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Tag Archives: jewellery

Maree Clarke Culture Worker

Maree Clarke has been an important culture worker in Melbourne for decades. She is from the Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta Wamba Wamba and Boon Wurrung. I’ve been looking for the right word to describe what Clarke does and I think that ‘culture worker’ says it all.

Maree Clarke, Ancestral Memory

Some people might think that ‘culture worker’ sounds clinical and neutral, without the romance that the word ‘art’ brings with it. Culture is a broader word, a wider set that includes art and a lot more. It doesn’t restrict, as a narrow definition of ‘art’ would, what kind of objects or actions should be included.

Clarke calls herself a cultural ‘revivifier’. Working to resuscitate and revive a culture is a heroic effort given that it had been on the brink of cultural genocide. Bring a culture back to life is not a terminal goal, it is an act of cultivation and growth as Clarke reclaims, re-thinks, re-imagines and re-interprets this culture.

I first encountered her work in public art in the city and Footscray (she was one of the artists in both Scar by the Yarra and Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom in Footscray). More recently I saw Clarke’s “Ancestral Memory” exhibition at University of Melbourne Old Quad.

In this exhibition Clarke explores the waterways of the Kulin Nation. The exhibition directly referencing the waterways of the university and the eels that still traverse them; next to the quad used to be a small lake and a creek. It is a contrast the sandstone 1856 building in its gothic revival style with cloisters around the quadrangle to create the impression of medieval England.

Two sets of elements hang over a large circular mirror each with their wall of interpretive information; evidence of ownership of land and a welcome to country. There is a huge glass sculpture in the form of a segmented eel trap at one end. At the other woven eel traps and necklaces of feathers and river reeds. The materials for the necklaces are local; the feathers from road kill and the reeds from the Maribanong river. The eel traps represent the aquaculture and ownership of the Kulin Nation, necklaces a welcome to country and the mirrors the reflective still water.

In 2018 I saw a lot of necklaces by her but I still don’t think of Clarke as a jeweller. I saw her necklaces at Craft Galleries, at Deakin Uni Campus in Docklands, and a whole display of her work in “Blak Design Matters” exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust. These long powerful necklaces that would be worth paying attention to for their cultural significance alone. Clarke has been studying the necklaces in the Melbourne Museum’s collection and creating her own versions. Thung-ung Coorang (Kangaroo teeth necklace) in 3D-printed form. (For more on Clarke see The Design Files.)

The scale of the eel traps and the length necklaces in “Ancestral Memory” is both an aspect of contemporary art and acts to emphasise the continued presence of Indigenous people.

Although “Ancestral Memory” is curated and created by Clarke it is acknowledged that it is a work in collaboration with cultural advisor Jefa Greenaway, several weavers and numerous glass workers. Culture work is always a group project.

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The Plastic Jewellers

In the foyer of the Counihan Gallery is selection of ear-rings with recycled components, recycled silver and plastic. TempContemp’s exhibition of sustainable jewellery is part of the “Art + Climate = Change 2019” arts festival.

Ann Welton, Flotsam and Simone Alesich, Gelo One

On Saturday one of the exhibiting jewellers and curator, Laila Marie Costa led walk and talk; or rather a talk with a walk to change the location. It started at the Counihan Gallery and continued, not far off, at Northcity4. The reason for this geographically extended talk was that TempContemp was also presenting “The Urban Gleaner & the Plastique Pt. II” another exhibition at Northcity4’s very small exhibition space (also part of “Art + Climate = Change 2019”).

Costa is an advocate for contemporary jewellery to have the same status as ceramics in the contemporary art world. She works with found materials and was exhibiting a pair of dramatic earrings built on inverted glow-in-the-dark crosses.

Northcity4 is a jewellery studio in Brunswick in a factory converted into studio spaces on Weston Street where seventeen jewellers work. Costa gave us a quick tour of the well-equiped studio with a forest of indoor plants. The studio tour was followed by a chat about both jewellery exhibitions and the use of plastic in contemporary jewellery.

Two more jewellers, Regina Middleton and Lauren Simeoni spoke about their work in the exhibition.

Lauren Simeoni uses fake plants as her primary material occasionally sneaking in precious materials into these compositions. In her hands the unnatural stamens, twigs and branches become necklaces and ear-rings.

Although they are using plastic as their primary material the horror of plastic covering the planet in a colourful layer of toxic chemical junk is very present in all their minds. Middleton describes an encounter with a Thai beach covered in plastic rubbish and the “tragic beauty of plastic” as it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Middleton creates displays of these tiny, weathered fragments of plastic collected from beaches; elegant display boxes of poisonous, anti-magical, gems.


Nicholas Building Exhibitions

Three sentence reviews of four exhibitions in Melbourne’s Nicholas Building, where there is always more than you expect to find.

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In Response, Craft Cubed Festival, Cathedral Arcade

A video loop of a site-specific performance piece by two dancers, Briarna Longville and Elise Drinkwater using jewellery by jewellers Ruby Aitchison and Annie Gobel. One of the necklaces of made of metal strips is on exhibition along with the video. At times it looks like puppetry of necklaces, at times a fashion parade but the work does succeed at a hybrid event.

Alex Walker and Nick James Archer, Visible Absence, Blindside Gallery One, Level 7

The empty experience of missing the building next door which has been demolished to build the Metro tunnel. The absence is made visible by some sheets of acrylic with minimal images printed on them. Some of the sheets of obscure the window that looks out on the demotion site, one is on a trolley and another is out in the corridor.

Jeremy Bakker, Unfathoming, Blindside Gallery Two, Level 7

“Unfathoming” suggests a reduction in depth and this witty little works by a clever artist  plays on shallowness. In his Manifest density (2018) various glasses have been melted down and poured into a mould made from the negative space of the glass. I could have lived without so much text accompanying the exhibition; the work spoke to me more than the printed words.

Matlok Griffiths, Hole of Mirrors, Reading Room, Level 6

Painted bronze hanging on the wall, a high art materials meets slacker art attitude in a dull resolution. Dumb doodling with a square of wax that was then cast in bronze and then painted. The Reading Room is a beautiful gallery space occupying one corner of the sixth floor.

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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. 


The Victorian Craft Awards And why I didn’t vote in the People’s Choice.

I went to see Victorian Craft Awards with Melbourne writer and textile artist, Celeste Hawkins who writes the blog The Art and The Curious. The Victorian Craft Awards are part of Craft Cubed, a festival of the handmade. While we were in the city Celeste and I also looked at the exhibitions at Westspace, Karen Woodbury Gallery and Mailbox Art Space (the current exhibition Freaks of Nature is also part of Craft Cubed) but as I haven’t written about craft for a while I will stick to writing this post about the Victorian Craft Awards.

Sun-Woong Bang, Unexpected Linkage

Sun-Woong Bang, Unexpected Linkage

The Victorian Craft Awards is a huge exhibition with over a hundred entries and spread across four venues all accessible from Flinders Lane: Craft Victoria, 45 Downstairs, the foyer of 1 Spring Street and the foyer Sofitel on Collins.

One of Craft Victoria’s attendants asked us if we found the luxury surrounds of the lobby of the Sofitel on Collins Street intimidating. Actually it was very comfortable and the exhibits didn’t look out of place as exhibitions in hotel lobbies often appear. Karen Terrens beautiful, intricate quilt, Sanderson’s Apprentice, matched the luxury of the Sofitel’s lobby.

Along with the judges awards there were also a People’s Choice Award. I’m not sure about popular choice awards for a number of reasons. It is not that I dislike the popular opinion or don’t think that it should be recognised. I have questions about the kind of judgement made in an unsystematic manner. What is it to judge something a popular choice? Is it what I would choose for myself, for someone else, for the world.

I haven’t given much thought about how to compare the practical and ornamental works. Nor have I though about how to compare the great variety of the crafts from in a wide range of materials used to creating jewellery, furniture and art.

Just because I like a work, get a laugh from it, does that mean that I want it to win the People’s Choice Award? Sun-Woong Bang’s Unexpected Linkage robot figure made of 3D printable polyamide, alcohol ink, acrylic paint and sterling silver is funny. Maybe that’s why it was the winner of the Jewellery Encouragement Award. Commenting on the ceramic work of Kenny Pittock’s All My Eggs in One Basket, Celeste tells me that he also has an amusing blog.

I suppose that I already have some biases as I’ve previously written about several of the entrants. In 2008 I reviewed Davern’s exhibitions at Craft Victoria and it was good to see her continuing this theme with three collaged broaches cut from biscuit tins in this exhibition. I mention seeing a Nicholas Bastin’s exhibition at Craft Victoria in a blog post about the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Culture Program in 2012.  I know the work of Sarah crowEST from exhibitions at Craft Victoria and her sculpture that was part of Plinth Projects at Edinburgh Gardens in 2013. I’ve often mentioned Julia Deville’s spectacular mix of taxidermy and jewellery in this blog and I reviewed one of her solo exhibitions last year. I visited Janet Beckhouse’s studio last year and in this exhibition she has a sweet ceramic figure of Ganesha reclining.  And I saw a sculpture by Takahiko Sugawara that I’d reviewed in an exhibition in April of this year.

Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Personally it seems like work for me to narrow down a list of quality work to a single work and the chance to win a $100 voucher at the Craft Shop wasn’t an incentive. Given that you can ‘vote’ as often as you like, it seems more like a free lottery than a popular choice.


Taxidermy Spectacular

Julia deVille: Phantasmagoria and Leslie Rice: Bacchanalia at Sophie Gannon Gallery.

Julia deVilla, Rocking Alpaca

Julia deVille, Rocking Alpaca

After the dining room theme of her installation, Degustation in Melbourne Now, deVille’s Phantasmagoria is more from the bedroom and the nursery. In Beatrix, a rabbit, wearing a black formal coat with tails, sits alert on an antique high chair. Rocking Alpaca has a white, baby alpaca standing on a rocking horse base. In other works a fawn and a rat lie in a crib and a piglet, decorated with antique lace, lies in an antique baby carriage. There are wind up keys in many of the taxidermy animals suggesting toys with a clockwork mechanism.

Julia deVille’s art is beautiful but it is the emotions that it causes, ranging from cloying sentimentality to mawkish horror, that amplify the charge this beauty. The spectacular sensationalism of her taxidermy installations give them a neo-baroque style. Her art makes it seem that aesthetics, like cute, horror, sentimental and nostalgia are more about emotions than beauty and that beauty is only another quality, added on top of an emotional response.

To concentrate on deVille’s taxidermy, especially the delicate work with the extremely tiny young animals, is to forget other aspects of the exhibition. The contemporary techniques of assemblage and installation, most notably in her jewellery work and the installation itself. Jewellery has always been a kind of assemblage technique, reusing old materials, resetting old stones but deVille makes it contemporary art. Her installation aspect combines with collecting antiques with contemporary art’s interest in the mechanics of display.

Although the installation of antique furniture that the work is displayed on does somewhat, alleviate the clinical white of the gallery. The paintings of Leslie Rice, dark bacchanal scenes painted in acrylic on black velvet, also help with the atmosphere. When I first saw Rice’s paintings I thought that they must have been bad ‘old master’ paintings with fugitive colours, that had been dug out as an accompaniment to deVille’s Degustation. Now that I am aware of them, I still have the same opinion; they seem stuck in the past and lack the contemporary sensibility that deVille brings to her assemblages of antiques.

It has been a couple of years since I have been to the galleries in Albert Street, East Richmond and things have changed. Where there were once half a dozen galleries now only two cling on (or three if we include the artist run space that was closed when I visited). Along with Sophie Gannon Gallery, Anita Traverso Gallery is still in Albert Street. It is not that they have all closed. John Buckley Gallery is now located in Prahran, Jenny Port Gallery is now in Collingwood and Karen Woodbury has moved to Flinders Lane.


The Spectacle of Art

I had a look at some art galleries at RMIT on Thursday: RMIT Gallery itself, First Site and the School of Art Gallery. I didn’t get to RMIT School of Art Project Space “Spare Room” in Cardigan Street, it would have completed the set but I didn’t want to walk to Carlton and back. Instead I walked around exploring the street art and graffiti in the laneways around Chinatown: Croft Alley, Heffernan Lane, Tattersalls Lane, Stevenson Lane and others. In the window of Villain at the QV Centre there was a display by Junky Projects. The contrast in the spectacle of Junky Project’s figures made of found bits of wood and junk and the manufactured customisable kits for sale in the shop made me stop and think.

Junky Projects in the window of Villian

Maybe it was the winter blues, I was not having a good day  – the reality of art reviewing, sometimes the reviewer is having a bad day. Maybe it was re-reading Stewart Home’s The Assault on Culture on the train. Reading about utopian post-WWII art movements put a kind of political edge to my dissatisfaction with what I was seeing in the galleries.

What I saw was all very nice, even the street art, but it really didn’t motivate me to want to writing about it. What was there to say? It was just more of the same. Yes, sure I could throw a few hundred words together about Marco Cher-Gibard and Caleb Shea exhibition at the School of Art Gallery. Both RMIT alumni have this untitled show. Cher-Gibard’s quadraphonic electronic sounds matched by Shea’s equally formal and synthetic sculpture. I’m sure that Shea’s sculpture would look great, maybe in a larger scale, out the front of or in the lobby of a corporate office block to add style while saying nothing.

The work of the gold and silver smithing students at First Site was very attractive, especially the work of Naoko Inuzuka, the winner of the 2011 Maggie Fairweather Undergraduate Award. It is hard to expect that jewellery would be relevant to anything but fashion – so, maybe my random selection of exhibitions didn’t fit my mood.

None of the art addressed anything of any relevance to where we are right here right now or the big issues of life and because of this it would never amount to anything. Maybe that doesn’t matter for the jewellery, maybe it should just as much as the sculpture which were basically jewellery on an architectural scale.

I didn’t start this blog to write endless reviews about Melbourne exhibitions or to cheer at the latest piece by a fashionable street artist. This blog is not a celebration. I started this blog because there was a lack of critical discussion about Melbourne’s art and culture. I think that Melbourne’s culture is too complacent and comfortable. I want to shake up people and get them to think more about their culture rather than simply comment on the production of more of the same.


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