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Art Architecture @ fortyfivedownstairs

Stephen Nova “The Architectural Uncanny” and Dayne Trower “External Walls” at fortyfivedownstairs are two exhibitions that combine art and architecture. Art about architecture and architectural models as art are not unusual but that is because the subject is so important to us.

In the side gallery is Dayne Trower, a graduate of RMIT of Architectural Design, “External Walls”. “External Walls” is 24 almost identical plywood objects in wooden frames. I didn’t think at first that I would enjoy this minimalist work but Trower’s small models of external walls and stairs have methodical variations and alternatives to a defined site that work in a pleasing narrative sequence. “Put together as a whole, the sequence also presents an argument for an approach to architecture and a way of building.”

In the main gallery “The Architectural Uncanny” features five large works on paper in various media and seven large oil paintings on canvas by Stephen Nova.

The suburban house is a psychic icon, or as Nova describes them, in the title of one of his paintings, “The Memory Cathedral”. And Nova explores the inherent surrealism in these sombulist dormitory suburbs.

Nova depicts his architecture on a featureless tabletop or stage set, the atomistic nowhere of the suburbs. Combined with toys and other things Nova’s images are reassuring paintings of models of houses, often under construction and not inhabited. They are imaginary architectural models or architecture as child’s play.

The traditional imaginary home is surrounded by the white picket fence but what is underneath the artificial landscape of suburbia? Along with the comforting familiarity there is a threatening uncertain element to Nova’s images. In “House and Garden (See/Saw)” a diving board off the back porch leads to a trapeze bar, both suspended above a hedge maze. This hint of menace is part of the current tradition of the portrayals of uncanny suburbs.

(For more and photos of these two exhibitions see Habitus Living.)


Early January Exhibitions

Although most of Melbourne’s art galleries are closed for a holiday in January there are still a few exhibition of varying quality on in the CBD.

At Platform there is “Unrealised Architecture”, an exhibition of architectural models, plans, ideas and dreams that have not been realized for a variety of reasons from their own impossible nature to local council objections. Architects are very good at putting together displays, generally for presentations for clients, and this exhibition is no exception. And like all exhibitions of unrealised architecture it allows the viewer to imagine: what if they had been built.

Also at Platform, in Vitrine “Nutrimetrica II: 2008 Lukewarm” an evocatively lit installation featuring a wheelchair with gold details on a plinth of lime green videotapes with two bug lights. What this all means is anyone’s guess.

And in Sample, recent VCA graduate, Sam George is exhibiting “You brighten my day”. Five black desk lamps each on a plastic hemisphere plinth, in the glass cabinet are connected to a motion sensor. The motion sensor detects the movement of pedestrians in that corridor of Campbell’s Arcade switching the lights on. It is pretty simple fun switching lights on and off. The use of the desk lamp is probably inspired by the desk-lamp logo for Pixar animation.

At the City Library the “Periodic Table Project” by Marita Dyson and Stuart Flanagan is a good idea poorly realized. It is so poorly realized that their periodic table doesn’t fit on the wall and has two whole lines of elements presented on a different size on another part of the wall. At first I thought that it was an amateur group art project because of the variety of styles and techniques used in the illustrations that went with each element. The only consistent feature was the symbol for the element and its atomic weight somewhere in the lower left hand corner.

In one of the windows of Ross House is a small playful exhibit promoting latest issue of the youth arts magazine, Voiceworks. Amongst the exhibition is the work of Hayden Daniel; I recognized his birdman image from his exhibition last year in the Sample cabinet at Platform.

On the train there is the Moving Gallery with a photograph by Clare Rae from Kings Artist Run Initiative. Rae has staged a private domestic moment; it is has been carefully posed and lit like a penitent saint in a Spanish Baroque painting – St. Mary in the bathroom.

Architectural Art

Many architects are frustrated artists, and fortunately, sculptor Daniel Dorall is no longer one of them although his architecture training is still evident in his art. Dorall makes architectural models, not as unrealized architectural visions but as sculptural art with social critiques, subtle emotions and visual delights.

I went to the opening of Shaft, had a glass of red and talked with Daniel Dorall. I have been a fan of his work since I first saw it early in 2007.  For me, Shaft was like a mini-retrospective as I have seen many of the works before.  But in the past Dorall’s exhibitions have been in some of Melbourne’s smallest galleries, like Mailbox 141, (because these spaces suit Dorall’s miniature sculptures) or part of group shows. So it was a new experience to see over a dozen of his sculptures at Dianne Tanzer Gallery.

Navigating the corridors, symbols and references in Daniel Dorall’s sculptures can be fun. Like any maze there is an easy way in, we are all familiar with architectural models. Dorall  also uses the familiar images of a skull, a heart, a banner, twin towers, a cathedral, a soccer game, a picnic (and for the art historians, Warhol’s soup can and the Bar at the Manet’s “The Bar at the Folies-Begire”) as an entry point.

Once inside the maze of architecture of Dorall’s sculptures you are trapped, just as we are all trapped in the architecture of society, there is no way out of Dorall’s models. Maybe you could make it to the first aid red crosses located in deep in the maze, would you be safe then? Or trapped in a shaft?

The arrangement of rooms and corridors in Dorall’s models is very balanced, reminding me of Chinese calligraphy. The detail is amazing, a tiny crow is perched on the soccer goals, but the meaning is not immediately apparent. The pools of colored liquid, the vegetation, the animals and people that inhabit the area suggest stories, scenarios and ways of living.

Talking with Daniel Dorall he reminded me that quest for the right readymade railway model figurines for these models is part of the process of creation. Finding a woman in the right pose to copy the barmaid at the Folies-Begire’s pose was particularly difficult.


Along with Shaft at Dianne Tanzer Gallery there are other architecture-influenced exhibitions in galleries on Gertrude St.

At Seventh there is “the rebellious garden shed – a remnant childhood fascination revisited – “ by Dominic Kavanagh. Kavanagh’s shed has come alive and gone feral, up on four legs and vomiting out its contents. It is a wonderfully constructed fantasy but it has more depth.  We all horde of old junk/treasures in our sheds and we all have childhood memories of the shed as a place of wonder and mystery.

Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces looks like a construction site only cleaner and more pointless (and therefore art?). There is Willaim Seeto’s “Da Capo senza repetizione” with its wood frame twisting corridor with one-way mirror’s installed, even though you can see through the walls. And Nicolas Fenouillat’s “Iceberg” has an elaborate, over engineered exterior as if the interior was about to break out. Inside the Iceberg’s rumbling interior, made of Styrofoam, there is a video room showing an iceberg.

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