Tag Archives: minimalism

Sensations of Art

I walked down the stairs that connected the sun lit modern gallery to the darker contemporary gallery in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. My eyes had not yet completely adjusted and I found myself walking on something. I recall the sensations of walking on metal. Instinctually I stepped back to see what I had trod on. I then realised that I had walked onto a Carl Andre minimalist sculpture made of eight squares of plate steel laid out in a rectangle.

The rubber souls Dunlop Volleys would have had no effect on the plate steel. The gallery’s curator had probably intended such a sequence. Three distinct mental activities occurred in this interaction with Carl Andre’s sculpture: the sensations, the reaction to the sensations and an assessment of that reaction. The reaction to the stimuli, in this case was almost immediate, but distinctly different to my later neutral reaction to the sculpture.

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People react to Chunky Moves, Depth of Field, 2015 (images courtesy of NON)

To give another example, this time from contemporary dance. In the 2015 Chunky Moves dance production, Depth of Field choreographed by Anouk van Dijk these distinct mental activities were separated further. During the performance the audience was sitting at one end of the forecourt of the ACCA listening to the soundtrack on FM headphones and could see the forecourt, two roads and part the city sky line. Lots of visual sensations in the line of sight but which ones were part of the performance? The man who seemed to be watching from across the street, the two young women on bicycles, the man walking his dog , etc.? It was when the position of the man standing across the street matched the line of the dancers in the forecourt that I realised that the performance was larger than I had at first thought. My reaction to the sensations of the position of the man had changed, instead of extraneous sensations it was now being aesthetically assessed as part of the dance performance.

I cannot go further back to my initial sensations, or when I became aware that these sensations were a significant part of the performance. I cannot assess my reactions before I have the sensation, I cannot make an assessment before I react to the sensations.  Analysing this progression from sensation, to reaction, to the aesthetic assessment I cannot go further back, because there is no reaction before a reaction, no assessment prior to assessment.

I also become aware that this progression is essential to understanding both minimalism and some conceptual art. The neutrality of Duchamp’s ‘anaesthetic’ readymades, trying to reduce the reaction and the aesthetic to zero. Considering neutral reactions to sensations, John Cage’s 3’44” asks the audience to consider the background sounds that they would normally ignore from their aesthetic assessment.

Most art jumps from sensation to assessment as fast as it can. From the shock jumps of horror movies to being turned on by porn to the visceral power of rhetoric to the near panic attack of a Stendhal syndrome (the last time I experience a Stendhal syndrome was sitting down watching Chunky Moves Mortal Engine). I am not making an aesthetic judgement about how fast you move from sensation to assessment because, I’m not a fan of minimalism, nor am I making a judgement about how powerful the experience. But it is interesting to break the experience down into the smallest units.


Footscray Scores Again

With and With Each Other is now located on corner of Nicholson Street and Ballarat Road in Footscray. It is by the American sculptor, Tom Bills, professor of art and art history at University of California at Davis and a disciple of the father of hardcore sculptural minimalism, Donald Judd.

Tom Bills, With and With Each Other, 1998

Tom Bills, With and With Each Other, 1998

I have previously written about two other sculptures in Footscray: Bruce Armstrong’s Two Person’s Hugging and Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Footscray has scored again with this sculpture that City of Melbourne no longer wanted.

“For the past five years, With and With Each Other has sat in storage after it provoked controversy in 2002. Since then, the two giant blocks have remained hidden away at storage sheds in Clayton.” Clay Lucas, April 4, 2007 The Age.

With and With Each Other is a grey concrete minimalist sculpture of two mirror-image halves has been described as “looking like a pair of lungs” or “twin foetuses with erections.” It had been installed on a roundabout in Melbourne as part of the Construction in Process Sculpture Festival 1998 with a three-month permit but had remained on the roundabout for 4 more years. It was replaced on the roundabout at Peel and Dudley Streets by Island Wave, 2003 by Lisa Young.

Footscray isn’t a suburb that many Melbournians would associate with great public sculpture but they have never been to Footscray and hold attitudes about western suburbs that date back decades. Footscray is changing as Melbourne slowly turns west and the suburb now has an impressive collection of public sculpture. The Footscray railway station and other parts of the centre of the suburb are being redeveloped but you can still Franco Cozzo’s Furniture whose late night advertising in the 1990s has been burnt into my mind.


Campy minimalism & the Minimalist camp

Two local contemporary artists start the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick’s program of exhibitions for 2014. At the exhibition opening on Thursday evening the older locals around the cheese board were all aghast. They felt alienated and annoyed by the two exhibitions. Maybe the opening remarks of Su Baker, Director of the Victorian College of the Arts might answer their many questions. I don’t know if it did, I wasn’t going to hang around just to find out. I’d seen the exhibitions; there isn’t that much to see but what is there isn’t bad.

In Gallery one is “Diagonals and Some More Tangents” by Laila Marie Costa. It is Latino campy minimalism and subtle amusement at the materials along with some less subtle fun with the whole game of consumer culture, mass production and football. I loved the display case of the revolving Playboy and Win lighter case in the vitrine You Spin Me Right Round (Like a Record), 2013, along with her minimalist tributes to Barry Humphries, Jules Verne, Robert Rauchenberg, Paul Klee and others. Some of the work was a little obvious in the visual puns, like Dipped Wick 2012-14.

Laila Marie Costa is a Melbourne based artist who last year was artist had a residence at Residencia Corazon, La Plata, Argentina (she has a photo blog about that which is worth a look and shows her visual humour). Also worth a look is Laila Marie Costa there is Jason Waterhouse’s blog post about exhibition at Stockroom Gallery in March last year.  She is described as a cartoonist/illustrator, a zine editor and she makes funky plastic rings (there were some plastic rings on an egg cartoon in the exhibition Untitled (for Jean Paul Gaultier) 2012.

In Gallery two there is “Social Resonance” by Ben Taranto. Most of the space is empty except when it is filled with the sound of the the large steel sheet reverberating like thunder. There are two video projections of water; one over a blue black lenticular triangular forms, like a bar graph of the resonance. The sonic waves are portrayed as the ripples on the water. A single spotlight on a done of slumped glass on a steel square creates shadows with chaotic edges. You can transition through the surface of the water, you can see through the glass and you can walk through the space. Carmen Reid has written an introduction explanation of Taranto’s installation on the room sheet but the locals at the cheese board were unlikely to read it. Lots of stuff about Buddhism and empty space…

Ben Taranto is a recent graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, in sculpture and spatial practice who is focused on absence. This is his second solo exhibition although he has exhibited at the Counihan before as part of Moreland Summer Show, 2012. He has exhibited in places where I must have seen his work before including Brunswick Artspace 2013 Annual Open Entry Prize but I haven’t mentioned him before.

When a member of the cheese board jury declares that there was nothing to engage with in the exhibition I had to point out that the steel sheet made a sound when engaged. I wanted to add that if you can’t get mental laugh when looking at the work of Laila Marie Costa you either haven’t really looked or you don’t know enough about art history, football and what is unimportant in life but as the cheese board jury weren’t impressed with my first remark I kept it for you. Good selection on the cheese board, a good feta and a blue with bite – I didn’t try the brie or the hard cheese.


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.)


January @ Counihan

Counihan Gallery in Brunswick – The Miracles, Deborah Kelly – Drawn Out, Magda Cebokli

The Miracles by Sydney-based artist Deborah Kelly is both new and familar. “The works engage with ‘Old Master’ painting – the Holy Family of the European Renaissance becomes a contemporary emblem of art, science and sexual politics, for each photograph depicts the family of a child conceived through assisted reproductive technologies (ART), and posed as though for a Renaissance tondo.” (“Art, Irony and sexual politics: from Hey Hetro! To The Miracles” Prof. Pat Simons, Uni. of Michigan)

Families are dull subjects for photos but the Renaissance masters knew how to pose figures and the children obviously really got into the spirit of the image. Although the photos are modelled after Renaissance paintings these aren’t mawkish copies, Kelly’s images are referential, the contemporary world has not been removed. Kelly’s images are clearly from a different time.

I love post-modern art that engages with art history. Each of the photographs is titled after the Renaissance master that the photograph was based on and there was a slide show on the next wall of the paintings. I wished that a few of images were a bit larger, more the size of Renaissance painting paintings, as the round photos were only the size of plates (and I wanted a larger serve).

Drawn Out by Brunswick based artist Magda Cebokli is a drawn out minimalist experiment. “A simple theme. Four squares, on in each corner of a larger square. What are the possibilities?” (artist’s notes) Cebokli presents 24 possibilities, 15 mixed media on watercolour paper and 9 acrylic on linen. Most of the pieces are in greyscale with only a few colours introduced for dramatic effect in a few pieces. Minimalism can be boring but Cebokli saves us from that with intense optical effects in many of the pieces.


Exhibitions – September & October

I have managed to see a few exhibitions on Flinders Lane (Arc One and forty-five downstairs) in the city and Albert St. in East Richmond (Karen Woodbury Gallery, John Buckley Gallery and Shifted) in between the many meetings, emails, phone calls and wrangling with the Melbourne Stencil Festival website.

David Ralph exhibition ‘Extension’ at Arc One’s small “and” gallery space is just a couple of small paintings but Ralph’s paintings are always worth seeing. David Ralph’s painting is a marvel of contemporary techniques, drips and scraps and squeegeed of paint scatter the canvas. The images appear to be cut into the surface of the paint. The eccentric temporary imaginary architecture, tree houses with a space shuttle built on the back, the caravan for which Ralph is becoming known. The scenes are like something from Wm Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. “…houses in trees and river boats, wood houses one hundred foot long sheltering entire tribes, house of boxes and corrugated iron where old men sit in rotten rags cooking down canned heat, great rusty iron racks rising two hundred feet into the air from swamps and rubbish with perilous partitions built on multi-levelled platforms, and hammocks swinging over the void.” (p.90) Ralph could have found his palette of iridescent and nitrous colours on the pages of the Naked Lunch too.

“Tiny Tunes for Wee Australians” is an exhibition of small works on paper by Mexican artist Roberto Márquez at forty-five downstairs in Flinders Lane. Roberto Márquez has created an exhibition of Mexican surreal comments on Australia in mixed media collages with added illustrations. His tiny paintings of skeletons on pressed tree leaves are very Mexican.

Megan Evans “The Fall” in the side gallery at forty-five downstairs was using more dried leaves arranging them in post-minimalist ways in wall pieces, a framed arrangement and in a DVD.

The AK44, the Blackwater AR15, the Saber Defense Elite 5.56 and the Patriot P414 (US$1,125 RRP) sounds like the catalogue of a gun show rather than a description of an art exhibition. eX de Medici exhibition, “sweet complicity” at Karen Woodbury Gallery features delicately drawn images of all of these weapons. The pictures are drawn in a mixture of ink and mica that creates a thick and glittery line. The machineguns are set amidst neo-Rocco tattoo influenced background and wrapped in garlands. The background luxuriates in an excess of detail, dragons and waves or swallows and stars, completely fill the large sheets of paper. eX de Medici is a tattoo and fine artist which explains the tattoo motifs and the ironic machismo of titles, including “American Sex/Funky Beat Machine”.

Janenne Eaton’s “Bella Vista” is a fun exhibition at John Buckley Gallery. Janenne Eaton is Head of Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts. I thought that I was going to get away from the Melbourne Stencil Festival but there was more stencil and enamel aerosol paint in this exhibition. In “Only sleep cures fatigue” (2009) Easton uses a real bamboo blind as a stencil for the image of a window blind. Eaton also uses vinyl and decal bullet hole decals, LED lights and even rhinestones in her paintings contributing to their fun.

Shifted had two exhibitions Paul Batt’s “Mountain Portrait Series” and Andrew Gutteridge’s “A Linear Collection”. Batt’s “Mountain Portrait Series” is a series of photographs of the back of different peoples heads as they looked out over a view. It is a study in looking at someone looking at a landscape. Andrew Gutteridge’s “A Linear Collection” is a scatter of minimalist sculptures and or paintings. And it was hard to tell the Gutteridge’s sculptures from his paintings, a canvas with a twisted corner or another with diagonal cut into the surface. Lots of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that Gutteridge has collected together and played with. Much of this play is about perspective and the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional plane.


First Site & Platform

I haven’t been doing my regular day of visiting galleries in the past three weeks. I have been busy with home renovations and the Taoist Jihad exhibition at Brunswick Arts. Catherine has been writing a blog about our home renovations – Under Construction (emulating the diary of Samuel Peeps, in a small way but with more digital photos). I have been meaning to write something for that too.

Finally today I did get some time to go to the city. At First Site at RMIT I saw Kate Hansen exhibition “(re) surfacing”. Hansen’s paintings are beautiful surface textures inspired by the urban environment but that is all they are – surface.

Also at First Site Andrea Kaliviotis is exhibiting “Beyond the wall”. It is a boring example of what you can do with a piece of string; the most minimal exhibition that I have seen in a long time.

At Platform Bernadette Trench-Theideman “Eat The City”, is an exhibition of photographs and live plants growing in architectural models of the city blocks. The didactic panels are very didactic, educating the viewer with bits of information. The photographs are large format and look like staged propaganda. The message was clear; growing your own vegetables in the urban environment makes good sense. However, this was not supported by the choice of inedible plants in the exhibition – it is amazing that plants would grow under the fluorescent lights of the subway. Various northern suburbs organizations, Ceres and the ILma Lever Garden, were involved with the exhibition, along with Whitemoss, the florists. And even as I prepare lettuce from my garden for dinner I don’t think that it is art.

At Vitrine (part of Platform) artist and designer Paul Spence is showing great retro-futuristic night-lights. The centrepiece of the exhibition was the Vagyro; a night-light was a combined technology and eroticism. The exhibition space and the bed in the installation detracted somewhat from the elegance and quality of the night-lights.

In Sample (also part of Platform) Jody Cleaver ‘Flowered’ something to do with Pope Benedict XVI and, according to Cleaver “how faith and systematic beliefs relate to nature and sexuality in Australia.” The installation looked good with a DVD animation in a floral frame but ultimately had a confused or confusing message. Why a sculpture puppet of a pope on wheels?


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