Tag Archives: Sunfigo

Art in the age of digital reproduction

Most of the art I consumes, music, movies, text, and images, comes in a digital format. A virtually unlimited digital feast for the mind and senses. And with this, the aura of exclusive access to the original that once gave cultic status to art has disappeared.

Recently I’ve been re-reading Walter Benjamin The Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This short book by an eclectic Berlin philosopher written in 1935 continues to resonate. Benjamin examines how the aura of originality is devalued with photographic reproduction. Some his arguments still work even as we debate his conclusions.

At the start of Section V, Benjamin distinguishes between polarities of the “cultic”, the unseen value of an image and its “display”, value to the perceiver. Having a precious item in a vault is cultic value, part of a cult of exchange value. This is very different from “display value”, which is simply what you most enjoy looking at? These are a different set of values to what art costs to buy or to make: “display value” is the aesthetic separated from the economic.

Benjamin didn’t live long enough to witness the results of digital reproduction on the arts. Where the repetition becomes meaningless and, even torturous, producing overdose reactions (for example, a Barry Manilow song on repeat).

With repeat viewing, everyone can become an expert and a critic.

When there is no original, as the digital is the original, there can only be variations: the director’s cut, the extended version, the remix, the extended dance mix, the unofficial release… the t-shirt, the movie, the game … Market segmentation to sell more. Benjamin expected an increase in commodification. However, in the long term, the only ones who have made massive profits from the arts in the age of digital reproduction have been the warehouse owners and distributors.

As the aura of originality becomes more nebulous in the digital age. The record collections of Baby Boomers gather dust, and their libraries of books are given away. Now creating unique works of art is a political statement; the intention is for them to remain private, or at least constricted and restricted, drawcard attractions for blockbuster exhibitions.

Now the aura of cultic value is an area for grifters to exploit as once priests preyed on their flocks offering unseen values. NFT sellers offer ownership of digital properties, like buying seating in heaven. Will the fetichism of owning something unique become just another kink of appreciation?

Ownership is irrelevant to Owels piece, display value is everything

Street Art City – January 2022

Where does psychogeography diverge from long term urban observation? When there is no urban exploration and no wandering from the predetermined path. I regularly look at the same areas, keeping record of observations of select parts of the city. I have walked along many of the lanes so often that I can’t remember my first visit. How many hundreds of times have I walked the aerosol covered Hosier Lane in the last decade? The accrual of memories of a place, of the unauthorised, anarchic street art and graffiti.

And within this area, there is always something new to see. Melbourne City Council has filled otherwise empty shops with artistic concepts to activate Melbourne’s centre. I visited “This is not a toy store” and looked at the art toys, some are parodies of all the Star Wars toys, others are just collectable toys and still others are too strange to classify. (See my post for more on Melbourne’s art toy scene.)

There is some overlap between the art toy scene and street art with both artists and subject matter. Facter’s new dragon on their back door, a rare piece of freehand aerosol work amongst the street art of Presgrave Place. Presgrave Place is another location that I’ve been looking at for decades. And amongst the frames, paste-ups and stickers are some large numbered paste-ups by another veteran, M.P. Fikaris (aka Braddock). Fikaris’s paste-ups of his iconic robot man are part of Fast Forward, another of the city councils’ activation programs.

Sunfigo’s work continues to surprise, not just because of the prolific output. In Platypus Alley off Lt. Bourke Street, Sunfigo has introduced a meta-element with a paste-up of a photograph of the same wall. The photo records the missing pieces that people have ripped off. All that is left of these pieces on the wall is their outline in liquid nails.

Other areas are not doing so well. The refitting of Centre Way marks the continued bland decline of an area that used to be an excellent location for graffiti and street art. Still, it lost that status years ago. There have been too many unsympathetic alterations, first to Centre Place and now to the mall. Now only the fire extinguisher reel and pipe record the many stickers slapped around here.

And then, just when I think that I’ve been along every lane in the city, I come across a stub lane with a hodonym that doesn’t fit with the familiar nomenclature of Melbourne street names. “CL 0034,” off Hardware Lane, the letters and numbers could be from another city but for the City of Melbourne sign and the familiar street artists. I search for it without success on Google maps or old copies of Melways. Just when I thought that I was no longer doing urban exploring.


A look back at Flash Forward

If Melbourne was to be represented with a big thing, it would be a big spray can. So I applaud the big spray can by Ling in Wills Street because it acknowledges the graffiti in the city. It fits the location; its spray painted surface is vandalism resistant, and the west of the city needs more public art. It fits in with the street tree and the benches and really makes the location. And Ling has been spraying walls in Melbourne for longer than I’ve been writing this blog.

Ling’s big spray can is part of Flash Forward, a COVID safe cultural public art in central Melbourne’s lanes. Forty visual artists teamed with musicians in some inexplicable combination. And how could I resist a walk to see some artworks responding to the laneway?

There isn’t a path to follow for Flash Forward and I ran into other trails. Lanes that have long been a fixture in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So I was somewhat confused to run into Ling’s work again at Finlay Alley, given that there is no shortage of graffiti writers who also do murals in Melbourne.

Finlay Alley is an established location for graffiti. So established that there is one of the old “City of Melbourne street art permit stencils” at the entrance. And there are plenty of pieces by Sofles and others in the dark of the covered alleyway.

For years, if not decades, I have complained that public art events in Melbourne ignore the street art and graffiti that is all around them. Ignoring paintings the size of an elephant while promoting the work of some contemporary art-school trained artist. Pretending that they aren’t competing with the street art and graffiti.

Now when Flash Forward integrates them, I will be critical of its efforts because that is what I do. I appreciate Ling’s piece in Finlay Alley with its interlocked letter style and subtle fade from candy pink to purple. The problem with the big spray can and his mural is that it is obvious and bland. It is giant fantasy art.

Walking on. I’m only going to see a very small portion of Flash Forward.

At the end of Platypus Alley, high up on a building, an LED display counts forward, Yandell Walton’s End Passage. This is not the first time this very short alley has been activated with art. Sunfigo had his No Face exhibition in Platypus Alley in 2008.

Walton’s clock is kind of sterile compared to the dialogue that Sunfigo’s stencil of a digital watch reading “NOW has provoked. As I look at the lanes after Platypus Alley, Warburton and Rankins Lane, where street art by Night Krawler, Mandy Lane and others abound.

There are other outdoor exhibitions in Melbourne besides Flash Forward and the unauthorised street art and graffiti exhibitions. MONA’s corner has a photograph, James Capper’s “Prototypes of Speculative Engineering, Hydra Step” 2014. It is somewhere between art and advertising, the distinction is porous, and art percolates through the border. And in the inner city suburbs, there has been a noticeable increase in shop window art galleries Even The Age’s art critic Robert Nelson is looking beyond the four walls of a gallery, but only as far as gardens or their online presence.


Street art notes July 2021

On the eve of Melbourne’s fifth lockdown, I decided that I had better look at some of the best of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti while I still had the chance. So I mask-up, jump on a tram and walk around the city on Thursday afternoon. Now, as I write this I am confined to my house and can only travel 5km around it for exercise, shopping … you know the drill.

A wall in Lovelands

Although I regularly reflect on what has been put up in Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, Croft Alley and Presgrave Place, there are many lanes that I haven’t seen in years. It was not just a lockdown that was limiting my chances, whole laneways full of art on the cusp of being demolished, art disappearing into construction projects.

I was photographing work down a familiar lane off Franklin Street, near the Queen Victoria Market and the Mercat. I have fond memories of both meals and gigs at the Mercat, which closed in January 2017. Now a massive multi-storey construction looms over it all.

A builder wearing fluro noticed my interest: “There is even better stuff further down,” he informs me. I knew that there was. The building site hadn’t swallowed up the network of lanes known as Lovelands, but it looked like it soon would.

Blender Alley is now one of the entrances to the massive construction site. Although Blender Studios have moved to a new location there is still some historic stencil art from HaHa and Psalm and quality new work on its walls. 

People always wondered how long street art and graffiti was all going to last. I remember Ghost Patrol saying that it was over in 2008. They should have been concerned not that it was a fad or how long the pigments in the paint will last but how fast the walls in the city are rebuilt. Melbourne’s street art fame has as much to do with the design of the city and these service lanes as the artistic talent.

I will pause for some lunch before examining some of the deeply held assumptions about art and the influence of the philosopher and historian David Hume. Hume came up with the idea of fads and fashions when he started to record English social history after the English Civil War. Now I’m more inclined to believe in structural influences, even the built environment, rather than the whim of a population.

However, walking around the city on Thursday afternoon I just feel negligent that I haven’t seen these years. I walk these laneways in search of the latest instantiation of the zeitgeist. There are hundreds of these service lanes, and the latest, freshest work could be hiding up any one of them. Jazzy capping Ash Keating in Chinatown, Sunfigo keeping social media real, more black and white stencil pieces by Night Krawler, paste-ups by Suki, Phoenix, and collaborative pieces by Manda Lane and Viki Murray (read my earlier post on Murray’s skateboard riders).


The Crystal Cave

I was around McLean Alley in Melbourne’s CBD snapping a few photographs of some paste-ups by some of the usual suspects: Doyle, Sunfigo, Kambeeno, Baby Guerrilla, Junky Projects … and this, as yet unattributed paste-up. Following the trail of outlaw artists is not like trying to track down other outlaws. Sometimes they write their names, or at least their tags, two metres high in block letters using a paint roller. They have an online presence and there are regular locations where you can expect to find signs of their activity. Not that I’m trying to catch-up with anyone as I walk around the city, Brunwick, Collingwood, Fitzroy: I am not trying to identify anyone, collect a debt or anything. I run into some by accident and they will tell me that I must come and see their next exhibition.

At other times I know that the person will remain as mysterious as the work itself. I found this cave of crystals built into the brick walls It was hard to photograph the space in the wall was covered in crystals as far back as I could see.

20181019_122155I’m not sure how to classify the crystal cave brick filling. Maybe it fits into the same urban corny craft as painting a pipe top as a mushroom that I saw in the same lane. Urban corn is the craft work of city folk. It is a kind of homemade decoration that evokes a predictable sentiment between a chuckle and smile and no further thought.

20181019_122056

Or maybe the crystal cave is an urban art project, a post-graffiti practice like Jan Vormann’s international project refilling walls with lego bricks.

Or maybe it really was magic portal for mice and cockroaches.


Friday Night in Docklands

It may surprise you but I’m glad that I went to Warf Street, a shopping mall in Melbourne’s failing Docklands on a cold Friday night. The first Friday of every month is like a small art fair there with multiple galleries opening exhibitions.

The manufactured inner city suburb of Docklands failure to create a liveable space without adequate public transport nor any good reason to even go there meant that much of the shopping mall on the pedestrian zone of Warf Street was unoccupied.

Last year a plan based on the successful Renew Newcastle project offered over a thousand square metre of rent free space to “makers, creators, artists, and local enterprises.” The result was that art galleries and others moved in and given the place a bit of attraction and life on a Friday night.

The largest of these, Blender Studios and Dark Horse Experiment had three exhibitions and an open studios that night. Downstairs at Dark Horse Experiment there was Cultural Candy – Taiwanese Artist Residency / Exhibition, a group exhibition of fine arts students from the National Taipei University of Education, Taiwan who were at a one month residency at Blender Studios. Upstairs there were gallery exhibitions by two street artists, Sunfigo and Astral Nadir. Whereas the Sunfigo exhibition managed the jump from the street to the gallery unfortunately for Astral Nadir those same patterns done on the street did not have the impact when on small canvases.

Crowther Contemporary had an exhibition of photography and video installations; One hand washes the other by Madeline Bishop. Bishop was exploring the borders of intimacy in friendship in an awkward suburban aesthetic: how close would you get? Could you carry your friend?

The Australian Cartoon Museum had its “Footy Finals Spectacular”, a topical exhibition featuring cartoons by HarvTime (Paul Harvey), Mark Knight and a dozen other cartoonists.

Resident artist Malini Maunsell had a dull solo exhibition of 15 almost identical blue monotypes At Current Gallery and Studios. There were more exhibitions because other studios were open and shops like Dodgy Paper, that sells handmade papers, had a small Dodgy Staff exhibition of work on their papers by Chehehe and Nathan CCP amongst the product displays. Loose Print, a shop selling printed fabric had an art exhibition of paintings hanging on one wall. Tree Paper Comics is an independent, publisher and printer of Australasian graphic novels and comics also had original work for sale. It seemed that only Magnet Galleries that specialises in photography didn’t have an exhibition opening that night.


Three sentence reviews of some June exhibitions

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Katie Erasure, Simple upside down spectator

Fortyfive Downstairs, Emerging Artist Award  2018

A white ViewMaster-style stereoscopic viewer with a round magazine of surreal photographs by Ayman Kaake was one of two winners of the emerging artist award. The other was a bold abstract painting, Simple upside down spectator by Katie Erasure. Not that these winners were that far ahead of the rest of the exhibitors.

Lauren Simpeoni, Gift

Lauren Simeoni, Girt

Craft, Island Welcome

A great exhibition curated by Belinda Newick of necklaces in a wide variety of materials by fifteen intelligent and inventive jewellers. The exhibition is a reminder that the simple act of giving a necklace as a gesture of welcome, like a flower lei, becomes political because of Australia’s appalling treatment of Indigenous people and refugees. I didn’t expect such a political awareness in a jewellery exhibition but I welcome it.

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Arc One Gallery, Honey Long & Prue Stent, Phanta Firma

Photographs of figures enveloped in fabric in matching landscapes along with some matching slumped glass objects. The sexy figures cocooned or wrapt in the fabric like surreal fashion photography. Long and Stent see this as some kind of achievement in depicting women but I didn’t see anything that David Lynch wouldn’t do.

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

Anna Schwartz Gallery, Gabriella Mangano & Silvana Mangano, Tomorrow and tomorrow

A series of metal bars on the floor and a video following in a woman’s footsteps as she walks around the city. The installation references the Global Women’s March initiated in Washington D.C. on 21 January 2017 and the 82 bars map the routes of the marches. It is an impressive installation but no revelations come from realising the reference.

Sunfigo, Reality

Sunfigo, Reality

Guerrilla exhibition Flinders Street between Batman and Russell, Sunfigo, Weaves

Using fluro pink nylon ribbon to sew images on chainlink fences is one techniques of Melbourne street artist, Sunfigo and it this technique has allowed him an exhibition near the NGV, probably closer than anyone would expected Sunfigo to get. Looking at Sunfigo’s work with views behind them adds to the images; his art keeps telling us to wake up to reality. This thief and vandal proof work is far more successful than Sunfigo’s last guerrilla exhibition in the city earlier this year.

Cassandra Smith, Water Life - Bathing Objects

Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

Mailbox Art Space, Cassandra Smith, Water Life – Bathing Objects

The mailboxes are filled with a series of lumpy bronze sculptures to rent by the week and bathe with. Little photographs of happy renters are included beside some of the objects. For those who like their art small, eccentric and a bit weird. 


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