Tag Archives: Nicholas Building

Bored @ Blindside

On Thursday morning on the 7th floor of the Nicolas Building a small group of high school kids were waiting outside Blindside for the gallery to be opened. When the gallery attendant arrived about 10 minutes late and unlocked the door the school kids then lined up in the gallery along the path taped on the floor marked “End Zone”. They waited for the video and sound to be turned on and then took one look at Blaine Cooper’s installation “End Zone (Always do the Bad Thang)” and then left.

I was also waiting and watching the jeweler at work, a floor down across the light well at the Nicholas Building. I was hoping to the school kids would engage with the installation; jogging on the treadmill or playing the guitar as Blaine Cooper suggested in his notes on the exhibition. But the video montage of movie explosions and the rock music were not that inspiring or motivating rather they are too familiar and mundane. And neither the Marshal amp nor the treadmill had been turned on yet.

The gallery attendant told me that later that day at the exhibition opening Blaine Cooper would be running on the treadmill with guitarist, Nicholas Lam of The Vaudeville Smash, cranking up the amp.

I don’t know if I want to put that much effort into making some piece of contemporary art work and this not an isolated incident. Too much contemporary art is like a lame performance where audience participation is a demand rather than an option. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, not that the demand for participation encourages me to feel generous in my mood. Demanding that an audience participate is a sure way to annoy those who are feeling uncommitted and undecided. An audience may be willing to participate when the artist has already won the audience’s interest, sympathy, respect…

I’m bored now – I’m leaving.

Banksy in Melbourne

In 2003 when the world famous street artist, Banksy was 27 years old he visited Melbourne. In keeping with his secretive nature it was an unofficial visit and different from Keith Haring’s visit. (See my post about Keith Haring in Melbourne for more about early visiting international street artists in Melbourne.) Details of the visit are still sketchy.

Banksy came to Australia in April 2003; he had been invited to participate in the Semi-Permanent design event in Sydney. Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Dmote, Burn Crew and Perks & Mini created work at a warehouse exhibition in Alexandria, Sydney. Approximately 1,500 people attended but only Chris of Rotten Fresh has published any photos.On Banksys Forum bigwilly commented about Banksy’s attendance at Semi-Permanent (Feb 2, 2010, 11:31pm) “We flew Banksy out here for an exhibition that I ran in 2003. Rather surprisingly (even for back then) the man turned up. He then proceeded to create a massive collage piece on some panels that we had put together for the exhibition. All up it measured about 2.5m high x 9m long. Suffice it to say that this was quite possibly the biggest Banksy piece ever made (probably even bigger than the billboards he has done). The exhibition happened and was huge. We then took the panels down.”

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

Puzle of Burn Crew (a T-Shirt label) showed Banksy around Melbourne. Banksy had met Puzle and the rest of the Burn Crew at Semi-Permanent. “Puzle” now works as freelance art director and designer in Melbourne. Banksy and members of Burn Crew did a couple of missions spraying rats in various suburbs doing a couple of Little Divers, one in Brunswick and one in the CBD and lots of rats. Spraying policemen kissing in St.Kilda and various pieces around Revolver in Parhan.

A surviving now threatened Banksy rat in Fitzroy

Banksy came to Melbourne at the height of Melbourne’s own stencil street art phase but his secret visit had little impact at the time. Banksy has voiced his support for Melbourne street art; in 2006 Banksy wrote an article The Guardian (24/3/06) concerned about the buffing of Melbourne stencil graffiti for the Commonwealth Games. Banksy called Melbourne’s street art “… arguably Australia’s most significant contribution to the arts since they stole all the Aborigines’ pencils”. (See also Richard Jinman “Street art moves to a posh new hang-out” Sydney Morning Herald 9/4/07)

Melbourne local artists have defaced Banksy’s work in territorial disputes.  Sophie D. wrote a blog post about Alex defacing Banksy’s work back in May, 2009 (Alex was actually restoring a defaced Banksy, as Nerdbanite reported. Thanks CDH for pointing this out. See the Comments.) The owners of the Nicholas Building tried to protect the ‘Little Diver’ in Cocker Alley under a sheet of acrylic glass in 2007 but it was vandalized and destroyed in 2008.  In 2012 a parachuting rat in Parhran was  destroyed by plumbing. (For more on the disappearance of Banksy stencils from Melbourne’s streets see my post Another Banksy Gone.)

Banksy, Parhan  wall, 2011, pre-plumbing changes

Banksy, Parhan wall, 2011, pre-plumbing changes

The greatest impact of Banksy’s visit to Melbourne has been to expose the hypocrisy of Melbourne City Council towards street art. The City of Melbourne has used Banky’s parachuting rat (yes the one that council workers destroyed in Hosier Lane) to promote the city in their publication Hot Spots Winter 20011 (City of Melbourne, June 2011).

P.S. 29 October 2013, another Banksy bought the buff this year (see the report in The Age). I’m not very interested in the continuing story of Banksy in Melbourne. His influence, if he ever had much, has run out in Melbourne. Street art was not intended to last forever and it is almost surprising how many Banksy’s have survived this long.

September 2010 @ Blindside

I’m thinking about how to write art reviews/criticism as I consider how to review the two exhibitions at Blindside: Amanda Airs “Beach Box Blue” and Jacque Drinkall “Weather Underwater”. Should I bother to review bad exhibitions when I could just use my energy to write about the ones that I liked? But if I were to only review one of the two exhibitions at Blindside it would imply that I didn’t like the other without exploring the reasons for this choice.

Karen Thompson, Melbourne Jeweller wrote in her blog: “I find I can be affected by reading other reviews and media before seeing or writing about an exhibition, such that my reaction can sometimes be unconsciously formed a little by what I read. I counter this by usually not reading anything before seeing the show and writing my initial response, to be sure I understand my own opinion, and then find it really interesting how that can change with further reading etc. So, I’ll write my initial response before doing any research into the exhibition, and then write more after doing some more reading.”

I agree with this approach; in doing further reading I will first try to find out what the artist has done before this exhibition. I will further investigate the ideas behind the art, where it fits into the history of art and what it means to a culture. I will then read other critics opinions on the artist. So where does reading the artist’s statement fit into this program?

Blindside has been providing single A4 sheet folded catalogues with all of their exhibitions this year. Along with a couple of colour images of the work and exhibition details there is always a statement by the artist in these catalogues.

Jacque Drinkall’s artist statement for “Weather Underwater” is pointless nonsense, as opposed to nonsense with a point, like satire, parody, Dada or Surrealist nonsense. It is mental diarrhea – incoherent and messy. Like her exhibition the initial attraction of the photographs, videos and sculptural objects quickly breaks down on realizing that there is little connections between them. It appears irrelevant, so why bother trying to read Jacque Drinkall’s mind when all indications suggest that it is scrabbled?

“The culture and aesthetics of telepathy and psychic life permeates the ‘everyday’. My art works creatively with telepathy to better understand and change the world.” – Jacque Drinkall (“Weather Underwater”, catalogue)

Amanda Airs exhibition statement for “Beach Box Blue” was both coherent and expanded on what was already visible in her exhibition. She has located her work within the history of art (Bridget Riley and op art), she has explained her technique (spatial distortion through colour and the illusion of movement “through the use of contrasting colour and repetition of line and angle”) and, finally, she has added her personal experience of optical effects.

“Beach Box Blue” is a post-minimal installation of colored threads creating optical effects. I have seen other artists in Melbourne using thread to divide up spaces but “Beach Box Blue” is the most intense and optically satisfying of these works due to Amanda Airs choice of colors and painting the gallery wall to emphasize the contrasting colors.

I don’t think that artist’s statement should be included as a matter of course for all the art exhibited. My advice to most artists is not to write artists statements. Artists are often not the best people to write about their own art – how many media do you expect them to master?

Fashion Exhibitions

There is a museum of textiles in Lyon, a museum of fashion in Brussels, in Antwerp there is a gallery of fashion with a very contemporary style, and in Bath another museum of fashion. In Melbourne the National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road and at Federation Square both have galleries devoted to fashion. They are not a large spaces considering Melbourne’s fashion industry but the NGV does strive to put on a varied program of exciting temporary exhibitions on fashion.

Melbourne also has many fashion and textiles students who regularly exhibit their work, generally at the end of the year exhibitions. I often see exhibitions by RMIT fashion and textiles students, especially at First Site gallery at RMIT. Fashion photography is another way in which fashion enters the art gallery and exhibitions of fashion photography are common – I must see one or two a year without searching them out.

Galleries in Melbourne often have exhibitions where art, jewellery and textiles meet, especially during Melbourne Fashion Festival and Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Every year both fashion festivals have a program of associated events that takes fashion into the art galleries and exhibitions into fashion boutiques and other venues. There is often has several fashion photography or jewellery exhibitions along with other fashion associated art.

This year the programme of exhibitions associated with the Spring Fashion Week has included exhibitions at the NGV and State Library. There is an exhibition by The Age, “The Age of Fashion” in the square at the QV centre featuring fashion photographs from The Age’s archives and 5 mannequins displaying designer labels. It is an elaborate temporary exhibition made up of plinths, vitrines and platforms. On a different scale of exhibition and funding are the exhibitions: “Sue Barnes Studio” and “Black: an Exhibition”. “Sue Barnes Studio” is a small display of 8 photographs of fashion images, advertising and logos on the street at the Journal Bar viewing space, a vitrine near the café’s door. “Black: an exhibition” is contemporary all black jewellery by Vikki Kassioras and black ink drawings by Katherine Bowman. The temporary cardboard gallery space created for the exhibition in the Nicholas Building was elegant and functional. (See Melbourne Jeweler for a review of Black: an exhibition).

Considering all of these temporary exhibitions and temporary exhibitions spaces, the regular fashion exhibitions in Melbourne both at the annual fashion festival and during the rest of the year, it appears that Melbourne needs its own gallery of fashion and textiles with room for both permanent and temporary exhibition a gallery devoted to fashion. This would bring Melbourne in to step with other fashion capitals and add to the city’s cultural attractions.

Another Banksy Gone

Now destroyed the Banksy rat in Hosier lane

Vandals employed by the Melbourne City Council have destroyed a Banksy rat stencil in Hosier Lane. “Council clean-up claims Banksy artwork” Thomas Hunter  (The Age April 27, 2010) After the owners of the Nicholas building unsuccessfully trying to protect Banksy’s “Little Diver”, off Flinders Lane, from a freelance vandal who poured paint into the gap in the plexiglass. This time the Council destroyed a Banksy stencil themselves.

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

I know that many street artists, probably including Banksy, will look on this philosophically. The buffed space will be a canvas for new creations; this is good for the artist but it is not good for the public or the history of street art. Street art is not the property of the street artists – it belongs to everyone. Even if the artist intends for the art to be ephemeral there is no reason for their wishes to be carried out; the person giving the gift does not get to determine how the gift is used.

In a few hundred years time there will be tourists look at a piece of graffiti preserved under plexiglass, or its future equivalent, and read a notice that explained that this rare piece of street art was preserved due to unusual circumstances when most was removed at the time by the local authorities who viewed it as vandalism. And the tourists will shake their heads and comment: “It was the city councils who were vandals destroying this art.”

I know that this will happen because I have seen the sgraffito images of a knight on horseback in Canterbury Cathedral preserved under plexiglass. Many of the painted walls of the Cathedral were scraped clean of painted images by the authorities in previous centuries because they believed that such images were wrong. The current trend to remove graffiti carries with a similar religious fervor. In 1992 in France a local Scout group damaged two prehistoric paintings of bison in the Cave of Mayrière supérieure near the French village of Bruniquel in Tarn-et-Garonne, earning them the 1992 Ig Nobel Prize in archaeology.

What about future history? Or are we at the end of history when the past but not the present must be preserved?

P.S. 29 October 2013, another Banksy bought the buff this year (see the report in The Age) and last year another Banksy was been destroyed by plumbing in Parhran (see Signed & Numbered‘s report).

Flinders Lane

Melbourne’s CBD artistic centre of Flinders Lane is slowly being further gentrified. Galleries like Span and Upstairs Flinders Lane have closed, artist’s studios are closing, to make way for more inner city apartments and restaurants.

Flinders Lane has been slowly gentrified since its original incarnation as the garment district of Melbourne. Now there are fashion boutiques like Alphaville, designer furniture and jewellery boutiques. And there are plenty of bars and restaurants along Flinders Lane. The charm of Flinders Lane runs out as it crosses Elizabeth St. after that it is the boring business sector of Melbourne’s CBD.

Milton House – Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The mix of architectural styles along the lane range from the gothic revival of the cathedral, the eclectic style of Australian federation architecture, art noueveau and the international style of glass walled skyscrapers. Look up and see Melbourne’s only glass bottom swimming pool that extends a metre over the lane. There is also AC/DC Lane (formerly Corporation Lane) named after the rock band in 2004 and Melbourne’s only street sign with a lightening bolt through it.

Between 1945 and 1956 the fashion photographer Helmut Newton, was working from a small studio on the 5th floor of 353 Flinders Lane, “Pioneer House” which he rented for 5 pounds per month. The proximity to Melbourne’s rag trade was advantageous for Newton’s career.

Modern art came to Flinders Lane with Gallery A, established in 1959 by designer Clement Meadmore and furniture manufacture Max Hutchinson. It was a combination of a furniture store and art gallery; and it exhibited contemporary Australian modern artists, including Robert Kippel and John Olsen. Flinders Lane has been the location for many of Melbourne’s established commercial galleries, many specializing in Aboriginal art. There are also rental space and artist-run galleries and spaces in the buildings along Flinders Lane. There is plenty of exhibition space along Flinders Lane. The art at the Melbourne City Library foyer exhibition space has been generally disappointing this year. At the very top of the Flinders Lane there is Craft Victoria with information, a shop and exhibition space with excellent, avant-garde, craft exhibitions.

Mailbox 141 must be a difficult space to fill; the fifteen small glass fronted former wooden mailboxes in the small tiled foyer of 141 Flinders Lane do not make it easy for the artist. It might be the smallest art gallery in the world. However, it frequently has surprisingly good exhibitions.

Street art is featured just off Flinders Lane, on the famous little Hosier Lane (a street name from the area’s garment district days). With all of the street art Hosier Lane is now a popular location for wedding and advertising photographs, as well as, tourists and school groups who take more photographs.

Looking up Hosier Lane to Flinders Lane

The Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane is still a living cultural centre. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. But the antique lifts still work and the upper floors are full of studios, art galleries (Pigment, Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery), clothes designers, the Victorian Writers Centre and Collected Works Bookshop (the best bookshop for poetry and literature in Melbourne).

The high point of Flinders Lane’s part of Melbourne cultural may have passed but there is still a lot of life it. If you are going to visit Flinders Lane I recommend getting off at Parliament Station and walking downhill towards Elizabeth Street, as it will be easier on your legs.

The Museum of Electrical Philosophy

The Nicholas Building is the home to a lot of artists from the late Vali Myers (1930-2003) to the very much alive Stephen Giblett. They have their studios and exhibition spaces in the rooms of the Nicholas Building. It is also the home of Collected Works bookstore, the best bookshop for quality literature in Melbourne, along with the Victorian Writers Centre and other interesting shops. It is a wonderful old building that is well worth a visit itself, the mail cute in the stairwell and the antique elevators speak of another era of city office life.

The very name “The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” evokes all kinds of ideas about this prime force. The idea of a strange private museum, like a UFO museum exhibiting in glass cabinets things as evidence for their belief. And it is plausible, after all the Nicholas Building houses the offices of many a small and little known organization. The display at the door changes each month – then it was an electrical circuit that counted itself, kinetic sculptures powered by electric motors including a small revolving Madonna in a crystal. Each of them has had some electrical content.

There is a fringe to the art world, where there is an on going dialogue about the very nature of art and the way it is displayed. The Duchamp code of deconstructing the art world with ordinary objects has expanded to boring the audience with its continuous repetition. In articles by Jean Baudrillard and so many other critics on contemporary art there is an element of despair about this direction. And I felt, having written a thesis about Duchamp’s readymades, that I was part of this unfortunate conspiracy. But there is another side of Duchamp, and consequently the post-Dada fringe, Duchamp’s strange optical machines, his inventions, and chess obsession. It is somewhere between eccentric, prank, madness and life; it is the part that never stopped having fun. This is the part of art that is truly critical of the boredom of contemporary art, the alternative, experimental part outside of the art galleries. It is the Dadaist element manifest not just in street art, or zines but also in the creations like Jim Hart’s “Museum of Electrical Philosophy”.

“The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” examines the aesthetics of the museum, the act of putting things on display under a title. It makes us think about the evolution of the wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity towards contemporary exhibition practices (I recommend reading Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, 1986).  I haven’t seen that many museums-as-art before; Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s “Museum of Soy Sauce Art” (1999) was complete with a fake history, curatorial notes, a kiosk, and ancient, modern and contemporary soy sauce art. Another was the “Museum of Modern Oddities” (2001) that had its own curators and guidebook to explain the exhibits, combining both visual and performing arts. “The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” may be the smallest of these museums but it is a continuous one.

And, of course, there is the Museum of Electrical Philosophy Blog where Jim Hart writes about the Museum and the Nicholas Building.

(This blog entry is an edited version of an entry published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing as the Museum of Electrical Philosophy is still operating.)

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