Monthly Archives: August 2009

Platform August 09

In the underground vitrines along Campbell’s Arcade, under Degraves Street, the train commuters exiting Flinders St. Station are exposed to contemporary art. The August series of exhibitors were typical of the exhibitions at Platform.

Claire Gallagher’s Absence of the Inner is a glass tank, an empty vitrine lit by a single fluorescent tube inside a vitrine. Nature, in the form of potted plants, taxidermy birds, taxidermy fox, animal bones, wire, string and dirt, has been pushed to the side and what remains in the centre is a void. Gallagher’s Absence of the Inner is a comment and a critique of the contemporary art, the void space defining art and excluding nature. This absence of any inner sums up much of the art exhibited in Platform’s vitrines; it is art by definition of its display in the vitrines of Platforms and lacks any inner content.

I was enchanted by the installation by Chronox at Platform. It is remarkable use of a very old stage illusion and computer graphics. On what appears to be simple forms made of toothpicks and wire magical colorful forms move. The mirrors, DVD players, screens and angled glass are hidden from view.

Perkins’ Leg is a complete installation with sand, plants and a story created by Dominic Kavanagh. However it failed to generate any kind of mystery or relevance, with bits of burnt wood that allegedly are the remains of a wooden robot. I preferred Kavanagh’s  Rebellious Garden Shed that was exhibited at Seventh Gallery last year (see my review). The Rebellious Garden Shed had an inner life and dynamism Unlike Perkin’s Leg.

Adam Cruickshank follows the logic of brand name promotions: everything is the greatest and everything is a trophy. His Enhanced Awareness Campaign is fun but never really triumphed in getting a punch-line to his visual humor.  Rachael Hooper has two acrylic paintings on a dozen sheets of paper. The two large images; one is of big subject, a landscape, and the other a close up of a ham sandwich. Between you and me and the gatepost Natasha Frisch’s Between you and me is a very boring work. Most people passing by in the pedestrian subway probably think that it is even more boring since it looks like plastic fencing. Until you get close and realize that it is all made of tracing paper. And Dell Stewart’s Elementary was too elementary to excite my interest.


The Intentional Mark

Brunswick Arts has a group exhibition of print makers “The Intentional Mark”. It features the work of three emerging artists: Lilly Dusting, Zoe Minnis and Emma Nunan. There are a lot of very dark marks in this exhibition, all the more intentional because they have been printed using a variety of printing techniques.

Only Emma Nunan gets an essay written about her work. Is this because she won the 2008 RMIT Open Bite scholarship award and the Brunswick Arts Entry 09 Award? Or is there another reason why she has won the praise of Melissa Johnson of the Canberra Institute of Technology? (There were other inconsistencies in the exhibition display, like the title of the exhibition not being on the price list.) Johnson writes about the wabi-sabi aspects of Nunan’s fragile, raw and disintegrating prints. I saw the austerity of the formal arrangement, folding, crumbling of the prints as a type of post-minimalist sculpture exploring the possible arrangements of the paper. A few of the works really push the envelope of prints: the reflection of the light from the mirrors on which her folded prints are resting and the video of rotating threaded prints.

Lilly Dusting is exhibiting a lot of black marks in a variety of media. Sometimes these marks make a landscape formed from the variety of intensity of the same repetitive crosshatching mark. At other times they are just black marks etched into the plate. I was not as impressed with these works as I was with her prints that I saw at the RMIT printmaking graduate exhibition 2008.

The aquatints and mezzotints of Zoe Minnis are illustrations of cephalopods: nautiluses and octopuses. Using the aquatint method of printing allows Minnis to create large dark areas without crosshatching. The dark of her prints is the dark of the waters in which the nautilus swim; it is also the dark of the ink straight from the plate. The light, un-inked areas of paper form the alien bodies of the nautilus that Minnis depicts with accuracy and beauty.

Exhibitions @ RMIT

I wasn’t excited by “Liu Xiao Xian: From East to West” at RMIT Gallery. Fun though it is, I have seen a lot of neo-Dada, neo-Pop art before. And there didn’t seem to be much more than a continuous Chinese-Australian or Chinese-Western references. Liu Xiao Xian putting his own face in western images has limited amusement; it is yet more re-branding of familiar images. The superficial of content is masked by an over production the creation of larger and more spectacular images. I did enjoy his various glazed porcelain game boards, as an avid game player they generated imaginary sculptural possibilities of moves on the board.

“Family Blue Print” by Sarah Deed is installed at RMIT’s First Site Gallery 2 (downstairs from RMIT Gallery). It is a fun installation; Deed has found new tractions playing with the art trope of the wrapped object. Even when the object is not there, as in the “Family Blue Print”, the packaging indicates the intended contents. In the “Family Blue Print” there is a package for all the family including the car, dog, doghouse, bird and birdcage. It is a portrait, in installation form, of the ideal packaged modern family.

In Deed’s “Family Blue Print” the wrapped object is taken to its high consumer extreme with the use of the blue Ikea bags. It also gives the exhibition a uniform consumer friendly color. Sarah Deed’s artist’s statement emphasizes the packaging as: “Wrapped in a consumable generic skin we are objects, separated and connected to the objects of the material world. The material world is an extension of ourselves. The envelopes we place ourselves in, our clothes, houses and cities are not reality itself but representations, dreams and desires disseminated through media that create a common meaningful purpose and a cohesive society.”

The two photographs didn’t really add anything to Sarah Deed’s exhibition. The realization, recorded in a photograph, of a family, or the very obedient dog, packed in the blue material reduced the more fantastic idea suggested by the installation to the mundane. If there had been more photographs then they might have contributed something that couldn’t have been imagined in the gallery. However, imagining you are free of the empty packaging of a shared consumer reality brings it into sharper focus.

If not satisfied return the unused portion in the original wrapper for a full refund.

Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

Copenhagen has the Little Mermaid statue, Brussels has the Manikin Pis but what public sculpture symbolizes Melbourne? These statues become the mascot of the city and have been the focus of tourist’s attentions long before cameras. Many like the owl of Dijon have been rubbed smooth and featureless by human hands. Melbourne does not have such a sculpture because there have been so few public sculptures in the CBD. In 2006 The Age reported about a revival of public sculpture in the city 25 years after the controversy over Ron Robertson-Swann’s “Vault” in the city square. It appears that Melbourne City Council’s fear of the controversy has retarded the development of the city’s image.

Alison Weaver & Paul Quinn, “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”

Alison Weaver & Paul Quinn, “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”

The most likely current candidate for the statue mascot of Melbourne is the “Three businessmen who brought their own lunch; Batman Swanston and Hoddle”. It is one of Melbourne’s most popular sculptures and most photographed statue. It is on the corner of the Burke St. mall and Swanston walk. It was unveiled in 1994 as a “gift of the people and government of Nauru.” There is no mention on the plaque as to who the artist are; it was made by Melbourne sculptors, Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn. The public enjoy interacting with these thin, life-sized figures. The figures free hands are polished as the public hold hands with them. The public frequently augments the 3rd figure, “Hoddle” with a cigarette added to his pursed lips. (Perhaps Alison Weaver was thinking about this augmentation when she made a later sculpture “I’m Always Worried” out of cigarette butts.)

Pam Irving, “Larry Latrobe”

Pam Irving, “Larry Latrobe”

Another popular potential mascot statue is Pam Irving’s bronze dog, “Larry Latrobe”, in City Square. Like the Little Mermaid or the Manikin Pis these statues have a popular and sentimental appeal, they are frequently augmented by the public, but are not admired for their artistry. Although these statues become, through their popularity, symbols of the city they are not representative or symbolic of the city, not like Armstrong’s 25-metre-high “Eagle” in Wurundjeri Way that represents the demiurge creator from the stories of the Wurundjeri, the local aboriginal people.

Armstrong, "Eagle"

Armstrong, “Eagle”

Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee "Great Petition”

Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee “Great Petition”

One of Melbourne’s most recent public sculptures is on Buston Reserve. Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee’s “Great Petition” 2008 is a great white furl of a dynamic ribbon representing and commemorating the 1891 Women’s suffrage petition. The sculpture is intersected with a path; allowing the public to move through the sculpture. Along with the sculpture there is a didactic panel by Prof. Marilyn Lake to explain the history of women’s suffrage in Victoria. As political art this is hardly a controversial subject, it is long overdue recognition. As a sculpture it will never be popular but it is beautiful.

There are still a few 19th Century bronze sculptures around Parliament. I think that the public would prefer a figure on a plinth over a modern sculpture but there could no agreement now about who. The “Great Petition” is a democratic image rather than an idol and like democracy will not be as popular as the image of a demagogue.

Paul Blizzard “Fossil Stones”

Paul Blizzard “Fossil Stones”

For me, the strangely positioned statute in the city is Paul Blizzard’s “Fossil Stones” 1998 outside the Dept. of Justice, the commission was supported by the Emerging Sculptors Trust. The bronze faux fossils are set into local volcanic rocks are geologically inaccurate, as fossils are found in sedimentary rocks. It is also an odd choice of sculpture for the front of the Dept. of Justice – are they really a bunch of old fossils?

 "Fossil Stones" detail

“Fossil Stones” detail

@ Kings ARI

Tidal River by Mark Rodda is a beautiful, graceful and fantastic video. Rodda has created another world, an alien planet of floating islands of a mirror dark lake under a starless sky. Combining the arts of landscapes, gardening and video Tidal River is mysterious, enchanting and beautiful.

The floating islands are gardens; the rocky-looking islands are planted with carefully arranged greenery. The trees and shrubs on these islands are actually small plants or parts of larger plants, the ends of a branch as a fractal version of the whole tree. These are gardens in a beautiful extension of the Japanese tradition of “bonkei” (or “bonseki”) miniature gardens. This is not the first time that Rodda has used video with plant life; his Zombie Garden was a finalist The One Minutes Awards at Paradiso Amsterdam 2006.

In Rodda’s video the islands move slowly in a parade of graceful beauty, propelled by unknown forces across the still water. They move out to the horizon where they are out of focus and achieve a kaleidoscopic beauty in their mirror reflection. Then the islands move back, closer to the camera’s position, and into tight focus, creating a 12-minute loop of action.

I saw Tidal River at the AV gallery in Kings Artist Run Initiative on King St. in Melbourne. Also at Kings ARI are two installations: Potential Energy by Jordana Maisie and Widow’s Walk by Sky Kennewell.

Potential Energy is fun, in a ghost house automated way. A series of metal chains hang from ceiling to floor creating a corridor around two walls of the gallery. A series of infrared sensors along the wall that activate a device that shakes the chains as the visitor walks along the corridor. The sound of the potential energy moving along the chains as a visitor walks along has a great rhythmic pattern. Unlike a ghost house there are not secrets, the devices that trigger this reaction are all exposed, a multicolored spaghetti of wires and circuit boards lie on the gallery floor.

Widow’s Walk is a failure; it has no mystery, no fun, no beauty and no interest. A series of good timber frames have been arranged into a useless combination and within this unsuccessful construction a temporary shelter has been created for an imaginary inhabitant who looks at pictures of successful arrangements of timber frames. Why this imaginary inhabitant hasn’t used the timber to create a better shelter is obvious because it is just something installed in a gallery.

Street Art & Architecture

Street art considers the aesthetics of the urban landscape. The modernist shunning of decoration in preference for raw unadorned planes has been rejected and decoration has been embraced again. The modernist architectural raw concrete planes have become surfaces to spray paint.

Melbourne artist Jay Walker’s  street inspired aerosol art was combined with gardening in Rick Eckersley’s gold medal Small Garden at the 2008 Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show. (Australian House & Garden, May, 2008) Jay Walker’s curvy abstract aerosol work in a restrained palette of browns is the backdrop for a small formal garden. Jay Walker specialize in creating pieces that fit into architecture, providing that street inspired wall for the stylish contemporary home. The use of street inspired aerosol art in architectural or garden design is a natural progression as street art is a response to urban architecture.

Street artists respond to the found architecture of the location, sometime with very creative results. This is, in contemporary art terms, ‘site specific art’, as opposed to art that can be moved from site to site. There are pieces that comment on their location, like the figure of Batman opposite Batman station, or images of trains beside a train line. There are pieces that respond to the architecture. Painted door flamesDoors, especially the roller-shutters used by shops for security, are an obvious location because doors frame a piece and, in the case of roller-shutters can be rolled away. This creates differences between the after-hours and opening hours look of many locations, like Centre Place in Melbourne’s CBD. Other architectural divisions in buildings are used to divide and frame different pieces of aerosol art.

CollingwoodStreet art forces the personal into the modern planned urban landscape that has no place for the individual human. The bodies that these spaces are created for are corporations and not humans. So some of the city looks like it was designed by daleks and cylons, alien constructions of steel, glass and concrete. Street art attempts to humanize this modern alien environment by appropriating it and decorating it.

Here are some more examples of street art responding to architecture around Melbourne.

Wave wall
Maxcat Brunswick


Stuff & Organization

WeMakeStuffGood, Don’t Ban the Can, Sketch City, Court Jester and the Graffiti Art/Street Culture/Bar Tour. I had heard about these groups but weren’t aware of the connections until it was explain to me by Krystal Stuff. The connections are in the Brunswick warehouses and on the WeMakeStuffGood webiste that has become a portal of various evolving projects.

I had a meeting with Krystal, Rob and Drew of WeMakeStuffGood at the Court Jester in Breese St. Brunswick. I’m still trying to organize things for the Melbourne Stencil Festival but that is a whole other topic.

The Court Jester on Breeze St, Brunswick is a gallery/restaurant with an arts/warehouse atmosphere. A large wooden table carved with tags runs the length of the space. Lead Belly singing the blues on the stereo and an Eastern European menu featuring goulash, pierogi, and blintzes cooked by David from recipes taught to him by his mother and grandmother. I’m not going to write a restaurant review as I only had a cup of chai at the meeting.

Hanging on the walls of the Court Jester there are paintings by Maxcat and other artists in a variety of styles. There was a series of views of Sydney streetscapes by Rudy Kistler and quirky sculptures made of very weathered junk by Brunswick artist, Becky Bonnets. Outside there is a very large wall of aerosol art by various artists playing with the jester theme.

Court Jester wall, Breeze St. Brunswick

Court Jester wall, Breeze St. Brunswick

I wanted to find out more about WeMakeStuffGood and this unfolded into more information about the other associated groups and projects. Last year I went to their Don’t Ban the Can event and the subsequent exhibition at 696. I had also read about their projects in the local paper. They were well organized and media savvy, both with the internet and using the local paper to great advantage.

Krystal, Rob and Drew all met at RMIT doing the Animation & Interactive Media course. Rob and Drew describe their practice as “video” but Krystal describes her practice as “social media”. Establishing and exploring alternative organizational structures has become a predominately technological issue rather than a politically stagnant topic. The technologies to facilitate alternative organizational and communications structures are burgeoning. As Krystal said: “Facebook is just a phone and it’s free to use.” Geographically the collective is mostly based in various warehouses around the old light industrial back streets of Brunswick. The organizational structure of WeMakeStuffGood is like a terrorist organization with a very flat hierarchy and many independently functioning cell groups. This ensures that even if one group ceases to work this does not stop the other groups from operating.

Their website currently lists about 25 members, with 2 in Sydney. The WeMakeStuffGood crew all use of the surname of Stuff is reminiscent of the Stooges (Iggy Pop was originally billed as ‘Iggy Stooge’ and the rest of the band also had the same surname) and the open identity of Monty Cantsin. The use of “Stuff” as a surname creates a collective identity for the cooperative.

It is not enough to simply to produce art, artists also have to live, eat, communicate and organize. The influence that artists can have on a culture depends on their ability to organize and communicate. In this respect WeMakeStuffGood has made a good start.

%d bloggers like this: