Tag Archives: North Melbourne

Melbourne International Arts Festival

Art involves a risk, a risk for the artist that they might fail and a risk for the audience that they might not enjoy it. Sports, strippers and stuntmen are risk free entertainment for the audience; you will generally get what you expect. Art involves an investment by the audience that might not return value for their time, money and emotional investment. Not that the risks posed by art are that great, a waste of time, money and thought. I have been bored far more often than shocked and rarely hurt (use ear protection when going to live bands or night clubs).

A critic should take more risks in what they see than ordinary members of the public. A critic should be an explorer of new territory, as well as, being aware of the established areas. I have not been taking many risks recently going to events at the Melbourne International Arts Festival as they have been programmed by festival directors and praised by other critics. Arts festivals attempt, with their selection and discount ticket packages, to ameliorate the risk of sampling new work. In this respect I feel a bit negligent in my selection of items to report in this blog. I excuse myself as I am still recovering from all the secretarial work for the Melbourne Stencil Festival.

Seeing a production of Chunky Moves has become a safe bet for me, after the last three of their productions (Glow, Two Faced Bastard, and Mortal Engine) that I have seen. I know that they will take risks in new and daring dance productions. I know that they consistently produce excellent performances and I never know what to expect from a Chunky Moves performance except that it would high-energy contemporary dance. Certainly their production Black Marrow lived up to expectations in that it defied my expectations all the way through. Just when I expected not to see a face for the whole performance, a man in a three-piece suit emerges from the mass of bodies and starts to talk to the audience. I laughed, I cried, it was grotesque – it was life in all its swampy blackness. The sound, lighting and other stage effects combined brilliantly with the dance. The Merlyn Theatre at the CUB Malthouse, is well equipped for these effects and is an excellent venue for Chunky Moves.

I had less of an idea what to expect of Ray Lee’s Sirens at the Meatmarket even though by the time I saw the second last performance there had been a few published reviews. It was clear from the festival program that this did not fit into a conventional artistic format of a play, concert or exhibition. It was worth the risk its of ambiguity and minimalism as there was a lot of beauty in it. Sirens is low-tech, drone installation and performance. It required a meditative mind, a person capable of keeping silent and listening to nuances in sound to appreciate. The machines, tripods with a rotating arm with a speaker and LED light on either ends are turned on and tuned. A single oscillator provides the sound to each pair of speakers. Then a motor turns the arm creating a Doppler effect as the speakers swing around. The shadows projected onto the walls of the Meatmarket of Ray Lee on a ladder turning one of the taller tripods as other arms rotated around was surprisingly beautiful. In the darkness at the end of the spinning LED lights are another beautiful image. All of this made me keep on moving around the installation to see and hear it from a different angle.

Urban Art Agenda #1 – #3

Urban Art Agenda #3 is an international street and stencil art at Famous When Dead. This is the 3rd year that JD Mittmann has organized the Urban Art Agenda exhibition. The 1st Urban Art Agenda was held in the middle of winter in Shed 4, an old corrugated iron warehouse shed way out in Melbourne’s Docklands. The works was hung on temporary fencing partitions within this large space. The exhibition had a variety of artists from Europe, USA and, mostly, Australia, mostly, Melbourne, to be precise. And a good variety of styles, from cartoon style to multi-stencil realism but there were a lot of stencil art of urban landscapes by Kenji Nakayama, Fremantle, Logan Hicks, Klingatron and Ralf Kempken.

There are still many urban landscapes in the exhibition but there are many differences between Urban Art Agenda #1 and #3. JD Mittmann now runs Famous When Dead gallery and so the exhibition is properly hung in a white walled gallery. The exhibition appears less-street oriented; OZI’s “Tinker Bitch”, an image of a stripping Tinkerbell is one of the few street-style works. The exhibition is focused more on stencil art. Urban Art Agenda #3 has artists from Europe, USA, Brazil, Iran and Australia but there is only one Melbourne artist in; El Moocho, El Moocho is also the one artist in the exhibition using found materials in his art. His work using street signs is particularly effective; using a Stop sign for a painting to say ‘stop child soldiers’.

The technique of multi-layered stencils to create images of urban landscapes has been a constant feature of the Urban Art Agenda exhibitions. Kenji Nakayama from Boston is again in the exhibition with stencils of the Brooklyn Bridge. Stencil art is an excellent media for these images because the colour separation (often computer assisted) makes the urban landscape more aesthetic. However, there is little content to these urban landscapes, unlike the political and humorous content of the street style art. Orticanoodles, from Milan, and Penny, from London, manipulate their images more on the computer. But these stencil urban landscapes are becoming as common as once were watercolour rural landscapes.

Lunch & Last Supper

On Sunday Catherine and I had lunch at the Queen Victoria Market; spicy bratwurst with sauerkraut from the Melbourne Bratwurst Shop. Although it was nothing like the food served at the last supper but it was a delicious lunch – I picked up a flyer advertising a “Last Supper Foodies Tour” at the market, if the hyper-real experience of Peter Greenaway’s Leonardo’s Last Supper wasn’t enough for your senses.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper was a failure. Ask the monks of Sta. Maria delle Grazie in Milan who commissioned it. They were calling for Leonardo to come back and repair it shortly after he completed it. It was a failure of technique and materials. Restorers have been trying to repair it ever since. Like the restorers many artists have been inspired by this magnificent failure to attempt to complete it themselves.

Peter Greenaway version of Leonardo’s Last Supper at the North Melbourne Town Hall is a triumph of technique and technology. The installation is the same size as the refectory of Sta. Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, a portion of surviving frescoed wall with a window (allied air forces bombing destroyed much of refectory in WWII) and the opposite Renaissance fresco of a crucifixion are projected onto the space. In the middle stands a table covered in a white cloth. The table is laid out corresponding with the painting in all white plates, mugs, bread and chicken as in the painting. This three-dimensional hyper-real and arty white simulacrum is the least tasteful aspect of the installation.

The light projection onto the painting was impressive and dramatic; there is no narrator or a narrative to the 20-minute audio-visual experience. Days pass by as the light from a window crosses the painting. Greenaway plays with the image creating a baroque quality with chiaroscuro lighting, highlighting the variety of hand gestures, options for a restoration and explorations of light sources. For me the extreme close-up of the painting was the best part, the isolated and cracked bits of paint become a landscape that you travel across, as viewed through an art restorers lens. The last of the paint is about to fall off the wall. Leonardo’s Last Supper raises the question how much does the technical success matter compared to the content and composition?

I’ve enjoyed many of Peter Greenaway films and other productions for decades. I enjoy his love of intrigue and ability to assemble information into a dramatic presentation, as in his Rembrandt’s J’accuse (2008) or Darwin (1993). Leonardo’s Last Supper is part of Greenaway’s series of “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited” returning to the ambition of his youth to be a painter. Although the audience was encouraged by the ushers before entering the exhibition to move about during the exhibition there was little reason to do anything more than turn around to look at the screen on the opposite wall.

“Look beyond the surface. You won’t believe your eyes” is the sales pitch for this multimedia installation at the North Melbourne Town Hall. The festival website also suggested visiting “Domov Gallery, adjacent to Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, and see the series of prints that demonstrate Andy Warhol’s fascination with The Last Supper.”  I haven’t heard of Domov Gallery before; it is a small white walled gallery next to the North Melbourne Town Hall with half a dozen small prints by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s Last Supper series are just another popular image copied by Warhol.

Catherine and I walked back through North Melbourne stopping to look at the Thread Den on Webbs Lane. Thread Den has local independent designer clothes and jewellery, along with vintage clothing for men and women; it also runs sewing classes and has children’s craft room. We went down Webbs Lane so that I could photograph some of the street art there and had a look at the exhibition in Famous When Dead – Urban Art Agenda #3, an exhibition of international stencil artists from Europe, Brazil, USA, Iran and Australia. We then bought some bargain priced meat at the Victoria Market (there are always some good deals around closing time) had a coffee and took the tram home.

More Street Art Exhibitions

I was passing through Melbourne Central when I encountered part of the ‘Two Block’ Festival. It was a couple of temporary exhibition walls in the clock-tower foyer and a platform decorated with aerosol art. The freezing wind blowing into Melbourne Central was destroying some of the illustrations on paper but the other works were secured with cable ties. There were some stencil art piece by Floh, Megan Dell, Nicole Tattersall and others. I was particularly impressed with the collage of signs by Laser Fist; it was rugged and gritty but had formal beauty. There are many street art and street inspired exhibition on in Melbourne and I have only been able to sample some of them in the last month.

A Mugs Life by Scale at 696 combined street aerosol and illustration techniques to create paintings of arthropods (insects and spiders). This combination of techniques creates some beautiful results including the use of stencils to create a fly’s compound eye. The two paintings of dragonflies with their weathered wood supports were the best in this small exhibition. In other paintings Scale’s inventiveness has over stepped taste with the expanding foam maggots with the squash blowfly. Or has become corny, like the spider and fly or the person with raised hand reflected in the mosquito’s eyes.

Intergalactic Alchemy by Adi at Famous When Dead are paintings from the abstract end of street art influences. Painted in oil and acrylic on canvas, Adi uses aerosol spray creating blends and chaotic splatters and drips. Tom Wolfe asked: “Can a spaceship penetrate a Kline?” (The Painted Word, 1976, p.79); if a spaceship tried to penetrate an Adi, it would get entangled in the web of dynamic black graphic line work. The mystical is never far away from the abstract; in this exhibition Adi has a “Zodiac Series” of 12 small paintings and a triptych forming the Illuminati pyramid. But it is in the larger paintings that Adi captures ethereal beauty.

Guessing the gender of the artist from looking is a fun game to play, especially when, Tesura, the nom de rue (nom de rue = street tag) gives no clues. Looking at the whimsical and delicately detailed illustrations of Tesura I was sure that this was the work of a woman. This time I was wrong; Tesura is a big man from Canberra and this is his first solo exhibition. Famous When Dead Gallery Director, JD Mittman had first seen his work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2008. Along with a series of drawings on paper there were a four mixed media works on found supports; a common strategy for street influenced artists. I talked with Tesura at the opening about his illustrations and the theme of people in animal costumes. He told me that it represented the secret, alternative night-life; a life where he worked in IT by day and was an artist at night.

It is not easy to define what makes a street art influence, as this brief survey of recent exhibitions demonstrates. It is not simply techniques and materials like stencils, aerosol spray-cans, or found supports. What all of these street influenced artists have in common is a strong graphic style.

Kempken & Shiels @ Famous When Dead

Ralf Kempken‘s  current exhibition Now Screening is at Famous When Dead. In this exhibition Kempken’s explores the eye, cinema images and perception with his amazing hand-cut paper and canvases. By removing thin slices of canvas he can create whole images from subtle variations in the width of the slice. Up close you can see only ribbons of stretched canvas but stand on the other of the gallery and the images are revealed.

There are lots of images of eyes in this exhibition because, as Ralf Kempken explains in his artist statement, this is “an exploration of the process of perception…that all incoming sense perceptions are filtered or screened according to our own individual life experiences.” The cunning play between the screening of perceptions, the cinema screen and Kempken’s canvas screens of vertical stripes further adds to their meaning.

This play on the visual screen allows Kempken to do a little bit more than the usual Pop Art appropriation and translation images into another media. There are many images from the cinema: from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Dziga Vertov’s Man with Movie Camera, Luis Bruuel’s The Andalusian Dog along with images of Marylin Monroe and Andy Warhol. A long dissolve from Man with a Movie Camera featuring both the cameraman and the audience forms the image for the largest work in the exhibition. This double image is a display of Kempken’s mastery of his technique.

This is not the first time that I’ve seen Ralf Kempken’s amazing spaghetti stencil technique, it has been shown before at Famous When Dead and at last year’s Melbourne Stencil Festival. For the last two years he has been refining this approach to stenciling and in this latest exhibition he continues to develop his technique. He has moved away from the all black canvas, there are also red and rusted iron finishes to some of his canvases. He has also created double screens with intense optical color effects from the diffusion effects.

There are more works by Ralf Kempken currently in a group exhibition: I’m Here: Stencil + Street Inspired Art at Ochre Gallery in Collingwood. This exhibition has more of Kempken’s spaghetti stencil work along with a few of his earlier aerosol stencil paintings of modern Melbourne buildings.

Also at Famous When Dead, in the small backroom gallery, is an exhibition of photographs by Julie Shiels “Writing in the street”. Street art is an ephemeral art form and by documenting her ephemeral street sculpture pieces with photographs has created something that can be hung in a gallery and enjoyed at home. Using abandoned furniture and cardboard boxes found on the street with the addition of spray painted slogans. The slogans: “I’d rather be somewhere else”, “The last thing”, “All that remains” and “Will you catch me when I fall?” are similar to those of Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer with their provocative, truthful, statements to the reader. Julie Shiels in this series of photographs has given a melancholy voice to the detritus of a culture that has been abandoned on the street.

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