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Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Australian amorality

In Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) one of Byrne’s repurposed porcelain figure the wistful girl seated on a rock has sewn her lips together and has slashed her legs and arms, self-harming in despair. Byrne is also a ceramics conservator and uses the same conservation techniques to alter mass produced kitsch ceramics. She gives them a new political meaning with the judicious application of enamel paint.

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

I feel that I have failed as a critic this year because I did not write about “All we can’t see – Illustrating the Nauru Files” at Forty-Five Downstairs in August. Byrne’s figure was just one of the exhibiting artists in that exhibition. I wanted to address the deep systemic problems in Australia that have lead to this, however at the time I felt the pain depicted in the art too much and lacked the energy to write.

The Australian concentration camps are not the responsibility of one political party but are symptomatic of a deep lack of morality. There are so many examples of institutional child abuse, war crimes, genocidal activity in Australia’s recent history that all the apologies in the world cannot disguise the fact the country is amoral.

The cause of this Australian amorality is that either the majority of Australians or basic the structure of Australian politics is or both. At the foundation of this structure is the Australian constitution; a document without any protection of civil or human rights, a document that permits voting laws to be made on the basis of race. However the Australian constitution cannot be entirely to blame, it is merely facilitates a system without a conscience.

Nationalists consider that it a good thing for the subject of Australia’s criminality never to be raised. Denial, distraction and ‘no comment’ are the national character of a criminal state. You cannot have a civil debate when one side does not want to have one. Criminals charges must be brought against all those who participated in these crimes; only following orders, only doing your job, even only obeying the law are not excuses for crimes against humanity. And the Australian constitution completely rewritten so that these crimes can never happen again.

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Motherhood is the new performance art

For every parent whose children use them as a climbing frame Tiffany Parbs has a portable climbing frame and a slide; with the mockingly dry formalist titles of structure and slope. Photographs of Parbs and her children demonstrate how the stainless steel structures enhances the parental play gym.

Parbs’s art is both fun and part of the serious thought in contemporary art of using the artist’s body the prime material for sculpture. Turning a woman’s body into an actual playground rather than a political one is fun for most of the family and very amusing for the gallery visitor. After seeing Tiffany Parbs’s exhibition Smother at Craft I thought: motherhood is the new performance art.

This is not the imaginary ‘motherhood’ of ‘motherhood statements’ or the ideal mother but the physical state of being a mother. Performance art is a theoretically elevated, actually denigrated, state. As such it is a metaphor for (artists and) mothers.

Being a mother is everything that performance art always wanted: treating the body as a sculptural object, use of bodily fluids and an emphasis on the sexual without being erotic. Performance art is about endurance and duration where the body is public rather than private.

Pharbs is Melbourne based “conceptual jeweller” whose work is exhibited nationally and internationally including in The Language of Things at The Dowse Art Museum in NZ (2018) and Masked at Holding House, Detroit (2017). And Craft is a great location for this solo exhibition, bringing in the perfect audience for Parbs exhibition.

Conceptual jewellery is a good way to describe the variety of media and crafts used to create the work. Photographs by Tobias Titz of Pharbs and her two children document the performance elements. In attached (2018), they are attached with velcro to Pharbs garment. In fodder (2015) a baby sucks milk from a device that looks like a combination of a beer hat and fetish wear.


Street Art Sculpture 9

This is my annual survey of street art sculptures, installations and other three dimensional unauthorised art in Melbourne.

Tinky, Gigi, Junky Projects and Will Coles all put new work up on the walls of Melbourne streets and lanes but what I have seen most of this year is the work of Discarded. I don’t know if this is because of fate or other factors but I have seen a lot of Discarded ceramic work on the street. Discarded’s work looks like the children of Max Ernst’s frottage and Junky Projects. Cast in ceramic from discarded objects that she finds on the street: paint brushes, tubes of ointment, toy cars, tire tread…

Great to see Drasko, who is better known for his stencils, trying some low relief works. Classical style reliefs with added anachronistic elements like iPads and mobile phones. It is difficult to identify the artist behind these street art sculptures, even though I have seen a Drasko exhibition, I still required the brains trust of my social media network to identify his sculptural work. There is not a lot of room for a signature or ego on a piece of guerrilla public sculpture.

Another problem is that durable weather resistant materials are required for outdoor sculpture and before the twentieth century that meant stone or bronze. Now one solution to the problem of material for a street art sculpture comes from Rooster Terrible; we are in the bag age where all life is threatened by plastic.

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Yarn bombing continues to create sculptural forms in the street. The best example that I saw this year was the installation at Uncle Dickey’s Free Library in Coburg. It is derivative but relevant.

For more about street art sculptures see my earlier posts:

Street Art Sculpture 8 2017

Street Art Sculpture 7 2016

Street Art Sculpture 6 2015 

street art sculpture in the Whitechapel Area

Street Art Sculpture 5

10 Great Street Installation 2014

Street Art Sculpture III 2012

More Street Art Sculpture 2010

Street Art Sculpture 2009


Eight books

Eight books that changed my mind about art and visual culture.

  1. The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali, as told to André Parinaud When I found this book in my high school library it blew my teenage mind. Dali made thinking about art exciting and full of possibilities. 
  2. Theories of Modern Art, a source book by artists and critics Edited by Herschell B. Chip. This was on my first year art history reading list and I  keep on reading and rereading the various texts by artists and critics in it. It was this book that opened my mind to the theoretical and political aspects of art. 
  3. John Berger Ways of Seeing This short book is an excellent introduction to Marxist art criticism. It is also the easiest and fastest to read on the whole list, some chapters only have pictures but does not diminishes its quality.
  4. Arthur Danto The Transfiguration of the Common Place I read this when I was doing my Master’s thesis. If you want to know what is art is at a very deep Hegelian level, Danto’s institutional theory of the art world is worth reading. Danto’s art world is not about organisations defining art but a metaphor … The problem is that art world as an organisational theory is useful and Danto’s metaphor may be too subtle to be useful.
  5. Notes from the Pop Underground Edited by Peter Belsito. Expanding my idea of what was possible as art were the subjects of this collection of interviews that I found in the sale bin at Minotaur. When I bought the book I only knew about Keith Haring and Spalding Grey but this book introduced me to Art Spiegelmam, Diamonda Galas,  the Church of the Subgenius, Survival Research Labs and others. 
  6. Greil Marcus Lipstick Traces – a secret history of the Twentieth Century. The secret history of Dada, rock’n’roll and the Situationalists born from a radical negation is not explained but wonderfully retold. Marcus weaves in obscure anabaptist heretics and punk rockers gleamed before easy internet searches. I also have the CD of the book and I must share Marie Osmond reciting Dada poetry. I haven’t seen the stage production of the book; how many non-fiction books have stage versions?
  7. Stewart Home The Assault on Culture – Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War diligently tells the history of utopian culture from Dada to Neo-Dada in just over a hundred pages. The history of the groups that are ignored in a broad sweep from Dada to the Situationalists and Punk. In the afterword Home writes distinguishing art movements from isms, sensibilities and traditions. Home argues that: “‘Isms’ are emotional categorisations and close examination often reveals them to be intellectually incoherent.”
  8. Art in Society Edited by Paul Barker. More essays by John Berger, Dennis Potter, amongst others including Angela Carter, writing about sixties style and make-up, and a great essay by Micheal Thompson, Rubbish Theory that explains the chaotic flow of valuations of everything from used cars to art. These essays on films, popular music, marketing, design, television, theatre expanded my idea of critical examination of culture.

Can we digitise a museum?

In the wake of the catastrophic fire at the National Museum of Brazil it has been suggested (in Wired and Sydney Business Insights) that a digital version of museums collections could replace the need for actual public access. This assumes that the fetichism of the original, a kind of contact magic, is the principle reason for the continued practice. As an atheist I do not believe in contact magic but I don’t go to museums for that reason.

NGV Ian Potter

Although the National Gallery of Victoria has described itself as “custodian of the richest treasury of visual arts in the southern hemisphere”. There are other reasons, aside from guarding the horde, for a state museum or art gallery.

Firstly, museums provide unmediated contact with an analogue item is a natural interface. We can look it closer or stand back without any digital interface or restrictions from the technology. The average museum visitor only spends a few seconds on average looking at an exhibit and this would quickly become exhausting if mediated by clicking or swiping.

Secondly, not all people going to a museum are there to contact the original. I am not always looking at the original. Be it Richard Hamilton’s replica of Duchamp’s Large Glass or a working replica of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel that I could play with. The working replica of Bicycle Wheel was much better than any authorised edition because I could see the often mentioned op art effect of light through the rotating spokes as I turned the wheel.

Finally, it is not the object but the journey and it is not the object but the place. This makes the reasons for a museum much more complex than a storehouse. Museums, art galleries and libraries are public spaces, places where there is the possibility of all kinds of interactions that has to happen in an actual space. Not only that they are public spaces located in an actual and complex world; a world where destination architecture is also a local building.

For me, the best part of going to see the art of the Belgium Surrealists was not contact with the relics of that art movement (which is distinctly different from the French Surrealists). The best part was that it lead me to Mons and the Ducasse de Mons or Doudou festival; an accidental encounter with a parade, a dragon and street festival. It was a lot of fun straight out of Fraser’s The Golden Bough with lots of Belgium beer. (I must have been having fun all I have is a terrible shot of the parade and a photo of me and local drinking beer.)


Signing Off and Shouting Out

Word up on signing off and shouting out.

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I have been reading and collecting graffiti writer’s sign offs; that is the side comments near the outer edge of a piece of graffiti. If it is a name or a list of names it is called a ‘shout out’; as in when a DJ gives a shout out to a listener, a graff writer gives a shout out to a watcher. (Thanks Harry Nesmoht for clearing up ‘sign off’ and ‘shout out’ for me.) The names in shout-outs are often obscure but the sign offs can be an interesting read.

Written in a relatively clean and easy to read font; sign offs are a trace of pre-hip hop graffiti when words and slogans were all there was.

Often they will tell you where the writers, if they aren’t local, are from. Brunswick and Coburg must have felt like home for the German speaking graffiti writers.

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Or what event, the wall was painted for, this one was for the Meeting of Styles in 2016.

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Interesting taste in music and it is not hip hop; it is a line from The Magnetic Fields “Papa Was A Rodeo” (from 69 Love Songs: Volume 2, 1999).

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Sometimes the writer is leaving a message for a wider public like Bailer explaining his position to a slasher. Ironically there are lots of messages to taggers to leave the wall alone.

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Or adding a political comment about the current state of Hosier Lane.

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That is so cold it is cool. Killing them with style.

Shout out to Rise for his shout out to me. Signing off this post: cheers!

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