Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Rubble of History

“Cultural Rubble”, 1993, by Christine O’Loughlin, was re-installed on the façade of the new Ian Potter Art Gallery at Melbourne University in 1998. “Culture Rubble” is a large scale, site-specific installation of 4 panels in very high relief; statues and vases stand our almost complete above the surface. It represents the rubble of the classical world reinterpreted in the antipodes.

The idea that a site-specific installation could be re-installed on a new building is made understandable by the moving of the contents, the Ian Potter Art Gallery, from the old building to the new one. The Ian Potter Art Gallery contains a collection of classical antiquities.

“Cultural Rubble” samples past images and recombines them to create a new meaning. It was the first public sculpture that said post-modern to me (although Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon” 1989 is historically the first post-modern sculpture in Melbourne).  For me, “Cultural Rubble” was a visual proof of a paradigm shift in the collective consciousness. It demonstrates a post-modern sense of history, as opposed to the modernist rejection of history. It looked back not just to the classical Greek world but also to the history of art museums such as the paster-cast gallery in the V&A Museum. “Cultural Rubble” contains, in a way, the entire sense of art history embodied by the Louvre’s collection, including the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Discus Thrower.

The rubble has been broken, a symbol of no value, and then reassembled in a different order. It is like the Japanese Buddhist monks that cut up and reassemble a patchwork of fabrics or broken ceramics. It is not an effort to restore what has been sacrificed but find new meaning and order in the sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice is the reciprocal action to terrible destruction, however the sacrifice, itself is a terrible destruction require yet another sacrifice in order to restore the balance. The Christian iconoclasts and the modernists failed to clear up all the rubble of their destruction of the classical pagan world.

The artist, Christine O’Loughlin had lived and worked in France since 1979 and cast the sculptural elements for “Cultural Rubble” at the Louvre. “Cultural Rubble” is an early anomaly in Christine O’Loughlin’s sculptural work, in that it is not representative of her other work, except in its use of the poetics of displacement. She has continued to exhibit in Europe using the environment as her main sculptural material.

Post-modernism was not the end of history rather it was a different sense of history. It was a sense of history with multiple different views. It was sense of history that was evident not just in O’Loughlin’s sculpture but also in the photography of Bill Henson and in the paintings of Gordon Bennett, Imant Tillers and Juan Davilla. However, as Melbourne moved from post-modern to contemporary art the sense of history has faded.


Plato, Philosophy and the Arts

Heather Betts “Raison d’être” at Lindberg Galleries is “an exploration of the trial and death of the classical Athenian philosopher Socrates”. But this post is not about Heather Betts’s paintings, or the quality of her understanding of Socrates, it is just the most recent reference to Socrates that I have seen in an exhibition. And I encounter an exhibition that refers to Socrates every couple of years.

It bores and irritates me as a student of philosophy the number of artists who will refer to Plato or Socrates in their artist’s statements. (Socrates is only known from Plato’s writing, so it is hard to distinguish the views of one from the other.) It bores me – the sheer repetition and because Socratic philosophy is useless (unless you can make a career out it).

Plato’s animosity towards the arts, he would censor all art in his ideal republic, makes him a poor basis for any kind of artistic inspiration. ‘Such representations definitely harm the minds of their audiences, unless they’re inoculated against them by knowing their real nature.’ (Republic, X.1—X.8. 595a—608b covers the rejection of mimetic art.) It reminds me of this fundamentalist mullah that I saw on a YouTube video going on about how pop music is an illusion and a distraction from ‘reality’.

The repetition of Socrates and Plato irritates me because it reminds me of the poverty of philosophical education amongst artists. But enough about Socrates and Plato, more than enough has already been said. Why is it important what philosophers an artist has read and quoted in their artist statements on photocopied A4 sheets? For ideas and inspiration as artists are interpreters and communicators of current intellectual theories, creating art informed by these theories. Artists are part of chains of influence in the intellectual community, acting as communicators of philosophy, theoretical science and theology (depending on the values of the society where the artist is working).

There is not a single major philosopher who has not written about the arts, according to Arthur Danto, who has written both philosophy and art. There are other philosophers who love art and I would recommend to artists to read them rather than Plato. Why not try reading Ludwig Wittgenstein for inspiration? Or try the obscure Max Stirner who argues that making art is one the best ways of expressing your unique identity. Or even, Jean BaudrillardThe Conspiracy of Art (Semiotexte, 2005).

And artists should remember that not all philosophers are dead like Socrates (to the great relief of logicians who use his mortality as an exemplary premise in syllogisms – all men are mortal, Socrates is a man therefore Socrates is mortal – but I digress). Living philosophers are more relevant than those that have been dead for millennia. Melbourne’s own major philosopher, Peter Singer writes in a clear and enjoyable manner about ethics. If you haven’t read one of Singer’s books then you should, not because you will necessarily agree with him, but because he is a good writer. And philosophy, what ever it is, is definitely a form of literature. So who was the last philosopher you have read or referred to in your art?

Melbourne Shrines – especially the unofficial

Melbourne has many shrines, memorials and monuments, official or unofficial. They are one way of understanding Melbourne’s culture and its variety of religious practices. Although many Australians claim to be Christian their actual religious practice, as indicated by Melbourne’s shrines, includes Australian rules football, culture heroes and ancestor worship.

The Shrine of Remembrance and its the surrounding gardens are the most obvious, best known and largest of Melbourne’s shrines. The MCG is also frequently described as a “shrine to footy”, indicating its religious significance in Melbourne. There are a few Catholic shrines in Melbourne in Kew there is a shrine dedicated to “the Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt” (an obscure title of the Virgin Mary) and the St. Anthony National Shrine is in Hawthorn.

It is a curious feature of Melbourne that there are so many shrines, memorials and monuments to people unconnected with Melbourne. There are plenty of 19th century monuments in Melbourne to monarchs and heroes of the British Empire, including Queen Victoria and General Gordon. The Treasury Gardens contains an ornamental pond with a monument to President John F. Kennedy created by sculptor Raymond Ewers in 1965. This shrine to an American culture hero physically marks Melbourne’s transition from the British to the American sphere of political and cultural influence. The Shrine to Elvis in Melbourne General Cemetery is the only officially approved Memorial to Elvis Presley outside Graceland in Memphis. The religious significance of the immortal Elvis is further explored in an essay by Jennifer Phipps, the Curator of Australian Art – Late Modernism at National Gallery of Victoria.

Roadside shrine in Brunswick

So far I have mentioned only official memorials but there are many temporary and unofficial shrines and memorials in Melbourne. Roadside memorials to the victims of traffic accidents are a common custom. Bunches of flowers, photographs and other mementos are attached to poles or laid on the side of the road close to the spot where the accident occurred. These traffic accident memorials in turn become dangerous distractions to other drivers.

There is a large improvised shrine in the gardens of the Collingwood housing commission flats for the stolen generation and other members of the aboriginal community. It is maintained by the Parkies Inc., a local aboriginal group.

Shrine to the stolen generation

On my explorations of Melbourne’s laneways I encountered an improvised memorial shrine to Nicholas Kennedy (1980-2004). There are a neat row of candles and a vase of sunflowers behind some rubbish bins. Who is remembering him with such dedication all these years later?

“Sue Anne Ware, a landscape architect, has pursued her investigations to a conclusion with a temporary street memorial to people who have died of heroin overdoses [Melbourne Festival 2001, St. Kilda] and a memorial to young people who have died on a country road [2003 ongoing, Gippsland].” (Leon Van Schaik Design City Melbourne, Wiley-Academy, 2006, England, p.113)

Official or unofficial these memorials, these public shrines and monuments map changes in culture and values in Melbourne.

Everfresh @ NGV Studio

At the NGV Studio in Fed Square the Everfresh crew: Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm, The Tooth, and “special guests” are giving a taste of the awesome work that they have been doing on the streets of Melbourne for a decade. The exhibition is worth seeing for anyone at all interested in Melbourne street art; the art presented at NGV Studio is worth seeing and shows the range Everfresh’s art on the streets. And it is always fascinating to see artist’s studios. But there is something wrong with the way the NGV is presenting this exhibition/residency.

Everfresh's studio in the NGV Studio

The most obvious thing was that there is no curatorial information from the NGV on the exhibition or any of the art in the exhibition. The 5 Ws are not covered: who are Everfresh? What the NGV Studio residency is about? Where Everfresh is based? Why they are in the NGV Studio? And how the exhibition work? There aren’t even any labels to identify the artist and work – Everfresh, or the “special guests”? There is information about Phib’s exhibition at Hogan Gallery as if it was all a publicity stunt for that exhibition.

The exhibition runs out around the corner next to the disable toilets – I wanted more. It seems to running out before that as there are 2 display cases still wrapped in plastic standing empty in the space.

It is “a selection of artworks from over the last 10 years, plus a whole heap of other stuff from the studio that kind of makes it what it is.“ (Everfresh website) The exhibition makes it look like Everfresh are already history and their paint splattered shoes, rubber gloves and homemade mops are in a vitrine – and they are at the exhibition. I have seen the archeologically preserved remains of Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin (see my post about Bacon’s Studio) and Brancusi’s studio in a glass box next to the Pompidou Centre. Both Bacon and Brancusi are dead but I know that the Everfresh guys are still alive and working, they have a lot of other stuff going on right now. There is no music playing, even the video game machine was silent – it was as quiet as the grave or an art gallery when I visited. So there is this feeling hyperreality about the whole exhibition and the “residency” at the NGV studio. Adding to the hyperreality is the Everfresh “Graff Mobile” with a giant fluro marker on the roof rack.

Some of this history aspect to the exhibition is good, like the cartoon design for the massive Fitzroy mural. Or 5yncRone’s cardboard stencil thick with red paint, mounted as a negative. Or the dense display of little photos, postcards, stickers, toys, little drawings and other stuff. Or the old boards thick with tags, paint and other marks. Along with all the items riffing on the Everfresh label.

But I keep asking the question is this exhibition history or is this fresh?

Lot’s Wife @ Pesgrave Place

The TwentybyThirty Gallery is the smallest gallery in Melbourne; it is a vitrine 20x30cm in the corner of the door of a bar. It is in Pesgrave Place. You will never find Pesgrave Place unless you know that it is off Howey Place, which is off Little Collins St. just before it crosses Swanston Walk. It is a cul de sac principally used to service the shops that backs on to it.

Frames in Pesgrave Place, Melbourne

The collection frames are still on the wall of Pesgrave Place 4 or 5 years that they were glued there – so much for the ephemeral nature of street art. There is other street art in Pesgrave Place but is not as dense as in other Melbourne street lanes.

Daniel Dorall, Lot's Wife, 2011

It was hard to see Daniel Dorall’s installation “Lot’s Wife” at TwentybyThirty Gallery because of building work going on when I went to see it during the week. The Biblical metaphor of Lot’s wife fleeing from the decadent city of Sodom is portrayed with dark humor. Dorall’s model of an architectural maze space perfectly fills the small space and the maze of laneways leading to Pesgrave Place. If you haven’t seen Dorall’s art before then this will be a good work to see and it can be seen any time during day or night. Read my other blog posts about Dorall’s art – enter “Dorall” in the search box in the right column and click search.

Has anyone else visited Pesgrave Place?

Shaun Gladwell – Physical Graffiti

I could get cosmic about the Gladwell’s art and write about the spinning fat god that is the turning universe. I could art historical and refer to Gladwell’s references to Turner and Caspar David Friedrich. Or examine his cinematic references to Mad Max and Ozploitation films. Instead, due to my interest in street art, I saw something else in Gladwell’s art a kind of physical graffiti.

Shaun Gladwell is most famous for his video “Storm Sequence” (2000) (it is not in the ACMI exhibition) but how did he come to this? I vaguely remember some of his early paintings.  Joanna Mendelssohn reviewing Shaun Gladwell’s exhibition at Sherman Galleries in Sydney has clearer memories of these paintings. Mendelssohn notes that Gladwell started painting giant copies of Penguin paperback classics. (Artlink Vol 23 no.3 2003) There is nothing of this early phase in Gladwell’s art in the ACMI exhibition. There are still a couple of minor works on paper scattered through out ACMI’s exhibition but they are largely incidental. One drawing, “Untitled” (2011) does provide a key to Gladwell’s art showing a diagram of train surfing yoga positions.

When Gladwell stopped focusing on painting and drawing and turned to video he was able to better integrate his art and his own life. Videos of Gladwell’s street movement; skateboard riding in “Storm Sequence” or hanging from the handrails of a Sydney train in “Tangara” (2003) became the foundation for his video art. Using BMX riders, break dancers, graffiti artists, skateboarders, pole dancers for his videos – this is physical graffiti.

Contemporary movement defines space in a creative, interactive way: what can be done with this space, what orders can be found, explored, used and created. Movement and perspective are not determined by the space but by the person using the space. This is body art as an urban intervention, captured in the locations and the momentum in Gladwell’s videos. In his photographs of the rollerblading police at the Louvre Gladwell is documenting changes in contemporary movement. “Planet & Stars Sequence: Bondi” (2011) looks at the movements of an aerosol art busker routine.

“Shaun Gladwell: Stereo Sequences” in the large Gallery 1 space at ACMI is the first in what ACMI promises to be a series of commissioned new works by ”leading Australian and international contemporary artists.” The horizontal tracking and the walk through “Parallel Forces” (2011) curiously reminded me that the long Gallery 1, deep under ACMI, was once a platforms at Flinders Street Station. It is an engaging exhibition and I hope that has an influence on Melbourne’s street art scene.

Brian McKinnon Kicks Ass

Does anyone else like Brian McKinnon’s art?

I hated Brian McKinnon’s current works on canvas when I first saw them from across the Counihan Gallery at the “Reclaim and Sustain” exhibition. His text based mixed media art looked like awful adolescent arts and craft project with those kids foam letters and ink jet prints stuck to the canvas. I had to force myself to take a closer look and then I realized that they were visually rich, complex and enjoyable.

Brian McKinnon's paintings at the Counihan Gallery

There are slices of cheap ink jet prints of European cemeteries forming columns alternating with strips of industrial enamel paint. This creates a pattern of hypnotic repetition across the canvas to support the text. The process of creating these canvases appears to reflect the history of European colonization of Australian – a cheap, exploitative process to produce some temporary results is mirrored in McKinnon’s bricolage.

“No thought was given to longevity…” McKinnon writes in his artist’s “statement and warning”. Many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. There was and is little thought given to longevity of Australia, it is like the process that McKinnon uses to create these paintings.

And as I write this I realize in the words more understanding of Brian McKinnon’s current work. That the “awful adolescent arts and craft project” inspires and haunts the work of all artists – I had been looking for art that reflected the obsession, invention and the amateur in these art and craft projects. Something kick-ass going beyond being stupid and ugly. Maybe, I like his art because it fits into my agenda, or maybe it is just easy to write about it. I have been looking for art that expresses the horrible racist political situation in Australia.

Brian McKinnon"A Matter of Haste"2011

“Its all about the money the mining our sacred burial sites mean nothing.” In cheap foam letters on McKinnon’s “A Matter of Haste” 2011. That says it.

Brian McKinnon has paintings on exhibition at “Reclaim and Sustain” at the Counihan Gallery and “Girt by Sea” at RMIT School of Art Gallery. I’d seen McKinnon’s earlier paintings before at previous exhibitions at Counihan Gallery – there was one of these paintings in the “Girt by Sea” exhibition at RMIT School of Art Gallery. McKinnon’s earlier paintings are graphically strong but were a bit too much like a protest posters for my taste. “What if…” at “Girt by Sea” rounded out my appreciation of his art, in this work the combination of pattern woodcarving and collage elements of the lid of “Flying Dutchman” tobacco. It invites the speculation what if the Dutch had colonized Australia instead of the British… write an essay about that.

McKinnon’s current paintings provoke so many thoughts ranging from Australian politics to McKinnon’s references to the art of William Blake and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. But it is their kick-ass attitude and intensity that hits.

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