Monthly Archives: October 2010

Street Art Politics Forum

I did get to the Sweet Streets artist’s forum at 1000 Pound Bend on Saturday 23 October. The forum focused on “the challenges and politics surrounding being a Street artist and working on and off the streets.” (Festival website) The panel featured Kirsty Furniss (from KA’a), Tom Civil, Junky Projects, Haha, and Boo. The forum was organized by Boo (who is on the festival committee) and facilitated by Mickie Skelton, a circus performer who did an excellent job in introducing the artists, keeping the questions coming from the audience and the discussion moving.

Street art is not exclusively political but there is a political dimension to claiming a space, the personal empowerment of not being locked out and DIY. The decision to be arrested for a political empowers the individual to take dramatic actions like painting “No War” on the Sydney Opera House roof.

There was a small discussion by the Newcastle artists – Junky Projects, Civil and Boo about the differences between Newcastle and Melbourne’s approach to graffiti. Newcastle is fighting a loosing war on graffiti – “Dig a hole and throw money in it.” Junky Projects. All of the artists are currently living in Melbourne because it is more tolerant than Newcastle of graffiti.

All of the artists in the forum were interested in the political issues of street art but not all were political activists unless HaHa’s offer to fill USB sticks with conspiracy theory videos counts as activism. Junky Projects is not a political activist but his propaganda by deed of creating art from recycling junk bring attention to the politics of consumption and waste. The other three artists in the forum Tom Civil, Kristy and Boo have all used street art in political activism. Culture jammin’ was the entry into street art for both Kirsty and Boo.

It was a rambling discussion Tom Civil pointed out early anarchists propaganda techniques that have been taken up by street artists, including paste-ups. He has recently published a new edition of “How to Make Trouble and Influence People.”

Boo talked about her use of cognitive dissidence in her art to make people think. But even the way that she puts up her work on the street has some cognitive dissidence – Boo puts her work up with a tube of liquid nails on the way home from doing the shopping.

The discussion moved on to what is the future of Melbourne’s street art? “Brunswick” Junky Projects said it in one word. Junky Projects also pointed out that there is less hip-hop graffiti and more graffiti from other subcultures like, punks and metal. There are punk street artists with names like Snotrag, Neckface and the Looser Crew making ugly pieces.

Other predictions for the future were more proscriptive. Civil wants bigger street art, whole building size, but deeper subjects rather than the current shallow content. He is looking forward to more mature street art and hoping for break from the American aesthetic that has dominated street art. Boo is hoping for a less masculine street art, not just more women involved but less machismo in the street art produced. Boo noted that there were more women artists participating in this year’s festival.

(See my entry on Political Street Art)

 


DADA on CD

It is hard to understand the totality of Dada, or most other art movements, simply by looking at a few paintings and other objects that survive as relics in museums or repeatedly illustrated in art history books. Maybe, if we had video of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s performances on his double-necked lute we might think of art, or Jimmie Page, differently. Dada was a total art movement, poetry, visual arts, performance, because as they wanted to totally transform Europe’s war crazed culture. Of the Dada performances on a few photographs and some audio recording survive. Kurt Schwitters would occasionally release 78-rpm records with his Merz magazine (a pioneering feature that has continued with magazines releasing CDs). These audio recording and others have now been compiled and re-released on various CDs and these recordings add a new depth to our understanding of Dada as well as few laughs and truly beautiful moments.

Dada > Antidada > Merz (Sub Rosa, edited by Marc Dachy) has recordings by Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters and Raoul Hausmann. Hausmann’s imaginary interview with the Lettristes is like an extreme part of The Goon Show and is very funny even to people who know nothing of the Dadaists. However, this is mostly a CD of hardcore Dada poetry for the fans.

Futurism & Dada Reviewed (Sub Rosa, 1988, edited and produced by James Neiss) is more of a sampler. It includes recordings by Richard Huelsenbeck and Schwitters. There is also a beautiful performance of Marcel Duchamp’s “Erratum Musicale” (curiously listed as “La Mariee Mise a Nu…Meme”) by Mats Persson and Kristine Scholz. Trio Exvoco recreates Tzara, Janco and Huelsenbeck’s simultaneous poem “L’Amiral cherche une maison a louer”.

Schwitters’s sound poem “Die Sonata in Urlauten”, recorded on the 5th of May in 1932, is featured on both CDs (it is listed as ‘ursonate’ on ‘Dada > Antidada > Merz’) and is an outstanding piece of nonsense. It was composed around the sounds of letters that Schwitters recited with precision and a beautiful voice.

Futurism & Dada Reviewed also has a sample of recordings from the period, as well as the Dadaists, there are recordings of the Futurists using Luigi Russolo’s noise machines. Russolo’s mechanical proto-synthesizers were able to produce a great variety of rumbles, howls and other noises. And, there is more, Guillaume Apollinaire reciting poetry, Wyndham Lewis, the British Vorticist almost rapping and Jean Cocteau playing in his jazz band for two tracks. This amusing CD ends with the sound of a record needle on an old 78.

Lipstick Traces (Rough Trade, 1993, edited by Greil Marcus) is the soundtrack to Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989) by Greil Marcus. The CD was released separately to the book and contains a very wide variety of tracks from Dadaists, punks, Guy Debord and other Situationalists. It also includes the remarkable recording of Marie Osmond (yes, the one from The Osmonds) reciting Schwitters’s sound poem ‘Karawane’ that has to be heard to be believed. It is essential listening for the book and aurally demonstrates Greil Marcus argument that there are trace influences between the Dadaists and the punks, particularly in the use of glosslalia-like speech and other non-lexical vocables.

There is no evidence that the sounds of Schwitters and Hausmann directly influence the nonsense sounds of Spike Milligan but it sounds like it. More directly, Brian Eno samples Schwitters in a track on Before and after Science (EG Records, 1977), appropriately titled ‘Kurt’s Rejoinder’. Indirectly Dada has influenced so much of contemporary music from Merzbau to Cabaret Voltaire.


Sweet Streets – Week 2

Sweet Streets is all over now for another year. Week 2 was the final week of the Sweet Streets, a festival of urban and street art; not that my work as secretary is done, there is still the AGM to organize and clean up of the venues to complete. I also have to finish putting my notes from the festival’s artist’s forum together into a coherent blog entry.

I was feeling a bit burnt out from all the festivals, not just Sweet Streets but also the Melbourne Festival, the Fringe Festival and life. There is so much packed into Melbourne’s calendar in October, the only time available after the football season and before the end of year silly season. So I took a walk in the spring sunshine around the Fitzroy portion of the artist’s trail. I hadn’t thought about the therapeutic value of this walk until I was contacted by an Occupational Therapist at the Alfred, who wanted to take a group of clients on the walk. Walking is very good exercise and having a reason to be observant on a walk also feels good. I was vaguely hoping that I might meet up with Judy Baxt who was going to be working on her yarn bombing part of the trail and to talk about yarn bombing with her. I must catch up with her another time.

Yarn bombing along the art trail in Fitzroy by Thomas Chung

I didn’t make it to the opening of the Collingwood Underground part of the festival. Sweet Streets (and the Melbourne Stencil Festival in previous years) is one of the few arts festivals to actually produce art and not just present it. The artists in the festival collaborate to produce works that are auctioned off at the end of the festival. The Collingwood Underground, a disused carpark, provides the space for the collaboration and interaction between the participating artists, as well as, workshops for the public. Some of the work in the underground was documented on a video by one of the artists, Danny.

Junky Projects

I’m not the only one who is worn out. The unofficial star of the festival has been Daniel (aka Junky Projects). He has been everywhere – running workshops, drinking at openings, talking at the forum, and wearing a variety of outrageous sunglasses and clothes. Look at a set of photos of the festival and there he is larger than life. There have been rumours on the street that Junky Projects is a female heroin addict. They are not true – he is a large man with red hair and beard. However, he was too sick with a cold to be the auctioneer for the annual charity auction at the end of the festival, so Phil Hall, the artistic director, stepped in to fill the gap.

Are they selling the walls now?

Phil Hall conducting Sweet Streets auction

The objective of the charity auction was to “raise money for the future of Sweet Streets as well as the Collingwood Housing Estate Arts Community, and Anglicare Victoria – our chosen charities” (quoting the festival website). Most of it will be put towards paying for this year’s festival, but that is the future of Sweet Streets.

For those of you interested in the fiscal value of street art, the auction raised over $10,000 (up from $6,000 last year). The highest prices were: an Obey (A/P artist’s proof print) $300, large Civil/Boo collaboration $450, HaHa canvas $410 and a large Debs $800.  (For those making comparisons in US$ the AUS$ is basically at parity with the US$ this weekend, a fraction less).


Spud Rokk

Graff Hunters are fun series of online videos about graffiti. The presenter and lead Graff Hunter is Spud Rokk. In his sunglasses, hat and single glove Spud Rokk is exploring and hunting through the urban wilderness for graffiti. He is like an urban version of Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter and other the wild wilderness-men TV presenters. But he is a graffiti art critic.

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

Spud is a high-energy presenter; he runs down streets, climbs walls and leaps over storm water drains in a single bound. His cameraman struggles to keep up with him. Spud is always excited by the art that he discovers on the street and the excitement is contagious to the audience. His commentary is also high-energy and well informed about street artists and graffiti technique. His style of criticism is mostly about pointing out the quality in the graffiti piece. His hands and body still dance as he explains the movement and composition of graffiti pieces. Watching a Graff Hunters video is an education in the elements that make up a good piece of graffiti.

Spud is sometimes joined on his graffiti hunting Australia wide expedition by his sidekick Juzzo, sometime Spud interviews artists, but mostly he has a dialogue with the cameraman. He swears a lot more than any TV presenter (certainly more than any art presenter) but that is the street and the advantage of presenting his videos are online.

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

In reality Spud Rokk is a character created by Spencer; the blue eyes behind the trademark sunglasses. There are lots of fictional comic presenters from Norman Gunston to Ali G; these clowns are no less artificial than many glossy TV presenters but are perhaps more honest about their fictions. Spencer says that by the fictional VJ, Max Headroom inspired him to uses scratch j-j-j-j-jumps in his videos. In real life Spencer is just as full of energy, he laughs more and swears a lot less. He is motivated by his love of art and his passion energizes and motivates him. Spencer told me has done about 30 Graff Hunters videos but only some are currently on the website – he puts them up and if they don’t get good hits then he takes them down.

Spencer started off as a b-boy and break-dancing; then he saw the writing on the wall and became interested in graffiti. His old catalogue of hip-hop music has now becomes the soundtrack for the videos. He started making videos about Melbourne’s graffiti in the mid-90s and then started editing in the 2000. In 2000 he produced documentary for indi hip-hop group Curse ov Dialect who he also collaborated with musically. Editing the videos became easier after he won an ABC mini-documentary competition that lead to Graff Hunters being sponsored by NMG in Footscray. He is also working with Oriel Guthrie making a feature length documentary about Melbourne’s graffiti scene: Hello My Name Is…. Spencer plans on expanding his range of videos with Spud Rokk exploring cooking, bicycles and others passions.

I’m glad to have met Spencer as he really inspired to do more with the Sweet Streets festival film night that I ran this year that featured both an episode of Graff Hunters and the preview of Hello My Name Is…. The episode of Graff Hunters warmed up the capacity house and got them laughing – see for yourself.


MoreArts

I’ve seen some of the MoreArts exhibition in Moreland. MoreArts appears to be replacing the annual Moreland sculpture show with a more contemporary site-specific series of installations along the Upfield train line from Gowie to Jewell. It has been successful at being noticed and starting conversations. My neighbours have been talking about Carmel O’Conner’s “Traart In Line Travellers” a series of line drawing on clear acetate installed in the Coburg train station waiting room. I have only seen part of the exhibition from the window of the train as the works are installed in wasteland beside the tracks or in the stations and I have been too busy to ride my bicycle along the trail beside the Upfield line to see all of them.

Liz Walker’s field of poles with plastic bags has attracted my attention, blown in the wind the plastic bags look like the ones that get caught in trees. Walker uses the effects of pollution and recycled materials and turned them into an art installation.

The MoreArts 2010 winners, judged by Sam Leach, are: 1st Prize Saffron Lily Gordon for  “Don’t fence me in” and 2nd Prize Danielle Bain and Susie Zarris for “Life Obsolete”. Commendations went to Elizabeth Phillip-Mahney for “Jumper Leads” and Candy Stevens for “Rocks of all ages”.

Art-Vend is an “art gallery in a vending machine dispensing original artworks for $1.20 a pop.” It is a side-project to the MoreArts exhibition. While I was at the Coburg Library I did buy my own miniature artwork from the machine. Not that you could see the work in the machine, so it wasn’t really an art gallery more of a lucky dip. But the packaging and the machine were more attractive than the picture made of squashed plasticine inside.

Art-Vend packaging and art

A less successful exhibition was going on at about the same time along Sydney Road in Brunswick, the annual art in shop windows exhibition that has a different name each year. There is so much to look on Sydney Road that it is kind of pointless having an exhibition in shop windows as well but it is there, with “Window/Frames.” Street art, advertising and shop window displays are all competing with the haphazard quality of a community exhibition. Amongst the better works in “Window/Frames” is Ben Howe, “Everything Sacred Is Stolen By The Rich”. Last year Ben Howe was highly commended in the 2009 Melbourne Stencil Festival’s award exhibition but this is an oil painting. Oil painting is not such a strange move for an artist as both stencils and oil paintings require similar techniques in separating the image into areas of colour. (I also saw some of Howe’s stencils at Brunswick Street Gallery in Fitzroy.) Bliss, one of the few shops to give the artist enough space in the window hosted Aviva Hannah installation with drawings “Dancing on Glass”.

The reasons for the success and failure of these two exhibitions is simple, it is, as any real estate agent will tell you: location, location, location. And although Sydney Road might appear to be a better location than the Upfield line, the variety of locations, the surprise and joy of seeing art on the commute to and from the city makes MoreArt more successful.


Urban Intervention @ YSG

Urban Intervention: a street sculpture exhibition and art trail opened on Friday night at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, part of the Sweet Streets festival. (I must declare that I am the festival’s secretary, a volunteer position but it does give me a bias in my reports.)

Opening "Urban Intervention" @ Yarra Sculpture Gallery

People don’t often ask what is the future of street art? Very few people are asking this question because street art is ephemeral and it is perceived as fashionable fad (although the fad has lasted some 30+ years). The whig history of art dismisses street art as a fad because it doesn’t fit with art history’s idea of progress. But there is a lot of progress in street art scene: street sculpture and yarn bombing.  There are other aspects that are not easily packaged like culture jamming and site specific installations.

There are a lot of impressive elements to this exhibition; a whole painted ute was parked in the gallery, a shopping cart covered in knitting and an installation of light, smells and sounds. There was street sculpture from Mic Porter, Nick Ilton, Will Coles and Junky Projects. The Melbourne Light Painters exhibited photographs and the objects that emit light (sparklers, toys swords and other things). Van Rudd exhibited a work protesting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Phonenix brings Banksy’s “The Little Diver” from Cocker Alley in Melbourne back from its destruction with a paste-up that was recreated and documented in the exhibition.

Nick Ilton's "Suggestion Box" and suggestions

Importantly for a street art exhibition the exhibition is not limited to the gallery there is an associated art trail where the artists from the exhibition have work in context with an online collaborative map. I haven’t walked the trail yet but I have looked at it online – the detail in this Google map is fantastic. It is important for this to exist in both the virtual and actual versions because so much of street art scene exists online, as well as, the streets.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t any guerrilla gardening in the exhibition, maybe I will find some on the art trail. I must do that when the weather improves.

Curated by Anna Briers and Kelly Madigan this is an important exhibition about under-represented trends in street art: “site specific installation, culture jamming, underground light painting, yarn bombing…” It also sets new benchmarks in quality in exhibiting street art.


John Cale “When Past and Future Collide”

John Cale “When Past and Future Collide” was part of the Melbourne Festival 2010. John Cale + Band + Orchestra Victoria performed Paris 1919 live (not that I am familiar with that album) and a few other songs.

Many rock musicians like to play with orchestras, it fills out the sound and makes them look sophisticated and/or rehabilitated. But John Cale is different because he can write for an orchestra and all those years studying with the British composer Cornelius Cardew, means that this is not some trite, conventional orchestration. (“When I was studying composition I was completely unaware that the Rolling Stones were playing in some nearby pub. Instead, I met Cornelius Cardew, who opened up to me the world of the London base of the Fluxus movement…” John Cale, Autobiography). The orchestration was excellent and the combination of the string section with the electric guitar was exceptional. There was a very big string section (to be expected from John Cale, who plays the viola), no woodwind and a small brass section consisting of two French horns, a trumpet and trombone player who played an excellent gutsy part in one song. It wasn’t just John Cale and songs with complete orchestration. After the intermission he did return to playing more rocking numbers with just the band.

I’m a fan of John Cale and I played his parts in a Velvet Underground tribute band that I was in with Ron Rude, Frank Borg and others back in the 1990s. I have seen him in concert before; John Cale performances are always cathartic (cathartic I must note is a medicine that causes the emptying of the bowels). There is something cathartic about a great musician playing Jonathon Richmond’s “Picasso” at the State Theatre and repeatedly singing: “Nobody called Pablo Picasso an arsehole”. Maybe I needed the therapy after this week but that’s another story.

John Cale is the dictionary definition of punk – look up The Complete Oxford English Dictionary. A quote from NME: “John Cale was the first punk”, or some such phrase, is the example of how the word ‘punk’ is used (don’t quote me on this in your school work, look up the dictionary for yourself). John Cale was still looking like a punk, even though he was wearing a coat and tie, with peroxide blond hair with a large pink patch on one side.

The concert was like a collision between past and future. There was an intermission, unheard of in rock’n’roll (“We can play one long set or two sort sets” Lou Reed – Velvet Underground Live 69) but there were two encores (strange in the world of classical music but typical of a rock concert). The stage manager brought out a big bouquet of flowers to John Cale at the start of the second encore. I would have liked the lead guitarist and conductor shake hands, like the tradition of the lead violin and conductor shaking hands, to complete this collision between past and future traditions. The final encore was Chorale from Sabotage Live – a beautiful song that proved, even at the end of the concert, that age hasn’t weakened Cale’s fine Welsh singing voice.

The audience spanned all generations from the very young to people that made me feel young. Such is the attraction of this punk. I was glad to be among them.

 


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