Looking at three artist’s models of buildings in two exhibitions that I saw this week. From miniature realism to fantastic visions model buildings represent a form of life.
The first two models were in “Uncontrolled Development” a group exhibition at Brunswick Street Gallery. One was by David Hourigan, the other by John Gatip.
Hourigan has received plenty of mainstream media coverage for his models of Melbourne’s disappearing old urban sites, like milk bars and donut stands. They are very detailed, almost photo-realistic, 1:25 scale models of actual buildings. However accurate, Hourigan’s models are just a road to nostalgia, a criticism free version of the past, where there are no regrets or disappointments. (For more on Hourigan’s models see The Age.)
Gatip’s ‘Eureka’ series of golden models are abstractions of Melbourne; particularly the nineteenth century Melbourne constructed from the profits of the gold rush. His models are not an accurate representations but the city is clearly recognisable from the forms. Gatip is an architect but these models are very different from architects models. In an architects model the building is shown in an ideal state, as an example to imitate in the actual construction; in the artist’s model it is a three-dimensional representation.
In “Bruised: Art Action and Ecology in Asia” RMIT Gallery, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan models of buildings are clearly made of corrugated cardboard. In their Arrivals and departures multi-storey towers of dense bricolage homes are piled on top of each other in chaotic constructions. Aquilizan’s houses are lively, with overgrown pot plants, bird boxes, antennas and other signs of life. Each building is on a luggage trolleys, ready to move to a new location on the artificial grass.
In the foyer of the Counihan Gallery is selection of ear-rings with recycled components, recycled silver and plastic. TempContemp’s exhibition of sustainable jewellery is part of the “Art + Climate = Change 2019” arts festival.
On Saturday one of the exhibiting jewellers and curator, Laila Marie Costa led walk and talk; or rather a talk with a walk to change the location. It started at the Counihan Gallery and continued, not far off, at Northcity4. The reason for this geographically extended talk was that TempContemp was also presenting “The Urban Gleaner & the Plastique Pt. II” another exhibition at Northcity4’s very small exhibition space (also part of “Art + Climate = Change 2019”).
Costa is an advocate for contemporary jewellery to have the same status as ceramics in the contemporary art world. She works with found materials and was exhibiting a pair of dramatic earrings built on inverted glow-in-the-dark crosses.
Northcity4 is a jewellery studio in Brunswick in a factory converted into studio spaces on Weston Street where seventeen jewellers work. Costa gave us a quick tour of the well-equiped studio with a forest of indoor plants. The studio tour was followed by a chat about both jewellery exhibitions and the use of plastic in contemporary jewellery.
Two more jewellers, Regina Middleton and Lauren Simeoni spoke about their work in the exhibition.
Lauren Simeoni uses fake plants as her primary material occasionally sneaking in precious materials into these compositions. In her hands the unnatural stamens, twigs and branches become necklaces and ear-rings.
Although they are using plastic as their primary material the horror of plastic covering the planet in a colourful layer of toxic chemical junk is very present in all their minds. Middleton describes an encounter with a Thai beach covered in plastic rubbish and the “tragic beauty of plastic” as it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Middleton creates displays of these tiny, weathered fragments of plastic collected from beaches; elegant display boxes of poisonous, anti-magical, gems.
I don’t expect that many of my readers will see the photographic artist Anne Zahalka exhibition “Wild Life/Australia” at Arc One Gallery. The exhibition is part of CLIMARTE’s ART + CLIMATE = CHANGE 2019 festival. It is another way of raising a critical issue, just as this blog post about the exhibition is yet another. For, at its best, art criticism is another way of exploring important issues.
In her series of photographs Anne Zahalka is trying to capture the dubious realist aesthetic of museum’s zoological habitat dioramas. Painted backgrounds that merge to become samples, taxidermy specimens, of the actual in the foreground, a form that Zahalka has adapted into a photographic collage of images. In her photographs the didactic intention of these modernist dioramas have been turned to teaching a new lesson about climate change. Fruit bats fall dead from their roasts in a tree in the extreme heat.
Along with her photographs, displayed on two plinths were plastic recovered from the Lord Howe Island. Both of these were included in her photograph depicting the sea bird colony of on Admiralty Rocks at Lord Howe Island.
Arc One Gallery is a commercial gallery that represents mid-career contemporary Australian artists. It is not putting this exhibition on as an act of charity; the importance of issue is evident to all who don’t have an ideological commitment to oppose them. I was expecting to see more evidence of this climate emergency in the city aside from this exhibition. I was looking for it but all I’ve seen is a couple of pendants and some painted bollards from Extinction Rebellion.
Too many species have become extinct in the half century of my life and many more are endangered or threatened by climate change, pollution or habitat loss. This includes humans, we are just another species on this planet, a species that future alien archeologists might refer to as the stupid ape.