Monthly Archives: June 2012

Minor Infinities

Attempting to resolve the issue of the theatrical versus sublime in visual arts with an exhibition that could be stored in a matchbox. It could be a recipe for another boring exhibition. “Another empty gallery” was my first thought when I came around the corner of Conical gallery and set eyes on “Minor Infinities” by Jeremy Bakker.

This is not a hugely popular or hyped exhibition that attracts a large audience but there is something of the theatrical about it. It is art that can only survive on the theatrical stage of the white walled space of a contemporary art gallery.

However, if it weren’t for this stage of a white gallery room then only the mystics or the scientists playing at mysticism would be able to see the sublime beauty. And there is sublime beauty, a powerful poetics to the exhibition.

Bakker’s “Minor Infinities” at is in touch with the infinite and the sublime but also the theatrical. It is about seeing the infinite, like William Blake, in 107,928 grains of sand piled on a small white shelf low on one wall.

In other works Bakker subverted the sublime, bring it down to earth by swallowing the glass marble of “Satellite”. Or using his sperm as glue to attach the 100’s and 1000’s cake decorations to the pins heads for “Minor Infinities”. (How many sperm can dance on the head of a pin?) The art world has become blasé about shock art but this is often because so little poetry to it, that it lacks has any quality of the sublime. These little shocks in the exhibition bring a fundamental human quality to the sublime and infinite.

At first I didn’t even notice all the pins that filled one of the gallery’s white walls. Looking more closely I saw the precise geometric movement of shadows. Looking even closer it looked like a miniature (or infinitely large) 3D version of a dot painting by Damian Hirst with a randomly colored dots spread out across an infinite white plane. It is Jeremy Bakker’s “Minor Infinities”.

Jeremy Bakker is a Melbourne based artist who is on the programming committee for Westspace Gallery. His background in philosophy and English literature, that he acquired as an undergraduate student at UNSW Sydney, was clearly showing in this exhibition.


Crazy City Comforts

The way that the city is used had changed fundamentally along with the way that people moved around in it. In the 1890s the Melbourne City Council did not provide any public seating in order to discourage loitering. A century later, in the 1990s the city council was adding even more flamboyant seating not just for tired pedestrians but also as decoration to the street.

There are sculptures that are intended to be used as seats like Edward Ginger’s “Echo” or the plinth of “The Children’s Tree” by Tom Bass. And there is seating as sculpture like he polished steel blobs like solidified solder on Collins Street, Matthew Harding’s Mercury Rising, 2008.

In 1992 the City of Yarra installed 3 mosaic benches by Giuseppe Roneri along Brunswick Street. There are two on the corner of Victoria Street and one on the corner of Westgarth Street. They also installed another bench near Leicester St. made of wood and iron cut in a floral pattern with the words “Shine On Me” in the centre of the back; the bench was made by M. Bronwyn Snow. These sculptural benches contributed to the street life.

In 1994, the City of Melbourne, followed the example of the City of Yarra, and added what was described in the design brief as “unique and distinctive forms of street seating” in the streets. They added Simon Perry’s “The Public Purse” to the Bourke Street Mall and another bench by M. Bronwyn Snow, “Resting Place” located near the corner of Swanston Walk and Little Lonsdale Street. Snow’s “Resting Place” is more elaborate than her earlier bench in Fitzroy. It is a double-sided bench of steel and jarrah with decorative iron supports featuring giant steel sunflowers and vines. Another piece of whimsy added to Swantson Street.

It could be worse, there is tiled red lips seat on Southbank – a kitsch copy of Dali’s May West sofa (which is actually the work of Barcelona architect and designer, Oscar Tusquets) – and another photo opportunities for tourists.

These seats confuse distinctions between public sculpture and architectural urban design. They raise the question of what is the use of sculpture? As a drinking fountain, a seat or a rubbish bin. The unofficial use of crevices in public sculpture as places to stuff rubbish. The hall through the middle of the Jason Waterhouse “Dwelling” in front of the Coburg Public Library is an official rubbish bin.

Walking around the city you might somewhere to sit. You might need a drink of water but drinking fountains are a whole other story. You might also need a toilet but as far as I know there isn’t an artist designed public toilet in Melbourne yet. There are plenty of unofficial artist, or architect designed rubbish bins, maybe future design briefs for public sculpture should include rubbish bins or ashtrays? The philistine inclusion of a practical use for a sculpture goes against the aesthete idea of art for arts sake. The political moderation of these two extreme positions creates these unique Melbourne seats.

(For more about this see my earlier blog post Moving & Sitting in the City.)


Collingwood Galleries – Civil & Ghostpatrol

It was a beautiful winter day to be exploring Collingwood galleries. The Keith Haring on the Collingwood TAFE wall has been carefully covered up in preparations for renovations. Lots of great street art and Civil was up a ladder spray-painting the wall of House of Bricks. He was up a ladder because the Council had said no to the scissor lift for some reason and because Civil is exhibiting at House of Bricks. Ghostpatrol has an exhibition at Backwoods Gallery.

Civil paints House of Bricks

Looks like Shini Pararajasingham got it right when she opened Off The Kerb on Johnston Street opposite the Tote. Back then I thought she had the wrong area, too far north, shows you how much I know about Collingwood. But then I rarely go to Collingwood and I don’t think I’d been in Collingwood for about a year.

Another shop front galley, Egg Gallery has opened up right next to Off The Kerb and in the small streets behind there are several galleries: House of Bricks and Backwoods Gallery and Lamington Drive. These are all warehouse spaces with studios and workshops attached. Not the greatest of spaces, make do kind of spaces with all those limitations.

So that is 3 or 4 galleries that I can tick off my list of Melbourne galleries – I have a hopeless ambition to visit all of the galleries in Melbourne. I have been to galleries in these Collingwood warehouses before; Backwoods Gallery is in the previous location for Utopian Stumps.

“Reboot” by Sharon McKenzie was the only exhibition of the three exhibitions at Off The Kerb that I enjoyed.  McKenzie’s drawings depict artefacts of modern world as if they were covered in lace doylies. It is a frighteningly beautiful vision destroying the clean modern design of computers, floppy disks, clocks, typewriters, headphones and Dictaphones, with lace decorations.

I suppose that was to be expected as Collingwood galleries have a reputation for showing contemporary illustration and drawing. There are more quality, contemporary, street-influenced illustration next door at Egg Gallery. “Sleep & Wake” is small exhibition of illustrations and a bit of an installation by Hollie M. Kelley and Ryan McGennisken. (See Invurt’s interview with Ryan McGennisken.) It is the current fashion for contemporary illustration exhibitions to combine a bit of an installation into the exhibition space, scatter some old stuff and a few dead leaves. Everyone is doing it, and not just the art galleries even the Collingwood furniture showrooms.

Backwoods Gallery

Ghostpatrol vs Civil, it is a battle of almost comic book proportions and a salutary lesson style and content. Civil and Ghostpatrol are legendary names from Melbourne’s streets. There is plenty of their work on the streets; more Civil now than Ghostpatrol, there are lots of new Civil pieces and I haven’t seen that many new Ghostpatrol pieces (maybe I just haven’t been in the right areas). Both Civil and Ghostpatrol have an appealing graphic style that translates well into a number of a media.

The problem for Ghostpatrol is that his pictures have nothing but a fading hint of magic. It was this nostalgia for a fading childish magic that gave Ghostpatrol’s work its charm. But this kind of charm is fleeting like childhood, and seems to limit Ghostpatrol’s growth as an artist. Childhood themes are so common; Ryan McGennisken was showing drawing with childhood themes too. Civil is working on firmer ground with people, politics and now nature as his themes. These things are timeless. And Civil has grown in both his themes and the range of media.

Ghostpatrol’s exhibition was over blown – the canvas’s were too big and there was nothing to them other than the scale and arrangement of his iconic images. There were only 5 large paintings and the installation in the middle looked like a post-minimalist sculpture from Ikea. The tiny addition in one piece of timber of a carved pond with a tiny kappa riding a carp could not take-away from this big ugly object.

In contrast Civil’s exhibition was understated and there were too many compromises with the warehouse space to allow it to really shine. Still there were plenty of small woodcuts and other pieces with an expanding repertoire of images and themes. The exhibition had the aesthetics of a shed and dead leaves, pinecones and other old things were scattered around. This was referred to in the old beer bottles that Civil had etched and the old wooden tabletops that he had carved.

It appears Ghostpatrol is stuck in the past magic whereas Civil has made preparations for the future. I’m sure others will have their own opinion on these exhibitions – what are your thoughts?


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