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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Wunderkammer

The lighting in the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick was subdued and dramatic for “Wunderkammer: The Museum of Lost and Forgotten Objects” by Nadia Mercuri and Sarah Field and “Epitaph: Bird Specimens and the Culture of Collecting” by Bianca Durrant.

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The two exhibitions, both with lots of wonderful boxes and vitrines of objects are good but they could have been great. On seeing them I wish that these separate exhibitions had been completely combined, their themes and style are so close.

Guest speaker, Dr. Michael Vale, lecture in Fine Art at Monash University gave an excellent speech at the Thursday evening opening about the wunderkammer and the politics of display. Vale spoke about the way collections dislocate their objects, the currency of the exotic and the power relationship between the collector and the objects. He pointed out that each of the exhibitions subverted the idea of the collection turning wonders to laments.

There really are three exhibitions for although Nadia Mercuri and Sarah Field are exhibiting under the same exhibition title there are no collaborative works and the work has separate themes.

Nadia Mercuri presents her collection of glass from the Australian Studio Glass Movement of the early 1970s through to contemporary glass work. She examines disappearance of glass blowing techniques in Australia. The old movie of the glass tea pot being made projected on the wall with the actual glass tea pot underneath is perfect. This is one of the best exhibitions of glass that I’ve ever seen. Her collections of objects is fascinating because it covers the whole range of glass making from the decorative to the scientific, from finished work to the raw materials (the great box of rods of coloured glass). The rusting glass making tools contrasting the pristine glass. There are even moments of humour with metal spoons suspended in furnace glass.

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Fields works polemically examines violence against women. Although this fits in with the wonderkammer aspect, with the large glass tubes of human hair and the power relationship of collecting. Field’s braiding of human hair is of exceptional quality; Mourning Pieces, 2013-14. However, Fields’s polemic wasn’t that clear in her work; the white ceramic feathers reminded me of the white feather’s that women would send conscientious objectors in WWI and the vitrine of fur, fabric with fur print and white flesh made me first think of the violence against animals for fashion.

Bianca Durrant brings together works in many different media with a focus on the Bird of Paradise. I wondered why there wasn’t a sound aspect to this exhibition as Durrant is the general manager of Liquid Architecture, the National Festival of Sound Art, maybe Bird’s of Paradise are only about the visual. Durrant’s works are mixed, her specimen drawings from the natural history collections of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin are beautifully presented in contemporary style paintings. There is a fantastic beaded feather in a vitrine (Specimen Sculpture – Astrapia stephanie duclais, tail feather, Ernst Mayr) however her beaded Birds of Paradise were a bit of a let down.

Collecting exotic birds returns to the theme of the wonderkammer. Cabinet of curiosities are part of the development of science and precursors to museums. They showed the magic of the natural world but lack the categorical boundaries that divide and organise. They are shrines to wonders and reliquaries for scientific treasures. As the modern scientific world replaced the wonderkammer there has been a resurgence of artistic interest in them.

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Adnate, Bigger and Better in Hosier

Tuesday morning 8:30am and half-way up the spray paint encrusted Hosier Lane, amid a cluster of cameras, Mayor Robert Doyle is talking with street artist, Adnate about his almost completed mural. Adnate and Mayor Doyle are obviously enjoying their conversation and I can hear snatches of it amid the sound of the cameras.

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“I love paint, I paint 7 days a week, 365 days a year…” Adnate explains to the Mayor. “You don’t want to become too attached to your work because then you don’t progress… Aerosol spray paint, the background is acrylic…dodgy paint roller… texture…”

It is the media preview of the still unfinished multi-story mural commissioned by Hosier Inc. and paid for through an arts grant from the City of Melbourne. The mural is the face of a a local aboriginal boy from Melbourne’s northern suburbs gazing towards Birrarung Marr.

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Adnate has been up on a scaffold painting for three days and will be working up there again today. (See my post PaintUp!) Five years ago Adnate was just another graffiti painter doing pieces with the AWOL crew along the Upfield line. Then he started painting faces, not the unusual graffiti characters, not stars but the faces of children of indigenous peoples. Adnate is now represented by Metro Gallery.

Five years ago conservative politician and former State Opposition Leader Robert Doyle had just started his first term as Lord Mayor; he was elected on the 30 November 2008. He had come to the position with a conservative attitude to graffiti but Melbourne’s street art started to change his mind.

This is not just a story about a new mural in Melbourne but about people changing their minds and then changing the world around them. Part of it started in 2012 when the Melbourne City Council proposed CCTV cameras in Hosier Lane to reduce crime in the area. This proposal was successfully resisted by the street art community (see my posts To CCTV or Not CCTV 1 and 2). The City of Melbourne has since revised its policy on graffiti management and Hosier Inc. was formed. Hosier Inc is a community organisation of interested people formed not to manage the anarchic lane way but to provide a hub for communication about the lane. It hasn’t been the perfect solution, there are still problems in the lane, but has improved the lane and its street art.

Mayor Doyle and Adnate spoke to the media and the trio of television cameras. Mayor Doyle described the mural as an “important and large work, more permanent, not a forever work, but more permanent than the other art in the lane.” Change is constant in Hosier Lane; it was once part of the garment district, from 1936 to 1939 Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters was at 3 Hosier Lane. Now the lane is street art destination and tourist attraction.

Mayor Doyle departs, Adnate poses for a few more photographs and then gets back on the scaffolding to start another day painting.


Boycott the Sydney Biennale

Examining ethics of the boycotting the Sydney Biennale and the reply from the Board of the Sydney Biennale to the calls for a boycott. If you need a background on the issue see the links on Leg of Lamb.

“The Biennale’s ability to effectively contribute to the cessation of bipartisan government policy is far from black and white. The only certainty is that without our founding partner, the Biennale will no longer exist,” the letter in reply to the artists stated. “Consequently, we unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family – and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale – must override claims over which there is ambiguity.” (Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald 21/2/14.)

Attempting a utilitarian argument the Biennale’s board believe that their show is more important than the lives of refugees fleeing persecution only to be persecuted by the Australian regime. They can’t admit that the Australian government and Transfield have and will continue to commit crimes against humanity. They claim ambiguity when they are participating in distorting the facts about their association with criminals. It when they used the word “loyalty” exposing that their sense of duty is based on patronage rather than morality; loyalty, like patriotism, is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

According to the Sydney Biennale it is better to do nothing other than talk because the outcome of further pressure on the government is uncertain and unlikely. The makers of SodaStream could use the same argument as not buying their product and Oxfam dumping Scarlett Johansson as its good will ambassador is unlikely to get Israel to withdraw from the occupied West Bank. (See Ryan Gilbey’s article in The Guardian 16/2/14)

The threat of the Biennale ending is an empty threat and only threatens their status. It is the equivalent of saying that if you don’t buy SodaStream then you and your friends won’t enjoy sugary carbonated water. If the Biennale ceases to exist then another biennale will take its place in a few years, if a biennale was really needed by the hundreds and thousands of people, as the Biennale’s board claims.

When in 2003 Nelson Mandela refused to have dinner with George Bush and spoke out against him it was a symbolic action. It was not because Mandela thought that it would stop the invasion of Iraq but because he did not want to associate with an evil person. I would urge all Australian artists to follow the moral example of Nelson Mandela to avoid and speak out crimes against humanity rather than the amoral example of board of the Sydney Biennale.

Just as Mandela condemned George Bush’s invasion plans Australia’s treatment of refugees is something that we should also condemn without reservation. We should condemn both the Liberal Party and ALP and hope that one day that all members of these parties serve time for their crimes in slightly more humane conditions than they hold refugees indefinitely in. We should condemn Transfield and the Biennale chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis without reservation and all people should avoid any kind of association with them even if this is only a symbolic action. Artist, above all people, should understand the power and importance of symbolic actions for art is a symbolic action.

Artists and the public should boycott the Sydney Biennale. Not only should artists and the public boycott the Sydney Biennale but they should picket it. I have to give credit to the artist Van Thanh Rudd for being the first artist to protest about Transfield’s links to the Biennale in 2012. Visitors to the Sydney Biennale need to be aware that they are giving aid and comfort to people who commit crimes against humanity. Who, besides its board and Transfield, really cares more about the Sydney Biennele than people’s lives and dignity?

For further reading on the issue see: The Biennale Boycott and Diversity of Tactics


Ringholt’s Kraft

Someone has parked a red Datsun Charade with personalised number plates, CUR8OR, in the plaza in front of MUMA (Monash University Museum of Art) on Monash’s Caulfield campus. Even worse they have left the passenger window down and on the back seat there are some old clothing and rubbish.

Stuart Ringholt, CUR8OR

Is Stuart Ringholt embarrassed by this?

Kraft at MUMA is a mid-career exhibition of the art of Stuart Ringholt and Ringholt art is about embarrassment and conforming to social conventions. It feature two new commissions: Club Purple and the giant clock (oh er! that sounds a bit rude), Untitled, telling the wrong time.

Ringholt’s art posses particular problems for curators because his art is often ephemeral. Often his art is a personal experience for both Ringholt and responder/viewer, it questions the distance between the artists and the responder/viewer. Fortunately for the curators, Ringholt does produce some tangible art and some video work. They do have to double up with one Ringholt’s work currently on exhibition in Melbourne Now but have a longer version of his collage, Nudes, 2013. In this uptight contemporary world Ringholt is one of the few Melbourne artists who is focused on that perennial theme of the nude, as well as, in Ringholt’s case naturism.

Art curators are on Ringholt’s mind too as the car’s number plates and the five amazing episodes of the video Starring William Shatner as the Curator, 2010. Is Ringholt trying to embarrass the curators, as well as, himself? Shatner and the cut-up Star Trek episodes make wonderful jokes about curators.

But seriously, aesthetics is a far wider topic than just the beautiful. Aesthetics can be a way of experiencing things. In the late 20th century consideration began to be given to a range of aesthetic experiences; kitsch was examined by Clement Greenberg, camp by Susan Sontage and other writers and artists have explored aesthetic experiences ranging from sentimentality to cornball, from horror to funk. Ringholt’s art poses the question is there an aesthetic of embarrassment? If there is then part of it would cross over into the aesthetics of the comic and the cute and, it would be equally possible to cross over into the multiple aesthetics of contemporary art.

Which bring me back to an important point about Ringholt’s art it is often very funny. Even if embarrassment humour is not my taste I did get a laugh (LOL) from Ringholt’s Conceptual Art Improving My Embarrassing Life, 2003, a series of collage books and magazines to leaf through. The cover was often so completely different to the contents.

Stuart Ringholt, low sculptures

The room of low sculptures with the modified chairs, drink/spray cans and joke fake sausages are some of the funniest sculptures that I’ve seen in awhile. Things in Ringholt’s world are thoughtful combined to be as awkward as possible and inelegant solutions are carefully engineered.

I didn’t use Club Purple, Ringholt’s nude disco even though I was there on a Thursday that was set aside for solo dancing. Was I too embarrassed or simply too time poor? The form for bookings at Club Purple was intimidating enough.


PaintUp!

For the last two days Adnate, from Melbourne’s AWOL crew has been up in the heavens painting on the rear wall of McDonald House that faces in Hosier Lane. Adnate will be up there painting for a few more days to come.

McDonald House (no relation to fat food empire) is a seven story building built in the Chicagoesque style. It was originally built in 1921 as warehouse but has since been converted to offices. The wall overlooking the lane has not been painted before because it has been too high and inaccessible.

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The current painting was made possible because the cement rendering on the wall of the building was being repaired and the scaffold had to be installed. Adnate’s giant piece was commissioned by local community association Hosier Inc. and funded by the City of Melbourne’s annual arts grant program. Hosier Inc. say that is the first instalment in a series of major artworks for the lane.

Ink & Clag in Hosier Lane

Ink & Clog in Hosier Lane

Down below in the lane the tourists come, take photos and go. At the Flinders Street corner a notice that the Ink & Clog, a crew from Singapore has been painting. (I’ve had a long interest in Singapore Graffiti). Near the Flinders Lane end two guys, both named Dave, are sitting on stacks of milk crates watching Adnate paint. One of the Dave’s is better known as Phoenix, whose paste-ups can be seen in Flinders Lane and other places around Melbourne. The other Dave is David Russell who is photographs Melbourne’s street art scene and whose photographs are regularly seen on Invurt. The location was a difficult one to photograph and David Russell was preparing to go up on top of various buildings around the lane to get photographs of Adnate’s progress.

Melbourne is now following the example of many European and South American street art of very large legal murals to bring art and colour to a giant run-down and drab wall. I can’t tell how Adnate’s mural will look when it is finished, hopefully it will be as good as the face that he did in an earlier piece with the rest of the AWOL crew in Fitzroy.

AWOL Gertrude Street

Adnate with the AWOL crew, Gertrude Street


Supergraph

Is it an art fair? Is it an exhibition? No, it’s Supergraph!

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The inaugural Supergraph describes itself as a “fiesta”. It exists somewhere between an art fair, a design exhibition and a party. There is more things to do than at an art fair or exhibition. There is a large area just for drawing if you feel motivated and inspired. There is space to relax, the exhibition equivalent of white space on a page, and there is always music in the air.

The location of Supergraph at the Royal Exhibition Building makes clear the relationship between it and the art fair as the Royal Exhibition Building is the location of the biannual Melbourne Art Fair After working at art fairs Supergraph’s Director, Meika Tai wanted to make it accessible for both the exhibitors and the visitors.

Dressing in the colour of the exhibition is the fashion. For the opening Meika was wearing a beautiful laser cutwork white silk suit with fluorescent yellow bra underneath. There is a lot of yellow in Supergraph: yellow is the colour of Melbourne, the colour of Melbourne Now, the colour of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault.

Megan Hass, center piece at Supergraph, coloured packing foam

Megan Hales, Prototype, center piece at Supergraph, bi0-fi degradable cornstarch packing material and synthetic polymer paint.

Supergraph has been well designed. There is the great cardboard furniture and temporary fences by All Of This. Curating the 36 stalls to have a range of materials and techniques from screen printing, letter press printing, t-shirts, graphic novels, posters, ceramics, piñatas to finger nails. The stalls are meant to be pop-up studios with activities rather than just selling.

Most of the exhibitors are local, there are some familiar exhibitors: Lamington Drive, Positive Posters and Signed and Numbered. There is an Etsy stall. But Supergraph is not just stalls there are very large salon exhibitions with some international exhibitors from the UK, Thailand, Iran and Japan.

On the other hand Supergraph is the Ikea equivalent of an art fair. It is all well-designed, affordable and internationally tasteful and like Ikea there are pencils and note paper hanging with the exhibition so you can take note of the number of the work that you want to buy. Ikea really does have a stall at Supergraph so that you can buy a frame for your new print. However, it is not as horrible, commercial, pointless and tasteless as the Affordable Art Fair.

Supergraph is the logical next step in Melbourne’s current love of graphic arts and illustration.


Paul Yore Contest Mention

This morning, 14th February 2014, a contest mention in the case of Paul Yore was heard in Court Room 12 of the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Paul Yore was charged with producing and possessing child pornography on the 7th of September 2013 after a police raid on the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art on Saturday 1st of June 2013. Paul Yore was not in court today and the court was informed that he is currently working overseas.

The defence asked that the media have access to the charge sheet, minus Yore’s street address. This was agreed to by the prosecution and granted by the magistrate. Media interest in the case continues and three members of the media were in the court today.

No plea was entered and the case was adjourned until a contest hearing in the Country Court later this year.

For a background of this case see: Police Raid Art Gallery, Political Motivation Behind Police Raid, Follow Up Like MikeBarry Keldoulis is FuckedPaul Yore Justice Delayed and Justice Repeatedly Delayed.


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