Category Archives: Culture Notes

Space is the place

Black space, white space

The space between

The distance between the art

The silence between the notes

The space between words; a space that was lacking for centuries. Inancientlatintherewerenospacesbetweenwordsmakingcomprehensionoftextdifficult. No wonder Julius Cesar was regarded as intelligent when he was able to comprehend writing on first reading. Spaces allowed for easier comprehension, just as the kerning between printed letters makes them more readable.

Ten Cubed Gallery

Is space empty, undefined and unwritten, the tabula rasa, or designed, created? Is space simply a frame that excludes an absence or a defined absence to define another presence? There are both aesthetic and practical considerations to space. Space as a traffic management issue, as a place to be temporarily occupied. Space as a traffic management issue, as a place to be temporarily occupied.

“Where’s the edge?/Where does the frame start?” Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt Oblique Strategy

I’ve heard that Brian Eno has a preferred time between music tracks on a record to be included on CDs, but I can’t find a reference. The standard used to be between 3-6 seconds, depending on the record company. It is a space that has been messed around with by DJs and current music technology. The time between events creates daily, weekly, annually rhythms like the time between meals allows for digestion. The space between television episodes can be edited to skip credits and intro. The phrase ‘binge watching’ indicates an unhealthy approach to consuming media.

Exhibitions of paintings started with them displayed tightly packed from floor to ceiling.However, over the last century, the space between works of visual arts has generally increased. Contemporary art is often a single work per gallery space, requiring a corridor or at least a wall to have enough space between it and the subsequent art. This means that there are often enormous art galleries with almost no artworks, a gift to architects who want to design massive buildings containing huge spaces. Part of this requirement for space is because contemporary arts are using the art gallery as a conceptual frame for art while breaking conceptual boundaries like actors breaking the fourth wall. Artists are finding frames outside of the apparent structures and using the space between them. It would be impossible to ‘read’ a room packed with multiple works of contemporary art as one would bleed into the next.  Another reason is the curators values the space almost as highly as the art.

Gallery space is a recurrent subject for my blog posts; lots of words about nothing. In the past I have written about playing with this empty relationship in the great gallery joke, how space is defined and how it defines the art in the art space race, the empty space in art galleries, and the white room.


Save the Nicholas Building

The Nicholas Building, the art-deco building on Swanston St. and Flinders Lane, is up for sale. This is a crisis for Melbourne’s culture because its tenants include galleries, bespoke bookstores, boutiques, and many studios. For the sake of Melbourne’s culture, I hope that the Nicholas Building can continue to provide affordable and dynamic spaces for art galleries and studios.

“The Nicholas Building Association is campaigning to ensure that whoever buys the building buys it with us,” Nicholas Building Association spokesperson and artist Dario Vacirca explains. “That they too recognise the value of Melbourne’s most unique and diverse creative business community, the city’s only artist- and creative-led cultural offering of this scale. We have support for a business case from the City of Melbourne, and are in discussions with Government and the philanthropic sector. This is an extraordinary – and urgent – opportunity for Melbourne to invest in its future.”

So far, this post is mainly cribbed from the media release of the Nicholas Building Association. Now I want to support their claim that it is “one of Melbourne’s most valuable cultural precincts” by citing my own posts about this building. A search returns pages of blog posts; most are reviews of exhibitions at the multitude of galleries that have operated in the building. Most notably, Blindside, an artist-run-gallery that is basically a junior Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). From this I have selected three posts and a gallery of photographs:


Rename this place – Guerrilla Geography II

Australia, unlike other countries, has not removed any statues dedicated to racist colonials. Still, Calla Wahlquist’s powerful article “‘The right thing to do’ Drive to rename places exposes a ruthless past” reminded me that changing place names is also important. For names are not trivial, in Australia are racist. “In 2017, Queensland renamed seven places that included the word “nigger”.”

New street signs, new names for places rewrite the old city for its inhabitants. Geography is as much about the way space is remembered, recorded, mapped and navigated as it is about areas on this or other planets. Desire lines are created by people repeatedly wanting to walk from one spot to another, ignoring the paving. Guerrilla geography maps of those paths, giving names to them, making them places. It is creative, as well as investigative. And although officially a place might be called something that is a matter of politics and language rather than how people to it. Anarchic acts can, given time, be officially recognised.

In Melbourne, many of the city’s service lanes have never been named. And new names are embraced as more detail means better directions for emergency vehicles. Thus, Blender Lane has now been officially designated by the City of Melbourne, complete with a street sign. This is years after Adrian Doyle gave it that name because it was the lane next to Blender Studios. How many art punks get to name streets? I suspect there are several now. In Bendigo, Dimples Lane is officially named after the street artist, Mr Dimples, whose work is there.

So, we can all play our part in this project to end colonial place names. Mail art projects from the past tell me that Australia Post will deliver to a street name and number and postcode. After that, you could put Bulleke-bek instead of Brunswick or Ngár-go instead of Fitzroy. (For more, see Ben Tyers in Melbourne List.)

We navigate the city by different means: I see it as a mental map of memories. Others see it on Google as a network of roads, train, tram lines. In the inner city suburbs, people would navigate by the pub on the corner. Others, landlords, bureaucrats, and lawyers, see it as a ‘laws-cape’ of regulations and title deeds. Dogs navigate by smell and sight, possums by the trees, telephone lines and eves of buildings, the pigeons, crows, magpies and seagulls see it from above. (Understanding that others see things differently was one of the most important things that my father, a zoologist, taught me.) But only humans use names to navigate.

Place names like statues are honours but without explanative notes they are malleable. So can DC comics help save the name of Batman Station by changing the image from a villain to a hero?

See my earlier post on Guerrilla Geography.


Burn your money

This week Doosie Morris wrote about NFT and Melbourne’s most boring urban artists GT Sewell, Rone and Lushsux, in The Guardian. Morris implied that NFT is in the same league as Yves Klein. Without mentioning that Klein’s immaterial art, like the K Foundation burning a million pounds as an art, are acts where the artist/s removed monetary value from the system. So this might be a subtle suggestion that you could invest in NTF or just burn your money.

According to Morris’s article NFT is Sewell, Rone and Lushsux current business ventures. Sewell has been spruiking cryptocurrency for years on social media, and Lushsux has been positing similar stuff, including income tax avoidance on NFT sales. 

These are boring artists because they are focused on money; there is no other objective to their art. For them, even popularity is just another revenue source. Remember that Rone received $1.86 million from the Federal Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) for a project that won’t be seen until 2022. Rone does decor for a coffee shop at Melbourne Airport, decorating walls on construction sites, modelling clothes for a high street clothes shop, that kind of thing.

But aside from the dodgy economics, the environmental impact of blockchain technology, two problems aren’t being discussed with NFT; provenance and digital art preservation.

Anonymous churn is even more a problem for provenance than it is for trust in the market. No institutional art gallery will buy or even accept gifts of art with a secret origin because of stolen art, fraud, and forgery. After the artist’s death, how would you prove that it was their work?

Digital art preservation is an even more complex issue because substantial parts of the technology will eventually change. For example, the online links may become broken. And in 30 years, when you can’t see the art on an LED screen because that technology is now redundant, the art will not look the same. So now your expensive work is the equivalent of a photograph of a Monet oil painting or just unreadable code.

Bubble art to rival Millais. NFT art, along with most of the art market, is divorced from any significant culture but still living on alimony and hasn’t changed its name back. And if you don’t want to burn your money but want to give it to artists there are plenty of more better hands to put it in.


Edgelords of Art

‘Edgelord’ is a mock honorific of penultimate edginess, typically given to a Nazi fanboy on Reddit, 4chan, or Tumblr. For more about Edgelords, see this definition. Another thing that screams Edgelord is owning a subterranean art gallery full of art with dark, controversial and morbid themes. Unlike buying a black trench coat, few people can afford to do this — one person who can is David Walsh.

The gambler from Tasmania who collects edgy art is a clear example of an Edgelord. Even though he doesn’t, as far as I know, have an online presence on Reddit or 4chan. Art and antiquities with themes of death are the domain of the Edgelord. I have long had my reservations about MONA (Museum of Old and New Art); see my blog post for my initial impressions.

What drew attention to this was the controversy over the now cancelled Union Flag by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. It was to be part of the Dark Mofo festival at MONA. Asking Indigenous people to donate their blood so that a flag can be soaked in it to serve as a festival attraction might have raised some warning flags but didn’t because Dark Mofo was focused on being edgy. More than enough Indigenous blood has already been spilt. So, no one should be surprised that some Indigenous people are calling for MONA’s Edgelord and his crew to have cultural sensitivity training. See ABC news report on the subject.

Blood and flag are conservative symbols; by creating controversies, Edgelords foster conservatism because it emphasises their edgy qualities. After all, what makes things edgy is the strictures that define their perimeter.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge how close I am to being an Edgelord. The name Black Mark does suggest that, as does my habit of dressing in black and painting neo-Baroque still life. And having explored this territory, I can point out differences in its geography.

Consider the stratigraphy defining Dada and Surrealism. Both are nihilistic, utopian and progressive. Yet, there is a marked increase of sexism and homophobia in the Surrealist layer almost absent in Dada. Surrealism is advertising’s wet dream; it is so commercial and exploitable. The corresponding increase of Edgelords in Surrealism exposes one cause of this increase.

Not all controversies or nihilists are edgy; Dada’s nihilism comes with a smile, a laugh, and liberation. It celebrated and enjoyed the random, meaningless nature of the world. For if all things mean nothing to you, then you are free to enjoy the world.

This world does not need more Edgelords; it requires fewer Batmen, lone wolves, and brooding übermensch hanging around in the dark hoarsely whispering edgy things. It does not need another treasure horde of antiquities and high priced art. What the art world needs instead is to show others the possibilities in this world.


After another lockdown

After yet another lockdown, after the other two lockdowns, not going out for what felt like half a year, after a heatwave, I am standing in the light rain on the steps of Parliament. Police and some protest march are approaching.

What am I doing?

Kerrie Poliness Parliament Steps Walking Drawing

I am photographing and looking at the public art project by Kerrie Poliness. Parliament Steps Walking Drawing is part of ACCA’s current exhibition. A large-scale participatory, geometric chalk drawing by Poliness and volunteers done at the start of the month is now being washed away in the rain.

I’m putting in the leg work. So much has changed; what was once familiar streets are strange. I’m trying to find something to write a blog post. But now, with the demonstration approaching Parliament, it is time to take some photographs.

Is this an anti-lockdown protest? There aren’t many people and they are all wearing white. It turns out to be Zero Suicide Victoria, people who want the government to pay more attention to the issue. I listen to them for a bit. The first speaker wants a Minister for Men because suicide is mostly a mens’ problem in Australia.

I think that if we want to bring the suicide rate down we need to make deeper changes to the way we live and think. We are in many ways a suicidal culture destroying the planet, poisoning ourselves, and driving our speices to extinction in a new four wheel drive.

An exhibition of John Kelly’s paintings at Smith & Singer on Collins Street is unlikely to help. More pictures of fake cows for the very wealthy who like their art based around a single anecdote. Maybe writing a review of Madrid-based Colectivo Ayllu’s lithographs on exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop would be better. Their collage aesthetic has an anti-colonial discourse about the savagery of the Spanish exploitation of the Americas.

Maybe I should write about how we now visit galleries. Everyone is wearing masks inside and most people are wearing them outside. The maximum capacity notices at the door. We are checking in with a QR code on our phones or with pre-booked free tickets. QR codes everywhere, some galleries are even using them instead of room sheets to give the titles.

Or maybe I should write more about public art and outdoor exhibitions, like the International Festival of Photography Photo 2021 that I encounter in various locations around the city. Sarah Oscar’s Most Wanted series pasted-up like posters in Hosier Lane juxtaposed with a street artist’s paste-up of standover man, Chopper Read. Other works in the exhibition are five storeys tall, on the side of a building, and more on a billboard in Collingwood. Although sometimes it is hard to work out what is part of the exhibition because there is so much photography in the city.

What will happen to all of this? Washed away like chalk drawings in the rain.


The Birdcage: suburban garden sculptures

Rarely does the sculptural elements of inner-city, suburban front gardens rise above the found object, the cast concrete, or an art student’s effort. I have been looking for examples for many years. After over a decade of looking, I have found a fantastic domestic garden sculpture. (I know nothing about the people who live at this house and I am trying not to intrude on their privacy while commenting on their front garden.)

Like their near relatives, the corporate sculptures in front of office blocks, domestic front garden sculptures are a kind of public sculpture. For while they are privately owned, they are on public display. And like all outdoor sculpture, they must survive the weather which limits the choice of media.

Most garden sculptures are either the corny or kitsch. The kitsch: represented by garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, commercial sculptures cast in concrete or welded metal creations. And the corny represented by swans made from car tires,  ‘spoonvilles’ and recycled things turned into flower pots. There are also pseudo-sculptural elements of industrial readymade objects, railway sleepers are popular at the moment in Melbourne. Occasionally you will see the relics of what looks like a fine arts student’s sculpture, or that of a brave amateur, retired to the garden; however, these are rarely substantial enough to fill the space.

The importance of sculpture for suburbanites is dubious, for as it is not structural but aesthetic, it is not worthy of investment. Unlike the corporate version, privately owned sculpture on public display has no practical use for a sculpture in a suburban garden, place-making, way-finding, or even seating. Being only decorative is demanding a lot from a sculpture. 

Then there is the big metaphysical birdcage in a front garden of an ordinary house in the inner-city suburb. Like a Magritte painting come to life in a suburban garden, the giant birdcage is different from other domestic garden sculpture. It transforms anyone who sits inside the cage (which has a lockable door), into part of the art. The surreal, infinite regression of birdcages comments on the whole birdcage of suburban existence and existential angst.

It is a remarkable garden sculpture because it provides a private experience that wouldn’t work in a public garden. And, unlike other garden sculptures, the birdcage is almost too large for the small garden space.


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