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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Maps & Trails

There are various paths and walking trails around the city, some are works of art, official trails with their focus on history or unofficial street art trails. One of the forms of graffiti is that of a trail – in the last year some of Melbourne’s street artist made this form part of their art.

Many people date contemporary graffiti to when Taki 183 started to leave a trail of his tags along NYC rail system. As this linear trail was different to the graffiti on sites, like toilets, school desks or prison cells. Using stencil trails are not new – a bit of history for Melbourne’s street artists.

“Stencilled advertisements were a popular form of footpath advertising particularly in the more frequented stretches of Bourke Street. Little action was taken against offenders unless damage to property was incurred, though the practice was seen by the MCC as being contrary to the spirit of the advertising regulations. In 1920 some men who had stencilled the footprints of a dog in whitewash on the footpath from Flinders Street to the Majestic Theatre could not be prosecuted under clause 32 of By-Law No. 134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No156 in 1920 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing any letter, figure, device, poster, sign or advertisement upon any footpath, street or road within the said City, or upon any building, fence, or other property vested in the Municipality of the City of Melbourne’.”

(Andrew Brown-May, Melbourne Street Life, Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew, p.50 Brown-May does not have any information on when stencilled advertising on pavements began. Stencilled advertisements were probably used prior to 1920 and before 1870s it would have been pointless as the sidewalks of Melbourne were in too poor a condition to stencil on.)

Now some of Melbourne’s street artists have taken this to a new level, leaving a trail of paste-ups that are intended to be followed. Urban exploration art like CDH’s mapping games in the inner city (See my post about his first puzzle map, the “Chazov-Dmytryk-Harkov logic test”), Phoenix’s “Mornington Whale Tail Trail” or visiting US artist Snyder’s “Banana Splat hunt” create an urban, interactive kind of land art. These trails are like Richard Long’s walks only the viewer is also a participant.

CDH Pacman street art map

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No Note Taking = No Review

Don’t see the Fred Williams exhibition, “Infinite Horizons” at the NGV. I won’t be reviewing it because of the NGV’s “no sketching, no note taking” policy that is clearly stated at the entrance of the exhibition. I’ve written about the NGV’s “no sketching, no note taking policy” in 2008 this blog.

The reason for the prohibitions on sketching and note taking are difficult to explain, sometimes insurance policies are blamed or the lenders for the exhibition and then there is the gallery wanting to manage visitor flow. In 2008 Leigh Mackay, Head of Corporate Office at the NGV explained: “managing large crowds of visitors in a popular exhibition can be a difficult task. In particular, if visitors stand or sit and sketch it can prevent other visitors from seeing the exhibition properly.” I’m not interested in the NGV’s excuses for their bad policy. As I wrote in 2008: “the purpose of an exhibition where sketching and note taking are not permitted is strictly infotainment (and as promotion for the catalogue and other merchandise).”

If you want to see a lot of art by Fred Williams go the NGV at Federation Square and look at the 17 or 18 works of his on display in the NGV’s permanent collection on the 2nd and 3rd floors. There are Fred Williams’s iconic landscape paintings, etching, and some early drawings of Islington music halls when Williams was clearly influenced by Walter Sickert. Here you are allowed to sketch and take notes and it is free, unlike “Infinite Horizons” that costs ($16 adult ticket). Another benefit of looking at Williams’s work in the permanent collection is that you can see his art in context of other Australian artists instead of isolated in a solo exhibition.

I am boycotting all the NGV’s exhibitions that have “no sketching, no note taking” (as it makes it impossible for a blogger to write a review) and I urge you to do the same.


Collage @ the Counihan

Collage art is popular, people generally like it. They are familiar with it and have often done some themselves. They also like the amusing juxtapositions and fantastic transformations that can be created with collage. After seeing many collages by many artists, including artists, like Max Ernst who are notable for their collage work; I think that the charm of collage is that the results are all pretty good but rare does anything rise above this standard.

In preparation for the exhibition of collages at the Counihan Gallery I found Cut & Paste – 21st Century Collage by Richard Brereton with Caroline Roberts (Lawrence King Publishing, 2011, London) at the Coburg Library. But it wasn’t that helpful; the book has great design, lots of pictures, love the cover, but almost no content except for a very brief introduction and equally brief introduction to each of the artists. The artists weren’t exceptional; more good collages but that’s it.

The catalogue for “Cut With The Kitchen Knife” is a better read; in it the curator, Emily Jones explains the history of collage as art and introduces the exhibiting artists. The exhibition gets its title from a collage by Hannah Hoch. There are plenty of good collages in the exhibition but there are some artists in this exhibition who move beyond tradition of the Cubist collages and the Dada/Surrealist collage.

There is the optical intensity of Elizabeth Gower’s “Savings” series made with the repetition of printed discount promotions. Combining op-art with the optical features of advertising design transforming the everyday into art.

Christian Capurro also uses advertising material but he erases rather than combines images. Now this isn’t exactly collage, although sticky tape is used, but is certainly worth including in the exhibition because the work is almost anti-collage and the images he produces from meat advertisements have the fantastic qualities of combined realities found in collage.

Mandy Gunn’s work has a permanent presence in the lobby of the Counihan but it was good to see more of her work. Gunn takes collage and deconstructing books in a post-minimalist direction. Text, music scores or Braille are shredded into small sections and arranged in a grid with variations of wave formations.

The exhibition was light on collages that used objects rather than just paper. Heather Shimmen’s “Suspended Anima” were very surreal and one of the few collages to use three-dimensional elements. Suspended from the gallery ceiling their Rorschach test shapes throwing great patterns on the gallery wall.

Collage continues to use available printing and graphic technology, think of the Dadaist photomontages, and in the 21st Century this extends to digital images. Joan Ross’s digital collage depicting a forged colonial Australian history, “BBQ this Sunday” is animated in a fun 5-minute video.

We live in a cut and paste world and if collage seems ubiquitous “Cut With The Kitchen Knife” demonstrates that there is a future for collage and moves beyond the techniques perceived limitations.


I was a Dada tourist

It was sunny in Zurich in 2007 and I was sitting on the balcony of the Hotel Limmitblick looking out on the Limmit River. Below me is the Dadabar. I am in Room 12, the Marcel Janco (1895-1984) room. There is a photo and short biography of him in the room and an enlarged image from his painting of the Cabaret Voltaire above the bed. All the room are named after Dadaists. The Hotel Limmitblick is a new, upmarket boutique hotel. On the TV in my room there is the hotels own Dada channel with two dogs resolving their contradictions in the streets of Zürich and a lot of nonsense with Tristan Tzara references. The DVD of this is on sale in the lobby. Aside from the video and the room names there is nothing really Dada about the hotel or bar.

As a fan of the Dadaists I was keen to see where the historic anti-art movement started in Zurich during WWI. 1 Spiegelgasse was the location of the famous Cabaret Voltaire where Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Hans Arp and the other Dadaists meet and performed.

On arrival at the train station I’d asked at the tourist office for directions to the Cabaret Voltaire. The tourist office had to look it up on the computer and then returned the address for the office and not the historic location at 1 Spiegelgasse. I already knew the address. I want to know where to find it amongst the maze of streets in the old city.

Outside the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

The same white walled building still stands in the old part of the city with a small plaque commemorating the historic events on the side. It has changed since the days of the Dadaists when there was only a bar, a piano, a small stage and rows of wooden benches along the walls. (Richard Huelsenbeck Memoirs of a Dada Drummer, 1991, p.9) The landlord Herr Ephraim, a retired Dutch sailor must have also had his own rooms in the building.

There is a new Cabaret Voltaire, in the same location as the original. It has only been open for a couple of years. At the new Cabaret Voltaire, there is a bar, a small stage with a piano, and 2 shelves of books on Dada. There is a Dada gift shop and a space for art installations in the basement; when I visited it was full of telephones. I have a drink and look around for a t-shirt or a poster but there are none of these obvious souvenirs that you find in art gallery gift shops. All I buy is another SubRosa CD of Dada poetry. (See my blog post: DADA on CD). In the window of the Cabaret Voltaire there is a sign in English: “Foreigners, please don’t leave us alone with the Swiss!”

Front window of the new Cabaret Voltaire

The place is sort of lame, a few reproduction photos of the old Dadaists, and a bust of Voltaire on a pedestal, odd bits and pieces of contemporary anti-art artwork but it is just getting started. In the main room there is a lecture going on in to a small group of people. Maybe it picks up more in the evening. But what do I expect a polished art gallery and museum? Face the facts; Dada in Switzerland was pathetic affair, Herr Ephraim threatened to shut down the cabaret because they weren’t bringing in enough of an audience.

Inside the new Cabaret Voltaire.

A few houses up the hill on Spiegelgasse another plaque commemorating the house that Lenin briefly lived during WW1. There are more tourists looking at Lenin’s small residence rather than the Cabaret Voltaire. Lenin was so close to the Cabaret Voltaire that he could not have ignored it as he passed the corner of the street. Not that Hugo Ball records Lenin amongst the people visiting the Cabaret but the more politically minded Huelsenbeck claimed to have encountered Lenin in Switzerland. The Swiss police ignored Lenin but not the Dadaists.

I wonder if the Swiss have finally understood Dada. Dada, even though it was born in Zurich, was never a local thing. It was invented foreigners, a disparate bunch of hippies (Hugo Ball), punks (Richard Hulsenbeck), new agers (Hans Arp), goths, and other, perhaps, yet unclassified freaks. And 91 years later the Swiss are still don’t understand what those crazy foreigners did. At the Kunsthall Zürich, there is almost nothing of Dada: one Arp sculpture, one Marcel Janco work, two Picabias and a couple of works by Meret Oppenheims.

I look in my wallet and there on the Swiss 50F note is a Dada artist, Sophie Tauber-Arp (1889-1943). Sophie Tauber-Arp was the only local in all the Zürich Dadaists. Incidentally, the architect Le Corbusier is on the Swiss 10F note.

Catherine and I walk around the city and along the lakeshore eating brotwusrt. Catherine feeds the swans bits of the hard bread roll where once a hungry Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings had envied the well fed swans. Emmy collapsed in the street from hunger and exhaustion a few days after they arrived. The Swiss are still largely ignoring Dada. The contractions of being a Dada tourist in Zurich pleasantly boggle my mind.

Feeding a swan in Zurich


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