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Monthly Archives: April 2018

You are here, wish you were there

I didn’t expect to see Godzilla in Tokyo. On my recent trip to Japan; I encountered Godzilla, a bit of graffiti and a few art galleries.

The statue is based on the film “Shin Godzilla” released in 2016 and had just been installed when I first saw it in March. It is the second Godzilla sculptures in the square; the previous statue, from 1995, was modelled after the original 1954 Godzilla. It is not monstrous, the statue measures about 3 meters in height, which seems small for Godzilla. It is located in Hibiya Godzilla Square where Toho Studios, who made the Godzilla movie, was founded. And it, stands next to a booth for buying cinema tickets.

“This statue contains the surviving final version of the shooting script and storyboard from Godzilla (1954). Here resides the soul of Godzilla.” The statue’s plaque states along with: “Man must live with Godzilla – Rando Yaguchi Unidentified Creature Response Special Task Force Headquarters” It is the first sculpture based on a movie that I have seen but as the quote from the movie script argues we have to learn to live with monsters. (“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146)

I almost always write a post about what street art I saw on my holiday (see my posts on Athens, Dublin and Korea) only I didn’t see much Japanese street art or graffiti. I was expecting to encounter some along the streets or lanes or along the rail corridors but I didn’t see enough to write a blog post about. Nothing that was even worth a photo: a bit of tagging, a paste-up and even a small piece of yarn bombing.

I did see several art galleries in Japan from the elegant contemporary, Museum of 21st Century Art in Kanazawa to the Sumida Hokusai Museum, the most unergonomic museum that I’ve ever visited (both C and I came out with aching backs from leaning in to see the prints). I have already written about some of the exhibitions that I saw in one post about sakura influenced art in Japan. I don’t think that I will be writing anymore as writing blog posts was way down on my list of priorities in my travelling to Japan.

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Taree Mackenzie @ Neon Parc

Sometimes it seems that I have seen it all before, not more paintings about painting, please no more photographs of empty playgrounds, and then I see some new, amazing and beautiful art. This outstanding art is the reason why I’ve been visiting so many galleries and looking at so much average art.

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It is hard to see at first. Inside Neon Parc in Brunswick it is dark except for the coloured lights of Taree Mackenzie’s art. What is going on? The set up for each piece, rotating black shapes and panels of light and glass, neatly occupies the dark corners of the gallery. The elegant symmetry and minimalist design of the mechanism that creates the images are exposed. The science is known, involving reflectivity and coloured filters removing colours, you may have even seen some of it in dinky science demonstrations but never at this scale or elegance. The optical trick may be obvious but it is so beautifully executed that I didn’t care.

Mackenzie uses a couple of basic optical effects to create simple beautiful images, ultra-modern abstract animated images. The images that exist on the glass’s surface and looking through the glass are a purely retinal art. The simplicity and minimalism of the rotating objects and primary light colours contributing to their trippy, hypnotic experience.

Mackenzie has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from the Victorian College of the Arts and an interest in maths and science. She has a strong track record for creating installations that use simple tricks using light and colour to create abstract images. However, unlike Mackenzie’s previous exhibitions, this time her simple abstract images are mediated without the use of video cameras and monitors. For more read an interview with Mackenzie by Maura Edmond on Primer


Eyes open in Brunswick

I’m keeping my eyes open. I’m looking around. I have not got my face fixed on the screen of my mobile phone as I walk so I notice things on the streets of Brunswick and Coburg. Anarchist posters with anti-religion and anti-fascist graphics and all the beautiful aerosol works down the bluestone alleyways.

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Inspector Gadget over Tinning Street

I hope that whoever is doing the Wandjina spirit in paint, paste-ups (and now in ceramics?) has the cultural authority to use the sacred image. That they are an Mowanjum person from the Kimberley and not some Europeans living in the Blue Mountains, as in the 2017 controversy over the use of the image of the Wandjina spirit. But then this is the street and nobody is meant to know.

Discarded

Discarded

A piece by Discarded along the bike track is less obvious. I can’t be sure that I haven’t overlooked this piece for a year or more. The cast ceramic pieces of discarded items found on the street are collaged together into a new form. The piece is framed by the better brickwork outside the patch. I am keeping my eyes open as I quickly photograph the piece to avoid being run over by a bicycle when I kneel down.

Civil painting

Civil painting in Brunswick

Sometimes it is so obvious that you only have to be there. I see Civil behind a row of orange bollards, half way up another wall in a Sydney Road carpark. He is painting another scene of stick-figure people, dogs and bicycles with a brush. The description of stick-figures sounds crude when the practiced lines of Civil’s figures is anything but crude. They have the simplicity of a figure by Keith Haring or Matisse. The curved  lines arms and active legs along with the simple details of hats, dresses and bicycles.

I saw a lot of new Civil walls for it was only an hour before that I’d noticed that Civil has repainted his old wall in Tinning Street with more of his stick figures but this time against a bright green background. For more on Civil read my earlier post. 

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Another wall by Civil in Brunswick

Keeping my eyes open in Brunswick had its visual rewards.


Synthesizers at Grainger Museum

I am a synthesizer nerd, I once was in Clan Analogue and recently I had to go into a music shop just to look at an ARP synth. Synthesizers inspired synesthesia generated new images in my head. So I had to see and hear “Synthesizers: Sound of the Future” at the Grainger Museum.

I went to the exhibition opening where David Chesworth, ex-Essendon Airport (the band), made a speech. In it he described the institutional and scientific machismo associated with the limited access to the early synthesizers.

Although Chesworth describes synths as “freedom machines” and associates this with Percy Grainger’s “free music”. The location for the exhibition and Grainger are additional point in the strange connection between the right wing and synthesizers. From the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo’s Art of Noise to Gary Numan’s support for Margaret Thatcher this strange connection persisted until access to synths changed and synths for the consumer market became widely available.

After the speeches there was a performance by Lauren Squire and Matthew Wilson of OK EG using one of the old synths from the collection of the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio. The exhibition has a public program of events; for more go to https://grainger.unimelb.edu.au/whats-on

The exhibition has some of the first analogue synthesizers that were used in Melbourne’s electronic scene in the late 60s, including the EMS VCS-3, a classic black box instrument, that was used by Pink Floyd, Brian Eno and Jean-Michel Jarre, and an EMS Spectre video synthesizer, which will explain all the graphics that you would see in an early 80s music clip. All of the synths on exhibition are working and can be used, to a limited extent, by visitors to the gallery.

There are more interactive exhibits at the Grainger Museum including some experimental electronic instruments of Grainger’s designs. You can even play on a Moog Theremin signed by Bob Moog. The Grainger Museum remains one of Melbourne’s most curious and thought provoking places. The examples of magnetic tape loops, that were used in the Grainger Electronic Music Studio in the 1960s, hanging in the display case look like some of the masochistic Grainger’s leather whips that are also on display a few vitrines further on. 


Sakura influenced art in Japan

The influence of cherry blossom time on the art of Japan. The masses of pale pink petals exploding across the bare trees before any green leaves appear have been a feature of Japan art for centuries. On a recent trip to Japan I did flower viewing hanami) of the cherry blossoms (sakura) in Ueno Park, Nara, Kyoto and in the mountains around Kobe. I also saw a couple of exhibitions and many beautiful works of art influenced by sakura time.

Tsuchida Bakusen, Oharame, Women Peddlers

Tsuchida Bakusen, Oharame, Women Peddlers, 1915 (photo Yamatane Museum of Art)

The Yamatane Museum of Art was showing a thematic exhibition: “Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2018 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!” (Exclamation marks are common in Japanese translated into English.) It was an exhibition of traditional Japanese art, separated from the influence of contemporary international art; paintings in ink or the thick opaque mineral based Japanese pigments. Even though most of the paintings were recent, their techniques and style are traditional. However, tradition does change and in Tsuchida Bakusen’s Oharame, Women Peddlers, 1915, there is an awareness of French modern art in the way the women’s foot was loosely drawn.

There were other exhibitions influenced by cherry blossom time, paintings beautiful women (bijinga). I didn’t see the exhibition at the Tokyo University of the Arts, “Masterpieces of Beautiful Women Paintings”, but I did see the Sumida Hokusai Museum’s exhibition “ Hokusai Beauty – the brilliant women of Edo”. The roots of bijinga are in genre paintings and ukiyo-e in the Edo period and although Hokusai is noted for his landscapes he did many bijinga during his long career. Paintings of beautiful women are genre in European art too but in Japan the focus in more on the fashion rather than the flesh.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum is a shiny new building built near the artist’s birthplace. It does not a large permanent exhibition but without the temporary exhibition it would have been a disappointingly small experience. The design of the building has a real triple bottom line by enhancing the local community with a local park and a children’s playground on the museum’s plaza. 

For more on sakura art read the Library of Congress notes on another exhibition.

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(photo thanks to Catherine Voutier)


Competitive psychogeography, preliminary rules

Introducing a new competitive form of walking combining a scavenger hunt with aspects of psychogeography. Walks would be scored not on speed but on what the what the walker, sees, photographs and collects on the walk. Judges, or social media, used to award bonus points. These rules still need to be tested, fine tuned and agreed to by a federation of competitive psychogeographers.

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Points are awarded for:

Spotting cats, first person to see and say: ‘cat’ wins one point. Photographing and reviewing random cats on Twitter for bonus points. Twitchy bird watchers may not approve but the birds are also trying to spot cats.

Playing cards, collecting found playing cards on walks with the objective is to make a full deck. The highest poker hand collected on the walk wins extra points.

Pavement stars are the junction of five or more divisions in the pavement. Avoid stepping on cracks in the pavement, although there is no penalty point for this.

Paper planes; the beat artist Harry Smith picked up every paper airplane he saw on the streets of Manhattan from 1961 to 1983 and his collection of paper planes is now with the Getty Research Institute.

Bonus points are awarded for:

Classic psychogeographical exercises in imagining new or clandestine uses for buildings. Consider what a building or area could be used for in a movie, here are some examples.

Paintspotting graffiti, street art and ghost-signs; again bonus points awarded for online posting.

Gleaming and foraging for edible weeds, fruit hanging over fences, hard rubbish collecting, dumpster diving and other locally sourced resources. This could be scored by weight, per kilo.

Saying ‘Snap’ when you spot someone with a matching item of clothing etc. to what you or your companions are currently wearing or carrying. I’m not sure how to score this but it should be higher than the single point awarded for simply spotting cats.

These rules are still in development and further suggestions for rules or point scoring are welcomed.


Biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne

Biomorphic surrealism was about making things in the shape of life, often microscopic animal or plant life. Alfred H. Barr defined biomorphism as: “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” It can be seen in the curvy amorphous forms created by modern artists, including Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. You might think that biomorphic surrealism was an evolutionary dead-end but it has a surprising number of ancestors, especially in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

The most obvious of these is on the NewQuay Promenade: Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02. This cluster of white sculptures are clearly influenced by Arp’s biomorphic sculptures.

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John Meade, Aqualung

Aqualung by John Meade in 2006 is like a big black slug or an enormous tube worm with a bifurcating end that stretches through the atrium of the National Bank/Lend Lease tower at 839 Collins Street. “The counter positioning of the sculpture against the utility of the design and function of the building” (artist statement 2006) Melbourne based sculptor Meade was born in Ballarat in 1956 and has a sculpture in the NGV collection and another public sculpture, Riverside Corolla 2011, a suspended sculpture the central atrium in Southbank.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Picinni, Car Nuggets, 2006

Patricia Piccinini’s Car Nuggets, 2006 are in the grounds of the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence. Piccinini is famous for her hyperreal sculptures of mutant creatures. In earlier work she made biomorphic mopeds with mirrors like antlers and I took this trio of sculptural seats to be the eggs or pupae of similar creatures.

 

Other biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne include Matthew Harding’s Fruition 2013 in Royal Park on the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue. And Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda; Tethya is the genus of some Port Phillip sea sponges. Biomorphic forms are still a fruitful form for many Melbourne sculptors.


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