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Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Reservoir’s rejected art

Art is considered valuable and worthy of preservation but what happens when it is not. A postman friend has been photographing and critiquing the art deposited on the nature strip outside the homes in an outer northern suburb. It was a series of Facebook posts starting Sept 23 2018 and is reproduced here with permission.

Art brut, au Reservoir: outsider art exhibited outside.
A new exhibit of outsider art for the Reservoir nature strip gallery, framed in glorious ironing board. Or is it merely fan art homage to Ariel Pink?
Art brut salon, Reservoir nature strip gallery.
Art le plus brut, sur un socle de boîte aux lettres, correspondance esthétique du jour, Reservoir. (Translation: The Most Raw Art, on a base of mailbox, aesthetic correspondence of the day, Reservoir.)
Design on serviette, discovered in a driveway, Reservoir. Calculating to graduate beyond the curb and up to street art.
 “In the wake of the death of God, only the death of desire can save us. The task of art is to abolish desire rather than re-educate it. If it once held out a promise of communal redemption, it is now a form of spiritual self-extinction. The self is not to be realised but annihilated, and the aesthetic is one place where, like Keats before the nightingale, it can be allowed to dissolve ecstatically away.” _Terry Eagleton (summarising Schopenhauer), Culture and the Death of God (2014).
A symbolic objection to global warming? I spotted this tasteful example of Mandarin calligraphy yesterday, junked among other rejects in a Reservoir front yard. Today it had migrated to the footpath, found leaning against the neighbour’s fence. I’ve had to rotate the image 90° to correctly orient the character. The red stamp below says “four seasons.” My guess is this was part of a set, the others being characters for the rest of the year. The word seen here is Summer. Someone’s over it.
Art outside, drifting liberated from a spontaneous tip on the nature strip.
The most recent raw art, the gallery on the nature band, in Reservoir.
The art brut colours of Reservoir: diptych on nature strip.
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Heroines Petticoats @ Dirty Dozen

A dozen surreal installations tell a history of Australian women. “Heroines in Petticoats” by Kelly Sullivan, Kirsti Lenthall (Empire of Stuff), Gigi Gordes and Liz Sonntag (Tinky) is an engaging and accessible exhibition that has a coherent and relevant theme.

The height and depth of the dozen vitrines in the pink tiled Campbell Arcade, the Degraves Street underpass to Flinders Street Station has been used to great effect. Too often the Dirty Dozen has been occupied by art students who have alienated the general public, forgetting or ignoring that this space is very public at Melbourne’s central metropolitan railway station. There were several people paying close attention to it when I saw it around midday on Thursday.

The vitrines create a timeline of the lives of Australian women from the colonial era to the present. The heroines of this timeline are not specific women, heroines to represent an era but women in a general non-specific way. This absence of specificity meant that the artists tended to represent white suburban women.

As well as, the timeline there were specific causes associated with specific eras from the anti-conscription movement of the 1910s to the domestic murder rate of today. There was no mention of the temperance movement, as it was a women powered movement, but it is not longer seen as righteous.

Although each of the cases is labelled as the work of specific artists there is a coherent look to the whole exhibition. There are differences Kelly Sullivan’s collage, Kirsti Lenthall’s ceramic decals on plates and impressively on quartz rocks, or Gigi Gordes’s disembodied body parts; hands typing, the eyes on the glasses, mouth on the mug, mouth on the phone (I don’t know why the objects are covered in crochet) and, a few cabinets later, the hands on a glass of wine.

It was Tinky’s work that drew my attention to the exhibition as I know Gigi and Tinky’s art from the street. However, Tinky’s puns were the weakest elements of the exhibition. Written on paper and the little titles didn’t match the style of the rest. Unfortunately her puns give meaning to her tableaus and without them they would just be some odd HO scale model train figures.


True Colours and Blender Studios

On Friday evening there was the opening of Casey Jenkins’s “True Colours” at Dark Horse Experiment. Described as a “mind altering, body modification, transformative, durational performance artwork” it is basically about if Jenkins develop synaesthesia through training. Jenkins is planning to train her brain for five hours a day for two weeks followed by a second MRI to see if anything has actually changed in her brain. In this respect it seems more like a comment on how boring jobs alter your brain than an examination of if colour perception is biological or cultural.

Which of the traditions of performance art was Jenkins following with this work? The self-harm of Marina Abramović and Chris Burden or the simply the boredom of Duchamp’s Monte Carlo roulette system? It was definitely not in the entertaining tradition of performance art, nor as confronting as Jenkin’s earlier pieces. It was rather like talking about your science project at a cool party.

The thing about contemporary art, that is not explained often enough, is that it is one big party: booze, finger food and gossip. Someone should write a social column about the gossip. And I have to admit that I was there more for the social scene than the art; when I really want to look at the art I don’t go to the exhibition opening. I hadn’t seen Drew Funk in years, he is back from KL and I could hardly recognise him without his dreadlock.

Except for Ha-Ha, the intellectual featherweights that I was hanging out with did not engage with the exhibition’s theme. I did learn that Ha-Ha’s perception is far more focused on numbers than mine; counting the number of cuts that he makes in a stencil, seeing numbers in shapes. I didn’t want to say much because it felt like revision of all the philosophy papers that I have read about colour perception.

I was also there to see the new location for Blender Studios and Dark Horse Experiment. The last time that I saw it, they were in the Docklands and now they are in West Melbourne. It is more like the original Blender Studios; an old factory with exposed struts supporting the roof. Entry is down an alley, its flagstones covered in aerosol paint from the children’s spray painting classes that they run. And it still has that blend between street and contemporary art.


Elemental Forces in Public Art

Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.

Air 

Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole

Water

Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Fire

From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH (photo courtesy CDH)

Earth

Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.

Melbourne’s Floral Clock

Walls and supports

I want to write about the aesthetics of walls; the supports for the advertising, graffiti, street art, decay and accidental marks in the city. Something about the dirty mix of dividers, partitions and supports that we see all the time, that defines the city but we don’t usually focus on.

What brought the city’s walls into focus for me was a copy of a wall on a wall in the CBD. On a brick wall in the city someone had added cast a section of bricks; I guess it was done by an art student who had read some Baudrillard. It had then been reattached to the matched section of the wall. This simulation was an elegant minimal celebration of a plain brick wall for what it is.

Consider some other walls and surfaces, not just for their suitability as a surface for applying aerosol paint, or glue. In Union Lane some paint had come off a wall in a big acrylic sheet about the size of my hand. It revealed the layers of different coloured aerosol paint was almost half a centimetre thick. Some Melbourne walking tour guides will tear off a bit of peeling paint to show visitors the archeology of Melbourne’s graffiti.

Like the accretion of staples, nails and screws on wooden power-poles, all that remains of posters for lost cats, garage sales and other signs.

The advertising posters at Flinders Street Station, torn off because their contracted time is up, compared to the “décollage” of Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé in France in 1949. The duo exhibited layers of torn advertising posters that they had ripped from the streets as works of art.

The contested values of  buffing and art appreciation where selected street art pieces are painted around. Or where graffiti writers leave space to preserve ghost-signs, the old hand-painted advertisements by professional sign-writers.

They make you wonder what forces are operating on the wall. Are they intentional? Or accidental? Or the inevitable entropy of a plumber putting a pipe through a Banksy rat on a wall in Prahran.


Current Melbourne street art and Facter

“I like this guy!” One of the three blonde girls declared pointing at a piece by Facter. All of  the girls were wearing tiny denim shorts and overall less cloth than next two people in Hosier Lane but I won’t discount their opinion for lack of clothing. I was more amazed that they liked Facter.

Facter, Hosier Lane

Facter is an old hand in Melbourne’s street art scene and amongst the most important people in the scene. He grew up with the tiny Perth graffiti scene in the 1980s (when you couldn’t spellcheck your tags). He is a nice guy and more of a writer than a graff writer; he is the editor in chief of Invurt. He is more significant as an advocate, curator and organiser, then for his painting on the street.

Facter’s pieces are robotic segmented creatures that exist somewhere between street art and aerosol graffiti; the letter form of graffiti replaced by the outline of the creature but most of the traditional aerosol elements of a piece are still there. There is a childish joy in the bright colours in his pieces and shapes. Facter also makes designer toys in this style.

That day I was exploring the Melbourne grid and although I have been doing that for years there are still parts that I haven’t seen. Hoping that just down this lane will find something beautiful or surprising. Sometimes I do but more often it will be more construction, workers smoking out or a van being unloaded. I didn’t find anything that day; last week I found Baptist Place and the work of the Night Krawler but I can’t expect to do that every time so I went back to some of the major street art locations.

That day I had already seen a couple of pieces by Facter; there were two in Croft Alley in Chinatown. Croft Alley still has plenty of fresh graffiti pieces in it, only it is so narrow that there are only a couple of walls that are easily photographed. 

Fresh wildstyle piece in Croft Alley

In Hosier Lane there was more political pieces reflecting the current political issues: the students strike against climate change inaction and the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. It is so political that Van Rudd has a prominent section of wall for his brush painted mural. I’ve forgotten who said that street art had lost its political edge.


Reko and Turbo, from the street to the NGV

“From Bark to Neon: Indigenous Art from the NGV Collection” at the NGV in Federation Square includes works by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Rover Thomas, Emily Kam Kngwarray in the collection. But I want to focus on two local artists in the exhibition who both have street backgrounds: Reko Rennie and Trevor Turbo Brown.

Blek le Rat, Reko Rennie, Drew Funk, Reko Rennie et. al. in Hoiser Lane & on the internet.

Part of their street background both embraced one of the four elements of hip hop; for Reko it was writing graffiti and for Turbo, breakdancing.

Reko Rennie has a neon crown in his Regalia 2013; as in crown that a top graffiti writer would put a crown above their tag. I first saw his work at the Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008, a magnificent multi-layer stencil of a red kangaroo. Later I saw the same stencil sprayed on a wall in Hosier Lane alongside Blek Le Rat and Stormie Mills. I didn’t know that he was Kamilaroi all I knew is that he was amongst the best street artists in Melbourne. Many street artists were later represented by commercial art galleries but Reko Rennie navigated this transition better than most. In a few years he had work in the NGV’s collection was making public art. Rennie’s public art includes his Neon Natives, 2011 in Cocker Alley for the City of Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions and his Murri Totems, 2012 outside of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science building.

Trevor Turbo Brown, Getting their photo taken by tourists, 2007

The late Trevor Turbo Brown was a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. Turbo was a self-taught, outsider artist who had multiple disadvantages amongst them homelessness and an intellectual disability. Turbo had a clear relationship to the street. He got his nickname, ‘Turbo’ breakdancing on the streets in the 1980s and 90s. One day I ran into him Brunswick trying to sell his art. The NGV has three new acquisitions of Turbo’s paintings on exhibition; they acquired some of the best Turbo paintings that I’ve seen, there is a genuine sense of humour his dingos smiling and photobombing for the tourists. Dingos were very significant to Turbo for many reasons.

Hip hop and the street are now part of the greater cultural mix that influences urban Indigenous art in Melbourne.


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