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Category Archives: Culture Notes

Vampire killing at the Police Museum

Sometimes a small focused museum can be a wonderful thing, at other times, not. The Melbourne’s Police Museum is a small museum on the mezzanine level of the World Trade Centre on Flinders Street. You probably didn’t know that Melbourne had a police museum and this is possibly intentional as the museum, and the gift shop, are really for members of the force only, except that it open to everyone with a gold coin donation.

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Caricature of Sir Thomas Blamey by Leonard Frank Reynolds 1926

Aside from one suit of armour from the Kelly gang, the managed carcass of the car from the Russell Street bombings is the centrepiece of the museum. When I visited there was a temporary exhibition about members of the force who died in World War One which tells more about Australian nationalism than policing. These memorials to dead members of the force gets in the way of any other narratives that the museum could present. There is no display showing the development of handcuffs, uniforms or police radios. Technology, such as bomb disposal is presented in isolation rather than as part of a progression. This is because conservative history and museums are about memorialising the past rather than examining or explaining developments.

The Police Museum acknowledges that its former Chief Commissioner Blamey was a fascist in displaying a caricature of him. However, there is no examination on how that effected the Victoria Police (whose motto of ‘uphold the right’ has to be viewed differently in light of this association).

The purpose of the museum can be summed up by the strangest of all the museum’s exhibits is a vampire killing kit. Vampire killing kits are a thing and this isn’t a great version. They are about as real as religious relics, almost as common and like many religious relics vampire killing kits are confections concocted out of antiques. The kit contributes nothing to anyone’s knowledge of the police. The simple reason that it is on display in the Police Museum is that it is a curiosity that the police posses after confiscating it from a criminal.

The museum is hardly worth visiting but I did as part of my research into Melbourne’s art and crime. I was disappointed because I learnt almost nothing from the my visit, however, in examining my disappointment I have learnt the difference between a conservative and a progressive museum. Conservative museums are about memorials rather than explanation, events rather than developments, and satisfying curiosity rather than gaining knowledge. And the police museum is a very conservative museum.

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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. 


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.


Planning a city

“Between the Street and the Sky” describes itself as a “provocation for Melbourne” rather than an exhibition about urban planning. It is at the City Gallery in Melbourne Town Hall. The elegant little display is certainly provocative in putting the gigantic growth of central Melbourne into perspective. More people are living in tall buildings with an ever smaller footprint. However, increases in population have not been met with an equivalent investment by either the city council or businesses.

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“Between the street and the sky”, model by Christopher White/Bates Smart

Planning is currently a hot topic in Melbourne, maybe in the rest of Australia too. This is because the quality of planning in Australia is catastrophic. Consider another example not covered in the “Between the Street and the Sky” exhibition. A major tourist attraction damaged for the benefit of a short term commercial interest. It could be  the impact of the Culture Kings shop on Hosier Lane, it could be the Apple store in Federation Square or Adani coal mine in Queensland potential to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. Take your pick they are all examples of Australia’s lack of planning. It is not just tourism that is threatened but the environment, to culture, to being able to live a good life.

Rather than focusing on one issue I want to know why Australians repeatedly makes these kind of decisions. I will not be blaming one political party for it because that is simply false and the people who do that are part of the problem, as they are trying to get a short term political advantage while damaging Australia in the long term through entrenched partisanship. I am happy acknowledge that this kind of decision making is not unique to Australia if the Australian demanding this will acknowledge that Australia is amongst the best in the world at doing irreparable damage to its own long term interests.

It is a problem of poor planning, avoiding planning and not planning. It is as if many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. This is especially true of the British colonial immigrants who became Australia’s ruling class. Australians often don’t want any other people in the area because this would additional people who will just reduce the amount that they can exploit. This paranoid and greedy reaction to the limited resources drives both Australia’s abuse of refugees and a local defence of the status quo in suburban infrastructure and planning.

Instead of avoiding the difficult issues Australia needs plans.


Art or arts?

‘Art’, as in ‘contemporary art’ or ‘modern art’, is different from ‘the visual arts.’ This subtle distinction confuses many people including some professional artists and has been the cause of many and repeated disputes. If it weren’t for this confusion and disputes arising from it the distinction would hardly worth mentioning.

‘Art’ is a singular noun that describes a collective idea. What exactly art is never become specific, it is an opened set, like games. It does not have the definite article ‘the’ nor the indefinite article ‘an’ because ‘the arts’ and ‘an art’ are entirely different to ‘art’. ‘The arts’ is the vaguest of the variants as it can mean everything from the humanities, logic, rhetoric to juggling and dance. ‘An art’ is at least referring to some specific skill. Whereas ‘the visual arts’ or ‘the fine arts’ are plural nouns with a definite article that means architecture, painting, drawing and sculpture.

The differences between the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Musée du Louvre explains distinction between the fine arts and art. Both are the result of a royal collection, in the case of Dulwich the King of Poland-Lithuania, a country that ceased to be before the collection of fine arts could be delivered to its king. Opened to the public in 1817, it was opened to students of the Royal Academy two years earlier. Dulwich collection contained works of fine arts for students to study whereas the Louvre contained works of art.

The Louvre had opened twenty years earlier, in 1793, but had already made a revolutionary decision that would make a major difference The revolutionary difference is that the Louvre, along with a royal collection, included confiscated church property as a way of conserving them. The church altarpieces in the Louvre, decontextualised with their religious function removed, became art when displayed to be looked at as if they were paintings or sculptures.

‘Art’ emerged from the discourse about looking at things, like altarpieces in the Louvre, as if they were something like a painting or sculpture. To look at something as if it were a work visual art is the metaphoric relationship that the philosopher, Arthur Danto argues for in his institutional theory of art. It is this idea of art rather than a conspiratorial or consensus driven act of an actual institution that determines what art is.

For about a century the distinction between ‘the visual arts’ and ‘art’ was invisible, an imperceptible semantic distinction. The trajectory that started with confiscated church property continued with the items from other cultures similarly removed from their context. This was quickly followed with products of new technology, like photography and readymade found objects. It was Marcel Duchamp’s readymades that defined and illustrated the already widening schism between art and the visual arts.

Art may involve shopping, confiscating and appropriating images whereas the visual arts don’t highlight these activities. An artist may be making art or painting, sculpting and drawing or doing both.


Wilson Must Go

It is called the National Gallery of Victoria for obscure historical reasons but it is the nation of Australian and Australian nationalists that are at the core of the problem. The protest at the NGV over Wilson Security demonstrates a deep divide in Australia. I believe that Wilson Security along with all members of the Labor, Liberal and The Nationals parties of Australia should be standing trial for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court in the Hague where an appropriate and independent court of law can determine their guilt or innocence after hearing all the evidence. Others believe that Wilson Security is a legal and legitimate security contractor and that there is nothing inappropriate to their legal employment anywhere.

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It is clear that Wilson Security cannot provide security to the gallery when they have committed crimes against humanity. They become a massive additional problem for security at the gallery. Protesters have already proved that Wilson Security cannot provide security to the gallery by colouring the NGV’s water-wall and moat blood red and veiling Picasso’s Weeping Woman. The Weeping Woman is an excellent focus for the protest because the painting is riffing on the image of woman crying in the window in Picasso’s Guernica; a painting is a protest against fascist aerial bombing of civilians on 26 April 1937 during the Spanish civil war but it could be in Yemen this year.

I am sympathetic to all the mothers and their children at the NGV Triennial. To have something adult, intelligent and free that a young child will also enjoy is a rare combination that many a parent has wished for. The Triennial has been designed with both in mind. There is even parking for strollers outside the some of the spaces and many of the exhibits are very child friendly. It is the presence of so many children which makes the presence of Wilson Security even more offensive as the company has treated children and adults in a cruel, degrading and inhuman manner. I don’t how many parents with children enjoying the Triennial would have seen the horrible irony that a company that treated children and adults in a cruel, degrading and inhuman manner was providing security for the gallery. Some of them would believe in three word political slogans and send their own children to schools run by organisations with a history sexual abuse.

Three artists in the Triennial; Rafael Lorano-Hemmer, Richard Mosse and Candice Breitz have signed a letter of protest. Breitz and Lorano-Hemmer renamed their works in the Triennial to Wilson Must Go and Mosse found another way to incorporate his protest into his video work. I cannot accept that a company that has committed crimes against humanity in running the concentration camps on Naru and Manus Island for the Australian government should be employed by an art gallery and would join with Lorano-Hemmer to encourage others to consider making a donation to: http://riserefugee.org/ and https://www.asrc.org.au/.


Counihan Politics and Protest

Thursday evening as I am going to the Counihan Gallery on the tram along Sydney Road. I am thinking about the theme of the exhibition: ‘people – politics – protest’ and Noel Counihan in a cage demonstrating the lack of free speech in 1933. Thinking that if I don’t see the police, or ultra-conservative demonstrators then the art isn’t great protest art… and then I saw the sandbag barricade out the front of the Brunswick town hall. Have the battle lines been drawn? Has Moreland seceded from Australia?

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Rushdi Anwar, Art Like Morality, Consists of Drawing a Line Somewhere… is it?

Too good to hope for; the barricade were just an art installation. It wasn’t even part of the inaugural Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award. It was Kurdish Australian artist Rushdi Anwar’s Art Like Morality, Consists of Drawing a Line Somewhere… is it? and it was part of Morearts 2017, the annual temporary art exhibition. It made me consider the possibility that the best art about people, politics or protest in Moreland was possibly not in the Counihan Gallery’s Moreland Summer Show.

Perhaps, the most best protest art this year in this local came, not from artists but from the Moreland City Council. This year has been a turning point in Australia as sections of society, represented by three inner-city Melbourne councils are officially no longer celebrating Australia Day/Invasion Day. This symbolic act of removal is a clear protest that has not been ignored by the politicians Canberra or by other elements of the far right. Iconoclasm destroying the sacred and creating absence is part of a long tradition in contemporary art as in Marcel Duchamp’s rasée L.H.O.O.Q or Robert Rauschenberg’s work Erased DeKooning. So does the influence of the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys on organisation and political action as contemporary art.

Noel Counihan would not have understood that kind of post-modern art. Nor do the Moreland City Council consider that their removal of budget items for Australia Day/Invasion Day as a work of art; they weren’t even at the exhibition opening as there were holding a council meeting at the night. However, although they did not intend to be art, it maybe art, just as Noel Counihan’s famous protest locked in a cage may be the best thing he ever did, certainly it what he is most remembered for. It is not a functional thing; it is symbolic, a beautiful and culturally significant creation.

At the opening the artists, their friends and visitors drank wine and had a good time. Compared to what was happening outside the art inside the gallery was summed up with the metaphor of a silent readymade megaphone hung on a white gallery wall. Not that Kate Davis and Hannan Jones Study for the Speaker is that simply, it included an audio and text installation but I didn’t download those elements at the opening.

Looking around the exhibition at the Counihan Gallery at the work of the fifty local artists in a wide variety of media, commenting on a great variety of issues from identity politics to environmental. Amongst these the inaugural Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award went to Carmel Louise for her work Suicidal Tendencies; a photographic, mixed media collage reflecting on how most people have been watching climate change on TV from the comfort of their lounge. Maybe the media is not the message but a distraction. The judges praised Louise for her dealing with the issue of apathy and her use of contemporary collage. Second guessing the judges is not the role of either the critic or reporter; my role as a critic is to raise larger issues and to point out that rejecting the celebration Australia Day/Invasion Day maybe the most important piece political art in Moreland this year.


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