Monthly Archives: October 2012

Arndt Migration

On the first really hot Tuesday of this spring I arrived to see Berlin gallery owner, Matthias Arndt for a tour of Migration, his first Melbourne pop-up exhibition at Ormond Hall in South Melbourne. I was waiting for him in this amazing ballroom with a few other people. From the outside Ormond Hall looks like a modest gothic revival building. It was built for the RVIB (Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind) in 1891 but on the inside it was remodelled in 1922 in the art deco style when a new dance floor  was installed. It has seen performances from Dame Nellie Melba, AC/DC and Skyhooks.

This is the way that I want to be treated for an exhibition opening; a glass of good champagne on arrival, a media pack and then a tour around the exhibition before the general public arrived. It is good to be introduced and to have the opportunity to talk with people involved in the exhibition. This was not just another exhibition invite in the email box where I have to introduce myself and identify the exhibiting artist. (I hope some people are taking notes.) Gabrielle Wilson, of [art]iculate, the publicist for the exhibition has done a great job promoting the exhibition and after the second glass of champagne I honestly wanted to tell people to see this exhibition.

I was a bit concerned before seeing it that this would be yet another slick commercial gallery with a lot of prints and other multiple editions from some big name artists. But the list of artists intrigued me, as did the mention of ”the Berlin style of staging exhibitions in abandoned and unexpected spaces.” The art on exhibition is serious and impressive – not just the names. In the end I wasn’t so impressed with the Berlin style of staging as it was like is seeing another artist-run-space. The art was exhibited in the stripped-out former offices and classrooms on the upper floors of Ormond Hall. They still have their fluoro lighting and ceiling fans but anything is better than another white cube.

Matthias Arndt explains the art, Gilbert and George “Killers Straight” 2011 in background

Matthias Arndt was honest about the reasons for his own migration to Australia; there are personal, professional and strategic reasons. In the week that the Australian Government released their Asian strategy white paper Arndt has made this own strategic move for the Asian art market. His Australian wife and 4-year-old son were the personal reason. He has already had a pop-up exhibition in a building in the Rocks in Sydney and now he is announcing his presence in Melbourne.

I asked Arndt if this was basically high-end art for institutions and other serious collectors. “No” he replied, padlocking the built-in cupboards that had been converted into display cases with the addition of a few glass panes, “there is work from $50 and up.” Indeed there was art jewellery and DGTMB, a street artist’s limited edition t-shirts, trucker caps and bags. Along with the jewellery there was a small Renaissance altarpiece and a smaller painter by Joe Coleman in the cupboard. In another room there is modern furniture.

I would recommend a visit before the 15th of December at least to see the world famous artists, like Gilbert and George, Georg Baselitz (“can’t avoid certain German artists” Arndt remarks), Joseph Beuys. Martin Kippenberger, Eko Nugroho and Sophie Calle surrounded by walls of peeling paint and to see Ormond hall’s art deco ballroom.


Hobart Public Sculpture

I went on a weekend visit to Hobart to see MONA and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Hobart is an attractive city to walk around even with the cold of earth spring. I couldn’t avoid seeing the public sculpture as I walked around the harbour. “Public art and artists can make a valuable contribution to the built and natural environment by celebrating, marking and revealing aspects of a community, its history, its character and its aspirations. A strong sense of place, identity and community invariably makes Hobart attractive to live in, work in and to visit.” (Hobart City Council website)

I enjoyed walking through Battery Point, the Salamanca Market (lots of woodcarving and woodcraft) and the Salamanca Arts Centre Precinct and along the harbour to the Tasmanian University Arts Centre. Along the way I saw a number of public sculptures along with other pieces of public art and design – gates, decorative paving and monuments. There was nothing out of place although some of it appeared a bit over the top, in particular the sculpture of Stephen Walker.

Stephen Walker was born in Balwyn, Victoria in 1927 and studied art at Melbourne Teachers College from 1945 to 47. Walker’s sculptures are over the top, neo-baroque spectacles; there are too many elements and too much going on. There are long explanations on bronze panels about the sculptures. Bronze is used to as much as possible and it is not surprising that Walker lives and works at his sculptor’s foundry at Campania, Tasmania.

Stephen Walker, Heading South, 2002, bronze

Walker’s “The Bernacchi Tribute: Self Portrait, Louis and Joe”, 1998 and 2002, is a series of bronze sculptures located between Victoria Dock and Macquarie Wharf. There is so much going on in this sculpture; it even has two names and two plaques. It started as bronze seal and penguins and then after a bronze camera on a bronze tripod, a bronze explorer, bronze skis, bronze dogs become “The Bernacchi Tribute” but somewhere along the way picked up the title, “Heading South”. Walker has himself made two voyages to the Antarctic in 1984 and 1986.

I preferred Walker’s more abstract “Tidal Pools,” 1970; the bronze fountain now in Mawson Place, Hobart but I never got a close look at it in its new location due to the traffic. “Tidal Pools was commissioned by the Bank of New South Wales, later Westpac, in the early 1980s. It originally stood in Sydney’s Martin Place. In 2000, when the bank extended its building, it donated $100,000 to dismantle the bronze sculpture and transport and install it as a gift from Westpac to Hobart.” (Nick Clark The Mercury 7/4/10)

Stephen Walker, “Tasman Fountain”, 1988, bronze, concrete, granite

I did take a close look at Walker’s “Tasman Fountain” 1988 or is it “Journey to Southland”, in Salamanca Place between Gladstone Street and Montpelier Retreat. It is one of the most over the top works of public sculpture that I have seen. In a circle with a rough-hewn plinth of white rock showing the Southern Cross in bronze is partially surrounded by a white concrete fountain with three bronze ships sailing in it. On the other side stands a full size bronze figure of Able Tasman – again so much bronze.

There is more to public sculpture in Hobart than the just the sculptures of Stephen Walker but they are bronze heavy weights.

Off The Wall

On Tuesday the 23rd of October I went to Off The Wall – Graffiti Management Forum at Fitzroy Town Hall. The City of Yarra employed Capire Consulting Group to review their graffiti management. Most of the people at the forum were from various city councils around Melbourne but there also were a few other interested people, including street artists, CDH and Makatron.

The review was focused on prevention and removal of graffiti. There was no idea about what the implementation of a graffiti management policy would actually look like on the street. The review did not have a cost benefit analysis; the cost of the current graffiti management policy compared to the financial benefits to City of Yarra in terms of visitor numbers or businesses that are based on graffiti scene.

The review appeared to be based on a naïve belief held by many people in local government that a distinction can be made between good and bad graffiti, between street art and tagging. This distinction is a faith-based policy that ignored so many facts: tagging has been around for millennia, there is no way to stop tagging, even if you have a police state equivalent to Nazi occupied Europe (see my post on WWII Graffiti) as the chances of being caught are so remote that a tagger would have to be persistent, pervasive or simply unlucky to be caught tagging. Tagging is a kind of visual urban noise, complaining about it in the inner city is like complaining about the noise of the traffic or light pollution. It is not a serious issue, there are no health and safety issues regarding tagging, unlike other urban problems like feral pigeons and fly tipping. (See my post on Coooburg)

Apart from studied ignorance (faith) there is no basis for the distinction between street art and tagging – I have asked Capire Consulting for the bibliography of their review but I have not had any response yet. Co-incidentally the following day I was sent a copy of The Bureau Magazine (thanks to its editor, Matt Derody) I will now quote from the start of the very first article that I read (even a non-systematic approach to the literature quickly quashes the distinction).

“There is no doubt that Australian society suffers a peculiar form of bipolar disorder when it comes to graffiti and street art. Rabidly opposed on the one hand and warmly encouraged on the other. It’s easy and comfortable to deploy timeworn distinctions that allow us to interpret the paradox and get on with our revulsion/appreciation agendas. The most popular is an aesthetic assessment of the art/vandalism in question. An ‘artistic piece of street art is fine (legal or illegal), a tag is ugly and blight on society. However, graffers think that tags, throw ups, burners, pieces and murals as parts of a whole – you can’t have one without the other.” (Andrew Imrie, “Graff vs Street Art…Neither or Both?” The Bureau Magazine Sept. 2012)

After the presentation CDH asked how the government can make a positive contribution to street art and reiterated points that he made in his Trojan Petition about neglected walls indicating tacit consent to being painted.

Makatron (in the red hoodie) conducts a tour of Fitzroy graffiti

Finally, after the forum Makatron lead a small tour of Fitzroy’s graffiti scene. Before he started the tour Makatron acknowledge the traditional aboriginal owners of the land –a subtle point about the hypocrisy of Australian governments demanding respect of property rights on stolen land.

In other local council news Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle has made the installation of CCTV cameras in Hosier/Rutledge Lane part of his election platform against the advice of residents, the community and all the evidence. (See my posts CCTV or not CCTV Act 1 and 2.)

Femme Noir

There is a Lynchian style to the paintings of Dianne Gall. It is a surreal film noir quality mixed with meticulous chosen design elements. Lush elements of American art deco or classic designs from the 1950s create a serene surface that suggests a dark, mysterious underneath.

Femme Noir at the Catherine Asquith Gallery is the exhibition of figurative oil paintings by Adelaide based artist, Dianne Gall. This is Gall’s first solo exhibition in Melbourne although she has been exhibiting in Adelaide and Canberra for years.

Many of Gall’s paintings remind me of David Lynch’s 2001 film, Mulholland Drive. Not that the images are from the film or even America, Gall has found locations and local fashions designers in Adelaide with the right ambience. Her earlier paintings on exhibition reminded me of film stills, their muted, almost monochrome, palette suggesting classic film noir images, but the more recent paintings in the exhibition are definitely Lynchian.

What is about these images that makes them Lynchian, mysterious and surreal? Disconnection seems to be the key. In one of Gall’s paintings, Disconnection, 2012, we see the back of a woman through a doorway looking at a painting in a room with geometric wallpaper. There have been a lot of “disconnects”, to use the newspeak of the US Army, in the international modern lifestyle. The modern world is disconnected from both time and place; it is international and atemporal, like an airport lounge bar. There is a disconnection between the material reality and the existential – who are these mysterious women in Gall’s paintings and Lynch’s movies?

It is the second time this week that I have been reminded of David Lynch. William Forsythe used the opening scene from Inland Empire (2006) as part of the text for his dance piece, I Don’t Believe In Outer Space. There were many disconnections in his dance piece, the dancers each doing their own thing with an electronic soundtrack and verbal soundtrack going in other directions.

Wild Audio

Bados Earthling was a street art performance artist, not a busker but guerrilla theatre performer interacting with the public in Melbourne’s laneways. Bados made himself into a cartoon complete with a handheld chalkboard speech balloon. He is a fun character, friendly and approachable. Bados claims that he is from the future but time travel appears only to have confused him and has provided him with no insights. Bados’s naïve interaction with contemporary culture provides a mirror, or rather, a blank blackboard.  He has been on my radar for 3 years, in 2010 he was collaborating with street sculptor Nick Ilton. I’ve never managed to see an actual performance, relying only online videos and still photos.

Then Bados Earthling announced that he was starting a band – “something like TISM”. Bados later denied this: “Its funny TISM never really entered our minds until after our first gig @ CoCoa Jackson. They never really influenced any of my art in the past. Including the development of Bados Earthling & performance graffiti. I’ve never owned a Tism C.D. or record and never saw them in concert. Until recently when I bought a box set with a C.D. and 2 DVD’s. It was out of curiosity. I do like them though I guess you can say we will be Tismish.”

Everyone claims to know someone in TISM (This Is Serious Mum) – as all the members are masked, it is an unchallengeable claim. There was always chaos accompanying a TISM gig, it would be late, the audience would be hassled and then both chaos and music would erupt on stage. TISM describes itself as “part Dada, part-paramilitary, part-comic” and the identities of Ron Hitler-Barassi and Humphrey B. Flaubert, fit into the tradition of Rrose Selavy and Monty Cantsin.

And this is where Bados Earthling comes back into the story now with a band – the Wild Audio Society with WaDe on keyboards, Bados and Songstress X on vocals. The gothic steampunk style of WaDe improves his claims to be a time traveller but from a different time from Bados. The Wild Audio Society was officially founded in March 2012 (there must be some time travel involved).

I still haven’t got to a gig by Bados Earthling and the Wild Audio Society but I have experienced them online. Ever keen to follow the popular meme the Wild Audio Society sing about “Where’s the Banksy?” and “Free Pussy Riot”. The Wild Audio Society’s electronic rock of “Free Pussy Riot” sounds like a parody of Liabach.

Bados says “my own influences came out of Dada, Devo on the concept behind Bados, not musically, street art and comedians I have done a little stand-up over the years & fringe type comedy.”

The other band that I should mention in this mix-post is Curse Ov Dialect with their politically conscious rap with ethnomusicological sources and a hip-hop base. Curse Ov Dialect’s performances are over the top and chaotic artistic events that make TISM look like a private school variety show.

I have neglected examining Melbourne’s music in this blog, believing that it was better covered elsewhere and forgetting the importance of music to post-modern avant-garde art in general. I had been in that scene decades ago and wanted to maintain the focus of Black Mark on the visual arts but occasionally you have to make diversions.

Destroyed K

This free event of destruction art is brought to you by the letter K and the big companies that are the sponsors of the Melbourne Festival.

Spanish artist Santiago Sierra is notable for being controversial and Melbourne loves an art controversy. Sierra’s Destroyed Word part 10 at the Melbourne Festival was a bonfire in the forecourt of ACCA. A large letter made from tea tree brush on a wooden frame had been constructed on a bed of sand.

It was a shame that Sierra hadn’t chosen letters that are mirror reversible as I was seeing the back of the K. (I don’t know what 10 letter word he was spelling out yet – this was a teaser stunt for Sierra’s exhibition at NGV International later this month.)

The crowd drinking in the lobby of ACCA for the opening of “Ourselves” were ushered outside for the big event. Lots of people just came along just for the bonfire and they weren’t disappointed. This was an art event not just art cognoscenti but for the whole family. People in the crowd might have made joke about marshmallows before the flames took hold but once the conflagration had begun they watched in awe. It was impressive, beautiful and it was all over in just over 15 minutes; destructive art doesn’t last long.

Sierra’s work is right out of Gustav Metzger’s 1959 manifesto on “Auto-Destructive Art” – “Auto destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies. Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of ideas, site, form, colour, method and timing of the disintegrative process. Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.”

Sierra’s destruction of the word reminded me of Wm. Burroughs The Ticket That Exploded. Burroughs shows how language creates illusions and desires and then rubs out the word, cutting it up into smaller fragments until he has destroyed the illusion. Like the Buddhist monks who create elaborate mandalas of coloured sand only to sweep them away when completed.

Melbourne Street Docos

“I’ve just seen something around that corner!” says the Spud Rokk before running down the block with the cameraman running after him to discover a fresh piece of graffiti. The Graff Hunters is the most high-energy arts presenter that I’d ever seen. (See my review of The Graff Hunters and you must see The Graff Hunters on YouTube because not enough people have.)

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

Spud Rokk – image courtesy of Graff Hunters

I must note some bias because I have been involved with some of these documentary makers. Organizing the film night at Sweet Streets 2010 put me in contact with Spud Rokk (aka Spencer Davids) who turned out to be living only a few blocks away. He was making another documentary, that at the time was called “My Name Is…” – later it was renamed “Writer’s Bench” (2011). (See my review of Writer’s Bench)

At one time it seemed to me that everyone was making a documentary about Melbourne street art. Making documentaries about graffiti and street art was a natural part of the movement; documentaries, music clips and films had spread contemporary graffiti to Melbourne. “At first the only information on the genre consisted of a documentary film on Bronx street life Style Wars, the glossy art book Subway Art by Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper, and a B-grade feature movie Beat Street.” (Christopher Heathcote “Discovering Graffiti”
Art Monthly Australia, September 2000 – see Melbourne Graffiti)

There have been a few documentaries shown on the ABC TV’s Artscape. February 2009, featured Tony Wyzenbeek’s Paper Cuts the art of Miso & Ghostpatrol (see my review). And in September 2012 two episodes of Jacob Oberman’s Subtopia about Doyle and the Blender crew (see my review). Not Quite Art (2007) looked at Melbourne’s street art and DIY culture. And the ABC twice showed Rash (2005) by Nicholas Hansen.

Hansen’s Rash covered Melbourne street art from 2002 to 2005 and interviewed some of the artists at the centre of it. It won the Best Feature Documentary award at the Film Critics Circle of Australia awards in 2005.

Melbourne Ink, (2009) was made by Julien Sena and Romain Levrault, two young filmmakers from Reunion Island with a lot of assistance and advice from Coops at Arttruck (see my review).

Jamie Howarth’s 70K (2006) was a documentary about graffitists, including Renks, a member of the 70K crew, that was refused classification (censored) by the OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification).

Cutback by Rachel Bentley was filmed between 2011 and 2014 in Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin, NYC and London. It focuses on the mainstream reception of Australian street art and features many of the usual suspects from Melbourne’s street art scene: Makatron, Rone, HaHa, Vexta, Beastman and Phibs.

There is probably someone in Melbourne right now desperately trying to edit together another documentary on Melbourne’s street art. A lot of them never get finished.

Looking across the oceans there is fund raising activity going on for more street art and graffiti documentaries. If you want to see more street art documentaries then there are ways that you can make it happen. Dscreet’s film “Dots” is being funded by the sales of a set including art (the prints), a co-producer credit and percentage in the film. (Has he finished it yet?) There is, Dregs, a New Zealand street art documentary that is currently fund-raising. And “White Walls Say Nothing”, a documentary about the walls of Buenos Aires that has launched a Kickstarter campaign.

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