Tag Archives: fortyfive downstairs

Postcards Exhibition

There are two exhibitions at Fortyfive Downstairs by Marco Luccio: “New York Postcards” in the main gallery and  “Immaginario” in the small gallery. It is difficult for one artist to fill the enormous space at Fortyfive Downstairs (I don’t think that I’ve seen a single artist do that before) with work of a consistent quality. This is especially impressive given that most the art in these two exhibition are small works that would each look good by themselves in a someone’s home.

Marco Luccio uses a variety of printing techniques. In “Immaginario” he uses monotypes to create fantastic miniature landscapes, very much in the tradition of Max Ernst’s Surrealist decalcomania landscapes. In his “New York Postcards” Luccio mixes rubber stamps and etching with other mixed media using antique postcards both as a support and an “impedimento”.

However, this “impedimento” on the post-cards, the printing, stamps, postmarks, and ink handwriting is largely ignored. The function of the postcard has been removed by making them art. Likewise the connection between NYC postcards, Luccio’s the neo-classical drawing style with the heavy lines, horses, and bodies appears arbitrary.

In an artist’s statement in video form Luccio refers to the postcards as “artefacts”; as they were antiques I wanted to know the source of the postcard, how were they acquired. Three vitirines offered clues about their construction; filled with materials and old albums of postcards they showed some of the process of their creation.

Although Luccio knows art history, he shows photographs of himself sketching in the Metropolitan Museum, he appears to be unaware of the mail art movement. One of the largest (by number of participants) art movements of the twentieth century, mail art, also known as the “New York Correspondence School”. It used the postal system both to distribute art and play with, as in Ben Vautier’s postcard The Postman’s Choice (1965) with a place for a stamp and address on both sides.

I was intrigued by the poster advertising for this exhibition because it reached Coburg.


Two Landscapes: Hancock & Smith

It is rare that a landscape moves me, so when I’m impressed by two exhibitions of landscapes it is worth considering why. I don’t find a lot of meaning in landscapes possibly because I am not attached with emotional investment to any place. However this week I saw two exhibitions of landscapes that were full of meaning.

Evan Hancock, Lake Mountain Victoria, 2018

At first I didn’t know what I was seeing, some kind of a landscape but what were all those vertical white marks? At Forty-five Downstairs a series of black and white photographs, “Light.Ash.White” by Evan Hancock that marks the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires. Each of those vertical white marks was a dead tree.

On February 7 to March 14 in 2009 Kinglake, Marysville and the Lake Mountain regions burnt. The catastrophic loss of trees, scars across a landscape at a scale almost too vast to comprehend. Hancock was not aiming for an emotional response from the viewer, nor are his clinical. Only in a couple can you even see a road often there is only nature to give a sense of scale and time to the images. The photographs convey the vast emptiness.

A few small documentary colour photographs lying flat on plinths in the middle of gallery provided context for the exhibition.

It seems a little ironic that the photographs were frame in black Victorian Ash timber.

Peter James Smith, Of Twilights Repeated Measure, 2018

Flinders Lane Gallery is showing “Round Many Western Islands”, by Peter James Smith. Smith is a polymath: BSc (Hons), MSc, MFA, PhD, the former Professor of Mathematics and Art, and Head of the School of Creative Media at RMIT University. His painting are post-modern landscapes; romantic-style oil paintings of seascapes and landscapes with white notes, like chalkboard notes for a lecture, diagrams and words written on top of them. The contrast between the rich, glossy surface of the landscapes paintings with the dry, matt white matches the contrast the interior comprehension and the exterior views of the scene. Here Smith’s encyclopaedic knowledge finds connections between science and art, mathematics to poetics, from ancient Homer’s tales of the resourceful Odysseus to the Opportunity Rover on Mars, from the ancient Aboriginal footprints in the Lake Mungo Desert to Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon, and more. A lifetime of knowledge and travel condensed into an exhibition.

This will be Flinders Lane Gallery’s last exhibition in their current location before they more to the Nicholas Building.


The Australian amorality

In Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) one of Byrne’s repurposed porcelain figure the wistful girl seated on a rock has sewn her lips together and has slashed her legs and arms, self-harming in despair. Byrne is also a ceramics conservator and uses the same conservation techniques to alter mass produced kitsch ceramics. She gives them a new political meaning with the judicious application of enamel paint.

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

I feel that I have failed as a critic this year because I did not write about “All we can’t see – Illustrating the Nauru Files” at Forty-Five Downstairs in August. Byrne’s figure was just one of the exhibiting artists in that exhibition. I wanted to address the deep systemic problems in Australia that have lead to this, however at the time I felt the pain depicted in the art too much and lacked the energy to write.

The Australian concentration camps are not the responsibility of one political party but are symptomatic of a deep lack of morality. There are so many examples of institutional child abuse, war crimes, genocidal activity in Australia’s recent history that all the apologies in the world cannot disguise the fact the country is amoral.

The cause of this Australian amorality is that either the majority of Australians or basic the structure of Australian politics is or both. At the foundation of this structure is the Australian constitution; a document without any protection of civil or human rights, a document that permits voting laws to be made on the basis of race. However the Australian constitution cannot be entirely to blame, it is merely facilitates a system without a conscience.

Nationalists consider that it a good thing for the subject of Australia’s criminality never to be raised. Denial, distraction and ‘no comment’ are the national character of a criminal state. You cannot have a civil debate when one side does not want to have one. Criminals charges must be brought against all those who participated in these crimes; only following orders, only doing your job, even only obeying the law are not excuses for crimes against humanity. And the Australian constitution completely rewritten so that these crimes can never happen again.


Three sentence reviews of some June exhibitions

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Fortyfive Downstairs, Emerging Artist Award  2018

A white ViewMaster-style stereoscopic viewer with a round magazine of surreal photographs by Ayman Kaake was one of two winners of the emerging artist award. The other was a bold abstract painting, Simple upside down spectator by Katie Erasure. Not that these winners were that far ahead of the rest of the exhibitors.

Lauren Simpeoni, Gift

Lauren Simeoni, Girt

Craft, Island Welcome

A great exhibition curated by Belinda Newick of necklaces in a wide variety of materials by fifteen intelligent and inventive jewellers. The exhibition is a reminder that the simple act of giving a necklace as a gesture of welcome, like a flower lei, becomes political because of Australia’s appalling treatment of Indigenous people and refugees. I didn’t expect such a political awareness in a jewellery exhibition but I welcome it.

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Arc One Gallery, Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Photographs of figures enveloped in fabric in matching landscapes along with some matching slumped glass objects. The sexy figures cocooned or wrapt in the fabric like surreal fashion photography. Long and Stent see this as some kind of achievement in depicting women but I didn’t see anything that David Lynch wouldn’t do.

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Anna Schwartz Gallery, Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

A series of metal bars on the floor and a video following in a woman’s footsteps as she walks around the city. The installation references the Global Women’s March initiated in Washington D.C. on 21 January 2017 and the 82 bars map the routes of the marches. It is an impressive installation but no revelations come from realising the reference.

Sunfigo, Reality

Sunfigo, Reality

Guerrilla exhibition Flinders Street between Batman and Russell, Sunfigo, Weaves

Using fluro pink nylon ribbon to sew images on chainlink fences is one techniques of Melbourne street artist, Sunfigo and it this technique has allowed him an exhibition near the NGV, probably closer than anyone would expected Sunfigo to get. Looking at Sunfigo’s work with views behind them adds to the images; his art keeps telling us to wake up to reality. This thief and vandal proof work is far more successful than Sunfigo’s last guerrilla exhibition in the city earlier this year.

Cassandra Smith, Water Life - Bathing Objects

Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

Mailbox Art Space, Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

The mailboxes are filled with a series of lumpy bronze sculptures to rent by the week and bathe with. Little photographs of happy renters are included beside some of the objects. For those who like their art small, eccentric and a bit weird. 


A gallery crawl down Flinders Lane

I started my gallery crawl at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane and worked my way down the hill to Elizabeth Street, having a look in the various art galleries. The art I saw varied from the beautiful, fun and engaging through to the why is this even being exhibited.

Lisa Seward “A thousand kisses deep”

Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep” at Forty-five Downstairs

Most of the commercial galleries were closed last Thursday for various reasons. Two, Arc One and Anna Schwartz were installing new exhibitions, Lesley Kehoe Galleries in 101 Collins Street was only open “by appointment” and it was too early in the day for Stephen McLaughlan Gallery to be open.

The only commercial gallery that I saw was FLG (Flinders Lane Gallery). It had two wall hanging sculpture exhibitions by the sculptors Richard Blackwell and Dion Horstmans. Blackwell’s curvy op-art sculptures are mesmerising and Horstmans’s look like the graffiti outlines with colour fades.

There were two exhibitions at Forty Five Downstairs. Mike Nicholls exhibition “Bird as totem” features both his wood carvings and works on paper; Melbourne sculptor Nicholls was a founding member of Melbourne’s first ARI, Roar Studios. And Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep”, an exhibition paintings, etching and installations. The only problem with Seward’s exhibition was that with 58 works it was a bit too much, too obsessive repeating a whimsical surreal thought about parachutes and jellyfish.

At Blindside, Majed Fayad “Fly, Sky High … Dubai” explores the neutral space aesthetic of airport passenger lounges with their bland aesthetics and complete surrender to international commercial interests. In Blindside’s second gallery there is a neon work, “Shift (corner)” by Meagan Streader and Genevieve Felix Reynolds painting on curved aluminium looks like a badly hung poster. There was also a video work, “I’m a steamroller baby” by Kray Chen from Singapore.

Miranda Jill Millen solo exhibition of paintings and ceramic sculptures My Kath & Kim was all boganfreude (a word coined by Brigid Delaney of the Guardian meaning “meaning the thrill you get from reading about bogans behaving badly”). The images based on the tv series Kath and Kim are so close to a copyright violation that only the legal fees are separating it. I think that the City Library can and has a responsibility to do better than simply having a publicly owned space for hire on a monthly basis that doesn’t take commission.

The ceramic cigarettes in Millen’s exhibition were similar to the textile versions of objects in Pimento Mori: Life and Desk Lunch by Chloe Smith at Mailbox Art Space at 141 Flinders Lane. However, unlike Millen’s work, Smith’s fantastic little exhibition is not laughing at outer suburban bogans, like Kath and Kim, but at everyone who has ever eaten at their desk. Smith’s round pimento shaped and coloured invitations were a perfect added detail.

And that concluded my gallery crawl down Flinders Lane and I wanted sushi for lunch.


Art Architecture @ fortyfivedownstairs

Stephen Nova “The Architectural Uncanny” and Dayne Trower “External Walls” at fortyfivedownstairs are two exhibitions that combine art and architecture. Art about architecture and architectural models as art are not unusual but that is because the subject is so important to us.

In the side gallery is Dayne Trower, a graduate of RMIT of Architectural Design, “External Walls”. “External Walls” is 24 almost identical plywood objects in wooden frames. I didn’t think at first that I would enjoy this minimalist work but Trower’s small models of external walls and stairs have methodical variations and alternatives to a defined site that work in a pleasing narrative sequence. “Put together as a whole, the sequence also presents an argument for an approach to architecture and a way of building.”

In the main gallery “The Architectural Uncanny” features five large works on paper in various media and seven large oil paintings on canvas by Stephen Nova.

The suburban house is a psychic icon, or as Nova describes them, in the title of one of his paintings, “The Memory Cathedral”. And Nova explores the inherent surrealism in these sombulist dormitory suburbs.

Nova depicts his architecture on a featureless tabletop or stage set, the atomistic nowhere of the suburbs. Combined with toys and other things Nova’s images are reassuring paintings of models of houses, often under construction and not inhabited. They are imaginary architectural models or architecture as child’s play.

The traditional imaginary home is surrounded by the white picket fence but what is underneath the artificial landscape of suburbia? Along with the comforting familiarity there is a threatening uncertain element to Nova’s images. In “House and Garden (See/Saw)” a diving board off the back porch leads to a trapeze bar, both suspended above a hedge maze. This hint of menace is part of the current tradition of the portrayals of uncanny suburbs.

(For more and photos of these two exhibitions see Habitus Living.)


Connections – November Exhibitions

You would expect to find some connections between a random selection of current exhibitions on in Melbourne. One would hope to make connections that reveal something of the zeitgeist. One exhibition could just be the idiosyncratic interests of an individual artist – I did not expect to see 9 artists in two different galleries working with plastic vegetation to be one of those connections.

The plastic foliage, flowers and vegetables are the undead, the eternal zombie version of natural vegetation. I feel that I keep repeating, but the fact won’t go away, that plastic will last for thousands of years longer than the oil paintings that I saw. Beauty may be eternal but plastic lasts longer.

At Craft Victoria eight local jewelers create “unnatural Acts” spectacularly curated by Lauren Simeoni and Melinda Young. The “unnatural Acts” are jewellery made from artificial plants. There are bell jars, petri dishes and other scientific looking equipment on a trestle table in the gallery. On the wall a spectrum of necklaces move from green to deep red. The unnatural media of plastic foliage was escaping into cracks in the whitewashed bricks on the gallery wall.

And at Mailbox 141 Sarina Lirosi’s exhibition “Forevermore” each of the mailboxes contained a plastic flower taken from “the grave of people I knew.” The plastic flowers are daubed with varnish and sparkles to capture the light.

It is not that plastic vegetation was the only connection that I saw on my visits to galleries this week – artists should not throw out their paints. There were some powerful exhibitions of paintings at fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane Gallery and Arc.

I enjoyed seeing Graeme Altmann’s exhibition “Coastal Boy” at Fortyfivedownstairs. Altmann’s paintings are good but his model boats are fantastic. These research and industrial boats are not beautiful; they are made from found materials, brass and metal parts. Pulleys, cranes, funnels and other equipment fill their decks and hang from their sides. They reminded my of Hieronymus Bosch’s ship of fools. Altmann’s oil paintings range from atmospheric to surreal costal landscapes; his painting “Before we got there” was a powerful image of light, water, rocks and space.

Flinders Lane Gallery had the urban landscapes of Garry Pumfrey “Obres Noves” depicting Barcelona. The old city of Barcelona, like Melbourne, is known for its winding lane ways, back street bars and street art. Pumfrey’s paintings would be timeless except for the presence of graffiti, the pair of runners hanging on the telephone line.

Arc One had “Fallen Light 2012” paintings by notable, Sydney-based artist Robert Owen is old school abstract painting but deals like all of the paintings in the optics of light and dark. The exhibition in Arc One looks like a hard edge geometric version of Rothko’s chapel. The series of paintings is connected, at least in title, to Owen’s work at the new Hamer Hall. I wonder how the individual paintings would look as the effect of the exhibition is created by the connections between the paintings.

 


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