Monthly Archives: August 2010

Political graffiti

“It’s kinda hard to put into mere mortal words, but I guess I should say that being righteous mean you’re more or less on the side of the angels, waging Armageddon for the ultimate victory of the forces of Good over the Kingdom of Death (see how perilously we skirt hippiedom here?), working to enlighten others as to their own possibilities rather than merely sprawling in the muck yodelling about what a drag everything is.” Lester Bangs

(Lester Bangs “The Clash” Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, 1987, p226)

There is a lot of political graffiti, there always has been. Graffiti was one of the first tools of politics from back in the days of the Roman republic and it is still effective today because it is immediate, public and graphic. Stencils are now most commonly used for political graffiti because the message is easily repeatable. A few freehand aerosol artists will add political statements into their pieces, mostly in the clouds.

Everyday consensus… – Collingwood

Now “political” is a big word encompassing many issues, as well as, the type of polemic discourse that is being engaged. One of the issues for street art and graffiti is its illegality. Graffiti, to state the obvious, is done by people with an anarchic attitude towards property. The majority of Melbourne’s graffiti and street artists could broadly be described the libertarian left. There is very little right wing graffiti. Graffiti is, on the whole, anti-war, anti-corporation, anti-police and anti-right wing.

Stop Wars – Rome

All Cops are Bastards – Brunswick

This gets us back to my quote from Lester Bangs – most street artists are more or less righteous. Yes, there are destructive vandals and taggers who are definitely not righteous, but the street artists painting walls and engaging in political graffiti are righteous. They are “working to enlighten others as to their own possibilities”, trying to show everyone that we can make the city more beautiful, more engaging and more personal. They are out on the streets democratically expressing their opinions and engaging with current political issues.

Here are some more of my favourite righteous pieces of political graffiti from around the world.

Noah’s Ark – Belgium

Thug Life Bin Laden – Brunswick

Stop Child Soldiers – Melbourne


Moving & Sitting in the City

Moving through the city, thinking about the kinaesthetic relationship of architecture and public sculpture to the way that people move around in the city. A person was even seen swimming on Flinders St. during the early February downpour in 2010. Most of the time people in Melbourne are walking, driving cars, travelling by train or tram or riding bicycles.

Architecture suggests, proscribes and provides for different types of movement. To make clear the differences between suggest, proscribe and provide consider this: a door suggests an entrance but you may find that it is locked, a sign may proscribe the door to be used for the entrance, but an open window can still provide access. People climb buildings like Spiderman or in Parklour, young men walking over the red arc of the pedestrian bridges across the Yarra River.

The ways that skateboard riders use of public sculpture like “Architectural Fragment” 1992 by Petrus Spronk at the State Library or Inge King’s  “Forward Surge” 1972-74 at the Art Centre. Is this a reverse readymade, like a Rembrandt painting used as an ironing board, or are the skateboard riders using these sculptures not just for their geometry but also their aesthetics. Skateboard riding is an aesthetic sport, with the objective to make spectacular use of the infrastructure and judged on degrees of difficulty.

Sculpture provides an easily identifiable meeting place in the city and while you are waiting you want to seat. People can sit on sculptures and climb on sculptures even if the sculptor does not intend it but the sculptures can be so much better if this natural desire is incorporated into the design. Simon Perry “The Public Purse” 1994 in the Bourke St. mall provides such an opportunity. Tom Bass designed his public sculptures to be sat on. He made sculptures for children; the hard bronze doesn’t suffer from their touch. “The Children’s Tree” 1963 in front of the CML Building on Elizabeth St in the city and “The Genie” 1973 in Queen Victoria Gardens can both be sat on. The plinth of “The Children’s Tree” is a favorite seat for buskers playing an instrument.

Busker playing "dagpipes", his own invention, on the plinth of "The Children's Tree"

(Thanks again, for the idea, to Shifty MacDougal, who writes these interesting comments on my entries about public sculpture.)

Hula Hoop Art

In 2007 I saw some of the filming for No Mi Che’s graduation piece from NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) in Centre Place, Melbourne Australia. At the time Centre Place was a dead end alley in Melbourne’s CBD filled with rubbish bins and some of the best street art in Melbourne. The performance was one of the most unusual responses to Melbourne’s street art that I have seen. I have since tracked down the video – it is now called “Oroborus”.

I saw the performance on Wednesday, 1st November 2007. There was evidence; paint splatters on the walls, of something like this happening before. There have been at least two other previous performances, as recorded by the yellow and green dresses on display; I saw the yellow performance and my colleagues in the building above the alley report on the first performance months earlier.

There was a sign up to announce the 1pm performance, “What comes around goes around” by Alley Rat productions.  There was a large crowd to watch this performance, too large for me to get a good view; there were even punks sitting on the large garbage bins in the alley to get a better view.

“She is a good dancer.” One of the punks remarked.

“Do you like this because of the wet t-shirt?” Asked other punk.

“It is wet and it is art.” Replied the first punk.

There was a lot of red; there was a canvas bag camping shower dripping with red paint along with the dozens of hula-hoops. Again there were paper or canvas sheets attached to the walls to record the paint splatters.

The dancer spun her hula-hoops, danced and painted on the rubbish bins in white paint. The performance ended when a bucket of white paint was thrown on the dancer by one of her assistants; the crowd applauded and parted as she walked through them.

Albert Street Galleries in August

I had to go to East Richmond on Friday to check the Sweet Streets PO box (formerly the Melbourne Stencil Festival but it is much more than just stencil art now). The snail mail PO box is necessary for legal and administrative reasons but we don’t get much mail.

While I was in East Richmond I had a look at the galleries on Albert St. There are always a lot to see at the Albert Street galleries. I saw “Five Ringed Circus” by photojournalist, Michael Coyne at Anita Traverso Gallery. “Five Ringed Circus” is a series of portraits marking the 10-year anniversary of the Sydney Olympics. Jenny Port Gallery was showing “Pressing Matters – Melbourne printmaking”. This group exhibition has a variety of printing techniques by a variety of Melbourne artists. The standout works of the show were the lycanthropy inspired reduction linocuts by Jazmina Cinnas. At John Buckley Gallery there were exhibitions by Hilarie Mais and Hamish Carr but the post-minimalist optical effects that both artists were engaged in really didn’t grabbed my attention.

On Friday there were several people in Sophie Gannon Gallery, more than I’ve seen in there before during the day. I haven’t reviewed Sophie Gannon Gallery in the past as it has always appears to have exhibitions of their stock rather than exhibitions of individual artists (I don’t often write about their exhibitions as reviewing stock exhibitions is uninspiring). I always enjoy seeing the latest Michael Zavros painting in this gallery, it is fantasy art for those who like good contemporary painting. This time I managed to see the second last day of a fantastic exhibition, Nightmare’s Plutonian Shore by Julia de Ville. Read the reviews of the exhibition by Marcus BunyanMelbourne Jeweler and many others. I should add that there was also work by sculptor Aly Aitken in the exhibition that fitted into the macabre taxidermy theme (I last reviewed her exhibition at Platform in October 2009).

There have been some changes amongst the Albert Street galleries, in Richmond. It is a change in commercial gallery practice that has become common in Melbourne – the separate stock room exhibition space. Normally gallery stock rooms are just that a room of stock; perhaps equipped with hanging racks or with paintings stacked against the walls. Now stock rooms have become exhibition spaces. There is the new JBG1 at #1 Albert St., a space formerly occupied by Alison Kelly Gallery that specialized in aboriginal art. Open stock rooms are becoming common in Melbourne’s commercial galleries; JBG1 is much smaller than the Australia Gallery stock room in Derby St. Collingwood. Karen Woodbury Gallery has a stockroom upstairs with a relaxed sitting room atmosphere, an alternative to their white cube gallery space. Shifted Gallery and Studios, the one artist run initiative on the block also appears to have closed. On the subject of changes to galleries, there is now a gallery within a gallery at Jenny Port Gallery, with the back gallery now called Ladner & Fell Gallery.

Ghost Artists

Continuing my exploration of the living-dead of the art world (after finding zombie artists in Melbourne see Art Zombies) ghost-artists were brought to my attention thanks to Karen Thompson (Melbourne Jeweler) and Richard Watts (Man About Town).

Ghost-artists are like ghost-writers and session musicians, they are the ones who make the work that the big name artists, like Patricia Piccinini, put there name to. Piccinini does not draw images of her sculptors, nor does she manufacture them, all she does is think of the idea.

“For me, the ideas for the work come first. I have an image or a vision, and then I think about how I would like it to exist in the world, as a sculpture or photograph or video or whatever. I them find the right person to collaborate with to create that artwork, working closely with them so that what I get in the end is what I imagined in the beginning. Often the work does change a little, because of the input from the people I work with. I have to trust those people a lot, and be able to communicate with them easily. They need to understand me. So I tend to work with the same people a lot, once we have a good relationship. In some ways it is like a write/director of a film, who works with a crew of people to realize their vision.” Patricia Piccinini (2003)

Of course artists since have always used studio assistants, fabricators and other people with technical skills but as they are rarely credited I am calling them ghost-artists.

The public does not expect that a composer to play all the instruments and record, mix and master all their own music. Nor do they expect an author to edit, print and bind their own books. However, the great artist theory of visual art history, with lone genius creators, has ignored, obscured and made ghostly the people assisting the artist. Pop art attacked this image of the artist but the idea lived on in the public’s idea of art to the extent that Mark Kostabi was able to shock the public in the early 1980s by telling 60 Minutes that he hired other artists to think of his ideas.

Credits are not given for many of the roles in the art gallery either: curators do get a mention, sometimes, but not the exhibition installers who hang the work or the catering. The list of credits for an exhibition is considerably shorter than contemporary film or computer games credits. Patricia Piccinini did credit Sam Jinks and Peter Hennessey for their help in producing her work during a speech but is this enough? Sculptor Isabel Peppard (who exhibited at 696 Ink) has also done work for Piccinini. Most people know more about the job of set dressers and grips than the existence of exhibition installers and studio assistants. The argument could be made that the lack of credits doesn’t matter on the basis of trivial importance. Do we really need to know that Mott Iron Works. made the urinal for Duchamp’s “Fountain” or is this trivia? More credits to studio assistants and other ghost artists would help the public to understand, avoid historical debates about who did what and give credit where credit has long been due.

See my review of a Sam Jinks exhibition.

Keith Wiltshire @ 69 Smith St.

I walked past a house in my neighbourhood of Coburg and noticed a carved stone amid the foliage in the front garden. The geometric form of the stone would have been a feature but it was a bit too small. At least it wasn’t kitsch, cast garden sculpture that they sell further up Sydney Road. What they needed is one of Keith Wiltshire’s sculptures.

I don’t see a lot of sculpture suitable for domestic garden settings on exhibition; most contemporary sculptures appear suitable only for indoor locations, preferably an art gallery. It is harder to make sculpture that can survive exposure to the weather. There is a demand for contemporary garden sculpture it; my mother was always asking me to make something for her garden but that is another story. People spend thousands of dollars buying other things for their house but when it comes to garden sculpture they are stingy.

Keith Wiltshire’s exhibition “Sacred Stones” is in the sculpture garden out the backyard of 69 Smith St. This location will give you an idea of what the sculptures would look in your own backyard. The prices range from $300 (for one of the “Tsukubai” a set of large bowls carved from local volcanic bluestone basalt) to $4700, for the impressive “Totem” of copper, steel and quartz.

“Stones have held great significance for humans and arte often invoked as facilitators for spiritual requirements.” Keith Wiltshire, artist statement, 2010

There are sacred stones in cultures around the world; the acropolis in Athens is built on one enormous sacred stone, the ancient Greek equivalent of Ayers Rock. In his exhibition Keith Wiltshire has found influences for his stones in many cultures, most obviously Japanese Zen. Wiltshire is exploring many sculptural techniques and styles in this exhibition; the sculptures are not highly original but they are elegant, tasteful and well made. The two cast bronze hands holding a split stone in his “Binary” is the most technically complex work in the exhibition.

If you want a standing stone for your garden you should consider the sculptures of Keith Wiltshire, the exhibition continues until the 19th of September.

Rennie + Ryan @ Dianne Tanzer

Cold, grey and damp, the winter sky over Fitzroy was as dull as the art that I was seeing that day. Then I entered Dianne Tanzer’s gallery and saw the combined exhibition of Natalie Ryan and Reko Rennie. And it wasn’t just the bright colours of the art that raised my spirits. Natalie Ryan and Reko Rennie are both artists who have become notable this year. Reko Rennie is a Aboriginal artist with a stencil street art background; he is now presenting on the ABC’s Art Nation. And there is a video about Natalie Ryan’s work from the ABC’s Art Nation. Animals are the subject for both of these artists and this brings this exhibition together.

Natalie Ryan creates flock-covered sculptures of animals but there is more to the work than just this unique visual identity. There are art and decorative references in Ryan’s sculptures the game hunter’s trophies and the still life gaming pieces. What was once considered a noble sport has now become kitsch and disturbing. And this change of value is reversed with Ryan’s use of the kitsch flock to create high quality art. In the final space there is a covered flock form glowing with the ultraviolet intensity of Yves Klein International Blue.

I remember visiting the large taxidermy works when I was a child living in Kenya. The smell of the tanning hides is my strongest memory. Then there were all the sculpted moulded forms, for all the big game animals being prepared for museum dioramas. Taxidermy animals are not stuffed; the animal’s skin is stretched over the form, providing the muscles, soft tissues and skeletal structure except for the ears and tails. Natalie Ryan doesn’t use many real parts from the animals, sometimes teeth or horns; it is the artificial parts, the glass eyes etc. used to create these stuffed animals with the flock replaces the real animal skin.

In this exhibition Reko Rennie is taking spray paint stencil art back to its decorative and architectural origins. Stencils were commonly used to paint decorations on walls in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. The red and yellow geometric pattern painted wall by Rennie are hung with a row of Ryan’s pink flock covered animal heads. Another wall has large gum leaf and flower stencils is hung with Rennie’s aerosol stencil paintings of Australian birds.

Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects has changed; the white cube has gone, the narrow entrance gallery has gone and the space has opened up. It no longer pretending to be just an space containing art. What once was previously hidden behind walls, like the office space, has been revealed; there is a table and chairs in the front window. It looks like there is more life in the place.

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