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Tag Archives: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

LOL @ Counihan or how to laugh in an art gallery

People are laughing at the art in the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

That’s good.

Curators Catherine Connolly and Victor Griss have assembled ten artists with a variety of comedic voices from around Australia. If all the artists in the exhibition were comedians Jordan Marani is the one who swears a lot. In Colourful Language: Charm Offensive Marani moves from the sublime abstract to the profane explicit.

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Stephen Bird

Stephen Bird’s plates are the opposite of the usual delicate, tasteful and pretty ceramics.

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Leon Van De Graaff

Local Brunswick artist, Leon Van De Graaff has created a robotic two-handed routine satirising the art gallery opening: “A show about Everything and Nothing: The episode where Yuri and Leon get really drunk at an opening and sing.” Unfortunately the opening was louder than the volume of Yuri and Leon.

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Brisbane based soft sculpture, Alice Lang ironically comments on communication in popular culture with an Epic Fail.

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Danielle Hakim

Danielle Hakim’s “The End” is a simple, effective and ridiculous one-liner.

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Sharon West

Joking aside, there is the comic vision of Sharon West’s fantastic dioramas depicting scenes in the epic comedy of an alternate Australian history.

Several of the artists have already been compared to comedians. John Bailey in The Age compared the performance and video art of Anastasia Klose to Jackass and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Sydney artists Kat Mitchell was described as the “lovechild of silent film star Harold Lloyd and video artist Christian Marclay” by Dylan Rainforth in the SMH. The Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane described Ronnie Van Hout as “a master of slapstick existentialism” and, I have compared local Coburg artist, Julian Di Martino to a prop comic and wrote that his exhibition “should be in the Comedy Festival.”

Now he is. Is This Thing On? is an exhibition in conjunction with the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Aside from exhibition of cartoons this is the first art exhibition that Rod Quantock remembers in his thirty years of performing at the comedy festival. Which is a bit odd because humour, like all other emotions, is expressed in the visual arts.

So why hasn’t there been an art exhibition before in the comedy festival? Although humour has always been present to some extent in the visual arts, it has only recently become a central theme. This may be due to the epic failure of modernism, changes in public and critical attitudes towards comedy and the growth of importance of the white box art gallery, what the Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty, compares to “a straight man in a slapstick routine.” (Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution, 2009) It might just be because people have learnt how to laugh in art galleries.

Not that curator, Victor Griss plans to make a comedy art exhibition a regular feature of the comedy festival or on the Counihan Gallery’s program. That easily become the antithesis of comedy, predictable, dull and obvious.

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Melbourne Festival City

Melbourne has many arts and culture festivals: arts, film, music, food, comedy, fashion, stencils, flowers and gardens… They range from the “international” to the “underground” or “fringe.” There are so many arts and culture festivals in Melbourne that many overlap on the calendar. Currently the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival are both on.

Do all of these festivals add depth to Melbourne’s culture? Do they attract a wider audience and so build a larger audience base for art, music, comedy etc.? Or, are they rather a thinner, superficial, marketing exercise? The festivals pretend to curate and promote an aspect of culture while actually reducing it to a spectacle.

The arts festival is spectacle that can be marketed and managed rather than an organic culture. That the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) is dominated by marketing was clear to anyone who filled in the MIAF online survey; the questions were all about classifying the audience for the advertisers. There were questions about cars and travel rather than anything about the artistic content of MIAF. Sponsors and advertisers are important to fund a festival but the position should not be reversed; festivals should not become types marketing and publicity.

Part of the problem is that festivals have staff. The festival organisers try to prove that they are doing a good job at running a festival by running a bigger festival. The festival organizers try to attract more sponsorship, organize bigger festivals with more venues, more events and less and less definition of the festival. Many of the festivals lack of any curatorial supervision; whoever applies will be included.

Every year I get emails from artists complaining about the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The “Melbourne Fringe Festival” sounds very exciting, cool and interesting; the word ‘fringe’ is a good selling point. However the Fringe Festival is a criticism free zone, it is all-good, it is all promotion for the festival.

At least many of the Comedy Festival shows will be reviewed on the Groggy Squirrel; the Groggy Squirrel reviews live comedy in Australia. I went to one performance that was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival but I’m unlike to go to another. Janeane Garofalo bored me with her observational comedy that relied on reactionary television shows that I’ve never watched.

Melbourne’s festivals are just a marketing vehicle, another promotional expense for the participants, another advertising and sponsorship vehicle, and another festival package for the consumer. It is not as if you would notice these arts festivals walking down Melbourne’s street, not like the festivals of Xmas or Easter. Well, you might have noticed the Comedy Festival if you were walking past the Melbourne Town Hall last night with a stilt-walking Cthulhu but if you were on the other side of Swanston Walk you might have only seen the regular buskers. The existence of these arts festivals is an exercise in marketing rather than an organic result of the culture. They are a distraction from the creative process, not an enhancement.


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