Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Globalization of Festivals

I’ve been enjoying the 2011 Melbourne Festival, especially “The Manganiyar Seduction” for both the music and the spectacular presentation. No sooner had the Melbourne Fringe Festival finished then the Melbourne Festival started; sometimes it seems that there is a film, fashion or other cultural festival planned for the whole year.

This year at the Melbourne Festival there was a parade of giant black baby demon statues. The demons took on another meaning when Melbourne City Square was briefly occupied by protesters joining in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The baby demons have been touring other arts festivals around the world. That started me thinking about the globalization of art festivals.

I was reading Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) and I was I was surprised to find that Coburg had held the first arts festival in Australia. I was also surprised to find that this was in 1944. Coburg held five arts festivals in the following years. In its second year the arts festival had an art exhibition, curated from pictures on loan from the collections of Coburg residents; the art included work by Louis Buvelot, Rex Battarbee, Harold Herbert, Daryl Lindsay and Sir John Longstaff. (Look up these guys up to understand the high quality of artists that were on exhibition.)

The transformation of the community based arts festivals, like 1944 Coburg Arts Festival, into the corporate sponsored tourist attractions, like the Melbourne Festival, is remarkable not just for the growth. The contemporary arts festivals requires greater infrastructure than venues for the events, there has to be restaurants, cafés and bars for the audience before and after the events, there has to be transportation, hotels and other facilities. This kind of arts festival has become an international travelling tourist attraction as the acts, like “The Manganiyar Seduction” and the “Tom Tom Club” travel the international festival circuit. In the process festival directors have become stars and their role has developed from an administrative to a curatorial role.

In 1986 the Cain state government started the Spoleto Festival of Melbourne. Four years later the festival changed its name to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the “international” and “arts” has gradually faded from Melbourne Festival’s title. 1986 was the same year as the California’s Burning Man festival was established. As festivals became more similar, with the same acts, around the world, very little attention was paid to creating different kinds of festivals. Not the Alexandrian approach of a festival for every category from the Armenian Film Festival to the Zombie Art Festival. Rather to take a creative approach to creating festivals, as Burning Man has done.

What do you think about the globalization of art festivals?


Play Game

“Game/Play” at the NGV Studio is a long over due exhibition of games in a major art gallery. Why are there games in the NGV? As, the project curator, Paul Callaghan states: “what it (games and play) can show us about the human condition.” Games are cultural artifacts; the game pieces, the printed cards, the game boards or the computer graphics are all designed to be attractive as well as functional. Games belong in an art gallery in the same way that furniture and fashion belong.

The exhibition at the NGV Studio has a selection of board games, five computer games and lot of computer art associated with game design. Along with a program of associated events has plenty of game sessions for the public.

What was missing from this exhibition was a fully painted Warhammer 40K army, that would have looked good, or a selection of gem like geometric dice from the role-playing games. Well, as an old gamer, a lot of things were missing from this exhibition but it was good to see it because it is so long over due.

The history of culture rarely focuses on the creators of games and toys. The origin of many games is lost in myth. The ancient Greeks believed that they were only remembering far older competitions when they added new events to the Olympic games. In the past games were an alternative to the real thing, a practice, and a heuristic devise for training. A culture does not require that many games until all position for games in that culture have been filled. One or two running around games, a target game, a strategy board game and a couple of gambling games will suffice, any more diversity is simply competing for player’s leisure time. So games like chess lasted for centuries and were able to successfully colonize game players in other areas.

Games as entertainment do not have a long history; their development is often smothered by their popularity. Increased leisure time afforded more time to play and more variety of games. In the 20th century the variety of games has increased; there is now a lot more games than chess and playing cards.

Just after looking at the “Game/Play” exhibition I ran into my friend and gamer, Sean Doyle, who works at ACMI. Sean was telling me about being up in Brisbane installing an exhibition of computer games. In past discussions, Sean Doyle compared the time line of computer game development to the development of movies. The first 20 years of computer game development are comparable to the first 20 years of movies. Computer games, like movies, were a novelty and not to be considered art. ACMI regularly exhibits computer games involving moving images; it is good to see that the NGV are catching up with “Game/Play”.

Black Mark’s 500th Blog Post

A lot of blog posts, it has been a hell of a journey. I’ve seen a lot of great exhibitions, tracked down a lot of beautiful street art and met a few interesting people along the way. Then I do a lot of work researching and writing blog posts. There has been, as my old lecturer in aesthetics, John McKenzie of Monash University Philosophy Department used to say, “a lot of thinking hard about art”. In each post I’ve tried to write about different galleries, new aspects of street art or new aspects of Melbourne’s culture.

To celebrate this milestone I thought that I’d link back to my favourite blog posts. They are not necessarily the most popular, although Keith Haring in Melbourne is very popular; some are amongst the least read blog posts. They are the blog posts that I’d recommend people to read, that I would want included in some pie in the sky anthology of this blog.

Faster Pusssycat – this was my first blog post, apart from the intro one that I’ve since taken down. It comes with its own video – a feature too complex to do too often.

Keith Haring in Melbourne – I did a fair amount of research for this post and I’ve been a fan of Keith Haring since the 80s.

Banksy in Melbourne – writing about Haring made me want to write more about major street artists who have visited Melbourne. This required even more research and in the process I made a few mistakes that I have corrected (that photo in the other blog never looked right, I should have followed my instincts.)

More Art Censorship – This was my first take on the Bill Henson furore May 22, 2008. Crikey linked to my post when they wrote about the furore the next day – I like the instant publishing feature of blogging.

Public Art on Brunswick Street – Again this entry has a lot of local research and it has a great postscript from Bronwyn Snow with more detail about her sculpture.

Art Zombies – If I only wrote about art that I like then this entry would not have been written and this entry describes an important, but largely unmentioned, part of Australian art history.

Colour Wii World –  I don’t just write about art – computer games are also part of culture and this one was designed in Melbourne.

Alternative Exhibition Spaces – this is a rewritten version of blog posts from an earlier blog that I liked so much I republished it.

Problems with Art History – A few thoughts about meta-history issues in art history that I’m pleased to have written.

And a couple of exhibition critiques of exhibitions:

Joel Gailer & Printing

Mute Relics Bedevilled Creatures 

If you don’t have a good income and you have enjoyed these posts or others on this blog then tell me about it. If you do have a good income and you have enjoyed this blog then donate. The button is just there on the side bar. (I don’t have a good income and I do have expenses in writing this blog: internet access, travel, books and magazines. How much would you pay for a magazine? How much does your gallery pay each month for advertising in Art Almanac?) Anyway, that’s my 500th post.

Situationalism Up Against the Wall

The Museum of a World Forgotten presents “Where Popular Stopped Being Pop”. The museum is actually some frames pasted up on Sutherland Lane, off La Trobe Street. The cook standing at the back door of the restaurant sends his assistant across the lane to pick up one of the A4 pages documenting the exhibition. He doesn’t look at the documentation for very long – it is all art student bullshit.

The Museum of a World Forgotten, Sutherland Lane

“9. In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.” (Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle, Debord’s emphasis.)

There is so much that is false in this urban intervention: the paintings are false, the exhibition is false and the documentation is false.

Some of the paintings are dross landscapes, obviously found in some opportunity shop; the others are prints of classic ‘Australian paintings’. The paintings images of a ‘real Australia’ detoured to an urban laneway; landscape painting is always emphasized in a history of Australian art. When did this type of landscape cease being popular? There are a couple of shows on Channel 31 that will teach you how to paint more like them.

The documentation for “The Museum of a World Forgotten” is actually the first five entries from Guy Debord’s book, Society of the Spectacle. The documentation’s layout of the pictures does not represent the actual layout of paintings; the numbers are also false. The only thing that is true about “The Museum of a World Forgotten” is that it is an intentional situationalist action.

I have often commented about street art and situationalism because there are some obvious connections. There are many other aspects of the Debord in street art including the graffiti slogans on the streets of Paris. In talking about street art we need to discuss Debord and the Situationists further: the detourement of images, psychogeography and the flâneur exploration of the city. But it is also sad that a philosophy developed in the 1960s in France when, post Stalinism, the revolution needed to reinvent itself is being repeated in Melbourne endlessly by sophisticated art students (like reciting verses from the Bible).

Ace Wagstaff writes about some of these connections in his article: “Duchamp, Nietzsche and the Spectacle of the Live Creative Act”. Wagstaff writes about the public enjoying the spectacle of a legal graffiti performance at the NGV.

Meanwhile is the ‘true’ revolution starting in the Melbourne’s city square?

Guerilla Gardens in Melbourne

Guerilla gardens, turning disused space city into a garden, it sounds exciting. Gardens can make all kinds of political statements from the gardens at Versailles that demonstrated Louis 14th control of the nature to guerilla gardens questioning property rights and greening the city. And everyone wants to recreate that lost wonder of the ancient world, the hanging gardens of Babylon.

La Pok’s guerilla gardening is in Flanigan Lane

Guerrilla gardening and “seed bombing” was started by Liz Christy 1973 with a community garden in Manhattan. The Liz Christy Garden is still there. I didn’t see the Channel 10 program Guerrilla Gardeners but I did see guerilla gardening covered in Around the World in 80 Gardens. (Monty Don Around the World in 80 Gardens, 2008, p.281) Like me, other people are aware of guerrilla gardening in Melbourne but I haven’t seen much evidence of it. It has been in the hard years of drought for any kind of gardening in Melbourne so I’m not surprised.

There is a lot of disused land in the vast metropolitan sprawl of Melbourne and there is probably a lot of guerilla gardening that I’m not noticing. The lone rubber plant by the Coburg railway station has now grown into a small tree. Some guerrilla gardening is surreptitious, growing vegetables in disused land or marijuana in the thick undergrowth along the Merri Creek. But I’m haven’t seen any of these secret gardens – I am more interested in the guerilla gardens that are visible and part of the street art culture, the botanical urban interventions. The miniature gardens created in the most unlikely places in Melbourne. I am interested in the reclamation and aesthetic improvement of disused and neglected urban space.

I’ve been told about a guerilla garden tree in St. Kilda with the pots nailed to the top. In Centre Place I saw that someone was trying to grow some grass/bamboo in plastic bottles on top of a box. Elsewhere in the city I’ve seen failed attempts to create hanging gardens in suspended piles of newspaper. With all the recent rain I would have thought that guerrilla gardens would be growing but in both cases the plants died.

More of La Pok’s garden

Melbourne’s most successful piece of guerilla gardening is in Flanigan Lane. There is an installation of plants in a ghettoblaster and a series of pots gaffa taped to a pipe by La Pok. La Pok has studied landscape architecture and this planning has allowed this micro garden to succeed where others have failed. Over a year later it is the only one; most of the other little guerrilla gardens that I have seen in the city are dead or dying. (See my post Street Art Notes July 2010 for my original report on the two garden installations) Gardens require maintenance (tell me about it, I have a blister on my hand from pulling up weeds). Guerilla gardens sounds like a great idea but there are all kinds of problems with guerilla gardening: neglect, inappropriate plants and inappropriate placement.

Guerilla gardening with paste-up, Collingwood, 2012

Sustainable Gardening Australia has a good article about Guerrilla Gardening.


La Pok - guerilla garden Somerset Lane, 2012

La Pok – guerilla garden Somerset Lane, 2012

Moving Machines in Melbourne

Part of the pump had broken down and red liquid had dripped on to the newspaper lined Vitrine but that didn’t matter. It was bound to have happened with such a complex and pointless machine. And so much else was still turning, extending, flapping, squeezing a ball of wool and a rotating a still life with grapes; all driven by a single electric motor with several belts connecting it to other devices. “Sub Assembly” by Danny Frommer at Platform is a great, wacky creation (see my YouTube video of “Sub Assembly”) and it made me reflect on the other kinetic sculptures in Melbourne.

In 2010 Cameron Robbins “Very Slow Drawing Machine” was installed in the forecourt of the NGV at Federation Square – the Fracture Gallery. Drawing machines are not intended to replace the human in art but to produce more drawings without the artist is attendance. Many artists have made machines that draw, notably Jean Tinguely. Robbins has powered his machine with sustainable solar and wind power. The results of this machine are not impressive; the fan patterns are not anything to write about. (See RMIT’s media release about Cameron Robbins “Very Slow Drawing Machine”.) Still it is always interesting to see kinetic sculpture responding to natural forces, engaging in pointless activities and, even, the occasional break down. For it is these features that makes kinetic sculpture essentially appealing.

Konstantin Dimopolulos, “Red Centre”, 2006

There are more permanent public kinetic sculptures in Melbourne. At Federation Square there is Konstantin Dimopolulos “Red Centre” 2006, Dimopoulos lived in New Zealand and would be familiar with the work of New Zealand artist, Len Lye, the master of kinetic sculptures. “Red Centre” takes some of Lye’s ideas and expands them into a post minimalist sculpture that rattles and sways. Parts of “The Travellers” by Nadim Karan, the sculpture on the Sandridge Bridge over the Yarra, are wind powered; several sets of small metal windmills turn on some of the figures. And, I’m told, that somewhere in the Docklands, there is “Blowhole”, a 15-metre-high, wind-powered sculpture by Sydney artist, Duncan Stemier.

Compared to all of these other kinetic sculptures that I’ve seen in Melbourne, “Sub Assembly” by Danny Frommer is an outstanding example because so many things moved and, most importantly, it is so fun.

Tracey Emin and the 3 Beds

Once upon a time there were three beds and each of these beds was a work of art. A young British artist was lost and looking for some art. She saw Robert Rauchenberg’s “Bed”, 1955 in any number of books about modern art. “Robert Rauchenberg’s Bed is too old, too dirty and hanging on a wall; I could never sleep in that.” She said.

Then she saw Stewart Home’s “Art Strike Bed” 1993 at “Yerself is Steam” exhibition in London, curated by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard in 1995. “Stewart Home’s Art Strike Bed is too polemical, too new and too clean; I could never sleep in that.” (See Andrew Scott-Bolton’s article in 3AM Magazine “In bed with Tracey Emin and Stewart Home”)

Finally she read about J’s bed in Arthur Danto’s The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981) and it was just right. Danto wrote: “It would remain for our artist J to have gone the full distance, and to have exhibited his own bed as a work of art, without having to give it that last bit of vestigial paint that Rauchenberg superstitiously dripped over his bed, perhaps to make it plain that it was still an artwork. J says his bed is not an imitation of anything: it is a bed.” (p.12-13)

Now Tracey Emin’s 1999 Turner Prize-nominated installation is clearly different to both Rauchenberg and Home’s beds but in what way is it different from J’s bed? J’s bed is copyright Arthur Danto 1981.

Let’s look at the possible defence of Tracey Emin “My Bed”: such as appropriation art, spontaneous independent invention of an identical idea.

One could argue that J’s bed is fictional, as is the artist J, and that Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” is real and although an appropriation it is a clear transformation. However, Danto is not writing fiction but philosophy and in his example the alphanumeric sign “J” is not a name but symbol for a variable name e.g. J = Tracey Emin. Emin’s “My Bed” is like trying to patent an invention that had already been completely described in an engineering manual as the work of a fictional example inventor.

Tracey Emin claims that that J’s bed is her “My Bed”. J’s bed has become her bed but that is just an argument over ownership not over the meaning or transformative differences between her bed and J’s bed except the possessive. What exactly is the difference between J’s bed and Emin’s bed? J’s Bed is defined as “not an imitation of anything: it is a bed.” Emin’s bed is not appropriation art as there is no recontextualizing: J “exhibited his bed as a work of art”. Emin is only recreating J’s bed following Danto’s instructions; like a curatorial team assembling a work according the to instructions of the artist. Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” is not an interpretation of J’s bed but simply a token example of J’s bed.

It could be claimed that “My Bed” is a spontaneous independent invention by Tracey Emin as there is no evidence that she read Danto’s book. This would put her in the same position as a curmudgeonly old man who lived slightly apart the rest of his small village in the upper Amazon and when interviewed by an anthropologist about his religious beliefs turned out to be a solipsist. Being a solipsist he refused to believe that there were other people who shared his belief and maintain that he was sole inventor of the idea, but a solipsist would claim exactly that.

Arthur Danto is aware of Tracey Emin’s bed but is also aware how common theft is in the art world. Danto pointed out: “Actually, Rauschenberg stole the quilt from the laundry room at Black Mountain College. It belonged to the artist Dorothea Rickburn, who wrapped her baby in it.” And Stewart Home’s “Art Strike” is a copy of Gustav Metzger’s Art Strike 1977-1980. Nor is this the first time that an YBA has been accused of plagiarism; Charles Thomson, co-founder of the Stuckist art group accuses Damien Hirst of over a dozen counts of plagiarism; the accusations are of varying quality. The Guardian reports that “in 2000 that Hirst agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to head off legal action for breach of copyright by the designer and makers of a £14.99 toy which bore a resemblance to his celebrated 20ft bronze sculpture, Hymn.”

And J said: “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed too and it’s me!”

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