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Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 – my year in review

I did a lot of travelling this year in Nth America and Korea this year. All this travelling meant that I now have a category for my posts about travel, mostly visiting art galleries and looking at street art in various cities around the world. Seeing New York was the personal highlight of the year. I needed to see to fill a gap in my in my knowledge of the art world with a few days worth of New York galleries that. I’m still processing all that information. One of the highlights of my trip was seeing the Barry McGee exhibition in Boston. Visiting galleries in Seoul filled in gaps in my understanding of art that I didn’t even know were missing. The rise of Korea in international art is impressive given that a century ago it was an antiquated colonised backwater. Seeing Korean contemporary art has changed my thinking in so many ways.

Barry McGee

Barry McGee

Meanwhile I was trying to keep my reviews of exhibitions very local this year for various reasons (cycling, ease, tired of public transport and keep mixing it up) while still trying to keep up with Melbourne’s street art and get a publishing deal for my history of Melbourne’s public sculpture.

HaHa robot in Coburg

HaHa robot in Coburg

Normally when I check the messages from the Black Mark Facebook page or my gmail there is another invite to an exhibition on the other side of the city, or some artist wanting attention. Rarely there someone is giving you a blog post or a story on a platter. This year, for sending me two stories, I’d like to thank Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site see my post “Melbourne Street Art Blogs” and also sent me the photos that made up the my post “Sexy Girls Girls Girls”.

I’d also like to thank all the guest bloggers who wrote posts this year: CDH (“Street art Salvage”, February), Pauline (“White Night with kids”, March), Jess Knight (“Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey”) and Vetti (“Peter Fraser’s Lizard: A Box of Gaps”). I thought that I’d try having some guest posts – again to mix things up a bit.

I thought that I’d like to try having a monthly series of articles; I tried with my Persons of Interest. The Persons of Interest were people that had influenced my thinking about art so it was, in a way, autobiographical. I’m not sure how well that went as a series but it was interesting writing them.

Paul Yore, "Fountain of Knowledge", 2013

Paul Yore, “Fountain of Knowledge”, 2013

Meanwhile Australia’s own culture was going through a low point. On Saturday 1st of June in Melbourne Australia police raided the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed 7 collage works by artist, Paul Yore alleging that the art was child pornography. Then in September Bill Henson withdrew from the 2014 Adelaide Biennial after a campaign by an Adelaide police officer, Brevet-Sergeant Michael Newbury against art that he had not seen. With the police in Australia becoming the unofficial art censorship board any hope that Australia might become a liberal society capable of intelligent and informed debate has been dashed.

Enjoy the end of year festivities, knowing that I will be hard a work on my sculpture book during that time, and good luck for 2014 – I think we’re going to need it.

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station

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Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest was a series of blog posts about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact. I wanted to write a personal history of art, telling it from my own view, to examine how the art and biographical details have influenced my own critical judgements. It was not an easy process and the posts did not attract many readers; maybe it was too self-indulgent or my choose of persons too obvious. Maybe, the posts didn’t come with enough images; anyway, I don’t think that I will continue it.

Who to include and who to leave out? This is always the question in making such lists. Influences come and go in waves of interest by the public and at various times in your life you get caught up in that wave of general interest. As a kid I must have been reading Robert Hughes in Time Magazine as my parents subscribed to it but I wouldn’t want to count Hughes as an influence or a person of interest. I played on synthesisers and so I was interested in Brian Eno. I am not claiming that I am major fan of Eno but Here Come the Warm Jets and Another Green World has been on high rotation for decades.

Here are all my Persons of Interests posts. They were written roughly in the order that they started to influence me.

Jan #1 – Desmond Morris

Feb #2 – Andy Warhol

March #3 – Salvador Dali

April #4 – Marcel Duchamp

May #5 – Laurie Anderson

July #6 – Various, Notes from the Pop Underground 

July #7 – Keith Haring

August #8 – William Burroughs

September #9 – Philosophers

December #10  – Hunter S. Thompson

It is not surprising that I am interested in influences when the subject of my thesis was the influence of Max Stirner’s philosophy on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. I started reading Max Stirner because of one remark by Marcel Duchamp but as I was investigating his relationship to philosophy, both the influence on and the influence of, I felt I had to read him.

“When he (Duchamp) was asked later in life to identify a specific philosopher or philosophical theory that was of specific significance to his work, he cited Stirner’s  only major book – Der Einzige und sein Eignetum…” (Francis M. Naumann “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites”  p.29)

 


I’ll be Watching You

I went to see Spectacle – the music video exhibition at ACMI (Australian Centre For the Moving Image) with my friend, Sean Doyle, ACMI’s Macintosh Systems Administrator. Sean kindly invited me to an ACMI staff family and friends viewing of the exhibition. We saw the exhibition and had a beer at Optic while wait for Jane Routley who was still watching the music videos (she was in there for two and a half hours). There were so many familiar videos bringing back so many memories. There are so many videos in the exhibition that it would take days to cycle through them all.

Music videos are like Wagner’s dream of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a total art experience uniting the visual with the audio. Wagner was right it is “The Artwork of the Future” but not in the way he would have wanted it to be; Wagner would not have wanted the pointless luxury that the spectacle of music videos offers. Wagner may not have wanted his MTV but there is a lot to appreciate in music videos. At their best many overlapping with video art or experimental movies and at the worst slick advertising productions – and all in under four minutes (compared to the hours of Wagner’s Ring Cycle).

Why go to the exhibition when I could sit on the couch on a Friday or Saturday night and watch Rage? With the right host selecting the videos Rage can be almost good as the selection of videos at Spectacle. This is a problem that all popular arts exhibitions face when the work is shown outside of the popular context.

The exhibition does puts music videos in a historical context; you will be surprised at the age of the phrase “music video”. I did get a laugh from the literal videos; videos with the lyrics rewritten to describe, literally what is happening in the video. (Check out “literal videos” on YouTube.) But a book or a documentary could have done that.

It is a beautifully presented exhibition and there is more to do that put on headphone and watch videos at Spectacle. It has a few works from the bleeding edge of music videos, including some interactive music videos, crowdsourced music videos and a stereoscopic music video from Björk. Sean told me about the work that he had to do on the Johnny Cash Project of crowd sourced animation. It is originally a webpage and Sean was tweaking the code for that to make it function for the exhibition.

Although my music collection ranges from Gary Numan to bhangra want I’m really into is the intersection between art and music. This is well represented in Spectacle, with bands like the Residents or EBM because curators, like critics, love that intersection. Rage doesn’t tend to play videos by the Residents or EBM and one of the Resident’s giant eyeball masks is at the exhibition. Why didn’t it have something from Severed Heads?

There isn’t much memorabilia and preparatory material in the exhibition, things that you can see first hand at an exhibition. Along with the giant eyeball, there is a small case of Countdown material, some animation cells including some for Ah Ha’s “Take On Me” and some storyboards for videos.

 


Persons of Interest – Hunter S. Thompson

I didn’t want to write about Hunter S. Thompson (1937 – 2005) even though he has been an influence on my journalism and my life. Another lifetime ago I went to my interview for a journalism cadetship with his book Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas my briefcase; it was not a good omen. I used to read a lot of Hunter, I even went through back issues of Rolling Stone Magazine looking for original articles, in the stacks of Monash University Library. It was a great educational experience.

However by early 90s I was getting tired of the Hunter S. Thompson show. I didn’t want to write about him because I don’t like him that much anymore and didn’t want to acknowledge him as an influence. I was definitely tired of Thompson, the sports writer and drunk macho man because I’m not into sports, guns or machismo. Maybe it was reading Ralph Steadman’s book on Thompson, The Joke is Over that summed it up and then Thompson shot himself.

I didn’t want to read Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider’s View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance by Jay Cowan (Lyons Press, 2009) a book about Thompson written by Thompson’s residence, Owl Farm’s former caretaker and handyman but Catherine had given it to me. (Think Doonesbury: would you want to read book written about Raoul Duke written by Zeke?) So I put the book aside for a few years before shoving the book in my satchel planning to read it on public transport. Actually I’m surprised that I even started it after my experiences with Seven Years With Banksy. Actually the book is well written (so forget that Doonesbury image of it being written by Zeke) and has allowed me to unravel the twisted tale and make some sense of the life of Hunter S. Thompson. Cowan’s biography is not a kiss and tell exploitation book but it does tell all about Thompson’s sex, drugs, lawyers, guns and money. Cowan doesn’t just report his experience with Thompson he has done his research and sorted out the facts.  In the final chapter Cowan writes about Thompson’s suicide in 2005, his two memorial services and the start of his legacy. Cowan works carefully up to and around Thompson’s death and I’m glad that he did because I didn’t want to wade through all the gibble written at the time.

Sometimes when I’m writing this blog Thompson’s words of wisdom come back to me. I appreciate that Thompson dealt with some serious issues in journalism, especially in his Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail. Gonzo journalism is more than drugs, guns and lawyers, it is more that just trying unsuccessfully to imitate Thompson. It is the knowledge that you can not be unbiased on some issues, that it is realistic to not remove the participant/observer from the report and ethical to acknowledge the bias and involvement of the reporter. Thompson was a real journalist, the man could write, and I have to admit it, confess it to this keyboard and in front of this congregation of readers that Hunter S. Thompson has been a major influence on my life.

Yes, I share a middle initial with the man, like Hunter S. Thompson, T.S. Eliot and William S. Burroughs – I am Mark S. Holsworth. Yes, I wanted to be that “hired geek”, hitting the keyboard in a quest to report the facts in a way that would do some good in the world. Yes.


Hidden Gem in Cemetery

The Springthorpe Memorial, completed in 1901, is one of Melbourne’s hidden gems, not rhinestones but an over-the-top extravagant diamond from the late-Victorian era. In 1933 the Argus praised it as “the most beautiful work of its kind in Australia”.

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When in 1897 Annie Springthorpe died giving birth to her fourth child, her husband  Melbourne prominent doctor and art collector, John Sprinthorpe was grief stricken. They had only married for ten years; privately he poured his heart out in his diary. Publicly to commemorate her he commissioned the most impressive memorial in Melbourne at the Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew.

No expense was spared. Dr Springthorpe assembled the all star team of his time: architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear, sculptor Bertram Mackennal and landscape gardener William Guilfoyle. Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933) was an admirer of Ruskin and his most well known work in Melbourne is the Church Street bridge, Richmond (1924). William Guilfoyle (1840-1912) was a landscape gardener and botanist who, in 1873 became the first curator of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Sir Bertram Mackennal was Australia’s international superstar sculptor of his time. Although Mackennal was born in Fitzroy he was equally at home in England where he sculpted portraits of British royalty. Melbourne residents many know his friezes on Parliament house, his statue of Circe, 1893 in the NGV or his memorial to Edward VII in Queen Victoria Gardens.

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A gate with a shield creates an entrance way to the small landscaped area around the Springthorpe Memorial in the very crowded space of the cemetery. There is a small areas around the memorial with a few seats and some trees.

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The stain glass roof of the memorial gave the white marble statuary an unreal red glow. The large dome of red glass in a scale pattern reminded me that the snake as an ancient symbol of eternal life because the snake sheds its skin. The snake motif is repeated in the water spouts on the roof.

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There are so many loving words all over the memorial. On the tiled floor and bronze words in Ancient Greek around the inside of the entablature and English on around outside.

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Mackennal’s complex three figure group consists of a full length portrait of Annie Springthorpe laid out on a Roman style sarcophagus and surrounded by angles. The angel hovers over the tomb floating on a marble nimbus; the idea of carving a nimbus out of marble strikes me as absurd, trying to carving rock to look like vapour.

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There are a few other mausoleum worthy of architectural note at the Boroondara Cemetery including a gothic-revival chapel and an Egyptian-revival temple with fantastic detailing. And there are a few other tombstone carving worthy seeing including a tomb with a bonze dog on top reminiscent of the famous tomb in Highgate cemetery tomb of bare knuckle Tom Sayers, guarded by a carving of his faithful dog. But the Springthorpe memorial is over the top in its grief, opulence and luxury, it is a five handkerchief experience.

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Welcome Refugees

On the 7 December 2013 in a co-ordinated effort the Refugee Action Collective (Vic) are attempting a mass action “to shower the streets of Melbourne with messages of welcome.”

Refugee Action Collective (Vic) rally at State Library.

Refugee Action Collective (Vic) rally at State Library.

Leaving your country is never easy and even people facing persecution do not take the move lightly. Refugees need to be welcomed, protected and helped; this is the basic standard of a civilised person. Any civilised, rational or moral human would welcome and protect a person fleeing persecution or death, it is an ancient tradition now codified in international law. Australia’s treatment of refugees is a crime against humanity perpetrated by a rogue state backed by a racist mob. Amnesty International reports that: “The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Australia to be in breach of its obligations under international law, committing 143 human rights violations by indefinitely detaining 46 refugees for four years, on the basis of ASIO’s ‘adverse security assessments’.”

Not that I think that any propaganda campaign of posters, fridge magnets and rallies can change the minds of the amoral psychopaths that dictate Australia’s crimes against refugees. I doubt that it will be any more effective than my rhetoric.

The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) was mildly calling for civil disobedience in encouraging people to “sticker, chalk your neighbourhood”. For yes, even writing in chalk is technically illegal in Melbourne; not that I’ve ever heard of anyone being arrested for it, not that the three police at the demonstration were making any attempt to stop people writing in chalk in front of the State Library. Not that many people were writing in chalk on Saturday morning.

Christmas Island Just Visiting

Dignity 4 asylum Seekers

Melbourne’s street artists have been putting out the welcome refugees and showering the streets with more witty about Australia’s treatment messages for years. Of particular note, is Phoenix who has made the map of Australia into a welcome mat in a long running series of paste-ups. Phoenix sums up the both major parties position on refugees with the phrase: “We scare because we care”, a phrase that started with his paste-ups about the ‘War on Terror’. Phoenix is not directly involved with the Refugee Action Collective but his has donated some of his art to their fundraising auction. He is not a single-issue street artist and has been sticking his political art to Melbourne’s walls for years.

Phoenix welcome mat sticker with Ghostpatrol tag.

Phoenix welcome mat sticker with Ghostpatrol tag.

This sustained campaigns of illegal posters and stencils creates signs that the federal government and the opposition does not represent all Australians on this issue and is not in complete control of the territory it claims. Even though it was buffed with in 24 hours I’m sure that my local member, Kelvin Thomson got the message when the external wall of his office in Coburg was recently covered in anarchist graffiti.


Kitchen Status

Visitors to a private house in Melbourne are frequently shown into the kitchen to socialise. If they are in my house there is a combined kitchen and dinning room and is designed to socialise in. A century ago visitors would not have been shown the kitchen then kitchens were small narrow rooms near the back of the house with only space for one or two people in them at the most. Kitchens in a social and cultural context have changed, a complete reversal of status in the house.

Finishing up on my 2006 kitchen renovation

Finishing up on my 2006 kitchen renovation

Socialising in the kitchen allows the hosts to conveniently serve food and drink to guests and family without leaving the room. They are the entertainment hub in Melbourne’s homes from the wealthy to the poor; except where the old house designs do not allow for socialising in the kitchens.

Houses are the form of lifestyles, their architecture defines the way that we live. The architecture of rooms and their use in a house contains information about social hierarchies, taboos and other information about the way of life of its inhabitants.

My kitchen fills half of a large room that also functions as a dinning room and a central intersection of the house. It is the first room after the hallway that a guest usually enters. This combination makes the process of serving food at dinner parties so much easier. I can get up from the table and within a few steps reach the stove, fridge or anything else I need.

The change in the status of kitchens in our culture is a kind of parallel to the change in the status and social role of women. It is also an indication of social equality both in the greater society, in that kitchen staff are no longer commonly affordable, and in the family where the wife is no longer her husband’s servant. My wife and I share the cooking, I probably do slightly more. I’ve been a kitchen hand and I often help when my wife is cooking by cutting up onions or preparing other vegetables.

This change in the status of kitchens has also lead to a change in the way that food is enjoyed and the kinds of food enjoyed. Food preparation may involve designer utensils or novelty kitchen gadgets. Food is a chance to explore the variety of things to eat – fish sauce, Canadian maple syrup and Spanish olive oil can all be found in my kitchen.

In 2006 I built my own kitchen, screwing it together from a flat pack kit. I’m kind of proud of the biggest DIY job that I’ve ever done. Most Australians get professionals to do their kitchens and the kitchen in a Melbourne houses is one of the most expensive rooms. Mine has an island bench, the transition point between food preparation and consumption; most of the plates, bowls and cutlery are stored under the island bench. There is a great flow from the pantry and fridge, through to the cooking area and the finally the cleaning area and waste disposal, sink, dishwasher, and bins. There are three bins: one for compost, one for recycling and one for non-recycling. Then there is the area that where I feed the cat; it has a mat of newspaper because she likes to eat with her paws, dragging her food out of her bowl.

My kitchen is sparsely decorated. There are a couple of vases for flowers and a couple of my paintings on the dinning room side of my kitchen. The fridge is an odd centrepiece to one wall of the kitchen and acts as a kind of noticeboard and place for souvenir magnets. In the 1911 Marcel Duchamp made a small painting for the kitchen of his brother Raymond’s house, “Coffee Grinder”. “It’s normal today to have paintings in your kitchen but at that time it was rather unusual.” Duchamp said, noting the status change in kitchens.


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