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Tag Archives: contemporary art

Wurm Haus & clinamen

Jess Johnson, Wurm Haus and Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen demonstrate two different ways of using imagination and making art. Imagination could be the invention of another world or to imagine another use of existing items in this world to create new beauty. Art as the creation or art as a creative uses.

Both are currently on the third floor the NGV International.

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Jess Johnson, Ixian Gate, 2015 video still (courtesy of Darren Knight Gallery)

Wurm Haus is an exhibition a series of drawings and a virtual reality experience, based on the drawings, The Ixian Gate. Johnson’s imagination created both the drawings and 3D VR Oculus Rift VR experience of the planet Ix from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel, Dune.

The VR experience is a five minute magic carpet ride through impressive huge spaces. Five people at a time go through the same experience, each with headphone and headset; the gallery attendant explaining the procedure and wiping down each set of headsets and headphones between each group. The psychedelic intensity of detailed patterns mixed with classical architecture, great multicoloured worms, bat masks, flesh toned figures doing acrobatics.

Clinamen by the French artist and composer, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is a very different kind of art. White ceramic bowls floating in the round blue pool of water with a current running down the middle driving the bowls around in two loops. Bell-like chimes from the ceramic bowls ring out when two bowls bump. There is a variety of tones created when different sized bowls bumped. Chance encounters in a random universe can be beautiful if we take the time to appreciate it.

It was designed for, and originally installed, in the Federation Court of the NGV. However when I saw it there it made little impact on me. Its new location, in its own room, removed from the crowds on the ground floor entrance, it is more conducive to listening and reflecting.

Clinamen is more accidental than the rigorously planned Wurm Haus. The audience’s involvement, both in the duration and  their movement in the space, with it is also less planned and controlled. One artist has created and planned immense amount of detail whereas the other has made a simple idea into reality in all its unplanned complexity.

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Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen, 2013 (courtesy of the NGV)

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December 2015

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Exit 2015, Friday 11th December, Brunswick Arts

On Friday night across Melbourne many galleries and studios were holding their end of year celebrations. But it wasn’t just the end of another year at Brunswick Arts (aka Brunswick Art Space, Brunswick Art Gallery), it is closing permanently. Eleven years ago Joel Gailer established the gallery in a building that featured an old house at one end and a factory space that opened onto laneway at the other end. On Friday there was a final one night only exhibition using the whole now empty building.

I like the tradition of the end of the calendar year but every year I write these terrible end of year blog posts. Barely coherent rambling pieces of writing but what do I expect? As if I could sum up a year in a few hundred words.

Normally in these end of year posts I write that I won’t be posting anything for another month but the Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei has just opened at the NGV and Julian Rosefeldt’s brand-new thirteen-channel work Manifesto has just opened at ACMI. I anticipate that I will slow down my rate of writing but you never know what will happen. I hope I will take a break, part of being a self-employed professional means taking holidays, otherwise you will burn yourself out. (There is also professional development, or you will decay over time.)

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

Personally 2015 was a great year, a real point of self actualisation as my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne was published. I had two book launches, conducted several walking tours of Melbourne’s public sculptures (one of these was part of Melbourne’s Writers Festival) and a book talk at Brunswick Public Library. So support a local publisher, your local bookshop and buy my book.

Consequently I am being invited to visit a lot more sculptors at foundries or in their studio, however there has rarely been a story in it. In other public art new this year Mr Poetry on Fitzroy Street had his leg broken by a truck, nobody celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Burke and Wills Monument and Alex Goad’s Tethya was installed on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda.

This year I missed covering the story of Makatron’s Kama Sutra Burger at Land of Sunshine. Censorship, street art and Brunswick, it had all the elements of one of my blog posts, but I can’t write about everything. I also missed the story of the guerrilla exhibition about tagging in the Alexandra Avenue underpass under St. Kilda Road; I finally saw it this week and it had been systematically tagged.

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Grit, an exhibition of tagging, Melbourne

Next year I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post (this is number 992) with a psychogeographical walk in Brunswick on Sunday the 31st January. In March I will also be exhibiting a few of my paintings for the first time in many years. Doubtless I will also be doing a few tours of public sculpture too. (See my events page for more details).

Seasonal greetings and thanks for reading this terrible end of year post.

Live Christmas Decoration 2


Marrnyula Mununuggurr @ Gertrude Contemporary

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Gertrude Street in Fitzroy only had only a single gallery on it at 200 Gertrude, the gallery remains although the name has changed, Gertrude Contemporary. A decade ago there were seven galleries on Gertrude Street and now there are only four, Gertrude Contemporary. The artists supply shops are a more stable feature of the street that the transient galleries. Throughout the decades it is the gallery where for contemporary art in Melbourne without any compromises for attendance, popularity or commercial.

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Ganybu, 2015

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Ganybu, 2015

I followed the window washer with his bucket and brushes into Gertrude Contemporary. It is strange to see the window washer at work in the front gallery with all the shavings of stringing bark (eucalyptus tetrodonta) on the wooden gallery floor. It is another world from the street or a gallery, it smells different and smell is something that visual artists rarely capture. The exhibition is Ganybu by Marrnyula Mununggurr.

Walking across the stringing bark, I notice that some of this stringing bark is the same as the pieces on the wall, except that the pieces on the wall have been painted with vertical and horizontal lines. The delicate geometric painted lines on the bark reminded me of post-minimalism with the small parts building up to a greater image. For this not just an arrangement of geometric lines in natural ochers Marrnyula Mununggurr is reproduces her Dajapu clan design of the fish trap and water. The greater image created with all the 252 bark paintings is the Ganybu, a fish trap.

Marrnyula Mununggurr caught me with the fish trap within the fish trap.

At the far end of the gallery, from the same string bark tree, is a larrakitj, a ceremonial pole painted with the same design. It all comes from the same tree, completing the beautiful minimalism of the exhibition.

There is a major difference between the esoteric use of Marrnyula Mununggurr’s clan design and the eccentric painting of David Egan. I was not as impressed with Egan’s Actually Energy Help Light in the main gallery of Gertrude Contemporary, not that I expect to instantly like every exhibition that I see. There was little catch my interest just incoherence. When I read the curators notes I find that five out of the seven footnotes were to David Egan. A couple of the paintings weren’t bad but I don’t have a clue why anyone would care about it, aside from Egan and the curator.

David Egan, Actually Energy Help Light, 2015

David Egan, Actually Energy Help Light, 2015

I forgot to look at Slide, the tiny space at the front door of Gertrude Contemporary. I am always forgetting to look at Slide.


Underground Indonesian Art

Fort Delta is an underground gallery down a flight of stairs at the back of the Capitol Arcade in Melbourne; it is an appropriate location for New Underground: Indonesian Contemporary. It is Fort Delta’s first collaborative exhibition with MiFA Gallery that represents artists from the Asia Pacific region.

Lugas Syllabus, Step By Step, My Friend, 2011

Lugas Syllabus, Step By Step, My Friend, 2011

This is a great exhibition of contemporary Indonesian art featuring work by work by Soni Irawan, Iyok Prayogo, and Lugas Syllabus. Prayogo and Syllabus are both graduates of The Indonesian Institute Of The Arts, Yogyakarta. Irawan completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Indonesian Art Institute in Jogjakarta. According to the exhibition notes they are all “emerged from the Indo Punk scene” hence “New Underground”.

I laugh out loud when I look at Lugas Syllabus’s mixed media sculpture Step by Step, My Friend (2011) a cartoon rabbit is progressively jumping into a trap baited with carrots. It is so funny, so funky inexplicable with a clearly wise message about progress all at the same time.

Most of the exhibition is filled with paintings by Soni Irawan. His painting are intense; the accretion of layers of images, in layers of different media, is a urban experience and vision. He spray paints aerosol enamel over his own work in bubble graffiti for Fake Fact (2012), stencils in the Chupa Chups logo on Lady Candy (2013) and pastes on embroidery patches on Ultra Flat Black (2011). All on top of his line drawings of strange creatures, people with faces in their torsos, Blemmyae, masked and animal headed figures.

Soni Irawan, Fake Fact, 2012

Soni Irawan, Fake Fact, 2012

Iyok Prayogo’s two light boxes in hard road cases, Walk on By (2009) and Going Metal (2012), were a bit too mainstream rock’n’roll for my taste.

I don’t get to see much Indonesian contemporary art here in Melbourne but what I have seen, like the New Underground has been very worth while.


Search for the Extraordinary

Walking around the gallery district of Fitzroy and Collingwood I am hoping to see the extraordinary, the outstanding or at least something worth writing a blog entry about. Walking between the galleries I am also on the look out for interesting features of urban design, architecture or street art.

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Some of the galleries, 69 Smith St. and Mossenson were closed. Mossenson’s have permanently closed their Melbourne branch and now only operate out of Perth; I had heard that commercial galleries were having difficulties in their finically difficult times. The “artist-run” 69 Smith is only temporarily closed for renovations but ugly rumours have been circulating; many years ago I was on the organising committee and although I am not a member I still communicate with current members.

Port Jackson Press has moved to a new location, further along and on the other side of Smith Street, in March this year. It is an attractive old shop with brass fittings around its windows. I had seen many of the artists on display before including two stencils by Kirpy on corrugated cardboard. Kirpy is one of the best stencil artists in Melbourne (number 3 on my top 10 Melbourne stencil artists).

Sometimes I can see enough from the street to know that I’m just not interested in going inside the gallery. Sometimes I can’t see anything from the street and I have to venture inside. That was the reason I had to go inside Australian Galleries.

“I’ll turn the lights on for you” the woman at the desk said. It appears that even Australian Galleries is economising or green or both.

With the lights on the paintings by Stewart MacFarlane did not look much better. The life study at the end of the exhibition summed it up. MacFarlane’s exploits nudes and nostalgic early 60s Americana in bold brushstrokes. He has found something creepy in the currently fashionable retro-style of this era but why would anyone want these hanging paintings on their wall?

However, I could understand why someone would hang the small, delicate surreal paintings of South Australian artist, Nerissa Lea on their wall. There is a surreal poetry to her paintings and sculptures along with a bit of an obsession with animal headed people and Emily Dickinson. In the small side gallery at Australian Galleries, there was “The Waiting Grounds” by Nerissa Lea, named after the largest painting in the exhibition where a boy walking on stilts across a forest floor covered in red leaves.

Gertrude Contemporary was very contemporary art; 200 Gertrude Street, a site-specific installation by Stephen Bram is a post-minimalist reconstruction of the gallery space. Walking between the angled concertina walls felt like walking between a Richard Serra sculpture. Then there was contrast between back stage construction side and the gallery white walls. It is all about the space, the art space, a common theme in contemporary art.

And so on for some more galleries, of course the extraordinary is exceptionally rare and what is commonly encountered is ordinary, sometimes clever or beautiful but still ordinary. However this is no reason not to continue to search for it.


bLOGOS/HA HA

Peter Tyndall’s blog, bLOGOS/HA HA is blogging as contemporary art; there is always an enjoyable conjuncture of images on it and it forms part of his greater work. In 2013 bLOGOS/HA HA was in the NGV’s Melbourne Now and Reinventing the Wheel; the Readymade Century at MUMA. I’m pleased to see it represented in exhibitions where it is displayed in physical (paper) and virtual (computer) forms. I’ve had bLOGOS/HA HA on my blogroll for years.

Adrian Featherston's photo looks at Peter Tyndall at Monash 1975

Adrian Featherston’s photo looks at Peter Tyndall at Monash 1975

Tyndall was my first local favourite contemporary artists when I was an undergraduate at Monash Uni. Tyndall was the first artist-in-residence at Patrick McCaughey’s brand new Dept of Visual Arts at Monash Uni. I was impressed that in the mid 1970s he had retrospectively retitled all his art the same title:

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A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/

someone looks at something…

This title was often accompanied by a schematic representation of the painting, a square with wire hangers (the hanging system of the galleries at the time) and a viewer, generally a family standing in front of it.

In the 1980s Tyndall had refined his title further adding, a line space as in the chorus of a song and then, what Tyndall refers to as the “meta-Title”,  LOGOS/HA HA in upper case. Tyndall played with his “meta-Title” in the title of his blog; considering the entomology of ‘logos’ and ‘web logs’ (as blogs were originally called).

There is a poetry to Tyndall’s title and repeating image. It is part of the post-modern experience, the endless quotation, the paradoxes, the hermeneutical elements building up meaning through repetition. Combining the conceptual and the visual in a sophisticated post-modern understanding of the image and communication.

Tyndall works in all media and his blog is a hyperlinked extension of this exploration of media. Blogging appears like the ideal for Tyndall’s art. Is bLOGOS/HA HA in one media or multimedia? This is the kind of links, interconnections, indeterminacy and paradoxes that Tyndall delights in.

Blogging presents another paradox to Tyndall, the private and the public. His art never expressed the private individual; all that the Melbourne Now exhibition guide notes “1951 – :born at Mercy Hospital, Melbourne, The World”. Tyndall reconciles this by posts on exhibitions, current events and protests in the art world (I learnt about the protests about no sketching at the NGV from his blog and wrote my own blog post). This is mixed with posts on Tyndall’s own exploration of repeating images of people looking at things, including art.

Communicating is at the core of Tyndall’s art and blogging. His writing is crisp and his choice of images to accompany the blog posts are inspired. His obsessions and his visual memory of interconnected images are perfect to display on the internet. As he explained in an email: “In daily practice, I observe that my present inclination is less to the slow and expensive means of the easel and more to the immediate, inexpensive and intuitive exploration via the digital projection-space. I do, each day, still make some things more-or-less in the traditional means, but usually quickly: drawings, collages, postcards, words, photos.” Tyndall thinks that more artists should blog to communicate, create, and exhibit commenting: “I’m surprised how few ‘struggling artists’ give themselves this easy opportunity.”

The size of his blog, built up by incremental additions over the years since 2008 (the same year that I started this blog), makes it Tyndall’s largest detail in his life’s work. It’s size is a matter of duration and it is as endless as Tyndall’s art mantra:

detail

A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/

someone looks at something…

 

LOGOS/HA HA


Taxidermy & Contemporary Art

Troy Emery’s exhibition “from far away” at Craft Victoria reminded me that taxidermy and contemporary art are currently very close at least in Melbourne. Not that Emery uses any real animals in his work – he creates unreal animals. Troy Emery covers high density foam taxidermy mannequin with a rainbow of polyester pom poms, or in the case of from far away, a small dog form covered in rayon tassels. From far away is the star of the show, although the bear is bigger. There are some good visual gags in his work, the small dog, Listening, a reference to the dog on the label of His Masters Voice (HMV). (You can see the taxidermy art of Troy Emery on Art Nation on the ABC.)

As if I needed reminding that taxidermy and Melbourne contemporary art are currently very close after visiting “Melbourne Now” at the NGV. Greeting visitors on the stairs is the automated waving taxidermy cat by Greatest Hits collective, Untitled 2012.

Julia de Villa’s installation, Degustation at Melbourne Now is over the top and great. There is so much detail, the inlayed red glittering ‘blood’ on the cutlery; her jewellery studies at RMIT proving useful. The baroque paintings on the walls of the room emphasis the baroque sense of popularism, sensationalism and spectacle in de Villa’s art. I spent sometime in there sketching and looking at the layout of Degustation – making use of the elegant sketching materials provided by the NGV.

I could include Natalie Ryan’s flock covered taxidermy mannequins and Marion Drews’s haunting photography of roadkill into this survey. I keep on thinking about why taxidermy is big at the moment. Not forgetting that there is a big difference between the gothic splendour and horror of de Villa’s taxidermy of real baby animals and Emery’s or Ryan’s entirely fake use of taxidermy mannequins.

There is something kitsch or corny or sentimental about most taxidermy; these are aesthetics that modernism eschewed but are now being explored again. Taxidermy is from another time, a recent but largely forgotten past when hunting was admired, before Bambi, The Deer Hunter and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I have done some taxidermy in my time; in the mid-1970s I went on a tour of the Zimmerman taxidermy factory in Nairobi Kenya. Zimmerman’s was huge, they would taxidermy anything, including elephants. The smell of the tanning animal hides was truly obnoxious (I am not surprise that Julia de Villa is a vegan). For me the smell was tempered with the revelation that they were making clay models to cast forms for insides of the animals. (For more on Zimmerman Ltd see Nairobi’s The Daily Nation.)

Is ‘mannequin’ really the right word given that these are animal forms?

P.S.  The mix of taxidermy and contemporary is not just a Melbourne phenomena there is the British artists Polly Morgan and Tessa Farmer, works mostly with dead insects but may be some taxidermy amongst her work. In 2010 the Museum of Art and Design in NYC had an exhibition: ”Dead or Alive- Nature becomes Art” that featured over 30 artists who used organic material in the art; feathers, bones, silkworm cocoons, plant materials, and hair. It did include some taxidermy art with American artist, Keith W. Bentley’s Cauda Equina, 1995-2007 but there was more work with animal and bird skeletons in the exhibition. (Thanks Tanya)


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