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Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

The earth art of Astral Nadir

Aside from the odd stencil or tag, that could be on a wall, Melbourne’s street art has rarely colonised the sidewalks. On the sidewalks you are more likely to encounter industrial graffiti, markings put there by council or utilities workers. That makes Astral Nadir’s paintings are an exception.

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Resembling ancient symbols, crop circles or Nazca lines, these patterns on the ground refer to the stars and sky. Attractive small abstract patterns of circles and curves connected with straight lines. They are a kind of tagging using images instead of an alphabet. They are also signs mapping a linear trail taken by the artist around Fitzroy and have a relationship with fire hydrants, poles and edges of the sidewalk.

Recently, I discovered that I was walking the same path as Astral Nadir when I was out looking at art galleries and street art. As I walked along Gertrude Street and up Smith Street I started to look for and photograph for the next piece but I didn’t see them all. On returning home and reviewing my photographs I noticed another one, on the pavement next to a wall with a piece by Shida that I was focused on.

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After posting some of my photos on Facebook, I was told that it was the work of Astral Nadir. (Thanks Liz Sonntag.) The rock’n’roll aspect of Astral Nadir’s name combine the high with the low in a synthesis where contradictions are resolved. I’m not sure how long ago these were done but the Instagram photos @astral_nadir are all from this year.

Although it is not great art, it is an exception to the ordinary and I do look forward to finding more.

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Looking for an exhibition

First Site Gallery at RMIT “I Feel Like I Know You” by Chris Bowes, not the musician but the little known Brisbane-based artist. Except I think that the image is a portrait of Chris Bowes, the heavy-metal musician. Each of the subjects of the portraits was a ‘Chris Bowes.’ Bowes has added something more to the usual mosaic of tiles creating an image as each of the tiles is the logo of a page that the subject liked on Facebook to create a portrait of them. It was a visually and intellectually pleasing exhibition.

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Another exhibitions at First Site was also looking at our digital image but unlike Bowes, Stephanie Milsom “All of It” was visually boring and focused entirely on herself. It is always more interesting to focus on other people rather than yourself.

I have a physiological reaction to bad art; it feels sickening (in the past bad poetry has caused me to actually vomit), oppressive and there is something like mental claustrophobia. Then there is the dull boredom of another average exhibition. I try to pay attention; maybe I haven’t paid enough attention, maybe the artist will improve in time, maybe it’s just my taste or even my current mood. It is always a risk, especially with the small galleries, the rental and artist run spaces.

I wanted to get back to my routine of visiting a couple of small galleries and writing a review of some or all of the exhibitions; regular readers will be aware of a gap of several months this winter without any reviews. Yesterday this became a desperate search for some art worth writing about.

Sometimes I am looking for a gallery that I haven’t visited before but recently I have been missing all of the galleries that have closed or moved to new locations. There are only two galleries left on Gertrude Street: Seventh and This Is No Fantasy. A decade ago there were seven, which is why there is Seventh Gallery.

At Seventh in Gallery Two, Joe Gentry and Jen Mathews exhibition; “skyscraper, school, shrine, slaughterhouse” looks at the power and inherent violence in architecture. It is a good idea and it can almost be seen in Jen Mathews’s substantial mixed media assemblages and Joe Gentry’s paper warehouses and houses with graffiti on their walls.


Akio Makigawa @ NGV

Akio Makigawa’s sculptures are elegant works amid the often ludic, bombastic, and inappropriate public sculptures in Australia. Now there is an exhibition of his sculpture at the NGV. The exhibition is on the foyer of each floor of the NGV Australia at Fed Square. It is part of the NGV’s series of exhibitions about sculptors that has included Inga King, Bruce Armstrong and Lenton Parr.

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Makigawa is also a break from the list of European names in the history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. Makigawa moved to Australia in 1974; the year after the White Australia policy finally ended in 1973. The sculptures on exhibition are familiar because Makigawa’s public sculptures are all around Australia. You have probably seen his sculptures as they are out the front of buildings in most capital cities and regularly appear behind parliamentarians giving press conferences in the gardens of Parliament house.

In public spaces his sculptures influence the space around them. It is a larger space than just the negative space around the sculpture; it is a space, a pause or rest, in the movement of the city. They are not obvious and neither are they rigorous theoretical abstractions. Their rigid geometry dissolving into natural forms of a leaf or flame of marble or resin.

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Seen in an exhibition, the viewer quickly becomes familiar with the similar shapes repeated in variations of material: corten steel, stainless steel, marble… Most of the work in the exhibition was very similar to his public sculpture until the third floor where there were three early works that are very different. In these early works lighter materials: papier-mâché, wood, rope, cotton… contrasting heavy materials, like stone and lead.

Also on the third floor is a collection of his maquettes, models for his sculptures. These are interesting because where other sculptors will use any convenient material, Makigawa used exactly the same materials that he used to make the final sculpture. There is a respect for the materials in his work, in the alternating, contrasting surfaces.

For more on Makigawa’s public sculptures.


Street Art Sculpture 8

Street art sculptures from the last twelve months and continuing my series of posts about street art sculptures and installations.

Street Art Sculpture 7 2016

Street Art Sculpture 6 2015 

street art sculpture in the Whitechapel Area

Street Art Sculpture 5 2015

10 Great Street Installation 2014

Street Art Sculpture III 2012

More Street Art Sculpture 2010

Street Art Sculpture 2009

Former Sydney-based sculptor Will Coles is now living in England; Banksy’s home town of Bristol to be precise. In Bristol he has been taking on the topical issue of memorials to racists and slave traders.

Junky Projects also continues to put up his sculptures, along with leading street art tours, however, I want to concentrate on a some unknown and lesser known artists. It is good to see that Discarded has continued and has left this great ceramic piece in Brunswick, as well as, one the smallest pieces that I’ve ever seen.

Forget Hosier Lane, Presgrave Place is still the best place for the second year running to look for street art sculptures in Melbourne. Crisp did this high up on the main wall along with reviving stencils with Star Wars memes lower down. Adi’s attempt at creating a guerrilla gardening planter box died.

 

Gigi has been making body parts with hair that are very disturbing in her own way. And the placement of this one is fantastic. They still work when covered in spray paint.

Visiting artist Mow left a few little doors and windows, part of a trend for tiny architecture in street art where many guys have been making models. There was even a miniature abandoned house chained up in Hosier Lane for a short time.

I also enjoyed seeing the work of Kai’s cast panels in the streets of New York this year.


The medical ethics of posthumous diagnosis of artists

The tradition of posthumous diagnosis of famous artists goes back at least to Sigmund Freud writing about Leonardo da Vinci in 1910. In his essay “Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood” Freud’s psychoanalytical examination of Leonardo focused on Leonardo’s painting The Virgin and Child and St. Ann. In this examination Freud as art connoisseur and Freud as psychologist are confused and ultimately Freud’s analysis and outing of Leonardo as a “passive homosexual” is unethical.

It is not uncommon for physicians to write papers where they give a posthumous diagnosis of medical conditions in notable dead artists or other identifiable historic figures, for example, that El Greco had astigmatism. However, I would urge that both the authors and the editors of medical journals to be consider the ethics and relevance of such papers.

The publication of inaccurate posthumous diagnosis created with the authority of a physician makes for both bad art history and bad medical science. Even though there is often more information about a notable artist, due to the existence of diary, letters and their works of art, than other people the likelihood of the posthumous diagnosis being incorrect is still very high. Of course it is not just physicians who make errors in art history, everyone is going to be wrong, however, what makes the physicians errors worse is that they are not making them using anything like proper medical methodology. The only things that can be learnt from the incorrect diagnosis of breast cancer in Rembrandt’s model for Bath of Bathsheba (1654) is that paintings are not a useful diagnostic tool, something that should already be obvious.

There needs to be some guidelines for both writers and editors regarding the ethics of publishing papers containing diagnosis of famous dead artists. I propose for reasons of both accuracy and ethics that priority be given to articles that explain a diagnosis made public by the artist during their lifetime and where there is a benefit to the public in making and explaining a diagnosis. If the diagnosis was not made during the artist’s lifetime it is more than likely to be incorrect. There is the potential for a diagnosis damaging the reputation of the artist and the reputation of their art.

Is it ethical for a physician to provide an unsolicited posthumous diagnosis of medical conditions in notable artists or other identifiable historic figures that they have never examined, simply as a matter of historic conjecture, because the person is both famous and dead?

“At their strongest, confidentiality protections after death would be equal to those in force during a patient’s life. Thus, if information about a patient may be ethically disclosed during life, it likewise may be disclosed after the patient has died.” (Opinion 5.051 – Confidentiality of Medical Information Postmortem, AMA website, accessed 18/12/2015)

The AMA does lay out some ethical reasons for the disclosure of medical information postmortem. In most articles about dead artists there is a clear failure to consider both “the impact disclosure may have on the reputation of the deceased patient” and the “personal gain for the physician that may unduly influence professional obligations of confidentiality.” (Opinion 5.051) There maybe some research and educational purposes in doctors writing about famous dead artists but in examining the literature there didn’t seem to be one clear example.

As a basic guidelines for physicians writing about famous dead artists or other famous dead persons: don’t write anything that you wouldn’t write when the person was alive. Writing about a diagnosis that was made during the person’s life that the person made public themselves provided that has a public benefit. But this is not a simple matter as can be seen in “Before and After and Superman – Andy Warhol” James C. Harris, MD JAMA Psychiatry January 2014 Volume 71, Number 1 (Downloaded From: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/ on 12/17/2015) Does the fact that Warhol openly discussed his childhood illness Sydenham chorea (historically known as St. Vitus dance) imply permission for further discussion of the effects of the illness on him? Is this different from an examination Warhol’s denied but widely reported use of amphetamines and cocaine? The confidence of Harris’s diagnosis that Warhol’s obsessive compulsive behaviour and hoarding an effect of Sydenham chorea ignores alternate explanations and Harris does not mention alternative explanations for Warhol’s behaviour. At what point does such discussion become inappropriate? Would making Warhol the post-child of the disease for an advertising campaign be appropriate?

These complicated cases aside lets have no more articles about El Greco’s eyesight, Richard Dadd’s mental illness or Giorgio De Chirico’s migraines. Instead let the final word be from: Bogousslavsky J “The last myth of Giorgio De Chirico: neurological art” (Front Neurol Neurosci. Epub 2010 Apr 6) who concluded that De Chirico’s art practice was “…a continuous, organized process to which organic brain dysfunction never contributed.”

(Thanks to Catherine Voutier for her assistance in the medical research.)


Where is Tintin?

Where is Tintin? Where is that brave boy reporter from Belgium who uncovers international conspiracies and corrupt corporations? Tintin was a model reporter who  thoroughly and boldly investigated his story. He is there on the spot investigating through coups, international crime and scientific expeditions.

Brussels wall 3 Tintin

Now the world needs Tintin more than ever. Now, when daily newspapers in major cities are closing down, or in Melbourne’s case now only in a tabloid format. Now, when sports, business and entertainment reporting is being automated. Now, we need the voice of the young boy reporter.

Who didn’t dream of being Tintin and what are you doing about it now? Now, anyone can be a reporter and there are a million stories in your city waiting for you to write them. You might not be able to bring down dictatorial regimes like Tintin – but the opportunity is there.

Even if you are not bringing down governments there are the usual journalistic thrills of finding a story, of being the first to report on a story, of finding that your story’s Google ranking is just below the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

The need for real reporters, or citizen journalists, is greater than ever. The world needs more people to act like Tintin and examine the actions of the state and corporations. To report first hand rather than to rely on media releases and media managed events. We need a greater diversity of voices and we need to cover a greater diversity of subjects.

Bloggers are accused of doing thing that the media does it just as often: lack of fact checking, lack of copyediting, copy and paste… It is said that we live in a copy and paste culture, where content is endless compiled from media releases. These accusations and common faults are evidence of the desperation of reporters/bloggers in these times.

And where is Tintin? Well, what do you think happened after he didn’t get paid for all those stories? On the expedition in The Shooting Star, Tintin is described as “the young reporter who will represent the press” (p.14) but we never see him writing a story, even in the final radio news report there is nothing about his story on the Sãn Rico financier that attempted to sabotage the expedition. It is never clear if he a freelance writer or is he on the staff of a newspaper or magazine. You never see Tintin sending invoices or going to editorial meetings. You never see the sponsorship that Tintin needs to pay for his expeditions.

Neither bloggers nor the mainstream media have developed a functional business model for their online versions and most print newspapers have rapidly diminishing revenue streams. When I get together with other bloggers the discussion always turns to how to monetise our blog: donation buttons, sponsorship, advertising…

The actual cartoon Tintin is a different matter, it is still very profitable and in 2015 there was a court case over image rights.


Morton’s Monument Park

One of the best public sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen is Callum Morton Monument Park, 2015, on New Quay in the Docklands. It ticks so many of my boxes for public sculpture. You can sit on it, climb on it, walk through it, it is site specific seamlessly integrated into the paving. At one point it is just ordinary paving and then the paving becomes draped material covering monuments. The draped monuments form a square, a hub, for people to gather. Architecture or sculpture it is hard to see where one starts and the other ends at Monument Park.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

What are these covered monuments before their unveiling? It is not clear, unlike Callum Morton’s earlier exhibition, ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ at Anna Schwartz Gallery (my review of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’), there are no plinths to provide clues. Monument Park has developed from the ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ series of wrapped versions of local public sculptures.

Given the recent violence over monuments to Confederate heroes in the USA perhaps it is better if these monuments were kept covered. As the First Dog in the Moon points out, Australia has yet to deal with its problematic monuments. I think that some of these monuments should be put in prison where they will no longer be looked up to. Morton manages a light reference to this discourse in cutting away at the interiors of his covered monuments. The bright colours of the exposed, geometric interior of the sculptures introduces splashes of bright colour to the area.

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Callum Morton, Monument Park, 2015

Wrapped sculptures have their own history in modern art in the work of Christo and, still earlier, Man Ray. These art history references adds to the quality of Monument Park without alienating the little children climbing on it. The mix of post-modern references and humour is typical of Callum Morton who originally trained as an architect before swapping to sculpture. His Hotel is a familiar sight to commuters on the Eastlink Freeway a public sculpture and is based on his early artworks influenced by architectural model making.

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (1 EastLink)

Callum Morton, Hotel, 2008 (photo courtesy of EastLink)


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