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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Taxidermy & Contemporary Art

Troy Emery’s exhibition “from far away” at Craft Victoria reminded me that taxidermy and contemporary art are currently very close at least in Melbourne. Not that Emery uses any real animals in his work – he creates unreal animals. Troy Emery covers high density foam taxidermy mannequin with a rainbow of polyester pom poms, or in the case of from far away, a small dog form covered in rayon tassels. From far away is the star of the show, although the bear is bigger. There are some good visual gags in his work, the small dog, Listening, a reference to the dog on the label of His Masters Voice (HMV). (You can see the taxidermy art of Troy Emery on Art Nation on the ABC.)

As if I needed reminding that taxidermy and Melbourne contemporary art are currently very close after visiting “Melbourne Now” at the NGV. Greeting visitors on the stairs is the automated waving taxidermy cat by Greatest Hits collective, Untitled 2012.

Julia de Villa’s installation, Degustation at Melbourne Now is over the top and great. There is so much detail, the inlayed red glittering ‘blood’ on the cutlery; her jewellery studies at RMIT proving useful. The baroque paintings on the walls of the room emphasis the baroque sense of popularism, sensationalism and spectacle in de Villa’s art. I spent sometime in there sketching and looking at the layout of Degustation – making use of the elegant sketching materials provided by the NGV.

I could include Natalie Ryan’s flock covered taxidermy mannequins and Marion Drews’s haunting photography of roadkill into this survey. I keep on thinking about why taxidermy is big at the moment. Not forgetting that there is a big difference between the gothic splendour and horror of de Villa’s taxidermy of real baby animals and Emery’s or Ryan’s entirely fake use of taxidermy mannequins.

There is something kitsch or corny or sentimental about most taxidermy; these are aesthetics that modernism eschewed but are now being explored again. Taxidermy is from another time, a recent but largely forgotten past when hunting was admired, before Bambi, The Deer Hunter and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I have done some taxidermy in my time; in the mid-1970s I went on a tour of the Zimmerman taxidermy factory in Nairobi Kenya. Zimmerman’s was huge, they would taxidermy anything, including elephants. The smell of the tanning animal hides was truly obnoxious (I am not surprise that Julia de Villa is a vegan). For me the smell was tempered with the revelation that they were making clay models to cast forms for insides of the animals. (For more on Zimmerman Ltd see Nairobi’s The Daily Nation.)

Is ‘mannequin’ really the right word given that these are animal forms?

P.S.  The mix of taxidermy and contemporary is not just a Melbourne phenomena there is the British artists Polly Morgan and Tessa Farmer, works mostly with dead insects but may be some taxidermy amongst her work. In 2010 the Museum of Art and Design in NYC had an exhibition: ”Dead or Alive- Nature becomes Art” that featured over 30 artists who used organic material in the art; feathers, bones, silkworm cocoons, plant materials, and hair. It did include some taxidermy art with American artist, Keith W. Bentley’s Cauda Equina, 1995-2007 but there was more work with animal and bird skeletons in the exhibition. (Thanks Tanya)

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Buffing & Christianity

Recently I saw some Christian buffing in Coburg. What is “Christian buffing”?

Christian buffing Coburg cross

The painter had painted the whole wall except for a stencilled crucifix that had neatly been painted around; you can see the white paint splatters on top of the black spray paint. Buffing the crucifix was refused on religious grounds. It would be an act sacrilege for a Christian to erase a crucifix by painting over. It didn’t matter for the Christian buffer that the original stencil included the blasphemous remark “LOL”; that was removed in the buffing.Lol cruxifition

The issue of buffing is more complex that even I had thought; with this example raising the complex issue of iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is the religious or anti-religious destruction of religious images. The complexities and paradoxes of iconoclasm were explored at a symposium at Newman College that I attended in September last year. It covered iconoclasm from the Biblical to the Renaissance idea that early Christians had an antipathy to the visual arts and to the destruction of petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula. I’m sure that the political realities of buffing are more complex in a more religious place than Coburg. I should be writing an academic paper about this and not just a blog post – “iconoclasm and graffiti”, or “urban street iconoclasm”.

Christian buffing coburg whole wall

Meanwhile on the streets of Coburg, after the wall had been buffed someone else had added more graffiti and so the cycle goes on.

Other interesting piece of buffing, that I seen on Melbourne’s streets:

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In a city lane there was buffing around an early Baby Guerrilla paste-up.

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

 


Mushroom @ RMIT

Melbourne + Me at RMIT Gallery celebrates “40 years of Mushroom and Melbourne’s popular music culture”. This should be a great exhibition and I must tell all my friends.

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I have no argument with the proposition that popular music should be the subject of serious exhibitions. I have no argument with celebrating Australian music with the focus on Mushroom records. Rock music and art converged at the Velvet Underground gig at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in 1967. Now, decades later there is so much that needs to be remembered and preserved from the development of this important multi-media art form.

At the time it might have appeared ephemeral entertainment but now it is being exhibited in major institutional galleries, like this exhibition at RMIT and ACMI’s music video exhibition, Spectacle.

However, Melbourne + Me does raise the problem is how to display rock music in an art gallery. Lots and lots of photographs, posters, magazine covers, record covers and videos don’t make very exciting viewing. There were several technical issues going on with various videos and computers when I visited – technology is only part of the solution on how to present the multi-media spectacle of rock’n’roll. There is a huge public program of talks and film screenings to accompany the exhibition.

There are some spectacular costumes from Kylie, Skyhooks and Crowded House. However even the giant Skyhooks backdrop and Pegasus from Kylie’s Aphrodite Les Folies 2011 world tour didn’t really do it for me.

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There are attempts to make the exhibition more coherent with the sticky carpet room about the band venues (but without a carpet sticky with beer) and the imagery office of Michael Gudinski, the director of Mushroom records. Here there are trophies, records, autographed guitars, gold records and odd bits of paraphernalia. The crates of records to flip through was a good touch.

There is no outrage at the idea of an exhibition of Australian popular music, as there is with street art (see the comments on my post about a street culture centre); maybe, rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment. Maybe there should be more outrage as lack of context was the main problem with the exhibition. Sometimes it felt like a random display of stuff – why are Kylie’s costumes on the same platform as outfits worn by Skyhooks? Why are the international acts and local acts all mixed up? I feeling of being lost at the exhibition wasn’t helped by the layout of rooms at RMIT Gallery.

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Piano Piano

There are pianos everywhere in Melbourne from the City Square to the Palm Plaza in Dandenong. There are 24 pianos on Melbourne’s streets this January, most of them are in the CBD especially around the Arts Centre. All the pianos have been donated and then decorated by various artists and arts groups. They are part of Play Me, I’m Yours by British artist Luke Jerram. You can play on them any time that the small boys have stopped making big noises on them.

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I stop to look at the painted piano in the City Square and Yarn Corner’s yarn-bombing. The now annual yarn-bombing of the City Square looks great this year. A great deal of thought, knitting and crocheting has gone into it with the patterns and the co-ordinated colours are a real step up from last year.

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Luke Jerram has an very impressive CV with many diverse projects from his glass microbiology models to his interactive waterfall in Bristol. His Play Me, I’m Yours project has been installed in many cities around the world. (Have a look at his website.)

Play Me, I’m Yours, was made possible by the Betty Amsden Participation Program, a four year program of large scale “art for all” participation events. Betty Amsdem OAM is a major sponsor of the arts in Melbourne (as well as,  3MBS, the RSPCA and Guide Dogs Victoria) and a vocal advocate for philanthropy.

Ultimately both the pianos and the yarn-bombing are radical gestures that empower the community to create for themselves rather than simply being spectators in this event and festival driven city. It is something that the Revolutionary Dadaist Council of Berlin would have approved.

There has always been a piano for people to play on the mezzanine floor of the City Library where their exhibition space is located. I was looking at “A Celebration of Co-Mix: an exhibition of past entrants from the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award Graphic Short Stories. (Comics have come along way in my life from the subject of moral panic to the Lord Mayor’s award.) As I was looking and reading the exhibition an old woman slowly moved her walker towards the piano. At first I thought that she was just looking for a place to sit down but then she started to play. I could hear why she had made the effort; for a woman who was barely able to walk she played with a smooth ageless grace.

I had less grace when I played some 8 bar blues on the piano in the Victoria Mall in Coburg. The upright piano sounds soft when played outdoors.


On the Blindside

“Happy Summer Tank” by Diego Ramirez is a great little exhibition about cosplay and issues of dressing-up in trans gender and race characters. These are a serious issues; culturally there are off-limits in dressing up as a different gender or race. It leads to another issue: are the culturally acceptable trans gender and race issues different for Australia or the USA or Japan? Does a country’s history change what is culturally acceptable? These issues could be heavy and confronting but they are not in this exhibition because the cosplay is so beautiful and fun.

The cosplay is excellent; the costumes were perfect. The cosplayers who are interviewed are shown as be intelligent, thoughtful people who take the issues seriously and who love dressing up.

Ramirez has paid attention to detail in the installation of his videos at Blindside. This is something that initially attracted me to his work when I saw his video installation Radish at Seventh Gallery in August last year. The walls at Blindside match with the backgrounds of two of the videos and there was a long table of mock ups of tangible/virtual products, reimagined with the cosplayers. I can make sense of the mixing of Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed in the games packaging on the table but what was the pile of dirt about?

The other exhibition at Blindside, “FAB(ricated) LYF” by Emma Collard, Cherie Peele and Natalie Turnbull didn’t work for me. I could see what they were trying to do mediating between art and life – maybe I was put off by their Gen-Y optimistic solutions, maybe I was the wrong gender.

It was the first time that I had used to new lift in the Nicholas Building. I miss the old lift operators and their decorated lifts but the new lift is a lot faster at reaching the seventh floor where Blindside is located. It is always enjoyable to be inside the Nicholas Building with all its faded gold rush marvellous Melbourne optimism. Outside on the back of the building the gold leaf that Bianca Faye and Tim Spicer applied in 2008 as part of the Laneways Commissions Welcome to Cocker Alley… continues to cling to the external pipes.

 


Sydney Road Brunswick

The psychogeography of Sydney Road part 1.

Sydney Road is long straight road; it is the golden lay-line of the road leading to the gold fields. Originally constructed by convict labour so that prisoners could be transported to Pentridge Prison. The convicts then had to build the prison at the end of the road. Later in the Great Depression sustenance pay workers (work for the dole) cut much of the granite bluestone for the curbs and gutters.

It has always been a busy road, leading north out of Melbourne and that was before cars and bicycles, now it’s a nightmare. Sydney Road varies wildly between upmarket, fancy and then in the next block or next door it is a run down building selling something cheap. There are pockets of different kinds of activities along the road, clusters of shops or restaurants and all along the road are all the wedding boutiques and Islamic fashion boutiques.

I’ve been researching Sydney Road by foot, tram and bicycle. Riding my bicycle as it makes it easier to check down the lane ways looking for interesting street art.

Franco Cozzo

The sight of the Franco Cozzo furniture shop with its pseudo-rocco bedroom sets instantly brings to mind seeing his trilingual adverts on late night TV in the 1980s (I’ve been told that his Greek was as bad as his English). Now there is the smell of the shisha (or hookahs, Turkish tobacco pipes) bubbling along the footpath on warm Friday night.

I’ve recently read Robyn Annear’s A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne (Black Inc, 2005, Melbourne), a kind of reverse history of Melbourne by demolition archaeology, recording the destruction and what was discovered, through the history of an iconic wrecking business. The business closed in the 1991 but Whelan’s sign is still up on Sydney Road classified as a heritage feature and the permit for new development at 605 Sydney Road required preservation and restoration of the sign.

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Sydney Road is so complex and I needed a more systematic approach. I travelled by tram north taking note of the landmarks between stop 19 at Brunwick Road in Brunswick and Stop 40 at Bakers Road in North Coburg.

19. Leaving the parkland of Parkville I enter Brunswick at Brunswick Road. This stop is in a kind of no-man’s-land, a traffic island in a place that once was a colonial hub complete a drinking fountain, a Boar War memorial and a brick clock tower from the nationalist, ANA (Australian Native’s Association). Parkville washes up with the last of the motels and guesthouses. On the corner of Sydney Road there is a fake Irish pub (I used to have a weekly gig there when it was the Sarah Sands) on the other side of road a medical clinic, after this the fashion boutiques start.

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20. The shopping hub of Barkly Square. Down Little Gold Street is Jewell Station. Discount warehouses and, on the corner of Weston Street on the other side of the road is the Brunswick Hotel, a fine music venue where I’ve enjoyed a few gigs.

21. Glenlyon Road and Dawson Street are the same road except that Glenlyon goes east and Dawson west; Melbourne is full of such street name anomalies. This is the official cultural centre of Brunswick: the Brunswick Town Hall with public library, hall and the Counihan Gallery, the Mechanics Institute with another hall for performances. The town hall is an impressive 19th Century building from when every Melbourne suburb had its own city council. Further down Dawson Street there is the Brunswick Campus of RMIT.

22. On the western side Albert Street leads to Brunswick Station.

23. In a painfully sweet Victorian manner, Albert Street is followed by Victoria Street, Brunswick Station where the shopping is less refined with a Mitre 10 and a discount warehouse.

24. Blyth Street, bridal shop and a church

25. Stewart Street, there is a steep hill between stops 24 and 25. At stop 25 there is a bridal and children’s wear shop.

Bronze gold nugget Brunswick 1

26. Albion Street an unofficial cultural centre on Brunswick with 696 Ink, the laundromat and Edinburgh Castle Hotel creating an underground arts hub. There is the bronze “Gold Nugget” at the entrance of the parking lot. It is one of the worst public sculptures in the world; this sculpture is both badly conceived and located. Didn’t anyone in the process of making this memorial that a gold nugget modelled in bronze would look like a lump of bronze? Anstly Station is to the west.

27. Brunswick Tram Depot, Donald Street. There are several empty lots where demolished between stops 26 and 27 – this is an area of transition. The demolition of the old funeral business.

28. Moreland Road, Moreland Station is across the street and further west down Moreland Road. At the tram stop there is pawnbroker and a pub. Moreland Road marks the division between Brunswick and Coburg.

Part 2: Sydney Road Coburg.


Campy minimalism & the Minimalist camp

Two local contemporary artists start the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick’s program of exhibitions for 2014. At the exhibition opening on Thursday evening the older locals around the cheese board were all aghast. They felt alienated and annoyed by the two exhibitions. Maybe the opening remarks of Su Baker, Director of the Victorian College of the Arts might answer their many questions. I don’t know if it did, I wasn’t going to hang around just to find out. I’d seen the exhibitions; there isn’t that much to see but what is there isn’t bad.

In Gallery one is “Diagonals and Some More Tangents” by Laila Marie Costa. It is Latino campy minimalism and subtle amusement at the materials along with some less subtle fun with the whole game of consumer culture, mass production and football. I loved the display case of the revolving Playboy and Win lighter case in the vitrine You Spin Me Right Round (Like a Record), 2013, along with her minimalist tributes to Barry Humphries, Jules Verne, Robert Rauchenberg, Paul Klee and others. Some of the work was a little obvious in the visual puns, like Dipped Wick 2012-14.

Laila Marie Costa is a Melbourne based artist who last year was artist had a residence at Residencia Corazon, La Plata, Argentina (she has a photo blog about that which is worth a look and shows her visual humour). Also worth a look is Laila Marie Costa there is Jason Waterhouse’s blog post about exhibition at Stockroom Gallery in March last year.  She is described as a cartoonist/illustrator, a zine editor and she makes funky plastic rings (there were some plastic rings on an egg cartoon in the exhibition Untitled (for Jean Paul Gaultier) 2012.

In Gallery two there is “Social Resonance” by Ben Taranto. Most of the space is empty except when it is filled with the sound of the the large steel sheet reverberating like thunder. There are two video projections of water; one over a blue black lenticular triangular forms, like a bar graph of the resonance. The sonic waves are portrayed as the ripples on the water. A single spotlight on a done of slumped glass on a steel square creates shadows with chaotic edges. You can transition through the surface of the water, you can see through the glass and you can walk through the space. Carmen Reid has written an introduction explanation of Taranto’s installation on the room sheet but the locals at the cheese board were unlikely to read it. Lots of stuff about Buddhism and empty space…

Ben Taranto is a recent graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, in sculpture and spatial practice who is focused on absence. This is his second solo exhibition although he has exhibited at the Counihan before as part of Moreland Summer Show, 2012. He has exhibited in places where I must have seen his work before including Brunswick Artspace 2013 Annual Open Entry Prize but I haven’t mentioned him before.

When a member of the cheese board jury declares that there was nothing to engage with in the exhibition I had to point out that the steel sheet made a sound when engaged. I wanted to add that if you can’t get mental laugh when looking at the work of Laila Marie Costa you either haven’t really looked or you don’t know enough about art history, football and what is unimportant in life but as the cheese board jury weren’t impressed with my first remark I kept it for you. Good selection on the cheese board, a good feta and a blue with bite – I didn’t try the brie or the hard cheese.


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