Monthly Archives: August 2012

Poetry of Proper Nouns

The act of naming is an on going process where we are all poets in a communal enterprise that stretches back thousands of years. The act of naming is the secular baptisms of the everyday. The declaration of a new name is a form of poetry – the reduction of poetry to a proper noun – the Dadaists and the Lettristes wanted to take the reduction of poetry further to single letters and phonemes.

It is a type of poetry consisting of only a few letters, a couple of words yet so much can be generated with a proper noun – sounds, mystical observations, wit, evocation, even satire. A name can refer to other names to evoke historic or metaphoric meaning or simply be a pleasing play of sounds. There is the religious mystery of names, or the philosophical problem of how a referent connects to the referred; a proper noun a name generates an image in the mind.

Lench’s blockbuster since buffed

“Language is a virus from outer space and saying your name is better than seeing your face.” – Wm Burroughs

The act of self-naming by a person, a group, a band, a crew  –creating on a new name as a new identity the nom de plume, nom de guerre, a tag (nom de rue) is different from the poetry of the common names given to plants and animals or to the nicknames given to people. It is an autonomous self-conscious action consequently often far more artistic because it is not bound by official titles or the dictates of the masses.

Self-naming entered art at that the moment of modern magic when the word “Dada” was selected at random from an encyclopaedia. And the Dadaists were equally busy reinventing themselves making an art of creating new identities: Jan Hertzfeld became John Hartfield, Marcel Duchamp became Richard Mutt and then Rrose Selavy and Arthur Craven was an invented identity by Fabian Lloyd. There was another point in the 1960s when there was a change of band names from straight names to poetic names. And then a point in the late 1970s when musicians adopted names that no-one could mistake for their real names: Johnny Rotten and the rest.

The story of how the name developed is a standard question for reporters. Endless articles have been written about band names – Blah Blog, a Melbourne blogger comments on the poetry of band names in Arthouse line-ups. It appears to be such a trivial issue but it raises a profound philosophical question of names and identity – the new name subverts the authority of the state or the mass to name things.

From the names of the gangs of New York City, to avant-garde art groups, bands, punks, street artists and taggers the poetry self-naming exists in defiance of the paternal right to name. Auto-baptism is the poetry of ontological anarchy.

“They say of God, ‘Names name thee not’. That holds good of me: no concept expresses me nothing that is designate as my essence exhausts me; they are only names.” – Max Stirner The Ego and His Own


The Meta-Cinema of Ian Burns

Are you tired of CGI dominating cinema but you still want to enjoy some illusions? Are you tired of the virtual world where windows of illusion disguise the operating system? Then you need the meta-cinema of Ian Burns.

“Contemporary technology overvalues invisibility in the delivery of the screen-based image. I find this a bit sinister. For me, this cult of the virtual is often the antithesis of the embodied experience that art viewing, when at its richest, is often about. The structure that supports the contemporary screen is not just a technological one, but a social and political one. I try to emphasise technological presence in my work, not just to relish its possibilities but to also expose its limitations and flaws.” – Ian Burns (ACMI blog)

You don’t need to know any art theory to appreciate the art of Ian Burns; the whole thing is exposed. All the wiring is visible, the little video cameras, the materials are all familiar ordinary things that you could buy down at the shops. It is a magic trick so good that the magician can show how the trick is done and you still marvel at it.

There is the appeal of the idea of an artist/inventor playing with artistic experiments like Leonardo da Vinci or Marcel Duchamp. Reminding me that the history of engineering started with Hero of Alexandria (c. 10–70 AD) making toys steam engines and other entertaining mechanisms and that currently computing technology is being driven by the games industry. Not surprisingly Ian Burns trained as an engineer.

There is more to the art of Ian Burns than a few video tricks. Burns describes his work as “meta-cinematic”. He gives the audience both the illusion and the crude reality that created it. It is about the satisfying that basic psychological drive to get to see the back of things, to know what is behind them. This knowledge does not destroy our interest in the illusions anymore than an atheist looses interest in religion (most atheists know more about religion than the religious) or watching a puppeteer pull the strings, instead it adds another level of interest to the work.

In his ACMI exhibition, “In the Telling” Burns sequences his kinetic devices to create separate shots for a simple road movie. We all have these dreams of escape, it is a simple illusion but the art is in the telling.

Ian Burns is the Commission Artist for the 2012 Melbourne Art Fair and is also on exhibition at ACMI. I first encountered Ian Burns art two years ago at Anna Schwartz Gallery and it left me wanting more (see my blog post: Ian Burns “and then…”).

 


The Spectacle of Art

I had a look at some art galleries at RMIT on Thursday: RMIT Gallery itself, First Site and the School of Art Gallery. I didn’t get to RMIT School of Art Project Space “Spare Room” in Cardigan Street, it would have completed the set but I didn’t want to walk to Carlton and back. Instead I walked around exploring the street art and graffiti in the laneways around Chinatown: Croft Alley, Heffernan Lane, Tattersalls Lane, Stevenson Lane and others. In the window of Villain at the QV Centre there was a display by Junky Projects. The contrast in the spectacle of Junky Project’s figures made of found bits of wood and junk and the manufactured customisable kits for sale in the shop made me stop and think.

Junky Projects in the window of Villian

Maybe it was the winter blues, I was not having a good day  – the reality of art reviewing, sometimes the reviewer is having a bad day. Maybe it was re-reading Stewart Home’s The Assault on Culture on the train. Reading about utopian post-WWII art movements put a kind of political edge to my dissatisfaction with what I was seeing in the galleries.

What I saw was all very nice, even the street art, but it really didn’t motivate me to want to writing about it. What was there to say? It was just more of the same. Yes, sure I could throw a few hundred words together about Marco Cher-Gibard and Caleb Shea exhibition at the School of Art Gallery. Both RMIT alumni have this untitled show. Cher-Gibard’s quadraphonic electronic sounds matched by Shea’s equally formal and synthetic sculpture. I’m sure that Shea’s sculpture would look great, maybe in a larger scale, out the front of or in the lobby of a corporate office block to add style while saying nothing.

The work of the gold and silver smithing students at First Site was very attractive, especially the work of Naoko Inuzuka, the winner of the 2011 Maggie Fairweather Undergraduate Award. It is hard to expect that jewellery would be relevant to anything but fashion – so, maybe my random selection of exhibitions didn’t fit my mood.

None of the art addressed anything of any relevance to where we are right here right now or the big issues of life and because of this it would never amount to anything. Maybe that doesn’t matter for the jewellery, maybe it should just as much as the sculpture which were basically jewellery on an architectural scale.

I didn’t start this blog to write endless reviews about Melbourne exhibitions or to cheer at the latest piece by a fashionable street artist. This blog is not a celebration. I started this blog because there was a lack of critical discussion about Melbourne’s art and culture. I think that Melbourne’s culture is too complacent and comfortable. I want to shake up people and get them to think more about their culture rather than simply comment on the production of more of the same.


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