“Advance/Retreat” is an exhibition at Westspace curated by Brad Haylock and Mark Richardson. “Three experiments in transdisciplinary collaboration” occupy Westspace’s three gallery spaces.
In the middle of the first space, shut off by a chain-link steel gate, a large plant sits in a garbage bag a single root trailing to an empty glass.
The next space subtly vibrates both visually and aurally with fishing-line running in almost invisible vertical stripes across the white walls. (Coincidently my father used a similar arrangement of fishing-line to trap bats in order to study their homing abilities.) This is accompanied by an elegant video of male and female hands collaborating to string the fishing-line. And a sound piece that all worked together in a successful harmony.
The final space contains a scatter style installation by so many artists that it would be hard to imagine them all working together in the small space. “Working space” is a reference to the title of a book by Frank Stella.
“Advance/Retreat”is about lines: minimalist lines, vibrating lines, and dividing lines. Lines area major component of art, from visual lines to written lines, but that does not make them interesting. Lines might be essential for art but I don’t suspect that good art is about the essentials. Searching for creativity in artist-run-initiatives appears to be endless exercises rather than new experiments.
I don’t know if the number of collaborating curators, artists and designers (15+) added to the quality of this small exhibition. I can see the strategic advantage to the collaboration. Collaborations like this allow the artists to record more exhibitions on their CV and spread themselves thinner. However, collaboration should not be a goal in and of itself as it is simply a means of working.
Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney and Harriet Turnbull, Making Sense, Bus Gallery
Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney and Harriet Turnbull are involved in artist-run-initiatives; between them they have exhibited at most of them in Melbourne. Katie Lee and Harriet Turnbull are both on the committee of Conical Inc. another of Melbourne’s artist-run-initiatives. The “artist-run culture” as described in Conical’s website is an aesthetic preserve mostly for post-graduate fine arts students. Artist-run-spaces are not a culture, perhaps a sub-culture, but I doubt that it is even that, more of a clique, a circle or set of people aware of contemporary art.
As I moved around the exhibition I thought about what the exhibition could mean. The relationship between an artist’s practice and exercise; the logistics, movement, the exercise of mounting a contemporary exhibition like this compared to other kinds of movements. Making Sense is definitely contemporary art following the now academic history of contemporary sculpture from 1960s on. Bridie Lunney’s use of the artist’s body as a sculptural medium and Katie Lee’s deconstructing of the art gallery are serious features of contemporary art. I was then given the artists statement and had a second look at the exhibition.
Climbing around the gallery and finding the connections in the artists activity could have been fun. Katie Lee’s taking the gallery apart; cut a hole in the wall to show the space behind the ubiquitous white gallery wall. Climbing over the obstructive white plinths piled up in the doorway to the third gallery. However, any sense of play and fun is negated by the Spartan space and the neutral colors. And although this is a serious exhibition ultimately it appears as pointless as hoping on one foot on a spot, a motion that is repeated in the exhibitions videos.
Why bother replicating some types of interactions (unsuccessful collaboration, unstable interactions) in the world? It is not much of an end in itself. Especially if it “soon degrades into something that whilst resembling its origin, begins to make a lot less sense.” (Making Sense artists’ statement). Interacting with the exhibition is disappointing because in the end because Making Sense does not make sense, nonsense or fantasy, it just makes contemporary art.
The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) of Victoria is celebrating 70 years with an exhibition at Fortyfive Downstairs. 70 consecutive years is impressive for any arts society, a great deal changes in the art world in that time. CAS has survived the philistine conservatism and retrograde arts policies of the Menzies. It was an artist-run-initiative long before the idea became popular in the 1980s. And the choice of ‘contemporary’ in the society’s title shows remarkable presence.
The CAS has an important place in Australian art history but it is not being recognized with an historical retrospective in the NGV or other major gallery. And this is because it also a history of the declining importance and relevance of the society (at least according to Gwenda Robb and Elaine Smith’s Concise Dictionary of Australian Artists).
The CAS was founded in 1938 with a committee of artists that has since become major names in Australian art history. George Bell was president, Rupert Bunny was vice-president and Adrian Lawlor was secretary. However, within two years these notable artists had left the CAS because of the domination of the society by amateur artists. But this is not the end of the story. In the 1950s CAS was lead by John Reed and Georges Mora. In 1961 David Boyd was president and John Perceval was vice-president.
The CAS organises many group exhibitions for its members like the one celebrating its 70th. However this anniversary exhibition also included a display of the history of the society; a collection of their newsletters and exhibition catalogues including a notice about an Anti-Fascist Exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in December 1942.
At the exhibition opening Fortyfive Downstairs was packed with people as you might expect for a large group exhibition. Current president of the society, Robert Lee made a short speech and then prizes were awarded. This included a prize for the innovative use of materials showing that CAS is still encouraging innovation.
Some of the art in the exhibition is good, especially the sculptures, and some of it is bland, derivative or overworked. That is to be expected in an open entry group exhibition. The quality of the work is somewhat irrelevant; the CAS is important to the ecology of Victoria’s art world in providing affordable entry-level exhibitions for artists for 70 years.
Some art in non-gallery exhibition locations work with the location and the alternative exhibition space successfully, others do not, and others have the poor locations forced on them. Traditional gallery methods of hanging art and even conventional gallery art will not work these locations. And, due to the mass public exposure of these spaces a successful exhibition has to appeal to a broader population than the art in most galleries. Many of these locations are ARI (artist-run-initiatives) whereas others are commissions for public art.
Lori Kirk’s “The Door Snake Project” at Platform is a fun work, involving 16 artists making snakes and using the glass cabinets at Platform to maximum effect. Kirk was the winner of the 2006 Freedman Foundation Traveling Scholarship. Kirk’s “fake replicas of natural environments” are the best part of the exhibition; the snakes by the individual artists vary in quality. Kirk has turned each of Platform’s cabinets into a terrarium for her fake snakes. Her creative use of fabric to replicate plants, stones and water makes the perfect environments for fabric door snakes.
Also at Platform, the Sample cabinet has an exhibition, “The Book of Proverbs” by Erica Tarquinio and Madeline Farrugia. Farrugia’s whimsical illustrations are well supported by Tarquinio’s collection of proverbs. However, the delicate installation is too small for the space in the cabinet.
Rachel Ang’s photography exhibition “Framed” does not use the glass letterbox spaces in the lobby at 141 Flinders Lane to any great effect. The quote from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window does alter the way that the mundane actions in the series of photographs is viewed but not enough to make it exciting. Frances Johnson in The Age (4/4/08) gave the exhibition a tiny but favourable review.
On the trains I saw a Peter Burke’s “Commuter News” poster. It isn’t as good as the real newsprint posters that Burke used to paste-up around the city. The poster version on the trains had been Photoshopped, the shadow effect is too obvious and it ends up looking just like more advertising. The location on the trains makes it hard for Burke’s poster to look like anything but clever advertising copy.