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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Allegories of the PRB

Allegories of the PRB is an exhibition of sculptures by Daniel Dorall and drawings by Steve Cox that reflects on and refers to the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). The exhibition notes describe the PRB as “a radical and revolutionary 19th Century art movement” but I would disagree with almost every word except “19th Century art”. Extreme and reactionary, this eccentric circle of seven artists was originally thought of itself as a secret society. Not that this excludes them from being worthy of further reflection.

Daniel Dorall’s sculptures are architectural models populated with model railway figures. Normally I would avoid an exhibition of architectural models because mostly they appear to me as lifeless design studies. However, there is a special appeal to something when it overcomes the original dislikes and objections to that category and Dorall’s models are populated and overgrown, suggesting not just life but archeological and psychological depth.

Dorall’s self-contained labyrinthine architecture sums up the psychology of the PRB. In Love Triangle – Ruskin, Effie, Millais, 2009 each person is trapped in their own box that each contains its own hedge maze. The Good Shepherd sums up the PRB’s approach to Christianity. Other works, like Tennyson and Ophelia are more illustrative, creating a homage to the famous paintings by Waterhouse and Millais in H0 scale models.

Steve Cox’s fine drawing in pencil and watercolour on paper, condenses the brotherhood into a series of studies and portraits. They also contain several keys to Dorall’s PRB references, like The Blind, and both parts of this exhibition would be poorer without the other.

Daniel Dorall, The Good Shepherd, 2007-14

Daniel Dorall, The Good Shepherd, 2007-14

The Prosopopoeias by Olivia Pintos-Lopez at first reminded me of a small scale version of Linde Ivimey’s only less grisly without all the bones. There are a few teeth and bones amongst the all the found materials. The figures have a voodoo doll aspect incorporating reused materials, bits of antique lace, embroidery, buttons, beads and kid leather. On a shelf that runs along the gallery wall groups of figures, posed in a variety of ways, stand and sit. Often, in the gestures there is a strong maternal feel that contrasts the sinister, bound, hooded (blinded or blinkered) figures. The rabbit ears of many of the figures adds to both the sinister and the maternal elements as the childhood anthropomorphising of toys turns feral.

Olivia Pintos-Lopez, Untitled, 2015

Olivia Pintos-Lopez, Untitled, 2015

Both of Allegories of the PRB and The Prosopopoeias are currently on at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

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Meta-Aesthetics

What do we mean when we say something is beautiful? Beauty, or other similar words, describe the attraction of something. However, while there is often similarity in the appreciation of beauty some people find somethings beautiful that other people do not. Any good theory of what beauty is will have to account for both the attraction and differences in taste.

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ sums up old fashioned subjectivism about aesthetics. Old fashioned subjectivism is the simplest explanation for both attraction and differences in taste. However, old-fashioned subjectivism does not allow for much discussion about differences in taste, they are simply different and discussions end there.

Furthermore we expect some consistency in taste: if you like this piece of pineapple does it imply that you like most pineapples? If taste were simply a matter of subjective it would not be surprising if someone like Abba, Motley Crew and The Beatles; I once meet a man who told me that these were his favourite bands but he was a sailor working along coast of Borneo. We also observe consistency in the tastes of others, for if taste was subjective it would make it impossible for artists, designers, chefs, cosmetologists and other professionals to work.

Old-fashioned subjectivism doesn’t really explain taste any better than it explains moral perception. Better subjectivist positions on beauty require defining competent observers.

The first alternative to consider is some kind of objectivism. After all it seems natural to assume that others will agree with what think is beautiful and it is much easier to expect consistency from objectivism. It certainly appears that there are objective qualities to beauty that could be explained by biological/genetic driven tastes.

Given that the idea of beauty may also be a product of the environment and experiences with differences in age, background and other factors explaining differences in taste. This could explain some variations in the apparent objective qualities of beauty and this is occasionally tried in the area of evolutionary aesthetics. However, what if we aren’t attracted by what is objectively determined to be beautiful, what if we finds it repulsive, at this point objectivism completely fails.

Any attempt to find a biological basis for beauty ignores that ‘beauty’ is a word from a particular culture. It is like expecting to find a genetic difference between dogs and wolves because there are different words for them.

Beauty is also a recommendation that is often presented as prescriptive; my friend Geoff is always telling me that I must watch this TV series. Also in a prescriptive is the 1001 books etc. that you must read before you die meme. Cannons are prescription, the required reading for future critical discussion. What is it to recommend art? My friend, Geoff was trying to encourage another friend, David to watch the HBO series, Deadwood. “You must see it.” David didn’t think that it was necessary and a moral or existential imperative to movie watching is very difficult point to argue. So Geoff changed his argument to “It is very worth while because of the plot, attention to historical details, etc.” David replied that there were better things to do besides watch a TV series, like looking after his young children. Do we really mean by ‘beautiful’ simply a recommendation of its aesthetic quality? Was this what Geoff was really trying to say about Deadwood?

Does the beautiful require that we are cheer squad for it? To some extent this is true; encouraging others to experience something beautiful is a natural response to eating beautiful food or hearing beautiful music. However, the idea that beauty is only a combination of endorsements, recommendations and prescriptions creates a kind of conspiracy of definition. The emperor’s new clothes, and, although this may sometimes be the case, it lacks the objective quality that we associate with beauty.

So how can beauty be both variable between people and apparently objective and consistent? How it can be both a description and a recommendation?

This is the subject of meta-aesthetics.

So how can beauty be both variable between people and apparently objective and consistent? How it can be both a description and a recommendation?

This is the subject of meta-aesthetics.


Collingwood, HaHa and the Street

I went to see Regan Tamanui’s (aka HaHa) ‘Residency’ at the House of Bricks in Collingwood. HaHa is amongst the best stencil artists in the world and House of Bricks is one of the funky converted warehouse gallery spaces focused on the street art scene. Why a ‘residency’ was my first question? He explained that was offered the space due to a cancelled exhibition.

HaHa cutting stencils with both hands.

HaHa cutting stencils with both hands.

It is an informal way of working in public. Set up a studio, just a couple of tables and chairs, at the House of Bricks. With the roller doors of the House of Bricks open, Regan is practically working in the street and in public.

On the white wall he was taping up his work for sale at the very affordable price of $60 a piece, so I bought one. He is also offering to do stencil portraits for $100.

Regan is happy to explain and demonstrate his multi-stencil technique or just chat with the people who come in. He said that he has been attracting a fair number of local identities and eccentrics. He told me the best advice was not make eye contact with them otherwise they would talk forever.

There were small stencil studies for future work inspired by recent trips to Singapore, the Northern Territories and Papua New Guinea: orchids, crimson sunbirds, kookaburras, the Devil’s Marbles in the Northern Territories, along with portraits of dogs and people.

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After that I wandered around the area. Regan told me about a large concrete cast spray can in an empty lot behind a chainlink fence a block away. I’m sure that is by Dface when he visited Melbourne in 2011. At the back of the lot against a concrete wall there was also a fake tomb stone, presumably also by Dface, that reads ‘Cheat Death’ (too far away for the zoom on my little camera).

Dface

On my walk I saw Tom Civil’s wooden cut out versions of his figures decorating the wall of the community garden on the corner of Cecil and Gore streets. It is not a big garden just a few planter boxes and benches but it makes a big impact on the street.

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In Easey Street there were these decorated power poles, I didn’t think much of them, they looked a bit ugly, not surprising given the Christmas theme of some of them.

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Also on Easey Street is the graffiti influenced architecture of the End To End building with the three train carriages on its roof. (For more see my post on Graffiti and Architecture.)

End to End building


Dada Against WWI

Hugo Ball wrote in his diary: 1915 New Year.

“On the balcony belonging to Marinetti’s translator we demonstrate in our own way against the war. We shout ‘Down with war!’ into the silent night of big-city balconies and telegraph wires. Some passers-by stop. A few lighted windows are opened. ‘Here’s to the New Year!’ someone shouts. The merciless Moloch Berlin raises its concrete head.” (Flight Out of Time, a Dada Diary by Hugo Ball, edited by John Elderfield)

Hugo Ball

Hugo Ball

What was the twenty-eight year old, writer and dramaturg Hugo Ball doing protesting the war on New Year’s Eve in Berlin? It might not be surprising to people now, as Hugo Ball went on to be one of the founders of the anti-war anti-art movement, Dada. However, only a few months earlier in 1914 Ball had been an enthusiastic supporter of the war. He had volunteered three time for war service but had been refused on medical grounds. What had turned an idealistic patriot into an anti-war protester?

In late August 1914, shortly after the Germans had taken the Liége forts Ball was still an enthusiastic civilian who had boarding a German troop train as it crossed into Belgium. He was taken off the train and arrested by the German military as a spy in Liége but released when the authorities realised that he was only an idealist.

It certainly wasn’t an uninformed change of mind as Hugo Ball appears to have been a bit of an early battle field tourists. He wasn’t arrested as a spy again, perhaps had some kind of press credentials from the Berlin paper Zeit im Bild.

There are many reasons and influences that might explain Hugo Ball’s reversal of opinion on the ‘Great War’. Was it in September seeing soldiers graves in Dieuze, the headquarters for the German 6th Army? Finding a copy of Rabelias in the rubble Fort Manonvillers, one of the permanent fortifications of the “Verdun Fortified Region”? Or, reading lots of philosophy, the first couple of pages of his diary are full of notes on who is reading? Or, was it the influence of his girlfriend, Emmy Hennings?

If there needed to be a single cause for Ball’s reversal of opinion then it was the death of his friend, Hans Leybold who was, with Ball, the co-publisher of the journal, Revolution. The last issue of Revolution appeared in September 1914, after that Leybold was drafted into the German army and was killed shortly after in Belgium. For Leybold the war was all over by Christmas.

John Elderfield speculates that it was Leybold’s military decorations that Ball dumped into Lake Zurich on 20th of October, 1915. However, the list of medals that Ball gives, “the Black Order of the German Eagle, the Medal of Bravery, the Cross of Merit First, Second and Third Class” appear to be more imaginary rather than actual. The Order of the Black Eagle was the highest order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Prussia and, although Prussia did have a Military Merit Cross, there was no “Medal of Bravery”.

On 26/6/1915 Ball wrote: “The war is based on a crass error. Men have been mistaken for machines. Machines, not men, should be decimated. At some future date when only the machines march, things will be better. Then everyone will be right to rejoice when they demolish each other.”

(See my post: Dada and the start of WWI)


Hosier Lane January 2015

Walking up Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s for the first time in 2015 I notice that amongst the many pilgrims to this Mecca for street art and graffiti there new work of several visiting artists. Factor has been back in town.

Factor

That Will Coles has also paid a visit from Sydney and his current casts are finer and more elaborate than has old lost objects. There now must be a Will Coles piece in every niche in Hosier Lane, many now covered with layers of spray paint.

Will Coles

That Amorphic has put up some paste-ups while she was over from South Australia. She informs me that she put up some more around the Barkley Square Shopping Centre in Brunswick, off Monarch Lane in St Kilda, and on a door in Union Lane.

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It is good to see Dolus bringing stencils back into the mix. Stencils were over used by street artists a decade ago and many people have been avoided using them ever since.

Dolus

However the main reason that I wanted to take a look at Hosier Lane was to see how Melbourne’s street artists have reacted to recent events, namely the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Melbourne’s street artists are always quick to follow a political meme and to contribute their part in the discourse.

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Somatotype Workout

Matto Lucas’s performance, “Endomorph, with dreams of becoming a Mesomorph” in the front gallery of Off The Kerb on Friday night was about body building, working his body, using his body as a media for his art. He writes: “The body is the site where identity as defined by gender, race and sexuality is located, performed and challenged.” His workout was accompanied by his personal trainer and sound artist, Cat Tyson Hughes.

Matto Lucas

In one way it was very traditional art, a reference to Ancient Greece bring the gymnasium into the art gallery, the almost naked male body posed in the gallery, the contrapposto feet in his weight lifting stance.

During the strenuous workout Matto’s skin turning first pink, then red and even purple on the top of his shaved head, around his mohawk, as he became more exhausted. By then Matto’s performance, and the crowd, was spilling out onto the sidewalk but still visible from my seat at the window of the shopfront gallery. Personally I felt like a cat watching the workout while I drank Coopers Pale Ale. Work is very interesting; there is truth in work, if not beauty.

There is a great deal attention to detail in the performance and exhibition. The walls are covered in plastic as if the sweat from the workout was going to run down the walls. Aside from the performance there are two videos at the gallery. One video shows Matto’s body morphing into different shapes, absurd variations of his actual shape and the other of him in the gym.

Matto Lucas

In the upstairs gallery at Off The Kerb Sarah Louise Brownlow’s exhibition “The Great Pretender” is the antithesis of Matto Lucas’s “Somattotype” (note the double t including Matto’s name in the body type). Brownlow’s exhibition is about photographs and videos of the obscured body, the covered or masked face.

I first saw the work of Matto Lucas in the Metro 5 prize four years ago. Although he was the youngest artist in the prize I thought that he had an outside chance if the judges wanted something truly radical. (See my blog post: Metro Art Award 2011) Since then Matto has exhibited widely and is currently painting an Australia Post postie bike with a queer manifesto written by an anonymous activist in the 1970’s for the Midsumma Festival. He has also done some photographs for my forthcoming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures.

Matto Lucas’s work is about his own body, a body that he develops at the gym and that he also loathes. I’ve been wondering if  I could sell a story about his weight loss to some magazine? You know the usual weight loss story I lost x kilos in x time, proposing an artist diets and noting that overweight artists are rare. Matto and I could only think of Diego Rivera (height 6ft 1inch 316 pound in 1931), Pierre Manzoni (the Italian conceptual artist), William Turner and Isaac Julian (an installation and fine art film artist who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001). Do you ever skip a meal or eat a lighter meal so that you can continue working? Do you have a full time job? Can you afford food? Do you ever try to eat enough at a party to put off having your next meal?


Coffee with Jamit

In the late 1990s there was a lot less graffiti in Melbourne, but amongst the tags and pieces along the line, Jamit’s steaming coffee cup on the side of a house stood out. It was a personal favourite when I was working for LookSmart, an internet start-up. Every weekday I would take the train from Coburg station into the city, there wasn’t much to look at along the railway line; mostly I read my books, but occasionally I would have a window seat and glance up from my book. Once I saw a rabbit in the North Melbourne rail yards, other times I would mark my journey by spotting a familiar piece of graffiti. Every time I saw Jamit’s piece I would think: another cup of coffee, very appropriate for a Melbourne morning.

Oldest wall in Brunswick 2

The coffee cup was a rare time that Jamit painted along the Upfield line. Mostly he worked on the Hurstbridge line and around Camberwell. The wall where the coffee cup was painted is a long blank cream brick wall running the length of the house and directly facing the railway tracks near Anstey Station. It is the perfect wall for graffiti and Jamit’s friends knew the owner of the house who had given permission for it to be painted. Shame and possibly Ron B Me were there, it was a decades ago and Jamit doesn’t remember now. They had ladders and were painting in the daylight. Unfortunately he also can’t remember what brand of spray paint they were using because it has great durability, the paint hasn’t faded or deteriorated after many years. People talk about graffiti as ephemeral but a piece can last ages.

Jamit sprayed a large white coffee cup filled with hot steaming coffee on the wall. Jamit explained that “the coffee cup was settled on because, let’s be honest, coffee is a generally accepted symbol of friendship and funkiness in Melbourne. Try going into the old Rue Bebélons and asking for a milkshake. They would have accommodated it, no doubt, but not without a short, awkward, double-take.” An elderly passer-by liked the coffee cup; on the day it was painted he climbed up on a ladder to pose as if he was drinking from the cup.

After spraying the coffee cup freehand Jamit added his tag, in a stencil. This is unusual for an old school graffiti writer but was not unusual for Jamit, he had done it for years. He can’t remember anyone else in Melbourne using stencils at the time and there Puzle claims that Jamit did the first stencil northside in 87-88. “When I was commuting to school along the Hurstbridge line, I saw paintings by Bo the Snoutcatcher. It struck me that graffiti needn’t use spraypaint directly onto the wall in the conventional way at the time.”

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Melbourne’s graffiti scene was very different in the late 80s and early 90s, without the internet the scene was more insular. Jamit’s graffiti was not famous but graffiti is not a popularity contest it is about getting pieces up. Jamit had been doing that for years, mostly large-scale colourful blockbusters and italicised blockbusters. “Hugh Dunit was there too, though he wasn’t appreciated until later on—too little too late in my opinion.”

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Impressed by the “…very straight-forward graffiti by Tubby and Raffles, whose tags were between Camberwell and Canterbury”, he had started working with his friend that he had known since primary school, Worm, as well as doing some writing with Mags in Rosanna.

It was an old-school scene based along the railway lines and hip hop music mostly supplied by Central Station Records. “Back then I loved Strange Tenants, Kool Herc, Schooly D, Rammellzee, all the breakdance stuff and even Malcolm McLaren, at the time not thinking much about a white guy coming in and capitalising on it all.”

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Jamit is now living in Singapore and, although he still does the occasional piece, he is now, in his own words, a changed person. Although much of the graffiti from the 90s has now faded away or been capped, buffed or otherwise vanished, Jamit’s coffee cup is still on the wall looking as fresh as it ever did and I still see it every time I take the train.

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