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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Gallery Cats

Winchester, the cat at Brunswick Arts died on the 10th of October. Originally from Toowoomba, Queensland, Winchester moved to Melbourne and pursued a career in artist management. He enjoyed a long and successful life supervising activities at the artist-run-gallery, eating and sleeping. He passed away suddenly early in the morning after enjoying life as usual the previous day. Early in 2012 Winchester went missing for a week after an exhibition opening. He had cancer and was receiving chemotherapy in mid 2012. Winchester was a male tabby and proud of it. He had his own Facebook page (I was one of his 175 friends). I will miss seeing him when I visit and he will be profoundly missed by his family at Brunswick Arts.

Winchester the cat at Brunswick Arts opening 2012

Another gallery cat in Melbourne is Milly at Brunswick Street Gallery Milly a white short-haired cat is very affectionate; she was following me around the gallery trying to get petted when I was last there.

In observing cats you will notice that cats enjoy geometry of the designed environment; they place themselves in a manner in harmony with the space. Gallery cats appreciate the gallery space like many of the human visitors. Gallery cats must wonder why humans often walk half way across a room and then suddenly stop and stares at the wall for a minute before continuing walking in their original direction.

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.” Michel de Montaigne

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Blog Housekeeping

This not about my life as a house-husband but to draw attention to my addition of two new pages to this blog: Contact and Events.

Contact

Regarding contacting me. I don’t mind getting invitations to art exhibitions, but don’t expect to see me there. If you are an artist and I have told you to please invite me to your next exhibition I really do mean it. On the other hand I hate the pushy publicists who think that my blog is just another promotional platform for their message. I wish that this wasn’t the main reason that people contacted me.

I go to openings partially to look at the art, to schmooze and drink wine – in that order. It gets difficult to look at the art after awhile because there are so many people standing around drinking wine and talking. It is kind of pointless talking to the artist at an exhibition opening with so many people saying hello and congratulating them. My strategy is to arrive early and look at the art before most of the people arrive – the flaw to my strategy is that I left before the late arrivals.

Events

The first event off the rack is a series of sculpture tours that might become a permanent event. As regular readers would know I write a lot about Melbourne’s public sculpture, now I have put together a tour of a selection of them. For more information see Events.

Other events will follow; talks, panel discussions and a book launch. If you want me for tours, panel discussions or other events see Contact.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne


Turning Ceramics Spiritual

“If you are coming to see me, I’m stuck in a land of nothingness (Never land)”

–       a translation of one piece of Persian calligraphy, from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri

Well, Melbourne is close to the Never Never.

I went to First Site Gallery to hear the artist talks and meet Mojgan Habibi, one of the artists. Mojgan Habibi is an Iranian-born, Melbourne-based artist working in ceramics and calligraphy doing her Masters in art at RMIT. The artist’s talk by Mojgan was more a conversation as there weren’t that many people; there was just myself, an Iranian calligraphy teacher, Amir-Navid Molaverdkhani and his two girls.

Mojgan Habibi, Spiritual Transformation, 2012, photo courtesy of the artist

I had seen Mojgan Habibi’s exhibition “Spiritual Transformation” at First Site Gallery last Saturday. It had made me smile, the many white ceramic spirals looked impossible to construct. They looked so fragile but also like spinning tops balanced or spiral galaxies in the middle of the gallery floor. I enjoyed the frozen movement and meditating on the spiritual message of the spiral, in a spiral of thought about the whirlwinds that took the Prophet Elijah to heaven, whirling dervishes and the universe. The spiral is a universal spiritual theme and a symbol of the universe.

For Mojgan the spiral also represents hope and change, hence the title of the exhibition – “Spiritual Transformation” and she sees a poetic alchemy and mysticism in their creation. “I think pottery making can be Karma Yoga or centeredness through action. The turning wheel, the rhythms of throwing with its steady flow of energy from hand to clay, the gestures of wedging, glazing and the transmutations of the fire, all of these involve selfless concentration, the letting go of everything except the work at hand.”

We talked about the spiral form in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and cosmology; one of the girls thought that they looked like whirling dervishes too and also like, ice cream.

Mojgan Habibi, Persian Calligraphy, 2012, photo courtesy of the artist.

“Spiritual Transformation” included a selection of calligraphy on ceramic tablets (the quote at the start is a translation of one of them) and so the conversation turned to calligraphy. We talked about the exhibition of Persian manuscripts, “Love and Devotion” at the State Library earlier this year. Mojgan showed off her calligraphy printed on her red t-shirt, in translation: “What passion, what passion, we are burning like the sun”. I like calligraphy I write about wildstyle graffiti even though often that I can’t read it any more than I can read Persian calligraphy; there is always the flow and placement of the letters. Later that day, while taking some photos in Hosier Lane for another blog post, I saw some tags with beautiful calligraphic qualities and felt it all come spiralling back.

(For more Mojgan Habibi’s ceramics see Art Thread Blog)


Rest In Peace

R.I.P. pieces are a tradition in graffiti generally they are tributes to comrades. R.I.P. tribute pieces are not a big part of Melbourne’s graffiti scene as there is a much lower death rate in Melbourne’s youth than in some American inner city youth. They are the street equivalent to death notices in the newspaper or the temporary unofficial memorials of candles and flowers (see my post Melbourne’s Shrines – especially the unofficial).

A 20m long tribute piece was painted along the eastern wall of Melbourne’s iconic graffiti zone of Hosier Lane to murdered ABC employee, Jill Meagher. An unknown artist painted the tribute on Sunday the afternoon of 30th September before 7pm. It must have been a huge effort to buff the walls and spray the whole wall. (See the report in The Sun Herald.)

Jill Meagher was not connected with Melbourne’s graffiti scene; the “Rest In Peace Jill” piece is part of the huge public response, first to her disappearance and then to news of her death. The footpath where she was last scene is blocked pile of flowers and there was a 30,000-person march on Sydney Road.

I’ve been searching my photo files for other Melbourne R.I.P. graffiti tributes and I finally found another one. I have seen a few more than I have photographed, they are not common in Melbourne, let’s hope that it remains that way.


Basil Sellers Art Prize 2012

Melbourne artist, Jon Campbell won the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize for his work Dream team – 22, a series of enamel paintings on board each with a footballer’s nickname: Dipper, Richo and Buddy Love. It is a footie fan’s dream team a nicknames.

Basil Sellers will be relieved not to be taking home a DVD this time for it is an acquisitive prize and the last two prizes have been won by video art.

There was a strong showing by aboriginal artists this year I especially enjoyed Richard Bell’s two paintings and Brook Andrew two works, especially his painting examining the indigenous origins of Australian Rules football.

I enjoyed seeing Simon Perry sculpture “Twickenham”. The small figures rotate as their roll along a track mounted on the gallery wall; the figures are based on Ian Bradshaw’s photo of the arrest of the first streaker.

Patrick Pound’s exhibition of found photographs of amateur sports-people, electronic game machines and souvenirs of professional sports stars that lost suggest the ordinary tragedies that are the corollary of sporting triumphs.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize has started me thinking about sport again – see my previous post about Art & Sport and the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2010.  (I don’t often think about sport; when the grand final was being played in Melbourne on Saturday I was watching “Writer’s Bench” at ACMI, thank you Sandra.)

In “Fair game: Art versus sport in ‘the lucky country’ (Art & Australia v.47 n.4) the article Christopher McAuliffe describes the oppositional positioning of art and sport noting the objections to sport from Robin Boyd (and David Williamson) and identifying the 1956 Olympics as the point where sport moved from a balanced part of Australian life to an obsession that indicative of conservatism and a reason for national pessimism. McAuliffe is optimistic that a balance can be restored but his evidence is only anecdotal.

On the other hand Barrie Houlihan (School of Social Sciences, Staffordshire University, “Sport, National Identity and Public Policy”, Nations and Nationalism v.3, Issue 1) concluded “that while sport possesses a powerful symbolism that can be exploited on occasion to great effect, the malleability of sports symbolism often undermines its capacity to exert a lasting effect on national identity.”

Art, what ever it is, is an elaborate cultural activity that exposes elements of a culture. Reflecting on art can illuminate these cultural elements, both the intentional and the unintentional. In this aspect I think that art is helpful to human happiness as it provides a time to think – as happiness requires, according to Epicurus: friends, freedom and time to think. Sport and games in general, although enjoyable but do not provide time to think, very few people reflect on their life at a football match or while playing on the X-box. This is not to argue that sport and games are not conducive to happiness, they are a great way to spend time with friends, only that sport and games alone will not provide a happy life. Sport and games are not the same as the free play that occurs in art.


Gertrude St. Culture

There are many art galleries (a few years ago there were 7, hence the name of Seventh Gallery), art supplies, bookshops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and antique shops spreading along the street. Rose Chong Costume Hire has extravagant window displays and Arcadia Café has exhibitions on their walls. Most of the activity is concentrated in a few blocks north between Smith St. and Brunswick St. is a microenvironment of greater cultural significance than its size.

Seventh Gallery, Gertrude Street

At the corner of Brunswick St. the housing commission flats start, part of a slum reclamation by the state government, at Gertrude St. The high-rise housing commission flats have not been as successful as the gentrification that the arts brought to the area. Here, as elsewhere in Fitzroy, there is a slow gentrification going on.

Life, like the numerous pubs along Gertrude St. ranges from down-and-out to up-market. The two sides of the street are distinguished by housing commission flats on one side and on the other, rows of 19th and early 20thcentury shops, post office and pubs. Preserving the turn of the 19th century buildings with their eclectic style architecture are a mix of charities and boutiques continues west. The gentrified area is slowly spreading – initially from the Collingwood end – oddly creating a quiet area closer to the city. It started from Australian Print Workshop established in 1981 and a cluster of galleries around the corner on Smith Street that moved the focus to this end of the street. Darren Knight Gallery, now located in Sydney, was originally just around the corner on Smith St. along with Australia Galleries. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Australian Print Workshop, Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. is the one place in Melbourne where there is a strong Koori presence. The old Post Office building on Gertrude St. that was once painted the yellow, red and black of the Aborigine flag has been painted white and turned into a restaurant. On the corner of Gertrude and George Streets three thin bronze figures with aboriginal motifs on their torso stand. They are  “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria and a graduate of RMIT.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On Lt. Napier Street, the laneway next to the old post office, there was some Koori street art by the Bellamah Tribe in 2006: the use of ochre colours, images of goannas, lines and track marks set this wall apart. There were great sprays of paint, black brush marks and tags. It has since been covered up with other pieces since. The Bellamah Tribe wall was an impressive and distinctive and I hoped to see more of the Koori street art but apart from Reko Rennie, that has yet to come. In 2012 the AWOL crew did do a tribute the original owners of this land, who were never asked permission to construct Fitzroy and Collingwood.

AWOL Gertrude Street

I always see something interesting on my walks along Gertrude Street; what was the most interesting thing that you saw there last?


Private Public

People complain, “Taggers vandalized my fence”.

“Really?!” I think to reply. “They came onto your property and scribble stuff on the inside of your fence, that’s outrageous.”

I’m then informed that the taggers wrote on the outside public side of the fence or wall. Not your side of the wall then? You wouldn’t complain if your neighbour wrote on their side of the wall between your two properties but you want to claim ownership of the public wall. You want to impose your beige or mission brown identity and taste on the public but object when others do it.

Public space in the city is an illusion. As far as the state is concerned it is the public and consequently public spaces organized like private space. In Melbourne public transport infrastructure is fenced off allowing buildings to go derelict rather than to allow any other use of it. Every defined border of public space, the walls and fences, is theoretically either privately owned or under the control of some government authority. Then there are private spaces posing as public space, like the shopping malls and pubs (short for public house). There is petty parochial nature in Melbourne with the proverbial dog in a manger attitude of ‘I was here first’ is matched by the territoriality of some graffiti crews.

Public and private are not natural states they are created by a culture and therefore can change or be in a state of flux. Changes in the public and the private become an issue for a culture to discuss – private or public communications on Facebook, how much of your body you can uncover in public and the contrary how much of your face do you have to show in public.

What exactly the public is an even more complex political issue. Do you mean the sum total of all the individuals, including all the taggers, the psychos and the others that you might want to exclude, or just the mob majority? Or do you mean the mean average, the beige, neutral public, Baudrillard’s silent majorities the great force of inertia? Or a ghostly public that is altogether imaginary, theoretical and ideal, that is a cover for politicians and executives that essentially owns it and treats it as their private space.

Upfield line wall – Brunswick

In part this post is a comment CDH’s article “Street Artists Aren’t Vandals”, that expands on the ideas in his Trojan Petition, because the issues are greater than just permission. A lot of new concrete walls went up along the Upfield train line in Brunswick, these walls haven’t been neglected but they are magnificent public walls for graffing. Street art, squatting and the Occupy Movement challenge and examine the sacred concept of ownership. The ownership on this city that was originally owned by the aboriginal peoples of the area has to be examined in a practical and civic way. Real and substantial damages should be the measure of a crime as opposed to transgressions on the sanctity of ownership.

We all share this city. We see it, hear it, feel it and smell it everyday. Tom Civil has spoken about “how street art and graffiti create community, mark space and act as a human-scaled anarchic form of urban architecture.” A piece of graffiti in a good location where nobody can be bothered buffing or a legal piece on the side of a house can last for ten or more years. It becomes part of the neighbourhood’s identity, in what is often a featureless uniform urban environment.

Street art explores the border of areas of the city, the areas of marginal interest, the laneways and alleys, the littoral zones of the walls that divide the city into sections. It challenges the ideas of public space.


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