Tag Archives: Robbie Rowlands


“Noooo! I don’t want to leave.” said the little girl to her father and walked defiantly away to look at the bandaged baby carriage creature with its grinning teeth on the far side of the gallery. She didn’t want to be torn so quickly from this world of strange creatures, uncanny objects and compelling machines and went around the exhibition again to see her favourites.

Sally Field

Her father wasn’t insistent, everyone in the gallery could see her point, this is a fantastic exhibition that well deserves a second look. Curated by Carmen Reid, Conspirators is at the Yarra Gallery in Federation Square and is part of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. I hadn’t been or heard of the Yarra Gallery before, it turns out it is the building opposite ACMI where most of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival is being held.

The exhibition is by local artists with a similar aesthetic to the work of Jan Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s stop-motion animations, ordinary objects, often as simple as stones, clay or cutlery, are both transformed and allowed to remain as it is. The walls of the exhibition display panels about his films and career and that also serve as an indirect explanation of the exhibition. Švankmajer’s themes of puppets and fetish sculptures are reflected in the work of a over a dozen local artists.

Aly Aitken grinning creatures of bandages and leather, like a combination of Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Bacon’s Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The clay manipulated by Duncan Freedman’s Love and other machines, reminding me of early Švankmajer animations, like Food. Freedman’s hand cranked machines making desperate sexual allusions in a purely mechanical manner. Nadia Mercuri’s work with glass and spoons reminding me of many animations of cutlery by Švankmajer.

The surreal appreciation of objects that gave material form to the surreal vision. Displaying the surreal aspect of objects as totem or taboo, repulsively and attractively physical. Sarah Field makes a lot of use of hair: a tea trolley of hair cakes, on a cow skin rug (I wonder what hair would taste like with chocolate and tea?), her long haired mop and bucket, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust, and her long haired toothbrush.

James Cattell

There are many fantastic sculptures in this exhibition. From Robbie Rowlands wooden suitcase that has been cut in a precise way, making what was once firm flexible whereas Terry Williams and Jenny Bartholomew’s grotesque stuffed objected are flexible by nature. The high light of the exhibition has to be the complex and macabre automata machines of James Cattell, that have to be cranked to be fully appreciated.  In curator and artist, Carmen Reid’s, Dwelling machines, two objects are connected with wires, threads or chains. Bringing these artists together creates an exhibition that, like the sculptures in it, is much more than the sum of the parts.

Carmen Reid


Thursday Research

There wasn’t much to many of the exhibitions at the galleries on Flinders Lane except for Craft Victoria and Robbie Rowlands’ exhibition “The Gardner” at Arc One. Even Robbie Rowlands’ art appeared a little limited in vision; a series of curved limp version of familiar objects with a title that is a bit of a joke or pun like a totem tennis pole titled “totem”. All the objects have a series of repetitive cuts along one edge allowing them to be bent. The selection of an-aesthetic objects from around the garden: the edge trimmers, the ubiquitous Hills Hoist, the wheelbarrow, chairs and a table. Basically it is the soft objects of Claus Oldenburg meeting Duchamp’s readymades in a garden shed.

Robbie Rowlands, "A New Low", 2011, aluminium ladder (image courtesy of the artist)

I have put some time aside on Thursdays to visit galleries, wander, photograph and do other research for this blog. Thursday is a good day for visiting galleries in Melbourne, as most of them are open. I can see a lot of galleries on a 2-hour public transport ticket and then write a post before the weekend. I write this to explain my blog writing practice.

This week I gave a short interview for a journalism studies student, Natasha from Monash University about urban problems like pigeons, rats and graffiti (see my post: Coo-burg). As I was in Hosier Lane I continued up the hill along Flinders Lane looking at the galleries. I have been trying to visit new galleries this year – it is too easy for a critic to visit and write about the same galleries over and over again. I still visit many of the same galleries simply because they are convenient but I want to try to keep a variety in the posts that I write about.

After the usual suspects on Flinders Lane I did get to a gallery that I haven’t visited or written about before. Warburton Lane Exhibits is a converted warehouse loft apartment combined with a gallery – there are always few of these types of galleries around the city. The gallery is a small elegant and intimate space with a balcony overlooking the lane. Joseph Flynn is exhibiting a dozen paintings – “Animal Spirit” Flynn’s art has changed since I first wrote about him (see my post: Fine Arts Education). There is an animal spirit in the exhibition; the paintings are punk and raw with paint mixing around on their metal supports. And there is a clear street art influence in Flynn’s painting, with lots of aerosol spray on the background.

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