Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Memories of David Bowie

I remember that David Bowie Is… a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum that will be at ACMI in Melbourne from 16th July and 1 November. Not that I’ve seen the exhibition, I remember seeing the exhibition in the film. My brain felt like a warehouse… the lyrics sheets of familiar songs, the photographs, models of stage sets, over 50 costumes, memorabilia and lots of videos.

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Russell Briggs, Head of Exhibitions & Collections at ACMI described the media preview as “a Russian doll, a film of an exhibition of a biography…” There are a lot of Russian doll aspects to anything about Bowie, the actor playing an alien rock star, as you unpack one doll it is revealed to contain another and another. And David Bowie is hyperreal, he is more real in simulacra than actually.

During the film I remember thinking that blockbuster exhibitions and stadium rock have a lot in common and even with the audience for the exhibition capped at 200 visitors per hour the experience will be similar. Do I want another experience like Bowie’s Serious Moonlight concert in a packed (40,000+) at VFL Park, the Waverley Football stadium? From my position in the stands I saw most of it on the big screen, so maybe it would have been just as good to have watched it on TV. Andrew Peacock, the then Liberal opposition leader was also in the audience and Bowie was going through a 50s retro phase. Even though they are on the cutting edge there is something conservative about successful trend spotters, like Bowie.

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

The exhibition does over hype Bowie and it would like you to forget that Bowie with Mick Jagger ever sung a cover of “Dancing in the Streets”. I’d like to forget that too but having seen it I can’t. After watching David Bowie Is… (the movie) and during the writing of this post I avoided listening to any classic Bowie hits and restricted myself to an aural diet of his soundtrack for Labyrinth, the Laughing Gnome and Rubber Band. I started to wonder if Bowie hadn’t changed the whole history of the novelty song; taking it from a statistical minority of pop songs to the majority.

But remember that with all this novelty Bowie demonstrates the art/politics of constructed identities. The constructed identity is opposed to both the idea of a given or a natural identity and this is a very important contribution that liberated many people. The diversity of Bowie’s artist practice, from actor to visual artist defies assumptions about work and identity, but also a celebrity art practice in the role of producer/director and collaborator. But does this qualify as genius?

The discourse on this subject and the greater discourse around Bowie is another layer of Bowie’s much vaunted collaborations. The absence of Bowie is significant, the long periods between albums, the points where his only presence is in the public discourse about his career. Along with the exhibition there will be a two day symposium on The Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie, presented in partnership with The University of Melbourne and Deakin University with the support of the Naomi Milgrom Foundation.

David Bowie Is… would like to define how David Bowie will be remembered, a creation of art and design. I expect that in 2050 a scholarly book on the history of a century of rock music will be published but how many references to David Bowie will there be in the index? It depends on the way that author tells the history. If the book is about popularity, the mass effect of rock music or icons of rock then there may be a many references to Bowie. If the book is about the development of rock then there may less; there is only one reference to Bowie in the index of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces.


Scartato, the Ultimate Trashman

A human rubbish pile slowly walks through the outer suburban landscape of Melbourne, Australia. It is Scartato by artist Michael Meneghetti, a performance work that blends environmental issues with endurance, psychogeography and body art. ‘Scartato’ means ‘discarded’ in Italian.

Michael Meneghetti, Scartato (photo by Melissa Edwards)

Michael Meneghetti, Scartato (photo by Melissa Edwards)

Meneghetti is a hard working Australian performance artist. He creates works that require endurance and extreme physical activity. His performances sculptural qualities of altering his figure and the way he moves through an environment with stilts or by carrying heavy things like wooden stocks or a large BBQ, see my post on Performprint.

Scartato was a physical challenge to see how much rubbish he could find and he attach to his body before he couldn’t move. To start in a normal human form that grows larger and is slowly transformed and obscured by rubbish. Each piece of rubbish was attached to his body with packing tape as he “gradually transforming into a human monument of litter.” Michael Meneghetti explained, “Collecting rubbish with packing tape felt very innate somehow. Packing tape is a very playful medium, I especially enjoy the sound it makes.”

I ask Meneghetti how he become interested in ‘fly-tipping’ (illegal rubbish dumping)?

“I have always been fascinated and repulsed by our pollution, especially the kind people make when dumping on the fly. The project really started when I took a series of photos of my Uncle’s piles of rubbish a few years ago, then as I began travelling I started thinking about the kind of art I could make on the road.”

Over six hours Meneghetti collected close to two cubic metres of discarded materials. The rubbish weighed around 80 kilograms (176 pounds) in total very close to his own bodyweight. “I was a little shocked how much rubbish is around.”

I had to ask if he had encountered any mattresses, or larger items?

“Surprisingly I did not, I found a few strange things, but plastic drink bottles and junk food wrappers are probably the most common items discard onto the street. Every piece of junk has a story.”

And what was the strangest object that you found while doing Scartato?

“I found lingerie, a telephone, a dead dog, a wig, christmas decorations, nothing overly wacky, it was all rather conservative trash.”

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

Scartato was divided into three, two hours expeditions exploring his local neighbourhood. I asked Meneghetti what he did to prepare?

“Warm-up stretches were perhaps the most important steps to prepare for this performance.” Meneghetti’s path was determined by the rubbish he knew about and what he found. He didn’t have to walk very far as he lives close to the freeway. “Each expedition began from my house and gradually I would gravitate towards the more industrial areas and finally hit the nature reserves. On one occasion, I walked around the back of the Altona Cemetery, collecting a lot of post-memorial debris blown over.”

Meneghetti lives in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Brooklyn (not to be confused with the NY suburb of the same name). It is the most polluted suburb in the state and it can smell awful; described in detail in this Environmental Protection Agency report about the Brooklyn Odour meeting on 15 November 2007. Michael told me that: “I feel from living out here that sometimes I live in that Mad Max realm, where society is on the top edge, just before the fall.”

Michael Meneghetti likes the immediacy and portability of performance art. “ I see performance as my own private opera presented publicly that enable me to explore a range of ideas face to face with the audience.”

In conjunction with his performance art Michael Meneghetti also curates videos for various organisations including: Melbourne’s Federation Square, Excerpt Magazine, and Propaganda Window,  a peer-funded public art project that ran from 2008-2012 as a dedicated video projection space on the external windows of Melbourne gallery, Dark Horse Experiment. So Scartato concluded with a video of the work projected across three shop front windows in the Eames Avenue shopping strip in Brooklyn with local music outfit, The Renovators providing a live soundtrack.

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

(photo by Melissa Edwards)


Zombie Artists

It is an ugly scene, something out of a horror movie, going on in gallery after gallery. Zombie artists slowly staggering blindly around banging their heads against the walls. As the blood and brains run down the walls the impeccably dressed gallerista numbers and each catalogues mark while a freelance curator provides a commentary about truth in materials in these futile gestures.

Vittoria Di Stefano, A certain kind of failure, 2015 (photo courtesy of Tinning Street)

Vittoria Di Stefano, A certain kind of failure, 2015 (photo courtesy of Tinning Street)

Of course, after a life time of study and a future teaching high school students in order to pay off your huge student debt, you too might want to bash your brains out on the next brick wall. The subtext of their ‘artist statements’ is clear: “brain, brains, brains…”

The aquariums used as transparent glass plinths were the best part of Vittoria Di Stefano’s “Alien Artefacts” at Tinning Street. Soap, plaster, brass, plasticine, PVC tubes, concrete, wax are amongst the materials that Di Stefano works and reworks.

The titles of Di Stefano work are inter-changeable and read like a cut-up art student essay. “The object becomes a prompt. A hazardous experience. That shape is impossible without those connotations. It needs that desire. The process of thinking.”

Where Di Stefano art this going after the gallery? To another gallery; I guess that I don’t need to see Di Stefano’s up coming exhibition at Blindside. But in the long run where is her art going and why should I care? Should I mindlessly celebrate the great continuum of art and creativity as a mystical experience? Should I studiously tick boxes in a pedagogical critical appraisal?

This is not personal and I don’t hate Di Stefano’s art, it didn’t even particularly bore me. This is not about her studied anaesthetics. I felt nothing when I saw her Alien Artefacts, she had managed to perfectly alienate me. Di Stefano’s art is not unique. It is typical of an existential crisis in post-industrial economies, a pointless activity in a professional cycle of consumption and debt.


In the Post

Mailbox Art Space, formerly Mailbox 141, in Flinders Lane is the perfect location for this mini retrospective of Pat Larter’s mail art from the mid 1980s. Mail art was an international, underground art movement from the 1960 to the 1990s. It was the analogue equivalent to the internet driven, artistic side of street art.

Pat Larter, Untitled Mail Art (Art Risk Pat) c.1980, Screen Print on Paper, 29 x 24 cm. © Courtesy the artist’s estate.

Pat Larter, Untitled Mail Art (Art Risk Pat) c.1980, Screen Print on Paper, 29 x 24 cm. © Courtesy the artist’s estate.

Mail art incorporated aspects of print art, conceptual art and in Pat Larter’s case performance/body art. “Sex drama artist” is the text on one of Pat Larter’s publications. Another image is titled “‘artist action’ swinging the bag”. Photos of Pat wearing a bra with scurried faces sewn in the cups. In another photo she sits in a stiff parody of a poor porn pose, wearing fake breasts and fake vulva.

I like Pat Larter’s anti-erotic, laugh at pornography, making art from slippage between the public display of what is usually consumed privately; it is a more realistic approach than the current neo-con attitude. Pat Larter’s attack on the boys club of mail art, her ‘Female art’ rubber stamp is a pun on male art. There is a photograph of the ‘Female art’ stamp on Pat’s shaved armpit.

Pat Larter uses several print techniques include rubber stamps, photocopy, photographic and Print Gocco.

The mail boxes in the lobby of 141 Flinders Lane are full of zines, rubber stamps, props from photos and a some ceramic objects; a breast, a penis and an apple core. This exhibition shows that even a very small artist run space can host a significant retrospective exhibition.

For more on Pat Larter:

“Pat Larter from Kitchen to Gallery” by Joanne Mendelssohn

“In defence of bad taste: the art of Pat Larter and Lola Ryan” by Gemma Watson


Body of Work

When I arrived at Dark Horse Experiment Casey Jenkins, dressed in her metallic jumpsuit and high leather boots, was talking to a friend and having a smoke out the front of the gallery. It was at the end of her lunch break and she soon returned to start her work in the gallery.

Casey Jenkins, Body of Work

Casey Jenkins’s Body of Work is a three week durational, community-engagement performance artwork. Jenkins really works the idea of ‘work’ and ‘body’ and to some extent it worked.

Work is an important subject for a contemporary artist to examine; it defines us and in some cases, shapes our bodies. There are so many issues about work, from identity and gender to comparative rates of pay, that it was hard to find a focus in Jenkins, Body of Work.

Jenkins was setting different pay rates on days, this ranged from a negative fine of $1,200 (the amount street artist, HaHa was fined for about an hours work) to $1,586,852 p/h (the amount Mark Zuckerberg accrues per hour). These extreme differences did give Jenkins a couple of days off in the three weeks.

The difference between this work and reality tv shows, like World’s Toughest Jobs, is the gallery and the employers.

The gallery for Jenkins this was more of an installation, the antique punch clock, typewriter, the workbench, the bed. Sometimes she was hooked up to microphones to amplify her heart beat as she worked and the labour was screened live during working hours via the CCTV cameras. In someways the windowless gallery space appeared as a dystopian work environment with objects arranged for display rather than function.

The choice of jobs for Jenkins was more of an interaction with the employer. It required the engagement with people, provoking the public to invent short jobs that required no skills and could be done in the gallery space. In this respect both the jobs and the employers were less real than on a reality tv show. The poverty of the public imagination explains much of Jenkins work: sex acts, body painting and erotic polaroid photographs to compile tax receipts. Jenkins said many of these employee relationships were idealised, representing how the participant would like their boss to behave.

I wonder what would have happened if nobody had employed her? Is there much use for unskilled labour these days? I left the gallery as Jenkins got back to her ‘work’ updating someone’s Twitter account.

Jenkins has been a lot of news articles about the piece in The Guardian and The Melbourne Broadsheet. Jenkins is not a stranger to publicity the SBS2 The Feed’s report ‘Vaginal Knitting’ on her earlier work Casting Off My Womb has be viewed on YouTube 6,481,137+ times.

I have a growing interest in tenacious, hard-working performance artists. I have been seeing a lot of performance artists work hard recently from Amy-Jo Jory breaking rocks in Listening to Stones II and Matto Lucas working out in Endomorph, with dreams of becoming a Mesomorph. Maybe this is sympathy, because of they are amongst the losers in the art world along with art critics. Probably more due to being particularly impressed by local performance artworks by Stuart Ringholt, Michael Meneghetti, Peter Burke and others further away, like Tania Bruguera.


Hearing Disconnections

Academic and multimedia artist, Dr Trish Adams wanted to share her own experience of hearing loss in art. Disconnections are two works incorporating video and audio elements. She warned the viewers/listeners that this might not be a pleasant experience and the intent was to create a degree of anxiety and discomfort.

Trish Adams, Inaudible City

Trish Adams, Inaudible City

In the first video, Inaudible City is a large-scale projection of video sequences with four audio options with four sets of headphones. Each of the headphones simulated a type of hearing loss; loss of low and high frequencies, loss of both and tinnitus. On the video there are scenes from St. Kilda Road and the Yarra River; the sound focuses on the highlighted visuals, the familiar sound of a tram going past or a banner flapping in the wind. Now I would recognise the sound of a tram under any conditions but other sounds, like the banners or the river, lost a much of their individual character and just became noise.

The second video, Fractured_Message, is a slice of life piece of a young man asking for directions to the bus stop. It is a familiar scenario, even if you can hear you might have experienced something similar when you don’t speak the language. The viewer placed in front of the portrait-style video cannot easily understand the attempt at communication due to an inaudible and slightly distorted soundtrack. When I concentrated I could understand him.

I wanted to experience Disconnections because it was away from the usual art gallery scene on a Thursday night at the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre in Carlton. And, because I am personally interested in what is it like to have a hearing disability? Not that I have a hearing disability, apart from occasional  This is remarkable after all the years of playing in bands, going to gigs and raves, mind you I was wearing ear protection most of the time. However, my wife has a hearing disability and after the second work I understood what she means when she tells me that she gets tired of concentrating on listening to people.

It is hard to imagine how your life might change with diminished hearing. Yes, sure you would get hearing aids but that wouldn’t be everything, how would it impact on social interactions? There would be changes in your social interactions, perhaps also loss of confidence. Remember to wear ear protection.


Space and Waves @ Tinning Street

Tinning Street presents Tateru, an exhibition of sculpture by Paul Gorman and Takahiko Sugawara.

Paul Gorman is exhibiting several photographs. Why is a sculptor exhibiting photographs? Although the photographs are not simply documentary images of Gorman’s sculpture, they do document ephemeral sculptural moments, moments of space and form. Ring of Confidence is a time-lapse photograph of the movement of light around a tree creating a sculptural form. This is why, in art-speak refers to contemporary sculpture as ‘spatial practice’ because it is art that uses three dimensional space.

Paul Gorman Home Built; Lego House (1,II, III)

Paul Gorman Home Built; Lego House (1,II, III)

Home Built; Lego House (1,II, III) are three simplified blocky familiar forms cast in bronze. It is Gorman’s sculptures of houses in his exhibition really hit me because I was thinking about the suburbs with all the neighbourhood events on the day I visited. (For more about that day read my post Neighbourhood.) Although Jason Waterhouse has covered similar territory with sculptures, Gorman brings his lyrical and critical thinking to the subject.

Takahiko Sugawara, Wave (detail)

Takahiko Sugawara, Wave (detail)

The dozen sculptures of Takahiko Sugawara are post-minimalist, made up of small wooden pieces that brought together create complex rhythmic waves like a composition by Steve Reich. These are mostly wall works and a couple of small free standing block sculptures that take the post-minimalism back to a minimalist cube.

Apart from variations in size or shape Sugawara’s sculptures are of such an even quality that my attention was drawn to a large wall piece, Circles wondering why it didn’t work as well as the others. It’s flatter and the roughly circular pieces of pinewood are a less definite form. Putting these together lacked both the rhythm and the geometric complexity of Sugawara’s other sculptures.

Although both Gorman and Sugawara’s sculptures are very different they find a harmonious combination in this exhibition. Both Gorman and Sugawara are members of the committee of the Contemporary Sculptures Association.


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