Tag Archives: installation

Once was a beach

The skull of a blue tongue lizard, partially mummified by the hot desert air, is a natural sculpture. Jan Learmonth’s “Once was a beach” at Mailbox 141 is a superb exhibition with a strong environmental theme perfect for this record breaking hot summer.

Using found materials and the red sand from the Tanamai desert Learmonth has created beautiful, evocative dioramas in each of the mailboxes. The dioramas of a dry desert world that Learmonth has created are stark and terrible in their beauty.

The scenes include the activities of humans. Humans are clearly responsible for some of the sculptural elements in her landscapes. The bare desert environment makes simple sculptural forms even more powerful. The piles of seeds, stones, the rusting metal and the boats are evidence of their actions. And are humans also the creators of this desert environment?

Boat forms are Learmonth’s sculptural trademark, in this exhibition they are as small as jewellery. They hang or are balanced on wooden poles above the red sand. Learmonth’s boats in the desert are the perfect symbol for a disastrous environmental change.

These miniature worlds depict a harsh desert world where there once was a beach; inspired by the ancient seabed that now forms the Tanamai desert in central Australia. Are Learmonth’s scenes scientific warnings about our future? Has the Australian beach culture of sun, surf and sand created a desert of just sun and sand? 

Early January Exhibitions

Although most of Melbourne’s art galleries are closed for a holiday in January there are still a few exhibition of varying quality on in the CBD.

At Platform there is “Unrealised Architecture”, an exhibition of architectural models, plans, ideas and dreams that have not been realized for a variety of reasons from their own impossible nature to local council objections. Architects are very good at putting together displays, generally for presentations for clients, and this exhibition is no exception. And like all exhibitions of unrealised architecture it allows the viewer to imagine: what if they had been built.

Also at Platform, in Vitrine “Nutrimetrica II: 2008 Lukewarm” an evocatively lit installation featuring a wheelchair with gold details on a plinth of lime green videotapes with two bug lights. What this all means is anyone’s guess.

And in Sample, recent VCA graduate, Sam George is exhibiting “You brighten my day”. Five black desk lamps each on a plastic hemisphere plinth, in the glass cabinet are connected to a motion sensor. The motion sensor detects the movement of pedestrians in that corridor of Campbell’s Arcade switching the lights on. It is pretty simple fun switching lights on and off. The use of the desk lamp is probably inspired by the desk-lamp logo for Pixar animation.

At the City Library the “Periodic Table Project” by Marita Dyson and Stuart Flanagan is a good idea poorly realized. It is so poorly realized that their periodic table doesn’t fit on the wall and has two whole lines of elements presented on a different size on another part of the wall. At first I thought that it was an amateur group art project because of the variety of styles and techniques used in the illustrations that went with each element. The only consistent feature was the symbol for the element and its atomic weight somewhere in the lower left hand corner.

In one of the windows of Ross House is a small playful exhibit promoting latest issue of the youth arts magazine, Voiceworks. Amongst the exhibition is the work of Hayden Daniel; I recognized his birdman image from his exhibition last year in the Sample cabinet at Platform.

On the train there is the Moving Gallery with a photograph by Clare Rae from Kings Artist Run Initiative. Rae has staged a private domestic moment; it is has been carefully posed and lit like a penitent saint in a Spanish Baroque painting – St. Mary in the bathroom.

Collaboration Exercise

“Advance/Retreat” is an exhibition at Westspace curated by Brad Haylock and Mark Richardson. “Three experiments in transdisciplinary collaboration” occupy Westspace’s three gallery spaces.

In the middle of the first space, shut off by a chain-link steel gate, a large plant sits in a garbage bag a single root trailing to an empty glass.

The next space subtly vibrates both visually and aurally with fishing-line running in almost invisible vertical stripes across the white walls. (Coincidently my father used a similar arrangement of fishing-line to trap bats in order to study their homing abilities.) This is accompanied by an elegant video of male and female hands collaborating to string the fishing-line. And a sound piece that all worked together in a successful harmony.

The final space contains a scatter style installation by so many artists that it would be hard to imagine them all working together in the small space. “Working space” is a reference to the title of a book by Frank Stella.

“Advance/Retreat”is about lines: minimalist lines, vibrating lines, and dividing lines. Lines area major component of art, from visual lines to written lines, but that does not make them interesting. Lines might be essential for art but I don’t suspect that good art is about the essentials. Searching for creativity in artist-run-initiatives appears to be endless exercises rather than new experiments.

I don’t know if the number of collaborating curators, artists and designers (15+) added to the quality of this small exhibition. I can see the strategic advantage to the collaboration. Collaborations like this allow the artists to record more exhibitions on their CV and spread themselves thinner. However, collaboration should not be a goal in and of itself as it is simply a means of working.

Not Making Sense

Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney and Harriet Turnbull, Making Sense, Bus Gallery

Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney and Harriet Turnbull are involved in artist-run-initiatives; between them they have exhibited at most of them in Melbourne. Katie Lee and Harriet Turnbull are both on the committee of Conical Inc. another of Melbourne’s artist-run-initiatives. The “artist-run culture” as described in Conical’s website is an aesthetic preserve mostly for post-graduate fine arts students. Artist-run-spaces are not a culture, perhaps a sub-culture, but I doubt that it is even that, more of a clique, a circle or set of people aware of contemporary art.

As I moved around the exhibition I thought about what the exhibition could mean. The relationship between an artist’s practice and exercise; the logistics, movement, the exercise of mounting a contemporary exhibition like this compared to other kinds of movements. Making Sense is definitely contemporary art following the now academic history of contemporary sculpture from 1960s on. Bridie Lunney’s use of the artist’s body as a sculptural medium and Katie Lee’s deconstructing of the art gallery are serious features of contemporary art. I was then given the artists statement and had a second look at the exhibition.

Climbing around the gallery and finding the connections in the artists activity could have been fun. Katie Lee’s taking the gallery apart; cut a hole in the wall to show the space behind the ubiquitous white gallery wall. Climbing over the obstructive white plinths piled up in the doorway to the third gallery. However, any sense of play and fun is negated by the Spartan space and the neutral colors. And although this is a serious exhibition ultimately it appears as pointless as hoping on one foot on a spot, a motion that is repeated in the exhibitions videos.

Why bother replicating some types of interactions (unsuccessful collaboration, unstable interactions) in the world? It is not much of an end in itself. Especially if it “soon degrades into something that whilst resembling its origin, begins to make a lot less sense.” (Making Sense artists’ statement). Interacting with the exhibition is disappointing because in the end because Making Sense does not make sense, nonsense or fantasy, it just makes contemporary art.

BSG Exhibitions

The rooms and stairwell of Brunswick Street Gallery (BSG) are once again full of a diverse selection of exhibitions.

Katie Saunders, “Promonation” reminded me of those all those Australian images of the beach full of young and free muscular blonde fascists. Saunders’s image fills the gallery in a mosaic of individual cards, like those used in massed stadium displays to create giant images. The acrobatics of her almost identical figures appears perfectly choreographed, like the mass displays at recent the Beijing Olympics. Saunders is inspired by her childhood in China and Chinese propaganda.

Anastasia Wiltshire, “Interplay”, is a series of paintings of ambiguous interiors with subdued colors populated with children. Wiltshire’s draftsmanship is evident in her figures. Her paintings appear incomplete creating an atmosphere of fleeting time.

Emma Anna, “Dear Indigo” is Joseph Cornell-style boxes, blueprint Rayograms (Man Ray-style), text sewn together with blue thread and a small installation of a table and chair. The colors of the exhibition are largely white and blue. With all of these art history references and artful installation the installation felt crowded and slightly impersonal. Emma Anna has chosen to promote this exhibition in the Fringe Festival.

Skye Andrew’s punk paintings of text, “It never rains in L.A.”, are full of ugly colors, splotches and crude brush strokes. These are tough uncompromising paintings in a style that is deliberately crude and tasteless.

Imants Krumins, “Peripatetic Cow The” is a visually dyslexic digital photography montage. Like the title of the exhibition Krumins has rearranged the images. And the images that have been artfully aged creating a feeling of nostalgia. With the addition of text they look like images from a book and indeed, Krumins is an artist and author.

In the stairwell of BSG there is an exhibition of photographers from Red Bubble. And at the top of the stairwell the Digital Fringe has a projection. The Digital Fringe is part of the Fringe Festival. 

Platform – September

Along with re-branding itself this year with a crest Platform has included a garden and a video cabinet. It is remarkable to have a garden underground in a subway but it is surviving. The video cabinet is right at the back of the subway beyond the stairs to Degraves Street.

Sample, Ilia Rosli, ‘I Have a Circular Driveway’ is a video with installation; the installation matching the colors on the video to fill the cabinet. It looks good and the only fault that I could find with it was the dense content of the video itself, the longer you look at it the less coherent it appears.

Vitrine, Katy Bowman, ‘Mending’ is an installation window display about healing full safety pins and red, white and manila colors. The installation refers to the practice of artists as shamanic healers, ecstatically manipulating images, trying to mend the body (or the world) by recreating it. Bowman uses nostalgic images from old first aid books to sugar coat her medicine.

Majorca, Marita Dyson and Kubota Fumikazu, Macro-Micro, are two large works on paper one by each of the artists but they were so different in style that they appear completely separate.

Platform, Catherine Sewell, ‘The Playground Project’, is a scatter-style installation made up readymade elements. Sewell’s cabinets play back, play with, play off, play down, play up and play around using sports equipment, toys, playing cards, clothes, wigs and artificial turf. It looks like a lot of fun. This kind of art appears to require no talent but is well organized and considered, making this very contemporary style of exhibition accessible to the general public who view Platform.

This exhibition is timely because Kevin Rudd’s mantra “working families” stands in contrast to Catherine Sewell’s exhibition on the diversity of play. Trades Hall and the Union movement divide work and play equally, 8 hours of each; but Rudd has forgotten about play because it is not economically important. Artists (and other people) are not so clear about the distinction between work and play.

Architectural Art

Many architects are frustrated artists, and fortunately, sculptor Daniel Dorall is no longer one of them although his architecture training is still evident in his art. Dorall makes architectural models, not as unrealized architectural visions but as sculptural art with social critiques, subtle emotions and visual delights.

I went to the opening of Shaft, had a glass of red and talked with Daniel Dorall. I have been a fan of his work since I first saw it early in 2007.  For me, Shaft was like a mini-retrospective as I have seen many of the works before.  But in the past Dorall’s exhibitions have been in some of Melbourne’s smallest galleries, like Mailbox 141, (because these spaces suit Dorall’s miniature sculptures) or part of group shows. So it was a new experience to see over a dozen of his sculptures at Dianne Tanzer Gallery.

Navigating the corridors, symbols and references in Daniel Dorall’s sculptures can be fun. Like any maze there is an easy way in, we are all familiar with architectural models. Dorall  also uses the familiar images of a skull, a heart, a banner, twin towers, a cathedral, a soccer game, a picnic (and for the art historians, Warhol’s soup can and the Bar at the Manet’s “The Bar at the Folies-Begire”) as an entry point.

Once inside the maze of architecture of Dorall’s sculptures you are trapped, just as we are all trapped in the architecture of society, there is no way out of Dorall’s models. Maybe you could make it to the first aid red crosses located in deep in the maze, would you be safe then? Or trapped in a shaft?

The arrangement of rooms and corridors in Dorall’s models is very balanced, reminding me of Chinese calligraphy. The detail is amazing, a tiny crow is perched on the soccer goals, but the meaning is not immediately apparent. The pools of colored liquid, the vegetation, the animals and people that inhabit the area suggest stories, scenarios and ways of living.

Talking with Daniel Dorall he reminded me that quest for the right readymade railway model figurines for these models is part of the process of creation. Finding a woman in the right pose to copy the barmaid at the Folies-Begire’s pose was particularly difficult.


Along with Shaft at Dianne Tanzer Gallery there are other architecture-influenced exhibitions in galleries on Gertrude St.

At Seventh there is “the rebellious garden shed – a remnant childhood fascination revisited – “ by Dominic Kavanagh. Kavanagh’s shed has come alive and gone feral, up on four legs and vomiting out its contents. It is a wonderfully constructed fantasy but it has more depth.  We all horde of old junk/treasures in our sheds and we all have childhood memories of the shed as a place of wonder and mystery.

Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces looks like a construction site only cleaner and more pointless (and therefore art?). There is Willaim Seeto’s “Da Capo senza repetizione” with its wood frame twisting corridor with one-way mirror’s installed, even though you can see through the walls. And Nicolas Fenouillat’s “Iceberg” has an elaborate, over engineered exterior as if the interior was about to break out. Inside the Iceberg’s rumbling interior, made of Styrofoam, there is a video room showing an iceberg.

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