Tag Archives: RMIT

Turning Ceramics Spiritual

“If you are coming to see me, I’m stuck in a land of nothingness (Never land)”

–       a translation of one piece of Persian calligraphy, from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri

Well, Melbourne is close to the Never Never.

I went to First Site Gallery to hear the artist talks and meet Mojgan Habibi, one of the artists. Mojgan Habibi is an Iranian-born, Melbourne-based artist working in ceramics and calligraphy doing her Masters in art at RMIT. The artist’s talk by Mojgan was more a conversation as there weren’t that many people; there was just myself, an Iranian calligraphy teacher, Amir-Navid Molaverdkhani and his two girls.

Mojgan Habibi, Spiritual Transformation, 2012, photo courtesy of the artist

I had seen Mojgan Habibi’s exhibition “Spiritual Transformation” at First Site Gallery last Saturday. It had made me smile, the many white ceramic spirals looked impossible to construct. They looked so fragile but also like spinning tops balanced or spiral galaxies in the middle of the gallery floor. I enjoyed the frozen movement and meditating on the spiritual message of the spiral, in a spiral of thought about the whirlwinds that took the Prophet Elijah to heaven, whirling dervishes and the universe. The spiral is a universal spiritual theme and a symbol of the universe.

For Mojgan the spiral also represents hope and change, hence the title of the exhibition – “Spiritual Transformation” and she sees a poetic alchemy and mysticism in their creation. “I think pottery making can be Karma Yoga or centeredness through action. The turning wheel, the rhythms of throwing with its steady flow of energy from hand to clay, the gestures of wedging, glazing and the transmutations of the fire, all of these involve selfless concentration, the letting go of everything except the work at hand.”

We talked about the spiral form in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and cosmology; one of the girls thought that they looked like whirling dervishes too and also like, ice cream.

Mojgan Habibi, Persian Calligraphy, 2012, photo courtesy of the artist.

“Spiritual Transformation” included a selection of calligraphy on ceramic tablets (the quote at the start is a translation of one of them) and so the conversation turned to calligraphy. We talked about the exhibition of Persian manuscripts, “Love and Devotion” at the State Library earlier this year. Mojgan showed off her calligraphy printed on her red t-shirt, in translation: “What passion, what passion, we are burning like the sun”. I like calligraphy I write about wildstyle graffiti even though often that I can’t read it any more than I can read Persian calligraphy; there is always the flow and placement of the letters. Later that day, while taking some photos in Hosier Lane for another blog post, I saw some tags with beautiful calligraphic qualities and felt it all come spiralling back.

(For more Mojgan Habibi’s ceramics see Art Thread Blog)

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.

Casting Sculpture in Melbourne

A foundry is needed to cast bronze sculpture. The industrial side of casting and erecting monuments should be considered on an equal importance to the sculptor. On the base of the Francis Ormond memorial there are words “cast by Robison Bros. Ltd.” on one side), and the sculptor’s name, Percival Ball on the other.

Robison Bros. had every reason to be proud of their work the statue as was the first full-scale figure cast in bronze in Melbourne. Prior to this all bronze statues had to be imported, although they might be assembled and finished locally, as in the case of Judge Redman Barry that was started by James Gilbert in England finished locally by Percival Ball.

Two Scottish brothers, James and Thomas Robison from Leith along with a third Scot, Henry Dodds, founded Robison Bros & Co. in 1854. They started as plumbers and coppersmiths but the firm soon expanded to became Melbourne’s most important engineering firm. Along with industrial manufacture and engineering the foundry workers at company were involved with casting the Burke and Wills Monument. Robison Bros & Co. finally closed in1973.

The first casting of a bronze statue in Melbourne did not mark the end of bronze sculptures for Melbourne being cast in Europe. Casting Australian sculptures in Europe continued well into the 20th Century, even with the time it took to ship the part back and forth between Australia and Europe – in some cases this added years to completing the sculpture. Over a decade in the case of memorial to Sir John Monash: in 1937 William Bowles won the competition to create a memorial and the bronze statue was cast in Italy prior to the outbreak of WWII but only finally completed and installed in 1950.

Bronze casting uses the lost wax technique, or more correctly lost-wax casting, for it is the wax that is lost and not a lost technique which is in continual use for centuries. Often for a life size or larger figure the clay model is divided into six or eight pieces and after casting the pieces are welded back together. At each stage in the process of casting and reassembling there is a degree of remodelling of the sculpture.

“Foundries can take anywhere from 15 to 60 per cent of sculptures budget, depending on how much casting is involved.” Louise Bellamy “Sculptors and a cast of thousands” (The Age 3/9/2005)

There are currently three foundries specializing in sculpture in Melbourne: Meridian Sculpture Founders, Coates & Wood Sculpture Foundry and Perrin Sculpture Foundry.

In Fitzroy there is Meridian Sculpture Founders. Peter Morely started Meridan in 1973, the same year that Robinson Brothers shut down. (Was Meridian named after the Meridian Bronze Company in England?) Notably artists that Meridian casts for includes Louis Laumen, Peter Corlett, Peter Schipperheyn, Lisa Roet, Ron Robertson-Swann and Maria Kuczynska.

In Northcote Coates & Wood Sculpture Foundry casts for partner Ewen Coates, Inge King, Adrian Mauriks, Pauline Clayton, Peter Blizzard, William Eicholtz and others.

Perrin Sculpture Foundry in Cheltenham casts for Rick Amor and Sister Gail O’Leary, a Melbourne-based religious sculptor.

The Francis Ormond memorial at RMIT is Melbourne’s first locally cast bronze statue.

LMFF Culture

L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program – Material Culture – Counihan Gallery – Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion – Sophie Gannon Gallery

Spinner at the opening of Material Culture

Spinner at the opening of Material Culture

All the exhibitors in “Material Culture” at the Counihan Gallery are RMIT Textile Design alumni. The hanging of “Material Culture” is exceptionally well done; the exhibition looks exciting from the women spinning on the podium outside before the opening, to John Brooks “The object in flux II” hanging from the ceiling in the foyer, to Gina Gascoigne “Siphonomore” made from optical fibre and light, the exhibition enticed the visitor in. At the far end of the gallery, Plush! had set up their workshop with mannequins, loom and sewing machine with their paper patterns and yarn hanging on the wall. 785cm of Kim McKechnie’s linen and cotton “Memory Cloth (Notes from my Grandmother)” hung in a great curve. In the online information Carmila Stirling wondered if her delicate hemp and cotton piece would survive being pinned to a wall but it did and looks fantastic. Really, the curatorial team should be congratulated. The macabre skeletal knitted wool one-piece bathing suit by Michelle Browne “La vie, la Mort” really appealed to my taste.

Michelle Browne “La vie, la Mort”, knitted wool, 2012

Opening of"Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion" at Sophie Gannon Gallery

The best parts “Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion” at the Sophie Gannon Gallery are the collaborations between the artists and the fashion label, the reason for the exhibition. Del Kathryn Barton and Romance Was Born created a quilt with painted figures by Barton and material that Romance Was Born use in a very long dress that is also on exhibition. Lucas Grogan and Rittenhouse also have an impressive collaboration with clothes made Grogan’s distinctive blue and white patterns. Grogan is also exhibiting a large embroidery, “Welcome Home Babe” 2011. Julia Devila and Material By Product also have a harmonious collaboration with surreal gothic style. John Nichoson and Josh Goot take 70s heels to a new level exploring the post minimalist possibilities of coloured Perspex heels.

There are some less impressive collaborations in the exhibition. Two large photographs by Nan Goldin derelict sheik style from a series with American model Erin Wasson are used in publication by Scanlan & Theodore. Rittenhouse used Gemma Smith’s curves in fabric for a little black dress. And Something Else used digital remixes of Ken Done coral reef paintings in their fabric print.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the LMFF Cultural Program. Vetti has photos of the LMFF Windows By Design at David Jones (part of the LMFF Cultural Program).

Melbourne’s Art World

Melbourne’s art world exists in buildings, on the streets, in the minds, words and actions of people. And these people, however many there are, exist within architecture, in a greater geography and even seasons. Understanding the art world is important to contemporary art because much of contemporary art depends on the art world as a support, like Renaissance frescos depend on the walls of palaces and churches for support.

Melbourne’s art gallery season lasts from late February to November. It is too hot in December and January, along with the disruption of the many public holidays in these months. March and early April is busy but interrupted by Easter and ANZAC Day long weekends. The high artistic season for Melbourne is October, the first month after the football season where several arts festivals compete for the public’s attention. January is often a time for silly art news – a fried Sidney Nolan, paintings by a toddler and other stunts. In November and early December there are many end of year exhibitions by art students or commercial galleries showing collections from their stockroom.

Looking at Melbourne’s art world on a map (such as the ones in Art Almanac) it would appear that there are several clusters of galleries. Most of the galleries are in the CBD, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond. There are a few clusters further out on High St. Armadale, Toorak Rd. and High St., Northcote (Melbourne street names make up for in repetition what they lack in originality). Beyond these inner city suburbs the spread of galleries gets thinner as you move further out from the CBD.

The major visual arts institutions of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art (ACCA) are located in the arts precinct along the St. Kilda Road spine.

In Flinders Lane there are many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries and rental spaces. Just off Flinders Lane there is the famous Hosier Lane with some of Melbourne’s best street art. There are also galleries associated with tertiary institutions in the CBD especially at RMIT which has strong visual arts and design programs.

Out of the CBD the greatest concentration of galleries is in Fitzroy and some of the most interesting are on Gertrude St. Most of the galleries in Collingwood are on the edge of Fitzroy on Smith St. or the small streets around Australian Galleries on Darby St. In Richmond most of the galleries are along the very short Albert St. High St., in Northcote has several rental spaces and artist run galleries in shop front spaces. And south of the Yarra the cluster of art galleries on High St in Armadale may look impressive but mostly it is the preserves of antique dealers and the blandest of art galleries. There is a slow move of galleries northwest towards Brunswick and North Melbourne due to affordable locations and access to public transport. The spread of art galleries is similar to the Melbourne’s street art with an inner city and inner suburban core that quickly diminishes in intensity and quality at the outer suburbs.

Melbourne’s art world also exists in the endless talk about art. Talk at gallery openings over glasses of wine, talk in studios over joints and still more talk. And the discussion is continued on websites on community radio, on the very occasional ABC TV show, in the free street papers, in the local art magazines. Melbourne’s public love an art scandal to talk about but the rest of the discussion is more important. And the sum of all this talk – forms and informs people’s idea of art in Melbourne.

How large the art world is a matter of philosophical debate. There is an Arthur Danto’s art world where a relatively few people carp endlessly about art (Danto, The State of the Art, New York, 1987, p.122). Or George Dickie’s more expansive art world that includes “every person who sees himself as a member of the art world is thereby a member.” (Dickie, Art and Aesthetics, Ithica, 1974, p.36). Howard S. Becker goes further than Dickie by including the gallery attendants, the art shop employees and paint manufactures, “all of the people whose activities are necessary to the production of the characteristic works which the world, and perhaps others as well, define as art.”  (Howard S. Becker Art Worlds, Berkeley, 1982, p.34)

MoreArts & ArtLand

In a patch of grey blue gravel on a vacant lot beside the train tracks two sheep formed of growing green grass graze. If we are what we eat then sheep are grass. The grass and weeds along the fence-line frame this surreal sight. It is Candy Stevens’s “Landscape Gardeners” part of MoreArts.

Candy Stevens, “Landscape Gardeners”, 2011

Following up on my previous post, Paradigm Shift in Public Art, the annual MoreArts exhibition is a series of installations along in Moreland along the Upfield train-line between Jewell Station and Gowrie Station. There is a lot of wasteland that once was part of the light industrial area beside the tracks.

Many of the installations are site-specific. Tobias Hengeveld “Lookin’ Back Down the Line” used Brunswick stations old station office and ticket booth for the installation site. At the now un-staffed station the strains of American folk music echoed inside the disused station; from the ticket booth you could see warm orange light defused through a screen.

Many of the installations took advantage of the ubiquitous chain-link fences around these disused sites. Sansern (Zood) Rianthong’s “The Fence” used plastic straws to draw images on the fence. The chain-link fences also provided some security for the work. Michelle Robinson’s “Fugitive Piano” looked somewhat clichéd and by the time I photographed it the piano stool had become fugitive – so much for the effectiveness of the chain-link fence.

ArtLand at RMIT’s Brunswick campus was a geographically logical end for my ride to see MoreArts and many of RMIT’s students had wanted to participate (60 of them). But the result was poor quality art plonked everywhere around the campus with little consideration for the location; lots of stuff hanging from trees. Amongst this there were some gems, like Sharmiza Abu Hassan’s “Metamorphosis” where locally collected Kurrajong seedpods were painted with a Malay motif and attached in a pattern using Velcro strips to the trunk of a tree. Ricky Bhutta’s “Brunswick’s finest” had images on t-shirts that referred to the factories and graffiti opposite the carpark.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan, “Metamorphosis”, 2011

The most convenient way to see the exhibition is to walk or ride a bicycle along the bike track that runs parallel to the train tracks. And there were plenty of people walking and riding the trail to see the exhibition although many missed seeing all of the installations in MoreArt – I spoke to one couple who had only seen two installations between Brunswick and Moreland. There are a number of bicycle tours and walking tours of the exhibition.

Kallie Turner, "The Taste of Salt", 2011

MoreArt is an interesting exhibition for many reasons, one being because it is also in competition with the huge amount of street art on the walls along the railway line (contemporary art installations vs street art).

Brian McKinnon Kicks Ass

Does anyone else like Brian McKinnon’s art?

I hated Brian McKinnon’s current works on canvas when I first saw them from across the Counihan Gallery at the “Reclaim and Sustain” exhibition. His text based mixed media art looked like awful adolescent arts and craft project with those kids foam letters and ink jet prints stuck to the canvas. I had to force myself to take a closer look and then I realized that they were visually rich, complex and enjoyable.

Brian McKinnon's paintings at the Counihan Gallery

There are slices of cheap ink jet prints of European cemeteries forming columns alternating with strips of industrial enamel paint. This creates a pattern of hypnotic repetition across the canvas to support the text. The process of creating these canvases appears to reflect the history of European colonization of Australian – a cheap, exploitative process to produce some temporary results is mirrored in McKinnon’s bricolage.

“No thought was given to longevity…” McKinnon writes in his artist’s “statement and warning”. Many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. There was and is little thought given to longevity of Australia, it is like the process that McKinnon uses to create these paintings.

And as I write this I realize in the words more understanding of Brian McKinnon’s current work. That the “awful adolescent arts and craft project” inspires and haunts the work of all artists – I had been looking for art that reflected the obsession, invention and the amateur in these art and craft projects. Something kick-ass going beyond being stupid and ugly. Maybe, I like his art because it fits into my agenda, or maybe it is just easy to write about it. I have been looking for art that expresses the horrible racist political situation in Australia.

Brian McKinnon"A Matter of Haste"2011

“Its all about the money the mining our sacred burial sites mean nothing.” In cheap foam letters on McKinnon’s “A Matter of Haste” 2011. That says it.

Brian McKinnon has paintings on exhibition at “Reclaim and Sustain” at the Counihan Gallery and “Girt by Sea” at RMIT School of Art Gallery. I’d seen McKinnon’s earlier paintings before at previous exhibitions at Counihan Gallery – there was one of these paintings in the “Girt by Sea” exhibition at RMIT School of Art Gallery. McKinnon’s earlier paintings are graphically strong but were a bit too much like a protest posters for my taste. “What if…” at “Girt by Sea” rounded out my appreciation of his art, in this work the combination of pattern woodcarving and collage elements of the lid of “Flying Dutchman” tobacco. It invites the speculation what if the Dutch had colonized Australia instead of the British… write an essay about that.

McKinnon’s current paintings provoke so many thoughts ranging from Australian politics to McKinnon’s references to the art of William Blake and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. But it is their kick-ass attitude and intensity that hits.

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