Dada Centennial 1916-2016

“Where is the monument to the folk who took a stand against the war rather than those who capitulated to its madness?” Robert Nelson asked in The Age on Remembrance Day, 11 November, 2015

Dear Robert Nelson, the monument exists but it is not in the architecture of state power, the column, the triumphant arch or faux tomb of imperial power dominating territory. It is a single word “Dada”.

Dada, a little word that means everything and nothing. A word like a Buddhist mantra capable of destroying all illusions by using it as a substitute for all other words. Instead of patriotism, dada; instead of reason, dada.

Not that the word works like magic but the question that Dada posed still remains as potent as ever. What is art and culture doing other than making various governments look like a humane and decent society, masking and distracting from the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes? If this is how much of an improvement the best of art and culture can do then why continue with it?

This is not a joke, this is a serious point.

Dada Zurich

Mark outside the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

One hundred years ago on the 5th of February 1916 in Zurich three “oriental gentlemen,” as Hugo Ball described them in his diary arrived at the newly formed Cabaret Voltaire. The Cabaret Voltaire was a music and poetry night that Hugo Ball was running at the Holländische Meierei tavern in Zurich. Hugo Ball had had left Germany for neutral Switzerland, he had been an idealistic German patriot before he saw the horror war for himself.

The “oriental gentlemen” were certainly from the east as they were Romanian. They were the architecture student and artist, Marcel Janco, his brother George and a 19 year old poet who was calling himself, Tristan Tzara.

The reason why they were there was because Romania had ended its neutrality in 1916 and joined the war on the Allied side. It was one of the stupidest decisions of the war; outstanding even considering the extraordinary stiff competition of stupid decisions made in World War One. The Romanian army was obliterated.

The three young men kept on saying “da da”, “yes yes” in Romanian. The word “Dada” was invented later that year, around 11 April 1916, the first Dada periodical appeared over a year later in July 1917. There is a long standing debate about who invented this word but it has to be remembered that they were all very drunk at the time (or using other drugs, yes, I’m looking at you Herr Huelsenbeck and your cocaine).

Historical debates about dates aside, on Friday night in Clifton Hill DADA lives! 1916-2016 celebrated a century of Dada. Over a hundred people packed into the narrow space of the shopfront bar with its tiny stage at the back with of poetry and performance. Sjaak de Jong was the MC for the evening. Most of the performances were of original material but Santo Cazzati did read a historic Tristan Tzara Dada manifesto and perform a recognisably accurate version of Raoul Haussmann’s poem, phonème bbbb.

People try to laugh Dada off but that is just a desperate tactic to hold onto the certainties of dictatorships. Attempts have been made to quarantine Dada in art galleries and libraries around the world but it keeps on breaking out with nihilistic force. For it is nothing, it is ridiculous and is better than any god/country/insert reason here that you can dream up as nobody has ever killed or died for it.


Presgrave Place Renaissance

Look up and a couple parachuting rats are descending on Presgrave Place in Melbourne. Three-dimensional version of Banksy’s stencil but it is not the work of the famous British street artist but a prolific Melbourne street artist known as Kranky who makes art from plastic rats and dolls.

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Look down and the dolls arms poking out from the grating, that remind me of the children currently held in indefinite detention of the Australian government, is also the work of Kranky. (Wait a minute one of those hands has a cigarette butt.)

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Look at the wall and there is more work by Kranky and other street artists.

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There has been street art in Presgrave Place for quiet some time; if my memory still serves me there were frames on its wall when it was shown in Marcus Westbury’s 2007 series Not Quite Art. However, there never was that much art in Presgrave Place. Just that one wall really, around the corner there is the dead end and the rubbish bins and back doors of businesses. Without the graffiti writers it never had the same turn over of work. The frames, some stickers, a paste-up by Happy and the couple of Junky Projects sat on its walls for years.

The paste-up by Happy and the Junky Projects are still there but they have a lot more company, it is now intense. Last year Kranky started to crank out assemblages in the place, along with everywhere in Melbourne, but this new energy was what was needed to revitalise the place. Kranky was followed by Mikonik who continued the tradition of using cheap picture frames sourced in opportunity shops. Sunfigo and Luv[sic] followed with this theme framing their work; Luv[sic] regularly uses frames but this is new for Sunfigo. Tinky added toy soldiers attacking the Mona Lisa and other pieces using plastic figures. The frames themselves refer to art.

Distinguishing between street art and graffiti is not always easy but in Presgrave Place the distinction is clear. Street art is made of wide variety of media, not just aerosol paint. It is generally denser, there is a greater quantity of both art and artists. The artists have made more use of specific aspects of the site, the wall is often not just a support for the art work but part of it. The subject matter is different too; street art refers to art and popular culture. The calligraphy and letter form of graffiti are not important.

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Presgrave Place is a quiet place in the middle of Melbourne that is currently having its own little street art Renaissance.


Psychogeographical Walk: shoes and artists

A small group of determined psychogeographers set off heading south from the corner of Illan Lane and Tinning Street. We were examining the transition zone between Sydney Road and the Upfield railway line, exploring some of the streets that running parallel to the railway, before doubling back along Sydney Road for a drink at Edinburgh Castle.

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We stopped at Tinning Street presents, the only art gallery that we actually visited on the walk. Michael Thomas’s photographs, Night Works looked as if they had come from Thomas’s nocturnal psychogeographical walks. The huge Duratran colour print photographs mounted in Tasmanian oak light boxes made the suburban look impressive.

Some of us were very familiar with the area but there are always something new to see when you feel like exploring. As well we had several fortuitous accidental encounters with local artists. The first was with Julian di Martino on his bicycle. I think Julian mentioned that he’d been to Soma Gallery, a shop front gallery on Sydney Road. Next we ran into Jon Beinart who was busy preparing to open a pop-surrealism gallery in Sparta Place, it is a great location for a gallery.

Brunswick Kind.. 8:13

Then, and we had just been looking at Brunswick Kind on the Victoria St carpark wall when Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown came along carrying two paintings. Turbo is a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. He was hoping to raise some money by selling paintings on the street, a tough gig with colourful bold paintings. We gave him some money to pose for a couple of photos.

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The larger painting is Turbo Brown Dingo Man, about his spirit animal. The smaller is about a story of hiding in the bush with his son to jump out and scare, “just to scare, not kill” Turbo explained, two white men who are running away.

The area that we were walking through is a place of shoe factories, new appartments, warehouses, art galleries and studios; this included the iconic Australian footwear of an Ugg Boot factory. The industrial machinery in the carport at the back was an interesting mystery until I noticed the shoe sizes and word “heel”.

Several shoe related warehouses and the Middle Eastern Bakery are still surviving. Other places aren’t doing so well.

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Maybe the shoe businesses are the last hold-outs of Brunswick’s industrial past. There are new empty blocks and new buildings. The entrance of The Wilkinson shows the poetic spirit of real estate developers is at its best when singing the praise of one of their own.

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We were an interesting mix of psychogeographers talking of such things as industrial graffiti, ghost-signs, graffiti, the surface archeology of architectural accretion in the urban environment. I am such a romantic that I have to take a photograph of love paste-ups.

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I wanted to do something to celebrate my 1000th blog post, something that wouldn’t matter if there was three or twenty people and that would require almost no preparation, so a walk fitted that description perfectly. I had requested gifts, drinks and I was rewarded with both including the latest issue of the Clan McGillicuddy magazine Th’Noo, from New Zealand.


1000th Blog Post

This is my 1000th Black Mark blog post. That means approximately 4,000,000 words and 1,400 photographs. There has had 495,000+ views from 155 countries around the world (still no views from Greenland, Cuba, Iran, South Sudan and various central African countries, you get the idea).

Mark @ Sweet Streets

I started this blog in on February 16 in 2008. My first Black Mark blog post was about the painting of the wall of Faster Pussycat and actually includes a video of several notable Melbourne street artists, including Phibs and Deb painting a wall in Fitzroy.

When I started writing this blog it gave me a new reasons and motivation to look at art and Melbourne. I started to look around in a new way. James Gleeson suggested that the role of the art critic is that of an explorer, leading others to new and interesting discoveries. Every week I try to see several exhibitions, walk the streets of Melbourne, as well as spending time reading and researching. I would like to see more art exhibitions but I can’t be everywhere; there is so much to see and Melbourne’s vast geographic sprawl does not make it easy for me.

Between the art galleries I am looking for graffiti, street art, ghost signs, urban design and public art. Other things that have caught my interest from the design of micro-parks to drinking fountains.

It was not just ‘paintspotting’, craning my neck to look down every lane that I passed in I case I spotted some graffiti or a ghost signs. Writing the blog gave me a reason to think more and follow up with further investigations into what I had seen. That research has lead me in many directions, a good hobby should do that, expand your interests rather than narrow them.

Last year my first book was published, Sculptures of Melbourne (Melbourne Books, 2015). My interest in public sculpture grew from writing blog posts about various sculptures. I couldn’t have imagined that I would write a book about public art before starting my blog. Looking at my top ten posts you can tell that the public is interested in the subject.

Top 10 popular Black Mark blog posts (aside from the Home and About pages):

  1. Banksy in Melbourne
  2. Types of Art Galleries
  3. Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  4. Keith Haring in Melbourne
  5. Where is the political art?
  6. Leonidas @ Sparta Place
  7. Political graffiti
  8. More Street Art Sculpture
  9. More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  10. Russell Street Sculptures

 

Slightly further down the list there is a cluster of three posts that I am particularly proud to have written. In Political Motivation Behind Police Raid I  discovered important background to a major story about attempts to censor art and end public funding for Linden Contemporary Arts. More Art Censorship is unfortunately about a similar story; my initial response to Kevin Rudd’s attempt to censor Bill Henson. I feel I got that exactly right. And my post about the relationship between Street Art, the Internet & Digital Cameras where I’m pleased to have used a chemical metaphor to explain their relationship.

I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post with a psychogeographical walk this Sunday. This is not a tour, but a classic psychogeographical walk, there is no plan and no destination. According to Facebook 20 people say that they will be joining me on this walk, I feel honoured, nervous, imposter syndrome, looking forward to seeing you and curious about what will happen.

Thanks everyone for reading, subscribing and commenting.


Blockbuster Nightmare

I have a nightmare of seeing a blockbuster exhibition riding through the exhibition in little carriages on something like a ghost train. You would buy your tickets and, after another queue, be strapped into a little carriage that would take you around the exhibition on a track with an audio track. The frightening thing is that it would probably work; after all it worked for Banksy with Dismaland in 2015. The queue would go around the block.

It was the projected video faces on the mannequins at the Gautier exhibition, like the animatronics at Disneyland. That along with memories of the coin operated art at the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Spain that gave me this idea. Dali himself must have been inspired by The Surrealists pavilion at the 1939 at the New York World Fair, “Dream of Venus” was very popular due the live mermaids (see a home movie of it). Banksy’s Dismaland is not a new idea.

The art train would solve many problems for the organisers of blockbuster exhibitions in managing numbers people and the time they spend at exhibition. Currently there are conflicting issues traffic jams in an exhibition. These can be caused by the audio guides but as there was a financial return on the audio guides, various galleries prohibit sketching and even note-taking to manage the traffic through the blockbuster exhibition (see my 2008 blog post for more on that subject).

Those readers who, like me, are horrified by the idea of riding through an exhibition in a rattling, little carriage maybe thinking about the gallery architecture as a meditative space, as an alternative to going to church or a temple. (For more on the aesthetics of space influences the brain see “How Museums Affect the Brain” by Laura C. Mallonee on Hyperallergic.) Or that modernist dream that museums, art galleries, public libraries, botanical and zoological gardens are like a university where the public is free to educate themselves. The reality is that the art gallery has always been a kind of infotainment mixed with a quasi-religious aura along with a vague idea of educational or even therapeutic purposes.

The art gallery has transitioned from a giant royal wunderkammer into the spectacle of early twenty-first century infotainment culture. I was about to indulge in a popular jeremiad that museums were becoming infotainment when I reminded myself of all the infotainment to be had in nineteenth century Melbourne.

Melbourne had Maximilian Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration – Anthropological Museum and Madame Sohier’s Waxworks. Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration presented moving dioramas, huge rolls of canvas painted with a narrative progression of images. Frederick Hackwood in his book Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England (Sturgis and Walton, 1909) records public house with collections of antiquities, taxidermy, fossils and pictures, so doubtless some of Melbourne’s many pubs also had collections worth visiting. Certainly the erotic nude Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebvre is still on display upstairs at Young and Jacksons opposite Flinders Street Station.

Should I continue to live in horror at this aspect of art or just get on board the ghost train carriage for an amazing ride?

Cloe

Chloe at Young and Jackson’s


January Exhibitions

As I set off to explore Melbourne’s art on Thursday I wonder how many art exhibitions would be open this early in the year. I knew that the major institutional art galleries would be open, but I had already seen Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei at the NGV and Manifesto at ACMI.

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Anthony Pryor, Landscape 3, 1982

I started at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane with Craft Victoria where there is Timber Memory, a survey exhibition of woodwork in Victoria from the 1970s to the present. It is a rather interesting group of exceptional woodworkers including a block of huon pine inlaid with ebony, granite and jarrah, Landscape 3 (1982) by the sculptor, Anthony Pryor. It is Pryor’s response to the minimalist cube.

At 45 Downstairs there were two exhibitions that were part of the Midsumma Festival, Meridian a group exhibition and Découpages d’hommes a solo exhibition of photographs of nude males by Eureka (Michael James O’Hanlon). The compositions and backgrounds in Eureka’s photographs reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who had suddenly realised how similar many Renaissance and Baroque paintings are to pornography. I was stunned, assuming that everyone who has studied art has read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

The Midsumma Festival generally has a good visual arts section and I could have continued along Flinders Lane to the Melbourne City Library where there was another of the Midsumma Festival’s exhibition.

Arc One had a solo exhibition by Tracy Sarroff Barbecue Stalagmites, Balloon Drumstick, but Sarroff’s brand of weirdness and obsessive mark making left me in outerspace.

Further along Flinders Lane the Mailbox Art Space had yet another group exhibition: Cells. Using the individual glass fronted mailboxes as cells in a three-dimensional comic book. The exhibition text makes other references to cells but the artists involved are focused on comics.

Instead of continuing down Flinders Lane because of a lunch date I then turned north. I briefly stopped at No Vacancy gallery in the QV Centre where there was a trade exhibition of Okayama Sake  and Bizen Ware from Japan. Bizen Ware is a traditional type of Japanese pottery made in wood burning kilns.


Recent Walls

Everything in the city is competing to be the spectacle and all that Situationalist shit.

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Lush reading my mind in Hosier Lane

Lush is Melbourne’s piss take king, taking the piss out of street art and graffiti. Lush appears to have made Hosier Lane his own arena for his spray up comedy, ever since he staged his “secret show” there last year. Lush is full of extra confidence because he was the Melbourne street artist chosen by Banksy to exhibit at Dismaland. This is not surprising given that both Lush and Banksy produce easy to read work with a similar sense of humour.

In the visually dense jungle of the city there is an ecology of images. Different styles of street art compete for attention in the streets as they also compete for likes online. La Lune cuts paper and does paste-ups, filling a gap in the aesthetics of the street left by Miso and Suki.

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La Lune, Moreland

Looking at my recent photos I ask myself if there currently a return of the stencils or do I have a selection bias? But it is not just me, a reader sent me a photo of a whole wall of stencils something that I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. Even a new Jamit stencil appearing recently on the street; Jamit claims to the first artist on Melbourne’s streets to have used stencils.

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More recent stencil artists include Luv[Sic] and Mikonik, who are doing some great multi-coloured stencils. Mikonik’s images are all sprayed on jigsaw puzzles.

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Luv[sic]

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Mikonik

There are also plenty of stencils that work just because of their aphorism, the current pop culture references or just because they have the minimalist simplicity of Sunfigo’s stencils.

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Sunfigo


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