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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Brunswick Studio Walk

I spent Sunday afternoon strolling, schmoozing and looking at artists studios in  Brunswick. It was a day funded with gold coin donations for food and drinks. An afternoon of saying: “Didn’t I see your work in an exhibition at x gallery, y years ago?”, so please forgive me if I don’t mention every artist that I chatted with.

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Rooftop of Studio 23 A with Conrad Clark sculptures

The open studio event was organised by Charlotte Watson and Josh Simpson who are both at Studio 23A, a former cool-store housing warehouse before it was divided up into artist studios in 2002. Studio 23A is a very large upstairs space with a large outdoor space where they were holding a BBQ and exhibiting a few sculptures.

Starting at Studio 23A in Leslie Street and following a trail of yellow balloons to Tinning Street. Roughly the same route that I took on my recent psychogeographical walk. The narrow strip of land between the railway line and Sydney Road full of old factories and warehouses is the artistic centre of Brunswick, not just for the visual artists but street artists, musicians, dancers and circus arts.

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Squishface Comic Studio

Squishface Studio is a one-room shop front comic studio with half a dozen table serving the artists that share the studio, as well as, the comic drawing classes. Three artists were working there on Sunday afternoon including one of the founders of  studio, Ben Huchtings. Jo Waite was working there now that Brunswick Arts has closed. The third artist had her headphones on and I didn’t want to interrupt her.

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Inside SoCA

On Ovens Street is SoCA, School of Clay and Art. SoCA is a new well-organised space for a ceramics school, large working spaces, kilns, and a room of potters wheels.

Studio Brunswick was the midway point on the walk; an upstairs space used by mid-career artists and photographers. It has large spaces rather than little divided rooms. I was familiar of Mark Ogge’s carnival paintings from exhibitions at Flinders Lane Gallery but not the large drawings of Selwyn Rodda, who he shared a large studio with.

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Main room of Studio Brunswick with drawing by Selwyn Rodda

Tinning St Presents…, the one gallery on the walk had Nut Ice, an exhibition of  subtly suggestive digital print on silk by Clare Longley.

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Studios in Pea Green Boat

Pea Green Boat has a lot of little spaces, divided with temporary partitions and curtains it looks like a refugee camp for artists. Especially when compared to the studio next door, the attractively designed 33 Tinning Street with the transparent corrugated dividing walls set with recycled glass doors.

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One of the studios at 33 Tinning St

33 Tinning Street is the most recent of these studio spaces, it is only 10 months old and has the unusual combination of selling rugs, life drawing classes and studio space.   In the studio spaces, along with the visual artists, there is a fashion designer and a composer.

The most northerly creative hub in Brunswick, the cluster of galleries and studios at Tinning Street only happened after it was made into a cul-de-sac with the closer of the railway crossing.

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Submerged @ Gallery Smith

The underwater views of a lily pond are fantastic, new world’s waiting to be discovered like alien planets. They are Catherine Nelson’s Submerged at Gallery Smith in North Melbourne.

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Catherine Nelson, Unstill Life #02, 2016 (courtesy of Gallery Smith)

In the neo-baroque spirals of her underwater flower arrangements fish replace the insects and lizards that inhabit the baroque bouquets of Dutch still life paintings. The spectacle of dramatic point of view, often looking up to the surface of the water, exist to astonish the viewer.

Of course they aren’t real but then neither were the baroque paintings of flowers. Catherine Nelson’s artfully digitally manipulates photographs, assembled from cutting and pasting many photographs, the way that you might assemble a flower arrangement cutting and placing the flowers. Nelson has extensive experience working in visual effects photography for films including 300, Moulin Rouge and Harry Potter.

Time is compressed in Nelson’s underwater worlds: everything is budding, flowering and decaying simultaneously.

The baroque never died, its demise was contrived for the purposes of progress in art history. Now the baroque has returned with Nelson’s photographs and there are many examples of other Australian neo-baroque artists including Juan Davila, Vincent Fantauzzo, William Eicholtz, Bill Henson, eX de Medici, Sam Leech, and Sophia Hewson.

For more on the Neo-Baroque as an international trend read Angela Ndalianis Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment (MIT Press 2004) and Gregg Lambert The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture (Continuum, 2004, London).

There are similarities between the 17th and 18th centuries and the contemporary times. Both are from a time without a clear direction that knew that massive worldwide change is inevitable and immanent. This gives the baroque sense of movement and transformation. And both the artists of the baroque and the contemporary did not have a word that defined their period; the word ‘baroque’ was only applied later by art historians. (I hope that later art historians will find a better word than ‘contemporary’.)

Gallery Smith is in an art deco brick building on a quiet street in North Melbourne with the main gallery spaces on the ground floor and a project space on the first floor. Louise Gresswell’s exhibition, Imprint in the project space is a series of loose, informal, abstract mixed-media paintings, not large enough to be impressive, not ugly enough to be interesting.


Citizen Sunfigo

Sunfigo emailed me.

For years I have wondered about Sunfigo’s art. The first work that I saw in 2012 was the Banksy Little Diver tribute was such a masterpiece, a tribute not just to Banksy but to that era of Melbourne’s street art. Since then I have been looking for more. I have been rewarded by a rich variety of experiments in media, image and message.

Sunfigo Banksy tribute

Sunfigo wanted to have an exhibition.

I tried to help but unfortunately I am amongst the least powerful people in Melbourne’s art world. I am just this blogger, part-time artist writer. I don’t have much money because I write about art, mostly for free in this blog. I don’t have an art gallery, nor as it turns out do I have much influence with anyone with a gallery, after these eight years of blogging. I kept on asking people but I wasn’t making any progress.

I wasn’t making any progress on gleaming any details about Sunfigo from my exchange of emails. I mean nothing; you will notice that I am avoiding pronouns in this post. In the emails Sunfigo was always “Sunfigo”.

 

I was also starting to wonder if Sunfigo’s art would work in an art gallery. Would it be the equivalent of the Urban Cake Lady’s gallery exhibition and fail to rise? Is Sunfigo’s art at its best in larger spaces with chainlink fences? Or finding a small paste-up neatly placed in an obscure location?

It turns out that Sunfigo really wanted an exhibition, enough to have a guerrilla exhibition in Melbourne’s gardens. On Saturday the 20th of February, the day of Melbourne’s White Night festival, Sunfigo put up a marquee with an exhibition of his work inside. I didn’t see it, it lasted about ten minutes before Sunfigo was ordered to take it down. You have to love the audacity of street artists.

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I emailed Dean Sunshine, who like me, loves Sunfigo’s art. Dean doesn’t have an art gallery but he does have laneways and can throw a great party. I will report on any further developments.


Melbourne Art Fair Cancelled

In 1988 the “First Australian Contemporary Art Fair” was held at the Royal Exhibition Building. It was the year of the bicentennial and the new art fair was presented by the Australian Commercial Galleries Association and the Bicentennial Authority. Since then, every two years, the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) has been held in the Royal Exhibition Building. Now it is over, not with a bang but a whimper of an announcement.

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Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

The announcement of the cancellation from Anna Pappas, chair of the not-for-profit  MAF came on Friday 19 2016. Art Guide and The Age scrambled to publish this major story that day. The Guardian waited until it had discovered who the “high-profile galleries” that Pappas referred to in her statement. The Age had made an informed guess that this might include Diane Tanzer Gallery, but this proved not to be the case. Melbourne may not have an art fair any more but it does have more than one major commercial art gallery.

There are still many unanswered questions about the cancelled art fair. Is this the beginning of a trend or just one of the common variety of administrative debacle?

Suggesting that the cancelation of art was due to an administrative debacle is the fact that in August 2015 the MAF had severed its contract to manage the fair with Art Fairs Australia. If that is the case then we can expect that MAF will be re-established in a couple of years.

However, there are reasons to think that it is the start of a trend away from the art fair model. Barry Keldoulis told the media at the opening of the MAF 2014 that “art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art.” If art fairs are not be the best way to see art why would they be the best way to buy art or sell art. Although art fairs were promoted as the mega-art market there are serious commercial art galleries in Melbourne who have done the math and decided that the MAF is not worth it.

Considering the last MAF two years ago in hindsight I should have been spending more time at the Not Fair rather than the MAF. Not Fair was the alternative satellite to the MAF. It was curated exhibition in Collingwood at 12 Peel Street and The Grace Darling Hotel. Its curators, Sam Leach, Ashley Crawford and Rebecca Richards had put together an exhibition that has been mentioned more times to me in the last two years than the MAF.

The loss of the MAF is not a disaster for Australian art. Australian art has changed so much in the three decades since the art fair started. Looking at the 1988 art fair catalogue Patrick McCaughey’s introductory essay about the Australian art in the eighties was about a contemporary art scene that had just emerged. In the 1988 art fair where there was only 21 galleries involved. Of the Melbourne galleries that were exhibiting in 1988 only Australian, Niagara and Tolarno galleries are still operating. Tolarno Galleries is one of the galleries whose non-participation this year ended the MAF.


Wurm Haus & clinamen

Jess Johnson, Wurm Haus and Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen demonstrate two different ways of using imagination and making art. Imagination could be the invention of another world or to imagine another use of existing items in this world to create new beauty. Art as the creation or art as a creative uses.

Both are currently on the third floor the NGV International.

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Jess Johnson, Ixian Gate, 2015 video still (courtesy of Darren Knight Gallery)

Wurm Haus is an exhibition a series of drawings and a virtual reality experience, based on the drawings, The Ixian Gate. Johnson’s imagination created both the drawings and 3D VR Oculus Rift VR experience of the planet Ix from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel, Dune.

The VR experience is a five minute magic carpet ride through impressive huge spaces. Five people at a time go through the same experience, each with headphone and headset; the gallery attendant explaining the procedure and wiping down each set of headsets and headphones between each group. The psychedelic intensity of detailed patterns mixed with classical architecture, great multicoloured worms, bat masks, flesh toned figures doing acrobatics.

Clinamen by the French artist and composer, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is a very different kind of art. White ceramic bowls floating in the round blue pool of water with a current running down the middle driving the bowls around in two loops. Bell-like chimes from the ceramic bowls ring out when two bowls bump. There is a variety of tones created when different sized bowls bumped. Chance encounters in a random universe can be beautiful if we take the time to appreciate it.

It was designed for, and originally installed, in the Federation Court of the NGV. However when I saw it there it made little impact on me. Its new location, in its own room, removed from the crowds on the ground floor entrance, it is more conducive to listening and reflecting.

Clinamen is more accidental than the rigorously planned Wurm Haus. The audience’s involvement, both in the duration and  their movement in the space, with it is also less planned and controlled. One artist has created and planned immense amount of detail whereas the other has made a simple idea into reality in all its unplanned complexity.

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Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen, 2013 (courtesy of the NGV)


Sensations of Art

I walked down the stairs that connected the sun lit modern gallery to the darker contemporary gallery in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. My eyes had not yet completely adjusted and I found myself walking on something. I recall the sensations of walking on metal. Instinctually I stepped back to see what I had trod on. I then realised that I had walked onto a Carl Andre minimalist sculpture made of eight squares of plate steel laid out in a rectangle.

The rubber souls Dunlop Volleys would have had no effect on the plate steel. The gallery’s curator had probably intended such a sequence. Three distinct mental activities occurred in this interaction with Carl Andre’s sculpture: the sensations, the reaction to the sensations and an assessment of that reaction. The reaction to the stimuli, in this case was almost immediate, but distinctly different to my later neutral reaction to the sculpture.

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People react to Chunky Moves, Depth of Field, 2015 (images courtesy of NON)

To give another example, this time from contemporary dance. In the 2015 Chunky Moves dance production, Depth of Field choreographed by Anouk van Dijk these distinct mental activities were separated further. During the performance the audience was sitting at one end of the forecourt of the ACCA listening to the soundtrack on FM headphones and could see the forecourt, two roads and part the city sky line. Lots of visual sensations in the line of sight but which ones were part of the performance? The man who seemed to be watching from across the street, the two young women on bicycles, the man walking his dog , etc.? It was when the position of the man standing across the street matched the line of the dancers in the forecourt that I realised that the performance was larger than I had at first thought. My reaction to the sensations of the position of the man had changed, instead of extraneous sensations it was now being aesthetically assessed as part of the dance performance.

I cannot go further back to my initial sensations, or when I became aware that these sensations were a significant part of the performance. I cannot assess my reactions before I have the sensation, I cannot make an assessment before I react to the sensations.  Analysing this progression from sensation, to reaction, to the aesthetic assessment I cannot go further back, because there is no reaction before a reaction, no assessment prior to assessment.

I also become aware that this progression is essential to understanding both minimalism and some conceptual art. The neutrality of Duchamp’s ‘anaesthetic’ readymades, trying to reduce the reaction and the aesthetic to zero. Considering neutral reactions to sensations, John Cage’s 3’44” asks the audience to consider the background sounds that they would normally ignore from their aesthetic assessment.

Most art jumps from sensation to assessment as fast as it can. From the shock jumps of horror movies to being turned on by porn to the visceral power of rhetoric to the near panic attack of a Stendhal syndrome (the last time I experience a Stendhal syndrome was sitting down watching Chunky Moves Mortal Engine). I am not making an aesthetic judgement about how fast you move from sensation to assessment because, I’m not a fan of minimalism, nor am I making a judgement about how powerful the experience. But it is interesting to break the experience down into the smallest units.


Dada Centennial 1916-2016

“Where is the monument to the folk who took a stand against the war rather than those who capitulated to its madness?” Robert Nelson asked in The Age on Remembrance Day, 11 November, 2015

Dear Robert Nelson, the monument exists but it is not in the architecture of state power, the column, the triumphant arch or faux tomb of imperial power dominating territory. It is a single word “Dada”.

Dada, a little word that means everything and nothing. A word like a Buddhist mantra capable of destroying all illusions by using it as a substitute for all other words. Instead of patriotism, dada; instead of reason, dada.

Not that the word works like magic but the question that Dada posed still remains as potent as ever. What is art and culture doing other than making various governments look like a humane and decent society, masking and distracting from the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes? If this is how much of an improvement the best of art and culture can do then why continue with it?

This is not a joke, this is a serious point.

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Mark outside the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

One hundred years ago on the 5th of February 1916 in Zurich three “oriental gentlemen,” as Hugo Ball described them in his diary arrived at the newly formed Cabaret Voltaire. The Cabaret Voltaire was a music and poetry night that Hugo Ball was running at the Holländische Meierei tavern in Zurich. Hugo Ball had had left Germany for neutral Switzerland, he had been an idealistic German patriot before he saw the horror war for himself.

The “oriental gentlemen” were certainly from the east as they were Romanian. They were the architecture student and artist, Marcel Janco, his brother George and a 19 year old poet who was calling himself, Tristan Tzara.

The reason why they were there was because Romania had ended its neutrality in 1916 and joined the war on the Allied side. It was one of the stupidest decisions of the war; outstanding even considering the extraordinary stiff competition of stupid decisions made in World War One. The Romanian army was obliterated.

The three young men kept on saying “da da”, “yes yes” in Romanian. The word “Dada” was invented later that year, around 11 April 1916, the first Dada periodical appeared over a year later in July 1917. There is a long standing debate about who invented this word but it has to be remembered that they were all very drunk at the time (or using other drugs, yes, I’m looking at you Herr Huelsenbeck and your cocaine).

Historical debates about dates aside, on Friday night in Clifton Hill DADA lives! 1916-2016 celebrated a century of Dada. Over a hundred people packed into the narrow space of the shopfront bar with its tiny stage at the back with of poetry and performance. Sjaak de Jong was the MC for the evening. Most of the performances were of original material but Santo Cazzati did read a historic Tristan Tzara Dada manifesto and perform a recognisably accurate version of Raoul Haussmann’s poem, phonème bbbb.

People try to laugh Dada off but that is just a desperate tactic to hold onto the certainties of dictatorships. Attempts have been made to quarantine Dada in art galleries and libraries around the world but it keeps on breaking out with nihilistic force. For it is nothing, it is ridiculous and is better than any god/country/insert reason here that you can dream up as nobody has ever killed or died for it.


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