Tag Archives: Dark Horse Experiment

True Colours and Blender Studios

On Friday evening there was the opening of Casey Jenkins’s “True Colours” at Dark Horse Experiment. Described as a “mind altering, body modification, transformative, durational performance artwork” it is basically about if Jenkins develop synaesthesia through training. Jenkins is planning to train her brain for five hours a day for two weeks followed by a second MRI to see if anything has actually changed in her brain. In this respect it seems more like a comment on how boring jobs alter your brain than an examination of if colour perception is biological or cultural.

Which of the traditions of performance art was Jenkins following with this work? The self-harm of Marina Abramović and Chris Burden or the simply the boredom of Duchamp’s Monte Carlo roulette system? It was definitely not in the entertaining tradition of performance art, nor as confronting as Jenkin’s earlier pieces. It was rather like talking about your science project at a cool party.

The thing about contemporary art, that is not explained often enough, is that it is one big party: booze, finger food and gossip. Someone should write a social column about the gossip. And I have to admit that I was there more for the social scene than the art; when I really want to look at the art I don’t go to the exhibition opening. I hadn’t seen Drew Funk in years, he is back from KL and I could hardly recognise him without his dreadlock.

Except for Ha-Ha, the intellectual featherweights that I was hanging out with did not engage with the exhibition’s theme. I did learn that Ha-Ha’s perception is far more focused on numbers than mine; counting the number of cuts that he makes in a stencil, seeing numbers in shapes. I didn’t want to say much because it felt like revision of all the philosophy papers that I have read about colour perception.

I was also there to see the new location for Blender Studios and Dark Horse Experiment. The last time that I saw it, they were in the Docklands and now they are in West Melbourne. It is more like the original Blender Studios; an old factory with exposed struts supporting the roof. Entry is down an alley, its flagstones covered in aerosol paint from the children’s spray painting classes that they run. And it still has that blend between street and contemporary art.

Miniature Worlds: Stone and Goonhugs

Occasionally going to multiple galleries in an afternoon can reveal an interesting comparison, even if it does mean suffering Melbourne’s light rain and the cold wind. For example, Adam Stone’s Trust Me, 2016 is a 3D printed miniature plastic model of a roller door covered in graffiti crushing a watermelon. It is an oddity amongst his other works at Fort Delta. It is also odd because coincidentally there is another exhibition of miniature models on a similar scale in Goonhugs’s exhibition, “Tiny Writers” at Dark Horse Experiment.


Goonhugs, Tiny Writers (photo by Yvette Crozier)

At Fort Delta there are two exhibitions. Spencer Lai’s “Beat Peace, lovely, lovely”, a funky minimalist contemporary sculpture exhibition, and Adam Stone’s “Cane Toad” exhibition.

“Cane Toad” opens with two glass doors with the image of Lance Armstrong on them and then a lot of bronze painted bananas with faces. Cast bronze jokes are a bit heavy handed, playing on an antique art world joke that goes back to Warhol, and jokes about topical figures, Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, and Tiger Woods don’t last long; I couldn’t recognise the faces.

So, back to the miniature model buildings. Both Stone and Goonhug’s models are excellent, sensational as miniatures, and both refer to graffiti culture.

Goonhug’s miniatures at Dark Horse Experiment are complete with every tag, every poster, and sticker. They loving recreation of specific locations, empty shops, ‘abandos’ (abandoned buildings) in Melbourne and Toyko, except that all the grime and weeds appear slightly larger. There is the indulgence is in details, in creating miniature rubbish bags,  miniature dumpsters and miniature rubbish. They celebrate the aura that taggers and sticker slappers, like Goonhugs, have given them. It is the current version of a boys own dream: making models and doing tags.

The room at Dark Horse Experiment of sticker tags, 3000 GOONHUGS, is a better representation of Goonhugs work. In the middle of the room sit couple of casks, the ‘flagons’ that add the ‘goon’ to his name. Repetition turns the tags into a pattern like wallpaper, following from Warhol and Ai Weiwei.

The Suburbs in Melbourne’s Art

In Melbourne’s suburbs we still live in houses with bullnose verandahs, wooden fretwork and other Victorian architectural ornamentation built on a network of roads laid out in nineteenth century. The dream of domestic bliss was transported to the Australia, much like rabbits, foxes and other introduced species. Now the British home, like the other introduced species has gone feral creating sprawling suburbs around Melbourne and Sydney.

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember' 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember’ 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Mass suburban living was a nineteenth century invention. It’s inventors, the local councils and property developers, had very little experience of suburban life; they might have grown up in a suburb but it was very unlikely that their parents had, and highly improbably that their grandparents had. Without experience, or any other evidence, many assumptions were made about suburban life. One popular assumption about the suburbs are that they are devoid of culture and yet this is where the majority of artists now live.

Just as modernists painters strived to depict the new urban environments of the modern city, the post-modernists strive to depict the suburbs. Generations of artists have grown up in Melbourne’s suburbs and some are now countering the romantic myths of locations of creativity by depicting the suburbs in their art. How to depict the suburbs is an important question for contemporary artists. What is important in a depiction of the suburbs?

Performance artist, Michael Meneghetti told me, “My house looks exactly like a Howard Arkley painting.” Meneghetti lives in Brooklyn, the outer suburb of Melbourne and not the one in NYC. The suburbs with all their ‘featurism’ was the main complaint of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness. Yet the Howard Arkley celebrates this featurism of the patchwork of patterns.

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

In Melbourne sculptor, Jason Waterhouse plays with the familiar shape of houses and by distorting the materials of suburban life. Urban intervention artist, James Voller installs photographs of suburban houses on suburban objects. And Adrian Doyle has long used the suburb as the central feature of his art.

There aren’t that many, in Melbourne. I could include Reg Mombassa’s pop-surrealist images mythologise suburban landscapes and Ian Strange’s (aka Kid Zoom) painting, film, photography, sculpture, installation and site-specific interventions involving suburban houses. Many artists must still be in denial about their suburban roots for there is a lot of anxiety and paranoia in the assumptions about suburban life.

In his recent exhibition of paintings and installations, ‘Never Forget to Remember’ at Dark Horse Experiment, Doyle returns to the pitched roof form of the suburban house. Doyle’s ‘Coin House’ consists of a basic house form made of one dollar coins on a marble slab. It is the obvious image for suburbia but does it tell the enough of the story of suburbia? Perhaps, Doyle’s patchwork of images in his paintings are better at depicting the diversity housed in the uniform buildings. His paintings of suburban existence tries to get that mix of ‘sarcastic nostalgia’ in a mix of techniques and paint. Of course, Doyle’s suburbia is a matter of nostalgia, memories and dreams because he has lived in the Melbourne’s inner city for years now.

Body of Work

When I arrived at Dark Horse Experiment Casey Jenkins, dressed in her metallic jumpsuit and high leather boots, was talking to a friend and having a smoke out the front of the gallery. It was at the end of her lunch break and she soon returned to start her work in the gallery.

Casey Jenkins, Body of Work

Casey Jenkins’s Body of Work is a three week durational, community-engagement performance artwork. Jenkins really works the idea of ‘work’ and ‘body’ and to some extent it worked.

Work is an important subject for a contemporary artist to examine; it defines us and in some cases, shapes our bodies. There are so many issues about work, from identity and gender to comparative rates of pay, that it was hard to find a focus in Jenkins, Body of Work.

Jenkins was setting different pay rates on days, this ranged from a negative fine of $1,200 (the amount street artist, HaHa was fined for about an hours work) to $1,586,852 p/h (the amount Mark Zuckerberg accrues per hour). These extreme differences did give Jenkins a couple of days off in the three weeks.

The difference between this work and reality tv shows, like World’s Toughest Jobs, is the gallery and the employers.

The gallery for Jenkins this was more of an installation, the antique punch clock, typewriter, the workbench, the bed. Sometimes she was hooked up to microphones to amplify her heart beat as she worked and the labour was screened live during working hours via the CCTV cameras. In someways the windowless gallery space appeared as a dystopian work environment with objects arranged for display rather than function.

The choice of jobs for Jenkins was more of an interaction with the employer. It required the engagement with people, provoking the public to invent short jobs that required no skills and could be done in the gallery space. In this respect both the jobs and the employers were less real than on a reality tv show. The poverty of the public imagination explains much of Jenkins work: sex acts, body painting and erotic polaroid photographs to compile tax receipts. Jenkins said many of these employee relationships were idealised, representing how the participant would like their boss to behave.

I wonder what would have happened if nobody had employed her? Is there much use for unskilled labour these days? I left the gallery as Jenkins got back to her ‘work’ updating someone’s Twitter account.

Jenkins has been a lot of news articles about the piece in The Guardian and The Melbourne Broadsheet. Jenkins is not a stranger to publicity the SBS2 The Feed’s report ‘Vaginal Knitting’ on her earlier work Casting Off My Womb has be viewed on YouTube 6,481,137+ times.

I have a growing interest in tenacious, hard-working performance artists. I have been seeing a lot of performance artists work hard recently from Amy-Jo Jory breaking rocks in Listening to Stones II and Matto Lucas working out in Endomorph, with dreams of becoming a Mesomorph. Maybe this is sympathy, because of they are amongst the losers in the art world along with art critics. Probably more due to being particularly impressed by local performance artworks by Stuart Ringholt, Michael Meneghetti, Peter Burke and others further away, like Tania Bruguera.

Concrete Stuff

Will Coles “I Fucking <3 Melbourne” at Dark Horse Experiment; Coles is being ironic with the title of the exhibition – he is based in Sydney. And Coles’s exhibition has a cement mixer sized load of irony.

I have to declare a conflict of interests in writing about Coles’s exhibition because Catherine and I bought two of his small works at the exhibition. Coles cast concrete objects made me laugh (really), it made me cry (not really, but there was some sentimentality in some of the works) and it made want to buy. It made a lot of people want to buy; there was a queue of buyers at the desk. Will Coles was also giving away 40 prints to the early birds along with 1 trillion dollar bills with a portrait of him smoking a cigar, so lots of people at the exhibition were going home with some of his art.

Will Coles "Might Is Right" and small works

Will Coles “Might Is Right” and small works

As this was Will Coles’s first exhibition in Melbourne it was a bit of a mini retrospective with a sample of his well known works from the crushed cans to the TV sets. The small work, the cans, phones, remote controls, etc. were grouped around “Might is Right”, a large gold Buddha holding a gold Kalashnikov. The “Memorial to the Unknown Armchair General”, an armchair and pouffe cast in concrete, provided another focal point. His gallery editions are cast various colours of resin and cement. I hadn’t seen Coles culture jamming prints before but although competent and ironically funny, they aren’t as good as his sculpture.

Memorial to the Unknown Armchair General

Memorial to the Unknown Armchair General

You can read my article about Will Coles in Trouble magazine about Coles work in relation to Jasper Johns and the history of sculpture. For more images see Land of SunshineWill Coles Hits Melbourne”. And there are still more of Coles works to find on the streets of the Melbourne.

Will Coles Crushed Can on Melbourne street.

Will Coles Crushed Can on Melbourne street.

Will Coles mask in Rutledge Lane

Will Coles mask in Rutledge Lane

Doyle’s Subtopia

I am acquainted with Doyle – he is a “friend” on Facebook (whatever that means). “Just call me Doyle,” he said when I first met him in 2008 and he was indispensable in organizing the Melbourne Stencil Festival but for two years – he didn’t know my name and was calling me “punk”. I didn’t care; Doyle calls everyone “punk”. A man about Melbourne’s art world, Doyle is the initiator and director of Dark Horse Experiment (formerly Michael Koro Galleries) and Blender studios in the building behind it, Melbourne Street tours and the Napier Crew. I’ve seen a couple of exhibitions of Doyles paintings, they are good paintings, combining fine art and street art techniques. (See my 2009 blog entry about Doyle’s paintings.)

Doyle – suburban house stencil – Fitzroy

When Doyle told me that he was going to be the subject of a reality TV I felt that this was typical the way that the world was going. (Would the ABC really sink so low? Yes, easily, I thought.) I saw the documentary crew following him around at an exhibition opening at Blender and rough cuts on his computer. It didn’t sound like a good idea,  – Doyle as a representative artist in a reality TV show sounded like a horrible idea. (I could think of worse, like Kevin Rudd curating the Australia’s pavilion at the Venice Biannual, but I had to put my imagination into gear, whereas, Doyle is all too real.) He comes across as a wide boy, a bit dodgy, always talking in self-obsessed but engaging manner  – “we are going to open a gallery and sell all this shit to big end of town.”

Then I heard that the director, Jacob Oberman was exposing Doyle’s idea of an artist who wants a reality TV show about him, I felt relieved. I was felt more relieved when I found out it was a two-part half-hour documentary. And after seeing the first part tonight on the ABC’s Artscape I was glad that there is a documentary that accurately captures the scene. The meat on the bone of the documentary is the art and the artists at Blender studios; the parts about Doyle and Pia Suksodsai’s relationship are a bit of a distraction and as shallow as suburbia.

Maybe Doyle still believes that it is a reality TV show; Doyle claimed on Facebook that it is “an art work in the medium of television by Adrian Doyle” and that it is “created by Adrian Doyle, Jacob Oberman, Piya Suksodsai,
Renegade Films, and ABC”.

“You’re making a documentary; we’re making a reality TV show.” Doyle says to the camera. I know which one I’d prefer to watch. (For those of you who want the reality TV version since the filming of the documentary Doyle has become engaged to Pia Suksodsai.)

Snyder in Melbourne

I meet up with visiting American street artists Snyder in Hosier Lane on his first visit to Australia. If you haven’t heard of Snyder that’s okay it like he is a famous artist. I had agreed to meet as a courtesy to another blogger (Carlsbad Crawl) and out of interest in what a visiting street artists thinking of Melbourne. Snyder knew that I would be writing a blog post about it.

Prior to Melbourne Snyder had been in WA but he thought he had better leave after becoming so notorious for his paste-ups that his photo was up at the local shops. Now he was planning to put a paste-up in Hosier Lane.

“I prefer blank urban walls and usually seek out urban locations void of clutter. I knew getting up high was my only option in Hosier. As we talked in the lane I kept my eye on the flow of delivery trucks which were taking turns driving in and out of the lane. When the one with the highest back apparatus approached us, I made my move.” Snyder told me later.

Snyder talked the delivery truck driver to park close to the wall so that he can do a paste-up high on the wall of Hosier Lane. Then Snyder pulled the rolls of paste-up out of his backpack of tricks, wallpaper glue, a large water bottle. He carefully unrolling paint dripped covered paper. Quickly mixing up the wallpaper glue in a paper drinks cup he smears it onto the back of his drip painted paste-up. Then he climbs on to the back of the truck and pastes up one of his “Rocket Pop Boy”.

Snyder's backpack of tricks

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy

After that we walked around the laneways of Melbourne, photographing and talking about the art on the wall. It was a great ranging conversation about street art. Snyder had already visited Fitzroy, guided around by Jes Richardson, and said that it reminded him a bit of his own neighborhood.

We stopped across the other side of the city at Dark Horse Experiment. Snyder and me both admired Ben Howe’s paintings – from a recent Metro show? The influence of his stencil art background is still very clear in Howe’s oil paintings. Snyder hung out with HaHa and the guys at Blender Studios for most of his time in Melbourne.

On his return home I asked Snyder to reflect on what had impressed him.

“The amount of high quality street art in Melbourne is amazing. I feel many of the artists I found and met, and the scene as a whole, is underrepresented world wide. In terms of location ‘Baby Guerrilla’ was my favorite. Each piece was high and isolated on urban walls. HAHA’s canvas stencil work is a technique I have never seen before. Truly amazing! I loved the resourcefulness of Junky Project’s work. The work with the cans immediately became a favorite. Shida was one of the most prolific artists I found hitting almost every city I visited from Sydney, Melbourne and even the Gold Coast. CDH encouraged urban exploration which I really dig. AWOL crew’s rendered graf portraits were very impressive. Each and every illustration by Kaffeine caught my eye as well as the animated civilizations of by CIVIL. The amount of lanes and alleys of Fitzroy/Collinwood covered entirely with graf, pastes and stencils surprised me most during my visit to Melbourne.”

On the subject of urban exploration another one of Snyder’s projects during his stay in Melbourne was his Banana Splat Scavenger Hunt. I asked him how his Scavenger Hunt went. “As of now no one has posted a photo of each of the banana splats to my ‘Snyder Art and Design’ page, so there is not a winner. The contest deadline was March 1st, but if someone submits all 5 anytime in the near future, then a painting just might find their way.”

Snyder's Psycho Shower Scene Woman in Blender Alley. Thanks Snyder for the photos.

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