emerged from Dada and Surrealist activities and are three dimensional but not intended for a specific location. Maybe I can illustrate the distinction with a few recent examples, but I might get it wrong, it is partially dependent on the artist’s intentions.

“The Phantasmatic Forest” by Mila Faranov is a neo-baroque environment that extended across two walls of Seventh Galley. It featuring cut outs of erotic nude female figures and strange male figures and lots of beautiful baroque foliage forms of painted transparent plastic. A great many artists have in recent years used cut out baroque forms in silhouette on walls but Mila Faranov has taken it further with a mood and implied narrative. The theatricality of the work is not surprising given Mila Faranov’s experience in costume design for the theatre. “The Phantasmatic Forest” is engaging and evocative even if it weird and funky in places.

West Space was showing 3 installations/environments (Feb/March); I have already reviewed Penelope Aitken’s installation in my blog entry: Current Hippy Art.

Matthew Shannon’s environment “the persistent presence of the endless” looked like a set from the low-budget days of Dr Who or Blake’s 7. Shannon’s artist’s notes describe it as “the centreless gravity of a space craft’s interior”. There is lots of black plastic creating a whole world in the small Gallery 2 space; there is really just enough room to walk around in it. Light by a single blue tube of light there is not much to see in this dark environment except for the grey ovals.

In Gallery 1 DongWoo Kang’s video installation “ME (Mara Experience)” just doesn’t work. As I first looked at the videos I thought that it was about being in an empty gallery, it is a boring empty experience. Then I read the artist’s notes. The multiple video images projected, plasma screens and cathode ray screens, doesn’t convey the surreal nature of such an experience. The installation almost put me to sleep without any fear of having a Mara experience.


Dancing in Melbourne

Merce Cunningham was once asked after one of his performance at a university in India if people in America liked his type of dance. Merce Cunningham started to respond with an explanation of the popularity of his performances. No, this is not what the question was about: did people in America like to do this type of dance after dinner?

This distinction between dance as a performance and dance as a social activity has existed for a long time. There is also dance as a hobby, along with dance education and dancing competitions, all of these blurring the line between performance and dance as a social activity.

This weekend I saw a variety of dance and I danced. On Saturday there was the extraordinarily powerful, acid-trip level, experience of seeing Chunky Move’s production Mortal Engine. (For a review of Mortal Engine read Alison Croggon’s blog Theatre Notes.) And on Sunday I went to Fabian’s dance theme party danced and had a good time.

Fabian has evidently been doing Cuban dance classes amongst his wide variety of hobbies. And there were obviously other members of his Cuban dance class at the party. Fabian, ever the extravert performed two Cuban dances each with a different partner and then opened the floor for other of his friends to perform. And so I saw a sample of the type of dance that Melbourians like to learn, practice and perform. There were more Cuban dancers, a bald fire twirler dressed in a kilt, two women doing a pole dance and a woman doing a belly dance. Amateur belly dancers are typical for Fabian’s parties and they are always attempting to be more seductive than the belly rolling professionals at Coburg’s Turkish restaurants.

Dance is not an unproblematic activity for cultures due to the eroticism of moving bodies. However, this is not the case in most of Melbourne and certainly not at Fabian’s party where the gender of your dance partner was determined by your preference. I do remember seeing a Bosnian Moslem friend keep his eyes firmly fixed on his wife during a belly dancer’s performance when we were having dinner at Turkish restaurant in Coburg. And at the performance of Mortal Engine there were the ubiquitous warning about “partial nudity, smoke, laser and strobe lighting effects and loud volume audio.”

In some places how people dance, where and with who is determined by tradition, it is an expression of their identity. In contemporary Melbourne dance is a choice not tradition; Cuban dance is not an expression of Cuban identity any more than pole dancing is an expression of vice. 


Indonesian Art @ Bus

Having seen “Kompilasi: A survey of contemporary Indonesian art” at Bus I would have to conclude that contemporary art in Indonesia includes a lot of performance elements. Having missed the opening of the exhibition I was mostly looking at the ghosts of the performances in the galleries, ghosts captured in photographs and videos.

The star of the show is Jompet Kuswidananto’s “Java – the ghost warrior”, a video installation. It is instantly engaging and entrancing, the slow motion dancer on the video and the figure made from empty helmet, drum and boots. And then I realized that Jompet has done something amazing; the ghostly drummer beats his drum in time with the video. Having made such an impressive impact I was well prepared to meditate on Jompet’s post-colonial themes.

Attending artist Tintin Wulia’s wall painting map “Terra Incognito etcetera” was the remains of a performance, with its trays of flags and wine glasses with dried paint. Bambang ‘Toko’ Witjksono’s installation and performance “Future House” felt as ghostly as an empty real estate office in a new suburb. The table of colour printed and die-cut cardboard box houses looked like McHappy Meal boxes.

Angki Purbandono’s “Anonymous project” and “The Indonesian Wedding Photo Ritual” looks at the ordinary performance of ordinary people in photographs, like wedding photographs. Angki Purbandono playfully examines the structure of Indonesian pre-wedding, during wedding and post-wedding photographs. The inclusion of a mock Gilbert and George performance in “The Indonesian Wedding Photo Ritual” series is more insightful than a simple homage.

The Taring Padi collective have 2 large woodblock prints on canvas banners in the exhibition. In 2002 I first encountered the art of Taring Padi in a small exhibition of posters, publications, banners and videos of their performance at Irene Warehouse in Brunswick. At that time the Taring Padi collective had been working for 4 years, now they are over 10 years old. 10 years later Taring Padi’s people art style is still recognizable and is even more intense.

Curators Kritis Monfries, Tim O’Donoghue and Georgie Sedgwick have made an excellent selection of contemporary Indonesian art. The exhibition fills the whole of Bus gallery including the stairs and in a painting on the front wall of the gallery. The selection of contemporary Indonesian art is fun and engaging without any loss of serious content. Not having a lot of knowledge of contemporary Indonesian art I don’t know if “Kompilasi” is representative survey but it is a good exhibition.


Wannabe art

What is the difference between graffiti and street art? The later is art but that is just a deductive point and the actual difference may be very subtle, like the difference between a carton of Campbell’s soup cans and Warhol’s cartons of Campbell’s soup cans in an art gallery. Part of the difference is that one is in an art gallery and the other is not but that is neither a necessary nor a sufficient difference, a point that seems to have been lost on some wannabe street artists. The white walls around Sutton Gallery in Fitzroy have become covered with graffiti as if this brings the writers closer to art. And now the stairwells of Westspace and Bus artist-run-spaces are becoming covered with tags. Outside Westspace I saw two pairs of shoes hanging from a wire. There are tags on their soles: Drew & Putz. If you sign it does it make it art?

Outside West Space

Outside West Space

But there are still more desperate acts of wannabe art on exhibition in Melbourne. When I visited No Vacancy the smell of aerosol was in the air as Swifty prepared a Susuki hatchback to do a ‘live’ piece at the opening. The Urban Dictionary  defines “Like a Swifty” as a incredibly bad or embarrassing performance at something which the person/s tried hard at. This sums up “The Swifty Show” at No Vacancy Gallery. I have never seen such a derivative exhibition, there is less original content in it than a photocopier. Swifty  is a British street-style designer who wants to be Pop artist and thinks that by re-branding Andy Warhol’s and Jasper Johns’ old images he will be one. Simply re-branding Vegemite jars or Campbell’s soup cans with his own “Swifty” logo is the work of a designer rather than be an artist. I don’t know what fool thinks that this is wit or the sophisticated work of “an unrepentant acolyte of the post hip hop sampling generation”. Swifty’s work might have pseudo-intellectual appeal if you have read a child’s guide to Pop Art.

I don’t know why so many street artists are desperate to get into art galleries when really they could earn a better living as designers than wannabe artists.


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