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Tag Archives: Sharon West

LOL @ Counihan or how to laugh in an art gallery

People are laughing at the art in the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

That’s good.

Curators Catherine Connolly and Victor Griss have assembled ten artists with a variety of comedic voices from around Australia. If all the artists in the exhibition were comedians Jordan Marani is the one who swears a lot. In Colourful Language: Charm Offensive Marani moves from the sublime abstract to the profane explicit.

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Stephen Bird

Stephen Bird’s plates are the opposite of the usual delicate, tasteful and pretty ceramics.

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Leon Van De Graaff

Local Brunswick artist, Leon Van De Graaff has created a robotic two-handed routine satirising the art gallery opening: “A show about Everything and Nothing: The episode where Yuri and Leon get really drunk at an opening and sing.” Unfortunately the opening was louder than the volume of Yuri and Leon.

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Brisbane based soft sculpture, Alice Lang ironically comments on communication in popular culture with an Epic Fail.

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Danielle Hakim

Danielle Hakim’s “The End” is a simple, effective and ridiculous one-liner.

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Sharon West

Joking aside, there is the comic vision of Sharon West’s fantastic dioramas depicting scenes in the epic comedy of an alternate Australian history.

Several of the artists have already been compared to comedians. John Bailey in The Age compared the performance and video art of Anastasia Klose to Jackass and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Sydney artists Kat Mitchell was described as the “lovechild of silent film star Harold Lloyd and video artist Christian Marclay” by Dylan Rainforth in the SMH. The Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane described Ronnie Van Hout as “a master of slapstick existentialism” and, I have compared local Coburg artist, Julian Di Martino to a prop comic and wrote that his exhibition “should be in the Comedy Festival.”

Now he is. Is This Thing On? is an exhibition in conjunction with the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Aside from exhibition of cartoons this is the first art exhibition that Rod Quantock remembers in his thirty years of performing at the comedy festival. Which is a bit odd because humour, like all other emotions, is expressed in the visual arts.

So why hasn’t there been an art exhibition before in the comedy festival? Although humour has always been present to some extent in the visual arts, it has only recently become a central theme. This may be due to the epic failure of modernism, changes in public and critical attitudes towards comedy and the growth of importance of the white box art gallery, what the Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty, compares to “a straight man in a slapstick routine.” (Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution, 2009) It might just be because people have learnt how to laugh in art galleries.

Not that curator, Victor Griss plans to make a comedy art exhibition a regular feature of the comedy festival or on the Counihan Gallery’s program. That easily become the antithesis of comedy, predictable, dull and obvious.

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The Plural of Moose

Moose, spiders, giant cane toads, monsters, fantastic fun, unbelievable, strange and beautiful. All of these feature In Your Dreams, the current exhibition at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. Curated by Edwina Bartlem and Victor Griss the exhibition is intended “to spark the imagination of children and the young-at-heart”.

I went to see the exhibition with a person who wished to be described as “boy (aged 11)” and his parents, who are old friends of mine. I wanted to know get a child’s opinion of it because of this curatorial intention and also to get a fresh perspective on  the work from artists that I have enjoyed for years.

The boy aged 11, divided the exhibition into the cool, the good and the alright. In his opinion Kate Rohde’s work was “really cool”, especially Tarantula. Here the boy aged 11 proved articulate, as well as, observant, pointing out the glitter covered bird skeleton and taking about South American bird eating spiders.

Mark playing Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine, You We're in My Dreams, 2010

Mark playing Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine, You We’re in My Dreams, 2010

Words were not needed to express his appreciation of Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine’s You We’re in My Dreams 2010 – the boy aged 11 was fully engaged with it. The stop-motion interactive installation puts the face of the player onto the screen making it entertaining to watch and play. The boy aged 11 played on this as his father and I made our way around the gallery again and then waited, reminding him that, there were other people waiting to have a go (me).

Daniel Dorall model, Game and William Eicholtz’s sculpture, retelling the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Princess and the Pea with lamb princess covered in oak leaves and fake gems, both received the honourable mentions of “pretty good” and “good” from the boy aged 11. I’d have to agree with him about that but use different words and I prefer Eicholtz’s other sculpture in the exhibition, Courage, for its beautiful movement, complex meaning, especially for the glowing red rocks.

I was disappointed that the boy aged 11 didn’t have any comment about Sharon West, photographs and dioramas and how they relate to Australian identity (see my previous posts). I thought that her Cook encounters a very large can toad is hysterically funny. Personally I was also glad to see Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahl again, this time in a gallery after seeing them on the street (see my previous post) and to hear some Dylan Martorell, ambient audio track in the gallery.

In answer to my interest in how the exhibition worked for children, the boy aged 11, declared that it was suitable for children aged 7 or older because of the ideas and level of abstract thought required. I asked him about this because there is very little of what could be described as juvenile in the exhibition, it is not a word that comes to mind when I think of the work of any of these artists.

The exhibition raises questions what is the difference between children’s taste and adult tastes? Some tastes (camp, over the top, psychedelic) require experience (yes, Mr. Hendrix, I am) to fully appreciate but that doesn’t exclude children from enjoying them. It was great to see the psychedelic landscapes of Kate Shaw and Stephen Bush in the exhibition. The weird and the wonderful are strange attractors in chaos of different tastes and they can be read in many different ways depending on the experience of the viewer and how the viewer thinks that others will react.

After leaving the boy aged 11 expressed disappointment that there wasn’t more of the exhibition. I felt that way too, all of the artists in this exhibition have been making really fun art for years and I still want to see more of their work.


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