Tag Archives: video installation

RMIT Variety

I saw exhibitions in the various galleries at RMIT in May.

Sharon West, who also has work in the exhibition, curates “Girt by Sea” at RMIT School of Art Gallery. (See my reviews of Sharon West’s earlier exhibitions – just enter her name in the search box on the top of the right column). “Girt by Sea” is in observation of Reconciliation Week 2011 and combines the art of indigenous and non-indigenous artists. Maritime themes are not usual for Australian contemporary or indigenous art even though Australia is surrounded by oceans. The most popular work of the exhibition is Kirsten Lyttle’s “Kuki”, the three Hawaiian shirts with images of a dead Captain Cook. They are cool, self-referential (as Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii) and graphically appealing. The variety of art, from Simon Rose’s video work to the folk art paintings of Aunty Gewen Garoni and Aunty Frances Gallagher, in the exhibition is fun and engaging.

First Site had 3 photography-based exhibitions looking at the human subject: subjectively, objectively and “transpersonally”. The 3 photographers were working in different directions looking at the body or thinking about the self as a subject with memories as in Stephanie Peters “I Know You’re Stalking Me”. This installation using video, photographs and online interactions deals with idea of identity, truth is distorted and rearranged, who are you dealing with – I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Kawita Vatanajyankur takes an external view of bodies as beautiful objects, combining still and video photography, water or sand and the body. In Luciana Vasques “Transpersonal Photography” personal exploration finds new meaning in the interaction between people, objects and photography. Vasques makes excellent use of the space in First Site, a cluster of peep viewers attached to ribbons flutter in front of the air vent and a convex mirror. None of these photography exhibitions are great but they are not bad, there are some good parts and there is nothing wrong with the directions that these photographers are exploring.

Things were not working for me at RMIT Gallery. In Chelle Macnaughtan “Spatial Listening” I tried to listening to “Listening through Stillness” 2011 but my black Dunlop Volleys made no sound on the etched aluminum plates – there was some irritating electric whine going on somewhere in the gallery. I twice became trapped in dead end parts of Ainslie Murray’s “Intangible Architecture”. I didn’t have any problems with Malte Wagenfeld’s “Aesthetics of Air” even though there were warning signs about the lazars. Aside from the warning signs the “Aesthetics of Air” was like a disco without the music or the mirror ball but with the smoke machines and lazars. The aesthetics of air is lightweight.

Ian Burns “And then…”

The exhibition was so good that I had to turn around and go back into the gallery and look at it again. I don’t write this blog to gush about exhibitions but I feel compelled to write that this was the best exhibition that I’ve seen all year. I went back to Anna Schwartz Gallery the next day and saw it again. It is that good.

Why is it so fantastic? It has the charming aesthetics of bricolage combined with slightly banal illusions to a glamorous jet-setting life. Ian Burns combines video installation, sculptural assemblage and kinetic art. It moves. There is sound. It is a whole lot of fun. There are illusions and the magic behind the illusions is revealed. The three dimensional nature of these sculptural assemblages provides different information as you walk around them. On one side you see the video monitor with them image and on the other side you can see the image being created.

The way that they image is created is such a disappointment and so exciting at the same time. It is disappointing to realize that the images have been made so cheaply and exciting to see the effective ingenuity of how it was done. Simple camera and theatrical special effects have been employed.

The video illusions that Burns creates are comments on the superficial illusions of everyday life. Watching the sunset on a beach of golden sand while the waves gently roll in might look like paradise but the image is created from tiny video camera placed amongst a length of clear PVC pipe, a lightbulb and a mannequin holding a boogie-board posed like Botticelli Venus. Burns art asks if the image lives up to the bricolage of electronics, furniture, toys and other objects used to create it.

Burns combines his academic degrees in engineering and art. His use of materials is paradoxically both elegant in the solution and inelegant in the odd collection of ordinary household materials that his assemblages are made from.

Out of all Marcel Duchamp’s art that has been repeated and regurgitated by contemporary art, his very last posthumous work, has been not often been emulated. “Given: 1) the waterfall and 2) the illuminating gas” is a curious work. People hardly knew what to make of it, a diorama scene with a few illusions (the curators are surprised that the primitive motor driving the waterfall mechanism still works). To Duchamp’s “Given: 1) the waterfall and 2) the illuminating gas” Ian Burns adds “And then…”

Curators & Current Exhibitions

Some current exhibitions that I’ve seen in Melbourne made me think about the curators. In reviewing exhibitions in this blog I have endeavoured to give credit to the curators but it also time to give them some critical attention.

Bernhard Sachs and Brad Haylock curate the current exhibition at West Space. I don’t know why they bothered. The title of the show is a beautiful work of art in itself: “The Office of Utopic Procedures Presents: The Aesthetics of Joy – The Infinite International of Poetics” but the exhibition doesn’t support it. Both curators are also exhibiting in the show along with a more or less random selection of artists. Was the exhibition about the aesthetics of joy or was the title so vague that anything could be included? The works in the exhibition are diverse in every sense and there is little cohesion, even the hanging on deep blue walls didn’t create a unity. The exhibition contains the usual contemporary curator’s mix of video art, installation and wall painting. I expect something more from a curators than this exhibition with its pretentious title.

The curators do hit the jackpot with a work by Kellie Wells, a video installation with wall painting that actually appears to be on the exhibition’s theme. Kellie Wells is jumping for joy amongst horizontal strips of elastic. These horizontal strips appear in the minimalist wall painting. It was like the children’s game except played by an adult. The ominous rumbling soundtrack to the installation is the only discordant note in the work.

At Michael Koro Gallery I saw a simpler exhibition. It is simply titled with the names of the participating artists: Ash Keating. Andrew Hutson, Daniel Du Bern and Marcin Wojcik. No curator credited but the hanging was elegantly simple. Ash Keating likes to separate rubbish – it is the environmentally responsible thing to do. And Ash Keating takes rubbish separation to an art – a black pile of plastic waste and white pile of plastic waste. Andrew Hutson is exhibiting three sculptural scenes made of painted paper-mache. They have a whimsical mood, a simple direct style and clear ideas. Daniel Du Bern is showing 10 oil ink prints of strange handmade weapons, perhaps handed in during a police amnesty, as suggested by the series title: Amnesty. These crude but deadly weapons are depicted in a cool, neutral and grey style as artefacts. In the laneway next to Michael Koro Gallery Marcin Wojcik has made small sailing ship made of sticky tape over a wooden frame.

I also saw the Shilo Project at the Ian Potter Museum of Art is curator by Dr Chris McAuliffe. In the exhibition pop music album covers, and dot to dots, meet contemporary art. It is a curatorial dream of an exhibition to include so many artists with a theme exhibition with iconic pop status. The 100 works of art looked coherent because they were all on 100 copies of Neil Diamond’s Shilo album with its dot to dot drawing cover art. There are no breathtakingly great art in this exhibition but the installation of the exhibition is a curatorial work of art incorporating the record store style, a record player and even imitation record store bins full of Neil Diamond records. CDs, with their smaller format, killed the art of the album cover – this exhibition does not attempt to revive it but to redirect it.

Survey @ the Counihan

Surveying the Field at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick is a survey exhibition from artists living or working in Moreland. There are a lot of artists living or working in the Moreland area and the exhibition. Moreland City has long been the residence of many artists and the location of many artists’ studios attracted by cheap rent and proximity to the city. (Those are the reasons why I moved here.) The Moreland Leader has recently reported that the area was becoming too expensive for artists; it has also reported that there were more professional musicians living in Brunswick than anywhere else in Melbourne (and I don’t feel qualified to comment on such demographics).

Surveying the Field is an emergency exhibition, not an exhaustive survey of Moreland’s artists. The cancellation of Robert Smith’s exhibition due to illness meant that the curator Edwina Bartlem assembled the exhibition at short notice. So no great conclusions about the state of Moreland’s artists are warranted. The quality of the artists that Bartlem managed to assemble in a short time is impressive as is the variety: sculpture, painting, photography, video installation and prints.

Dan Wollmering’s wooden sculptures have a formal character to them that combines a natural chaos to its form. In a completely different aesthetic direction the hyper-realist sculptures of Sam Jinks are like the British artist Ron Muerk. In Floral a hyper-realist face appears tattooed, or shadowed, with floral patterns. The larger than life sized male and female faces are intimately and perfectly detailed to every pore and eyelash.

Sam Leach’s paintings with their dark chiaroscuro neo-baroque style are full of half-forgotten symbolism. His large painting, Peacock observes Sputnik combines ancient and modern mythologies of the heavens. His small paintings of dead and alive birds are equally symbolic and are covered with a glossy layer of epoxy resin.

Continuing the survey the aesthetic variety of Moreland artists Wilma Tobacco’s op-art paintings on shaped canvases are cool and beautiful.

Photographer Alison Bennett exhibits a series of panoramic images of caves. These evocative and symbolic womb-like spaces are seen from the inside, the bright light of the cave’s entrance is visible. Humans have modified some of the caves photographed by Bennett; graffiti covers the walls of one and in others dry stonewalls have been constructed at the mouth.

Owen Leong’s Milk Ring is a dual screen video installation, it is engaging and strange science-fiction scenario that loops endlessly. An alien tries to work a hardware-wetware interface in an exhausting and futile attempt to escape the repetition. The dual screens different views create endless choices for the viewers attention as well as expanding the scenario.

My lack of Italian is one reason that I can’t get into the hand-painted linocut prints of Angela Cavalieri’s text based art. However, many people in Moreland are fluent in Italian, so I’m sure that there will be more receptive viewers.

As usual for the Counihan Gallery there were excellent cheese/fruit platters and wine at the opening; a good way of getting value from your rates dollars. It is also a good opportunity to meet the artists and other local people interested in the arts. I met Sam Leach at the gallery, for the first time after exchanging emails with him. The speeches by curator, Edwina Bartlem and Moreland Mayor, Lambros Tapinos were short and efficient.

Performance Art in Singapore

The exhibition, At Home Abroad, at 8Q sam featured six contemporary Singaporean artists whose art practices are largely or partially based abroad: Choy Ka Fai, Jason Lim, Ming Wong, Sookoon Ang, and Zulkifle Mahmod. I was surprised in the first gallery with the work of Jason Lim as Jason Lim is a performance artist. Jason Lim’s performance the “last drop” was about space, balance and water. It was documented in the exhibition with videos and the remains of a performance. Jason Lim’s performance consisted of various ways of pouring water. His attempts to catch a drop poured from a glass in the same glass were captivating.

Most of the other artists in the exhibition also had performance art elements to the art. Zulkifle Mahmod created electronic soundscapes with natural samples in both recordings and live site-specific performances. Ming Wong performs in an art video re-enacting and playing every male and female role in a Fassbinder film. Choy Ka Fai is a performer as well as, a visual artist. She performs as a guide and narrator in her video installation about public housing flats in Singapore. This would not be remarkable in most other countries but is in Singapore because of the 1994 controversy, that gives performance art a historical charge that is unique to Singapore.

Performance art emerged from neo-Dadaism, like Allan Karprow’s happenings and Fluxus, and merged with the extreme logic of the avant-garde art in the late 1960s. Performance art focused on the body and the then current political issue of breaking social taboos. American artist Vito Acconci plucked his hair and inflicted painful injuries on himself. In Australia artist Stelarc suspended his body using multiple hooks. And the extremes of the Viennese Actionism that concentrated on breaking taboos.

This trend in performance art continued until at the height of the punk rock movement. When it appeared that all the taboo breaking goals had been accomplished and Sid Vicious was doing Acconci’s masochistic act for the masses. A more elegant and technologically savvy form of performance art started to emerge, like Laurie Anderson in America. And in Australia Stelarc engaged with technology and prosthetic limbs. And all of the Singaporean artists in the At Home Abroad exhibition with their use of video and other digital technology.

Art history is not a neat time-line, art trends generally do not occur in different places simultaneously and local conditions will influence these trends. So the history of performance art in Singapore is different to this broad over-view. In 1994 in Singapore a major controversy erupted following the New Years Day performances by Joseph Ng, who cut off his pubic hair and Shannon Tham, who vomited into a bucket. This already outdated Acconci influenced performance and the subsequent controversy led to a ban of government funding of performance art in Singapore. Extensively documented by Lee Weng Choy in “Chronology of a controversy” (1996). The ban on performance art in the 90s reinforced international perceptions of Singapore as an extremely rigid and controlled state.

In December 2003 the Substation art space hosted a performance art event, Future of Imagination, curated by Lee Wen, the first performance art event that was funded by the Singapore National Arts Council in ten years. As the pendulum of taste swings in the opposite direction with equal force Singapore now has an International Performance Art Event at Sculpture Square; The Future of Imagination is now in its 5th year.

Installations & Environments


I thought that installations and environments would be the major art form of the 21st century when I was a teenager. The total environment, the multiple techniques and media used in their construction all appealed to me. There are a lot of installations and environments on exhibition but they are not the major art form although video art has contributed to the growth of installation. But my enthusiasm for them has been tempered.

Firstly allow me to make a technical distinction between ‘environments’ and ‘installations’; not that it really matters that much which word is used. Installation art emerged from Minimalism and Conceptual art and are often site-specific works; the word refers to the installation of the work in the gallery. Environments emerged from Dada and Surrealist activities and are three dimensional but not intended for a specific location. Maybe I can illustrate the distinction with a few recent examples, but I might get it wrong, it is partially dependent on the artist’s intentions.

“The Phantasmatic Forest” by Mila Faranov is a neo-baroque environment that extended across two walls of Seventh Galley. It featuring cut outs of erotic nude female figures and strange male figures and lots of beautiful baroque foliage forms of painted transparent plastic. A great many artists have in recent years used cut out baroque forms in silhouette on walls but Mila Faranov has taken it further with a mood and implied narrative. The theatricality of the work is not surprising given Mila Faranov’s experience in costume design for the theatre. “The Phantasmatic Forest” is engaging and evocative even if it weird and funky in places.

West Space was showing 3 installations/environments (Feb/March); I have already reviewed Penelope Aitken’s installation in my blog entry: Current Hippy Art.

Matthew Shannon’s environment “the persistent presence of the endless” looked like a set from the low-budget days of Dr Who or Blake’s 7. Shannon’s artist’s notes describe it as “the centreless gravity of a space craft’s interior”. There is lots of black plastic creating a whole world in the small Gallery 2 space; there is really just enough room to walk around in it. Light by a single blue tube of light there is not much to see in this dark environment except for the grey ovals.

In Gallery 1 DongWoo Kang’s video installation “ME (Mara Experience)” just doesn’t work. As I first looked at the videos I thought that it was about being in an empty gallery, it is a boring empty experience. Then I read the artist’s notes. The multiple video images projected, plasma screens and cathode ray screens, doesn’t convey the surreal nature of such an experience. The installation almost put me to sleep without any fear of having a Mara experience.

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