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.


Neighbourhood

On Sunday morning I was painting my new bullnose verandah. Standing on the scaffolding at the front of the house I had a view of my neighbourhood. As I paint I talk with my neighbours as they come and go.

Anstey Village Street Party

Anstey Village Street Party

When I finish with the painting Catherine and I go to a neighbourhood picnic at McCleery Reserve. This was part of Neighbour Day 2015 an annual celebration of community by Relationships Australia. There was a lot of talk about traffic problems on Munroe Street, too many cars and no pedestrian crossing.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Anstey Village Street Party and Zine Fair in Florence Street. For some people Anstey is just another small station on the Upfield Line but for other people it is home. Brunswick is made up of small districts each with their own character and Anstey is its creative heart. It had some of the first legal wall of graffiti (see my posts Coffee with Jamit and Legal Street Art in Brunswick), two art galleries, lots of artist studios in the area and recently, a lot of new multi-storey apartments, (see my post Graffiti at The Commons).

The street party was a strange mix between an art event, like an exhibition opening, a trendy market and a garage sale. Free face painting for adults by kids. There were a few bicycle carts, Soul System providing music and The Good Brew Co. selling some kind of brew.

Be Free on Florence Street Warehouse

Be Free on Florence Street Warehouse

Some of the good citizens of the street art scene, Phoenix and Civil had been at work in Florence Street. The beautifully simple design of the street painting was clearly the work of Civil. I didn’t see Civil but I did talk with Phoenix.

In the Florence Street warehouse space, along with the Zine Fair there was Imprint, a non­-profit student organisation from Melbourne Uni that “develops community ­based projects to drive social change”. The big map of Brunswick had been moved from the Desire Lines exhibition at Brunswick Arts Space (see my post Desire Lines @ Brunswick Arts).

How to be part of the community in the suburbs of a big city? Don’t drive your car, walk or ride a bicycle. Don’t live isolated in your house or in your backyard, but spend more time in your front yard. Talk to people. It is both simple and a very complex cultural problem because it needs to be supported by infrastructure, safe bicycle and pedestrian paths, better urban design along with cultural changes.

At both community events I saw the transport system failing; at the first a car reverse into a roundabout sign and, at Anstey the long neglected railway infrastructure breaking down and causing traffic jams at several intersecting roads. No bicycle or pedestrian fails were observed during my day in the neighbourhood.

A collection of old signs on a fence near the Anstey train station

A collection of old signs on a fence near the Anstey train station


Commissioner of Sewers

When I was in high school at Bendigo Senior High I was always amused to see in Rosalind Park a brick memorial drinking fountain to the founder of Bendigo’s sewerage. I never drank from it as the drinking fountain parts did not function for many years although it has recently been restored. I was also unaware, at the time that I lived in Bendigo, that it was the work of Ola Cohn, not that I would have cared at the time if I had known.

Ola Cohn, detail of Curnow Memorial drinking fountain

Ola Cohn, detail of Curnow Memorial drinking fountain

One of the reasons why Ola Cohn received this particular commission was that she was born in Bendigo. By the time she received the Curnow Memorial she had already exhibited and work for Paul Montford, studied with Henry Moore in England and returned to Australia. The Curnow drinking fountain was another commission and it hardly rates a mention in her biography.

Ola Cohn describes the commission:

“I was to design a tribute to the late Cr. J.H. Curnow, a prominent city councillor in Bendigo who had been five times Mayor and had campaigned for proper sewerage for the city. I chose clay as a medium and designed a drinking fountain build of tapestry bricks, with inserted panels of red terracotta. It was placed in Rosalind Park, Bendigo, and looked very well against the green trees.” A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R. W. Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne p.95)

Set into the brick fountain there are four bronze bas-relief panels. There is a boy and girl at either ends, strangely suggesting a segregation of  sexes for the two drinking fountains. In the middle, in his mayoral robes and chains the bespectacled bald man, a post humous portrait of Mayor J. H. Curnow, along with the text: “Public Memorial to James H. Curnow JP, Mayor of Bendigo 1902-04, 1912-13, 1919-20, 1927-28 Founder of Bendigo’s Sewerage”.

Ola Cohn, fountain DSC09958

Yes, the commissioner of sewers, sewerage is an important issue for any civilisation and there aren’t enough memorials about such civic infrastructure but a drinking fountain to the commissioner of sewers, seriously, didn’t someone think that one through or was the nature of irony somehow different at the beginning of the twentieth century? However, I hope that some of my readers have thought beyond the toilet humour and realised that Bendigo did not have a sewerage system until the twentieth century. This is a typical Australian response to basic infrastructure, delay building it for a long as possible; Melbourne had a telephone system before a sewerage system. (Seriously read William Burroughs on becoming the Commissioner of Sewers as it is a wonderful text on political power, the text is reproduced on Toilet Guru).

Ola Cohn


The Australian Ugliness

Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness was first published in 1960. It is mostly a complaint about Australian suburban taste and its insecurities. It is an angry rave against ‘featurism’; Boyd’s word of complaint about the myopic focus on features without an overall aesthetic consideration or design. Basically is a rejection of the previous generation’s love of decoration and patterns, as well as, a rejection of the superficial modernism that Boyd identified as American.

Victorian Artists Society - Romanesque Revival building

Victorian Artists Society – Romanesque Revival building

Parts of the book are still, unfortunately, a very accurate description of Australia, even prescient in spite of being written fifty-five years ago. Boyd’s critical view of Australian culture is accurate and psychologically astute from arborphobia to insecurity, however he appears psychologically inept, telling an insecure population that they are unable to produce good design because they are too insecure. But then, much of late modernism was appears totally psychologically inept imaging that everyone would adopt their utopian vision.

Some of what Boyd was writing about has been, in part, rectified particularly with the planting of trees in the suburbs and better urban design. Although not by his snobbish dislike for American culture that has perniciously grown in Australia. Australian arborphobia has some practical reasons with many eucalypts shedding not just leaves and bark but whole branches making many Australian trees unsuitable for a city.

Cherry picking evidence to support his claims Boyd fails to mention the first ‘garden suburb’ was built in Australia. In 1901 the Garden Suburb Movement established  Haberfield in Sydney. It was Australia’s first planned model suburb with no lanes, no pubs and Edwardian homes with height limits. (See Art and Architecture.)

Many architects and designers, along with Boyd have dreamed of a unified aesthetic but he stumbles at the first hurdle. How to adapt, rather than simply replace, the entire history of European architecture in Australia. Boyd is a modernist hoping that “…gradually, the family itself would become the designers of its own pattern of standardised units, as suggested by Walter Gropius.” (p.137) However, he is practical enough to realise that know that there are not enough designers and architects to complete his vision.

Boyd and other architects who write about aesthetics are like astrophysicists writing metaphysics, both are only playing a philosophy. Playing in that they have no training or experience, imagining that it is as easy as they think. Boyd has an underlying belief in “universal” objective aesthetics of design. When he finally gets around to trying to define ugliness (p.235) we quickly find that featurism doesn’t fit his definition, announcing on that “if beauty were all there is to architecture, Featurism would be enough.” (p.239)

Boyd’s ugliness is not what I think of Australian ugliness? In contemporary architectural design the pastiche of patterns and textures has returned to feature in both suburban homes and urban tower blocks. Some of Boyd’s ugliness is simply a difference in taste. For me the Australian ugliness is the empty, run down waste-land, a cultural wasteland of aboriginal genocide, detention camps and environmental destruction on an industrial scale leaving the land denuded of any natural features, exploited and abandoned like the mullock heaps of the former goldfields.

Although Boyd believes that aesthetics and good design is independent of culture, politics, and the beliefs of the population because he believes that it is objectively good. It is Australian politics that planned and created the vast suburbs that Boyd dislikes, it is the politics of inequality, the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment that created the Australian love of features.

The Australian ugliness is more than just skin deep as Robin Boyd claimed, it goes, if I can continue anthropomorphising of the amorphous entity known as Australia, to the heart and soul. Boyd knew this, his contempt for the White Australia policy and the treatment of Aborigines is clear throughout his book.

All quotes from Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness (Text Publishing, 2010 Melbourne)


Desire Lines @ Brunswick Arts

On Friday night there was an opening at Brunswick Arts Space, an artist-run-space. In the main gallery there is a group exhibition, “Desire Lines” with thirty-five works by Jo Waite, Leon Van De Graaff, Alex Clark, Martin Nixon, Jess Parker, Sarah Howell, David Blumenstein, Michael Fikaris, and many other artists. ‘Desire lines’ are informal paths that people make to get where they want to go.

The exhibition was mix of contemporary art, psychogeography, illustration, comics and zines that all remember and record Brunswick. It might sound like an odd mix but the local details illustrations of the suburb in the pages of comic books are a rich vein of psychogeographical research. There is a whole wall of art work for comic books that illustrate this point, like Martin Nixon’s “The way to the entrance to the entry to Squishface” (Squishface is an open comic artists studio in Brunswick). Melbourne underground comics have a long tradition of mapping the city, going back to, as far as I can remember, Yell Olé! by Brendan Tolley and Bernard Caleo where the heroes battled the architecture of the city.

The most comprehensive and democratic map of Brunswick ever constructed.

The most comprehensive and democratic map of Brunswick ever constructed.

At the opening the focus of attention and discussion was an open collaboration on a wall sized map of the suburb: “The Most Comprehensive and Democratic Map of Brunswick Ever Constructed.” Everyone at the opening was writing and drawing on it, adding their landmarks and details. The local artists are aware how much Brunswick is changing as apartment blocks are built around the gallery in the former factory space.

It was good to see Victor Gris, the curator of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, at the opening, not just personally but also that he is engaged with the local art community.

In the upstairs gallery was Denise Hall’s series of five paintings “Creature”. Hall’s expressionist paintings with a limited palette have been torn apart and reassembled, like the butchered meat they depict.


A Hipster Conversion

I love the way that real estate agents describe the city. “In the heart of Brunswick bridal district.” There is a poetry to their succinct phrases flavoured with slight exaggerations. “For Lease, A Hipster Conversion” sign on the factory in Albert Street that previous was the studio of 3 Phase Design. “Ideally suited for cafe/restaurant/brewery” the sign continues, describing the range of larger hipster businesses. Hipster fashion boutiques, coffee shops and barbers would be looking for smaller premises.

DSC00202

This is not a sign of the apocalypse. I don’t object to the gentrification of a suburb, but I prefer the hipsterfication because it improves cycling and other things. It is interesting that ‘hipster’ has entered real estate agent’s vocabulary. (See my post on Hipsters.) The long term industrial decline in Brunswick and Coburg, two suburbs in the north of Melbourne, left vacant many shops and factory spaces that were used as art galleries and studios.

I thought that the sign would be a good a way of introducing a list of art galleries in the area that no longer exist; I couldn’t list all the artist’s studios in the area, like 3 Phase Design, as that would be a very long list. For the all the local art historians; this is probably not an exhaustive list and corrections and additions are welcome. It does not include all the pop up gallery spaces that had one or two exhibitions nor business, such as cafes or bookshops that exhibit art.

696

696

696, 696 Sydney Road, from 2008 to 2009 street art shop and alternative commercial art gallery that stocked one off artist creations along with spray paints and magazines. It had a small back room exhibition space with bi-weekly exhibitions and events. 696 also had one-night only exhibitions in “the Yard” in the backyard. Toby and Melika went on to establish “Just Another Agency” representing illustrators and organising exhibitions. 696 then became 696 Ink, a tattoo parlour with exhibitions of pop surrealism. Some of the street art the 696 commission can still be seen in the alley way along one side of the shop.

Circus Gallery in North Coburg (2004-2008), a single room shop front gallery that has to be the most northern art gallery ever in Melbourne. It was up the hill from the old Kodak factory in North Coburg amongst a culture of old shops. The shopfront room alternates as a studio space for Andrew May and an exhibition space; a heavy curtain is drawn across the front window to make it a studio. The gallery had the Starving Artist Prize; the cost of entry for the prize was a can of food and the winners received the cans of food.

Eisenberg Gallery – The Victorian Museum of Experimental Art was at 126A Nicholson St. in East Brunswick on the intersection of Nicholson and Harrison streets. It was an artist run initiative that ran for a few years in a former shop space. The small space was not open but visible from the street through the large shop windows. Exhibitions changed regularly but mostly they were seen by the passing drivers stopped at the lights.

Dudespace was an ordinary private suburban house at 22 Cassels Road, Brunswick. Run by Geoff Newton who went on to open Neon Parc in the city. The house would become an art gallery when a t-shirt bearing the word “Dudespace” hung out the front. The exhibitions in a room in the house would only last a day and featured some notable artists including Juan Ford in 2006.

Pan Gallery was a small commercial gallery in the corner of a pottery supply shop specialising in ceramics that closed in 2011. (See my blog post.)

Ocular Lab, 2003-2010 an artist run initiative, meaning “a site for experimental and alternative models of artistic representation and activity that encouraged the development of professional practice” in a converted shop space in Brunswick with an external ‘billboard’ space.

OM Gallery, was well located opposite the Brunswick Town Hall and ran for many years. It was both a photographic studio and rental exhibition space in a converted factory.

Rinaldi Gallery on Victoria St., Brunswick was an attractive single shop front white room gallery with some one-off designer furniture and objet d’art also for sale. It was run by a very tasteful Italian woman for several years and exhibited serious emerging and mid-career artists.


Slap Pals Potato Art

I love exhibition where I leave with free numbered artwork, even if I had to stamp and tear it out from the pad myself. It is more efficient that way.

Slap Pals, Sacked 2, video still

Slap Pals, Sacked 2, video still

“Slap Pals present Slap Pals get sacked – an art improvement program” in George Paton Gallery at the Union House, University of Melbourne. The art improvement program that Slap Pals is talking about, is not about improving the quality of the art but the efficiency of producing art. The exhibition text is a parody of contemporary corporate language and has the best written room sheet that I have read in years.

It is also a potato based exhibition opening a day late for St. Patrick’s Day. The potatoes used in the show was supplied by their sponsor Georgie’s Harvest at South Melbourne Market. There are many potato references in the exhibition including potato battery power and potato prints but You, Tuber, a beautiful and sickening work, uses both a YouTube tutorial on tuba playing and colour mashed potatoes. And Slap Pals know that video art projections are an efficient means of filling a gallery space.

“Ever feel like you’re being cheated?” Joe Strummer asked the audience at the Roundhouse, London on the 23 September 1976.

Sure we all might feel like we are being cheated but who is doing the cheating is the real question. Are Slap Pals cheating at creating art? Is Joe Strummer cheating the audience by asking that question instead of The Clash belting out another song? It is not as if the combined activities of Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and every other contemporary artist that you might hate, caused the global financial crisis. That was done by very different people, who made vastly more money.

Do I make myself clear? It is a parody, a shock, a punk action and shooting the messenger is never solution when you listening to the message. “Ever feel like you’re being cheated?” Is this efficiency really an improvement? Is your manager talking complete bollocks? Fantastic work Slap Pals, who ever you are; you should get the sack in the next efficiency drive.

In the entrance gallery at George Paton Gallery there is Nik Lee’s “Polo for NASA: Listening to Lorde @ UniLodge”. Nik Lee’s sense of humour expressed in cryptic assemblies of commercial objects. His rearrangement of readymades creates a funky futuristic rootless world with strong sculptural qualities.


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