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The Message at Yarra Sculpture Gallery

An exhibition of four installations that “transform language into visible and physical forms”, curated by Sarah Randal and the YSG. The curatorial conceit of transforming language into visible and physical forms is too easy, I’ve just done it myself with text. I doubt that half of the installations have anything to do with language.

There are other curatorial connections to be made in the exhibition; the four women artists have all transitioned between places with different dominate languages. And otherwise, the curators have made excellent use of the space.

Annette Chang, Shopping Net #3

Annette Chang, Shopping Net #3

 

In the largest of the YSG gallery spaces, Annette Chang, Shopping Net #3 hangs from the ceiling, flowing in and around itself, finally draping on the floor. Since 2012 Chang collects all her receipts folds them on to the net and taped closed. The paper flags recording her purchases as days go by.

In Senye Shen, Shifting Field #1 and #2, print installation of lino and relief prints, footprints and petals, cut from the prints, leads you through the space to the next space. Shen has been cutting many lines cut into lino to deploy the moiré effect; bubbling and rippling along her series of prints. (Sorry I forgot to photograph them.) Shen was gallery sitting on the day that I visited.

Anwar Anwar, Dancing Letters

Anwar Anwar, Dancing Letters

Anwar Anwar invites the viewer to carefully navigate around, Dancing Letters, the long hanging Arabic letters cut out of paper that almost fill YSG’s projection room. It is a delicate journey around them. Avan Anwar is a Kurdish artist who is referencing the Nalî, a 19th Century Kurdish poet and fellow exile.

Pimpisa Tinpalit, Silence is like an illustration of an unknown, unspoken sutra. The ladder of linked arms reaches to the heavens or at least the ceiling. The gold leaf applied to the hands emphasising their importance to the lesson that we can only imagine. To indulge in language for a moment; the word ‘sutra’ comes from Sanskrit sūtra ‘thread, rule’, from siv ‘sew’, like the black rope that ties the arms together.

Pimpisa Tinpalit, Silence

Pimpisa Tinpalit, Silence

 

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Nicky Winmar Statue – Significance and Beauty

Hanging above my desk is HaHa’s stencil portrait of Nicky Winmar and I have long wanted to see a public bronze statue of Winmar ever since that football match at Victoria Park in 1993. I’ve never been interested in Australian football nor do I think that more bronze statues are a great addition to a cityscape. I wanted one because Winmar’s gesture in reply to racist taunts is both significant and beautiful.

HaHa, Nicky Winmar, 2009

HaHa, Nicky Winmar, 2009

Australia is still in love with monuments and memorials. There is no shortage of recent official monuments and memorials in Melbourne from traditional bronze figures to abstract monuments, like the Great Petition. These permanent monuments express the desire to establish a national mythology but given the lack of statues of both women and Indigenous people it is not representative.

Public sculpture is an obvious indication of the political and social values and structures of a place. Public sculptures make obvious public statements, from the choice of subjects to the style of the finished work it is all deliberate. This is why Australia needs a statue of a proud Noongar man standing victorious in defiance racist taunts.

If someone had asked me which sculptor I would like to sculpt Winmar I would have picked Melbourne-based sculptor, Louis Laumen because of his experience in sculpting sporting heroes around the MCG. Not that anyone asked me (nor I am surprised that they didn’t, I have no power or influence) but the commission did go to Laumen. I don’t like Laumen’s style but I know that it will be appreciated by the crowds of football supporters. My one criticism is why Laumen keeps on making statues with their mouths half open; Wayne Ludbey’s photo shows that Winmar was tight lipped as he points to his chest.

The only problem now facing the statue of Winmar is that it hasn’t been decided where to install it: Melbourne or Perth. Perth because Perth’s Optus Stadium on Noongar land. It is a strange problem for a sculpture and the Indigenous Past Players Association is right to question the process because generally a location for the sculpture is agreed before it is commissioned. There is an obvious solution to this problem; bronze sculptures can be made in multiple additions. So lets put our hands in our collective pockets and pay Louis Laumen and Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine for another edition of this important sculpture.


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.


Uncle Dickey’s Library Install

The very hungry caterpillar crawls along the fence line. Three little pigs, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear and other characters from children’s literature adore more of the fence and poles.

Near the train line crossing on Reynard Street in Coburg is Uncle Dickey’s Library, a little free library. It is just a small, red wooden cupboard full of free books and a red garden bench by the railway fence. Uncle Dickey’s library was the first of Coburg’s free libraries starting in 2014 a little further along the line before moving to its present location after a fire.

It is now decorated with an installation by Yarn Corner. The theme of children’s literature makes it one of the most elaborate and relevant yarn bombing installations that I have seen.

What a yarn bomber with the tag of “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Yes, yarn bombers tag their work with laminated tags.

Most of what we do in public is still exclusive, rarely do we walk or talk with strangers. Yarn bombing and free libraries, on the other hand, are inclusive street activities inviting strangers to join in. If you do want to do some yarn bombing just get in touch with Yarn Corner on Facebook.

This kind of open individual initiated anarchic activities, yarn bombing and free libraries, raise the larger question of what kind of society do we want to create?

Where is Wally?

Yarn corner

Yarn Corner Uncle Dickey’s Library Install


The End of Modernism

The death of Tom Wolfe reminded me that amongst his many publication Wolfe wrote a short book about modern art, The Painted Word. The blurb on the book’s cover sums it up. “Another blast at the phonies! – The author of the The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test exposes the myths and men of modern art.” In the end Wolfe’s predictions about the future of art were wrong; modernism did not have a hard landing and the art critics are not more famous than the artists.

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Modernism was over by the time that The Painted Word was published in 1975. Modernism was not a fad, it was not a fantasy that was sold to the world by con artists or imposed on it by dictators. Rather it was a reasoned, articulated theory supported by empirical evidence. This doesn’t mean that it was right only that the conservatives own position of royalism, nationalism and tradition was less reasoned, articulated and supported by evidence.

Wolfe’s, and other conservatives, aversion to the ‘theoretical’, the “word” in his “painted word” is a conservative reaction to any explanation other than his own (and I use the masculine pronoun here deliberately). They assume, that ideas and words spring straight from the world into their mind and concocted ‘theories’ are corrupting influences on this allegedly natural state. In this way the ‘theoretical’ could spoil your enjoyment of art or life as if theories are like a vampiric thoughts sucking the joy out of living through understanding.

Ironically (and irony is his middle name) the great debunking of modern art had already been done by Marcel Duchamp. However, the vitriol that the conservatives have for Duchamp blinds them to this and, because Duchamp’s attacks were a kind-of pre-post-modern deconstruction of modern art, rather than by defending traditional values. It was Duchamp’s critique, rather than the conservatives, that laid the grounds for the end of modernism.

However, instead of a total collapse of modernism, as the idealism drained from the market modernism had a soft landing. This was facilitated by changes in the technology that allowed greater growth in popular culture: television, portable music technology, internet, etc. Music on demand used to be the high point of culture available only to the very rich; now everyone has the ability to listen to music or watch videos any time and anywhere and private tastes can be developed without the approval of friends or family multiplying the market for the arts.

This meant that the domination of the state art institutions and funding by ideological forces during the later part of the Cold War was rapidly and successfully short circuited by artists who reached a mass audience through popular media. The popular arts provided an economic way to bypass the moribund system of academic/institutional arts grants until the academic/institutions adapted to the post-modern world.

The idea of an ideological domination of post-modern thinking is an absurd misunderstanding of a decentralised non-hierarchical system. Few of the leading contemporary artists paint and most of them use aerosol paint cans. Tom Wolfe is dead but his attitude that modern art is a con is still an article of faith amongst many conservatives.


Hosier Lane 2018

Hosier Lane has changed and will continue to change, it has also stayed the same. The homeless are still in Hosier Lane, seeking shelter around the corner in Rutledge Lane. There are still people doing graffiti in the lane, residents who live in buildings and the workers in the businesses but mostly there are the tourists, local, interstate and international tourists. Hosier Lane is an established part of the Melbourne tourist experience.

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From the instigator, Andy Mac moving out of his laneway apartment to draconian anti-graffiti legislation and the threat of installation of CCTV there have been many predictions that the lane would cease to be a successful street art zone. However no-one predicted that the lane would be killed by its own success. What did you expect from street art and graffiti’s aim for mass appeal?

Now many street artists and graffiti writers are complaining that the lane is being destroyed by tourists. There were always tourists who visited the lane but now there are more tour groups and individual tourists than ever before. Tourist attraction are the Kali Yuga, the fourth stage of the world.

There always was developments and building in the lane but now the Culture Kings shop is ripping a hole in the middle. At least we spared it overshadowed by a massive tower, yet another of its predicted demises; Keep Hosier Real.

It has long been an established photo location for bridal, fashion, advertising and selfies but now it is difficult to even walk up it because of the number of cameras pointed across the narrow lane. Every metre there is someone posing for a selfie next to its walls thick with aerosol paint.

Melbourne’s great graffiti location has become crowded with tourists, tour groups all day, every day. There always were tourist in Hosier Lane, often they were on ‘spraycations’, visiting graffiti writers and street artists from around the world had long contributed some of the graffiti in the lane. However, now there is tagging on pieces by people whose handwriting demonstrates that they have no idea of graffiti or its etiquette (do not tag on a piece).

It long ago ceased to be the best place in the city to see street art and graffiti but the tourists don’t care. They are too busy taking photographs of each other in front of its walls. It doesn’t matter that the quality of the painted walls because the focus of their cameras is on the tourist and not the walls. Although it once was sufficient to see Hosier Lane to understand the vibrant scene; seeing or painting in Hosier is no longer necessary for the survival Melbourne’s street art and graffiti.

One obvious benefit that Hosier Lane still provides is that it is an example to every local council and business as to what a success that a graffiti and street art zone can have in the centre of the city. One of the more surprising recent changes is that along with the tourists there is more protest art in the lane, for more on that see my Political Graffiti in 2018. I have been watching and reporting on the development of Hosier Lane for over a decade and I intend to keep on.

protest art in Hosier Lane 2018

Protest art in Hosier Lane 2018


Nicholas Building Exhibitions

Three sentence reviews of four exhibitions in Melbourne’s Nicholas Building, where there is always more than you expect to find.

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In Response, Craft Cubed Festival, Cathedral Arcade

A video loop of a site-specific performance piece by two dancers, Briarna Longville and Elise Drinkwater using jewellery by jewellers Ruby Aitchison and Annie Gobel. One of the necklaces of made of metal strips is on exhibition along with the video. At times it looks like puppetry of necklaces, at times a fashion parade but the work does succeed at a hybrid event.

Alex Walker and Nick James Archer, Visible Absence, Blindside Gallery One, Level 7

The empty experience of missing the building next door which has been demolished to build the Metro tunnel. The absence is made visible by some sheets of acrylic with minimal images printed on them. Some of the sheets of obscure the window that looks out on the demotion site, one is on a trolley and another is out in the corridor.

Jeremy Bakker, Unfathoming, Blindside Gallery Two, Level 7

“Unfathoming” suggests a reduction in depth and this witty little works by a clever artist  plays on shallowness. In his Manifest density (2018) various glasses have been melted down and poured into a mould made from the negative space of the glass. I could have lived without so much text accompanying the exhibition; the work spoke to me more than the printed words.

Matlok Griffiths, Hole of Mirrors, Reading Room, Level 6

Painted bronze hanging on the wall, a high art materials meets slacker art attitude in a dull resolution. Dumb doodling with a square of wax that was then cast in bronze and then painted. The Reading Room is a beautiful gallery space occupying one corner of the sixth floor.

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