Tag Archives: environment

Fast Fashion @ RMIT Gallery

Relevant, insightful, frightening – are not words commonly associated with fashion exhibitions but “Fast Fashion: The dark side of fashion” at RMIT Gallery is an exception. It an exhibition that anyone who has ever bought clothes, worn a t-shirt or other cotton garment should see. It the exhibition that critically addresses the question: what’s the true cost of that cheap bargain hanging in your wardrobe?


Tim Mitchell, Mutilated hosiery sorted by colour, photograph 2005

The global environmental, social and political impact of mass produced novelty t-shirts and other fashion items is enormous. You will be horrified and distressed at the effects of sandblasting to make those distressed jeans. We are talking rivers running blue or pink or whatever this year’s fashionable colour is. Below-subsistence-level wages destroying workers and societies for garments that are only worn a couple of times. It is apocalyptic. I will never look at my wardrobe in the same way again.

The design of the exhibition is magnificent; even if there is a lot of information to take in. Videos, photographs and even a couple of mannequins help ease the information overload. There are soft seats made of bundled used clothes to both demonstrate the excess and give your feet a rest. With all the horror of fast fashion it is comforting that the exhibition also offers a slow fashion solution. Slow fashion can involve recycling and upcycling but it is also about how to be a responsible consumer of clothing. It is not difficult, no more expensive and it starts with not buying that: “I’m with stupid” t-shirt.

Fast Fashion is curated by Dr Claudia Banz at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. For those who are very interested in this topic there is an extensive public program of free talks to accompany the exhibition.


“Last Laugh” Recent Acquisition

It is good to see that the National Gallery of Victoria has purchased “Last Laugh” from Juan Ford’s recent exhibition at the Dianne Tanzer Gallery. The NGV has given me several pleasant surprises recently and I am warming to its new director, Tony Ellwood (see: The Trojan Petition).

Juan Ford, Last Laugh, 2012 (oil on linen, 107 x 92 cm)

“Last Laugh” is a realist painting about painting, a painting of paint – modernists do not have a monopoly on uniting materials and subject. The red painted paint is marking and smothering the plant as the man-made smothers the planet. It not easy to paint something that comments on the slow destruction of the planet but this painting comes close. This is not exactly Henry Lawson’s “blood on the wattle” as it is paint and not blood, and the botanical specimen is a eucalypt not a wattle; there are twists and turns in the narrative of all of Ford’s paintings. It is not a joyous image even though the sky is still bright blue for Juan Ford is an intelligent man and understands what sciences forecasts. The last laugh is the longest but also bitter and twisted.

Juan Ford’s “Last Laugh” is representative of many of Ford’s recent paintings as it is part of a series of similar paintings in his current exhibition and is similar to several paintings featuring Australian plants in his last exhibition. And there is no doubt, after a long string of awards, grants, commissions and group institutional exhibitions that Juan Ford is an artist that should be included in the NGV’s collection

The oil painting will fit into NGV’s collection in several ways and continue its narrative into contemporary painting. The question of genre is raised by these paintings, are they still life or landscapes or portraits of the nation through its flora emblems? Genre is one of those great post-modern subjects and genre mixes are a feature of post-modern art. “Last Laugh” is so much of this time and yet it obviously has many lasting qualities that will serve the NGV’s collection well in future.

As a long time fan of Ford’s work I wish, like all fans do, that he did more like his early work with engrave anamorphic images. His ability to paint that once was great has improved so much since then. (See my earlier post on Juan Ford.) But I can see why the NGV decided to acquire this strange and beautiful painting.

See also “In the Studio with Juan Ford” on Vimeo. http://vimeo.com/46172316

The Nauru Elegies

I remember landing at the Nauru International Airport in the early 1980s. Looking out the window the Air Nauru jet I could see a boom gate and a policeman stopping a couple of cars where the road crossed the runway. Air Nauru was an airline rented from Qantas; it was a cheap way to fly to Japan where my grandparents lived but it flew via Nauru. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauru The plane only stopped on Nauru for an hour to refuel but all the passengers had to disembark and go through Nauru customs and immigrations. The airport was a small building full of locals who had come just to see the plane arrive and depart. Looking out the plane window on take-off I saw the mined-out island, a field of white limestone spikes, like an alien planet.

I was reminded of my brief visit to that alien planet when I saw “The Nauru Elegies: a portrait in sound and hypsographic architecture” by architect Annie K Kwon and musician Paul D Miller, aka DJ Spooky. It is a project of Experimenta Utopia Now: International Biennial of Media Art; later in the week DJ Spooky will be performing the Nauru Elegies live at Shed 4 in Docklands.

Nature never made that – it’s a work of art! Not to get too enthusiastic about the natural beauty of a Pacific island that has been turned into bleak and denuded rock. Art, which once depicted nature, imitated nature and responded to nature, is now reporting on its absence, it disappearance and its destruction. New media and technology makes this reporting beautiful and artistic but it doesn’t distract from the impact of this ruin. And Nauru is one of the worst examples of human exploitation and environmental destruction.

At Blindside Gallery the white walls have been painted grey to match the sober mood of this elegy for the tiny nation state.

Central to the exhibition is the video projection by DJ Spooky, with a minimalist soundtrack featuring a string quartet and electronic sounds in several movements. Like the soundtrack but not slavishly responding to it, the video uses shots of Nauru are interspaced with geometric computer graphics. The camera is handheld, slow tracking shots looking out the window of a car as it bumps along the island roads, past the white limestone spikes where all the soil has been mined out, past derelict factories and derelict docks falling into the sea.

Architect, Annie K Kwon has layered more elements into this exhibition. Her lazar cut sculptures, each etched with the crest of Nauru, refer to Nauru’s now mined-out topography. Another, this time completely digital projection, also followed Nauru’s topography, or rather hypsography, the study of the distribution of elevations on the surface of the planet. And there are QR codes on the wall readable by mobile phones providing more information on Nauru.

Sustainable Art

The Counihan Gallery is showing Embodied Energy curated by Penny Algar and Edwina Bartlem. Embodied Energy exhibits the work of 13 contemporary Australian artists addressing sustainable contemporary art practice. The curators have also addressed questions of sustainable gallery practice: the foam core has gone replaced by paper didactic panels and the food at the opening was local including some great green olives. It is a timely exhibition opening on world environment day.

Not all of the art in the exhibitions makes you think about sustainable contemporary art practice. Some of the art in the exhibition merely expresses an awareness of the environment like Ros Bandt’s audio work and Robyn Cerretti’s video installation. The use of recycled or found natural materials, in most of the art in the exhibition, is such an established tradition in both modern and contemporary art that its inclusion is somewhat redundant. And there are contemporary Melbourne artists with more environmental concerns in their art practice, like Ash Keating, than the artists selected for the exhibition.

Much of the art was ephemeral installations, like Chaco Kato’s large wall work made of pins and dried grass: “A Weed-Scape, A Weeds Project.” In Hannah Bertram’s, “I found you in the garden. Some one had left you there”; the accumulated grime on old panes of glass had carefully been removed in rococo patterns. It reminded me of Duchamp’s Large Glass and Picabia’s photo of the layer of dust on it.

Green recycling into art is the theme of the installation and process artwork of Tony Adam. Adam’s plays with ‘green’ in the installation, both the color and praxis.  His installation is a process, an assembly line, from recycled material to art, made of recycled materials, in a vitrine. There is a wonderful attention to detail in Adam’s installation: the idea of ‘green’ appears on so many levels from the recycling to the green pencil case with green pens.  Moving through the installation tells the story. Adam’s is part of the installation, his activity and interaction with the viewers is part of the work (he will be working there Friday to Sunday). After talking with Tony Adams at the exhibition he gave me a badge made of an old bottle-top part of the final product from the vitrine (thanks Tony).


Artists, along with the rest of the population of this planet, are becoming more environmentally aware. An argument could be made that artists, from the Romantics onwards, have been the avant-garde of the environmental movement; indeed, the idea of “green politics” is a creation of German artist, Joseph Beuys. Consequently there is interest in the arts community for environmentally sustainable or friendly products, as well as, environmental issues.

Some art materials, especially oil-based printmakers inks, can be dangerous to the health of the artist; others are harmless natural products. The Museu d’Art Contemporary Barcelona warns visitors not to touch the art because of “unstable and toxic” materials; the best ‘do not touch’ notice that I’ve ever seen. And if the materials used are dangerous to the health of the artist, then their manufacture is dangerous to the environment.

Some art materials produced are produced in quantities that its manufacture has environmental impact. The impact of paper pulp mills on the environment is well known. Marble and stone quarries require backfilling and re-vegetation and.

Most art is intended to be durable and as a durable good it is intended to last forever, at least centuries, and the durability and longevity of art reduces the overall environmental impact.

But the ecological footprint of art is larger than just manufacturing, there is transportation especially the transportation of the heavy materials for some sculpture, studio lighting, gallery lighting and climate control are amongst the other issues to consider.

One way to be environmentally friendly in art is to use recycled materials, saving money and reusing waste. Artists have been featuring the use of recycled material in their art from early in the 20th Century. Artists like Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch were early masters of collage and sculpture from junk. I haven’t been to the Sustainable Art and Design Centre in Newton, part of the Reverse Garbage initiative; it is a pity that the Reverse Garbage initiative in Melbourne closed many years ago, as it was an excellent resource.

I have noticed more Melbourne artists, including John Bodin, Emma de Clario, and Alison Hanly, are using Tony Knoll’s invention, the Panelpop supports for their art. These “minimal carbon” panels are made of recycled materials and they are very durable. The surface is very smooth and matt like plaster and digital photographs can be printed directly on the surface. Panelpop do not require glass over the photographs or drawings further reducing their environmental impact.

Is the Art Alright?

Saturday, 22nd March, ABC news reports that the Degraves Street underpass has been damaged by road works overhead on Flinders St. The road works set off fire extinguishers flooding the shops in the underpass. I hope that this has not damaged the art or exhibition space of Platform as it is an artist run space that can really interact with the commuters using the underpass to get to Flinders St. Station. Please post comments if you have any more news about the underpass and Platform. I was just writing about Jen Addison’s exhibition at Platform.

Jen Addison exhibition Curio is fun, sometimes kitsch, or sentimental, or from a different perspective but that is what a curio is. There is a lot to look at in the scatter-style installation but it does add up. Addison has used many different materials and techniques, from sewing to sculpture. The Sample cabinet, where Addison is exhibiting is by the western stairwell in the Degraves St. underpass with Platform. I understand that this cabinet of Platform is for young artists, aged 15-25, but I don’t want to discriminate on the basis of age, when I say I enjoyed Curio.

Sleepless by Bonnie Lane is a video installation within an environment; the back room of Seventh Gallery has been turned into a bedroom. There are glowing stars on the ceiling and a bed, with pillow and sheets in one corner. It is dark and someone is singing a lullaby. A face projected on the white pillow is staring up, eyes open, sleepless. The conflict between a sleepy environment and the sleepless is not explored or explained. The viewers, like the video projector, are left to project their own sleepless thoughts on the room.

I want to try defining the technical art terms that I’ve used: ‘installation’, ‘environment’ and ‘scatter-style’. An ‘installation’ works with three-dimensional space of the gallery, or other exhibition space, such as the cabinets at Platform. The term ‘video installation’ is used to describe videos that are incorporated into the exhibition space. An ‘environment’, also works with the three-dimensional space, but alters the gallery or exhibition space to creates a new environment, like Lane’s bedroom environment. ‘Environments’ started with the Dadaists and Surrealists and returned with force in the 1960s. Installations started in the 1960s with Minimal art and Conceptual art. You won’t find ‘scatter-style’ in any art dictionary; it is my term for installations where there is an informal scattering of elements around the space, on the walls, floor and ceiling. It is an exhibition trend that started with Art Povera and informal exhibition styles in the 1960s. It became a real trend in contemporary installations.

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