Monthly Archives: March 2010

696 Ink Opening

I thought that I was going to the opening of a tattoo parlor with a few paintings on the wall. The sinks for the tattoo parlor part have yet to be installed so the only ink was on a few drawings – it was just a gallery opening.

696 Ink is a new gallery in the same location on Sydney Road as 696. To the casual observer it may not even look like a new gallery. Some of the same artists are on the wall. The front gallery is still hung salon style although the larger paintings make it look less crowded. Amongst the hundreds of people at the opening was Melika, one of the previous 696 gallery directors. “In a few years there will be another couple of display cases and more art on the wall.” She predicted. The change in direction is subtle from a street-influenced art, illustration and craft direction to hardcore pop surrealism.

Pop surrealism is the bastard child of Salvador Dali and a Hollywood hooker. The child grew up in an American tattoo parlor reading underground comics and eating acid like it was candy. Like many of that generation pop surrealism traveled the world, growing bigger, fatter and more popular but is still hanging out in a tattoo parlor reading comic books, or fatter graphic novels.

There are some good examples of the variety of pop surrealism, from comic book style to super realist, on exhibition from the 20 artists on exhibition at the group show opening of 696 Ink. The sculpture on exhibition is particularly powerful. Mark Powell’s cabinet diorama looks like a scene from Wm Burrough’s Naked Lunch. And Isabel Peppard, who has worked with Patricia Piccinini, has a humanoid larval form developing in a skeletal womb.

696 Ink is being run: Meg Woodsworth, Jason Jacenko (the tattooist in the trio) and Jon Beinart. Jon Beinart has been publishing books about pop surrealist artists for several years and collecting a coterie of artists, the beinArt Surreal Art Collective. Monthly shows of artists are planned for the second back gallery room, with the next show by Karl Persson (see my review of his previous exhibition at 696).

March @ Platform

I always try to see the monthly exhibitions at Platform when I have a few minutes before my train at Flinders Street Station. It is a very accessible artist-run-imitative with several separate spaces in the subway going to Degraves Street from the station.

The highlight of this month’s exhibitions at Platform is Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman “Patient” – a feasting vignette, commission for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2010 (there is always some kind of arts festival on in Melbourne, often more than one). It is a small attractive, mouth watering, combination of sculpture and gardens. Even the drip-feed intravenous drip system and the blue hospital sheet doesn’t put me off the garden fresh vegetables on display. Lettuce, chili bushes, basil, chives, and thyme – a full salad is growing in form of the patient. Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman is a set designer, illustrator, photographer, puppeteer and installation artist. She has created an ice clock room in the famous Ice Hotel in Sweden and helped plant the vertical garden in Melbourne Central. This is not her first garden exhibition at Platform, in 2008 she had “Eat the City”. (See my entry on Artist-Gardeners for more about this growing art movement.)

Lucy Farmer, a performance artist, visual artist and jewellery designer, is exhibiting “Review” at Platform. Her statement about the exhibition reads: “What you see is quite clearly fake yet the constant surveillance of a public space is now visible and remembered, not half forgotten through a camera lens. Who is critiquing whom? Review is a site-specific exhibition created to challenge psychological and social readings of value, class, status, control and power through portraiture, installation and a heightened awareness of the physicality of the audience in relation to the work and their necessary participation with the work.” It is a bit much of an explanation for a series of portraits and I don’t see where the surveillance cameras come in. I kept on thinking: should I know these people? The theatricality of the red backgrounds, the gold frames and dark portraits all created out of paper taped together, made me think about the superficial nature of self-image.

Emma Anna combines sculpture, installations and printmaker at Vitrine. Her installations are always appealing but I can never really get into them. I’m not sure why, but they feel thin, as if to examine them to closely might just poke holes through the paper. As if to make up for the paper-thin content there is a lot to look at in the installation ranging from Surrealism to post-minimalist printmaking – her USB fitted flying ducks have an inescapable and appealing logic to them but why are they not connected?

Kim Summer and Clea Chiller have a great installation at Sample. The intensity of examining another person’s living room/bedroom along with the reality of homelessness makes this a successful installation. It has been composed with great care. The TV flickers across empty channels, there is a pin-board of photos, a mirror, books, toiletries – some of basic aesthetics necessary for survival. The figure of the sleeping occupant transforms this stuff into a portrait of a life in need of shelter.

The Nauru Elegies

I remember landing at the Nauru International Airport in the early 1980s. Looking out the window the Air Nauru jet I could see a boom gate and a policeman stopping a couple of cars where the road crossed the runway. Air Nauru was an airline rented from Qantas; it was a cheap way to fly to Japan where my grandparents lived but it flew via Nauru. The plane only stopped on Nauru for an hour to refuel but all the passengers had to disembark and go through Nauru customs and immigrations. The airport was a small building full of locals who had come just to see the plane arrive and depart. Looking out the plane window on take-off I saw the mined-out island, a field of white limestone spikes, like an alien planet.

I was reminded of my brief visit to that alien planet when I saw “The Nauru Elegies: a portrait in sound and hypsographic architecture” by architect Annie K Kwon and musician Paul D Miller, aka DJ Spooky. It is a project of Experimenta Utopia Now: International Biennial of Media Art; later in the week DJ Spooky will be performing the Nauru Elegies live at Shed 4 in Docklands.

Nature never made that – it’s a work of art! Not to get too enthusiastic about the natural beauty of a Pacific island that has been turned into bleak and denuded rock. Art, which once depicted nature, imitated nature and responded to nature, is now reporting on its absence, it disappearance and its destruction. New media and technology makes this reporting beautiful and artistic but it doesn’t distract from the impact of this ruin. And Nauru is one of the worst examples of human exploitation and environmental destruction.

At Blindside Gallery the white walls have been painted grey to match the sober mood of this elegy for the tiny nation state.

Central to the exhibition is the video projection by DJ Spooky, with a minimalist soundtrack featuring a string quartet and electronic sounds in several movements. Like the soundtrack but not slavishly responding to it, the video uses shots of Nauru are interspaced with geometric computer graphics. The camera is handheld, slow tracking shots looking out the window of a car as it bumps along the island roads, past the white limestone spikes where all the soil has been mined out, past derelict factories and derelict docks falling into the sea.

Architect, Annie K Kwon has layered more elements into this exhibition. Her lazar cut sculptures, each etched with the crest of Nauru, refer to Nauru’s now mined-out topography. Another, this time completely digital projection, also followed Nauru’s topography, or rather hypsography, the study of the distribution of elevations on the surface of the planet. And there are QR codes on the wall readable by mobile phones providing more information on Nauru.

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