Category Archives: Culture Notes

Dada Centennial 1916-2016

“Where is the monument to the folk who took a stand against the war rather than those who capitulated to its madness?” Robert Nelson asked in The Age on Remembrance Day, 11 November, 2015

Dear Robert Nelson, the monument exists but it is not in the architecture of state power, the column, the triumphant arch or faux tomb of imperial power dominating territory. It is a single word “Dada”.

Dada, a little word that means everything and nothing. A word like a Buddhist mantra capable of destroying all illusions by using it as a substitute for all other words. Instead of patriotism, dada; instead of reason, dada.

Not that the word works like magic but the question that Dada posed still remains as potent as ever. What is art and culture doing other than making various governments look like a humane and decent society, masking and distracting from the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes? If this is how much of an improvement the best of art and culture can do then why continue with it?

This is not a joke, this is a serious point.

Dada Zurich

Mark outside the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

One hundred years ago on the 5th of February 1916 in Zurich three “oriental gentlemen,” as Hugo Ball described them in his diary arrived at the newly formed Cabaret Voltaire. The Cabaret Voltaire was a music and poetry night that Hugo Ball was running at the Holländische Meierei tavern in Zurich. Hugo Ball had had left Germany for neutral Switzerland, he had been an idealistic German patriot before he saw the horror war for himself.

The “oriental gentlemen” were certainly from the east as they were Romanian. They were the architecture student and artist, Marcel Janco, his brother George and a 19 year old poet who was calling himself, Tristan Tzara.

The reason why they were there was because Romania had ended its neutrality in 1916 and joined the war on the Allied side. It was one of the stupidest decisions of the war; outstanding even considering the extraordinary stiff competition of stupid decisions made in World War One. The Romanian army was obliterated.

The three young men kept on saying “da da”, “yes yes” in Romanian. The word “Dada” was invented later that year, around 11 April 1916, the first Dada periodical appeared over a year later in July 1917. There is a long standing debate about who invented this word but it has to be remembered that they were all very drunk at the time (or using other drugs, yes, I’m looking at you Herr Huelsenbeck and your cocaine).

Historical debates about dates aside, on Friday night in Clifton Hill DADA lives! 1916-2016 celebrated a century of Dada. Over a hundred people packed into the narrow space of the shopfront bar with its tiny stage at the back with of poetry and performance. Sjaak de Jong was the MC for the evening. Most of the performances were of original material but Santo Cazzati did read a historic Tristan Tzara Dada manifesto and perform a recognisably accurate version of Raoul Haussmann’s poem, phonème bbbb.

People try to laugh Dada off but that is just a desperate tactic to hold onto the certainties of dictatorships. Attempts have been made to quarantine Dada in art galleries and libraries around the world but it keeps on breaking out with nihilistic force. For it is nothing, it is ridiculous and is better than any god/country/insert reason here that you can dream up as nobody has ever killed or died for it.


Psychogeographical Walk: shoes and artists

A small group of determined psychogeographers set off heading south from the corner of Illan Lane and Tinning Street. We were examining the transition zone between Sydney Road and the Upfield railway line, exploring some of the streets that running parallel to the railway, before doubling back along Sydney Road for a drink at Edinburgh Castle.

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We stopped at Tinning Street presents, the only art gallery that we actually visited on the walk. Michael Thomas’s photographs, Night Works looked as if they had come from Thomas’s nocturnal psychogeographical walks. The huge Duratran colour print photographs mounted in Tasmanian oak light boxes made the suburban look impressive.

Some of us were very familiar with the area but there are always something new to see when you feel like exploring. As well we had several fortuitous accidental encounters with local artists. The first was with Julian di Martino on his bicycle. I think Julian mentioned that he’d been to Soma Gallery, a shop front gallery on Sydney Road. Next we ran into Jon Beinart who was busy preparing to open a pop-surrealism gallery in Sparta Place, it is a great location for a gallery.

Brunswick Kind.. 8:13

Then, and we had just been looking at Brunswick Kind on the Victoria St carpark wall when Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown came along carrying two paintings. Turbo is a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. He was hoping to raise some money by selling paintings on the street, a tough gig with colourful bold paintings. We gave him some money to pose for a couple of photos.

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The larger painting is Turbo Brown Dingo Man, about his spirit animal. The smaller is about a story of hiding in the bush with his son to jump out and scare, “just to scare, not kill” Turbo explained, two white men who are running away.

The area that we were walking through is a place of shoe factories, new appartments, warehouses, art galleries and studios; this included the iconic Australian footwear of an Ugg Boot factory. The industrial machinery in the carport at the back was an interesting mystery until I noticed the shoe sizes and word “heel”.

Several shoe related warehouses and the Middle Eastern Bakery are still surviving. Other places aren’t doing so well.

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Maybe the shoe businesses are the last hold-outs of Brunswick’s industrial past. There are new empty blocks and new buildings. The entrance of The Wilkinson shows the poetic spirit of real estate developers is at its best when singing the praise of one of their own.

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We were an interesting mix of psychogeographers talking of such things as industrial graffiti, ghost-signs, graffiti, the surface archeology of architectural accretion in the urban environment. I am such a romantic that I have to take a photograph of love paste-ups.

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I wanted to do something to celebrate my 1000th blog post, something that wouldn’t matter if there was three or twenty people and that would require almost no preparation, so a walk fitted that description perfectly. I had requested gifts, drinks and I was rewarded with both including the latest issue of the Clan McGillicuddy magazine Th’Noo, from New Zealand.


Blockbuster Nightmare

I have a nightmare of seeing a blockbuster exhibition riding through the exhibition in little carriages on something like a ghost train. You would buy your tickets and, after another queue, be strapped into a little carriage that would take you around the exhibition on a track with an audio track. The frightening thing is that it would probably work; after all it worked for Banksy with Dismaland in 2015. The queue would go around the block.

It was the projected video faces on the mannequins at the Gautier exhibition, like the animatronics at Disneyland. That along with memories of the coin operated art at the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Spain that gave me this idea. Dali himself must have been inspired by The Surrealists pavilion at the 1939 at the New York World Fair, “Dream of Venus” was very popular due the live mermaids (see a home movie of it). Banksy’s Dismaland is not a new idea.

The art train would solve many problems for the organisers of blockbuster exhibitions in managing numbers people and the time they spend at exhibition. Currently there are conflicting issues traffic jams in an exhibition. These can be caused by the audio guides but as there was a financial return on the audio guides, various galleries prohibit sketching and even note-taking to manage the traffic through the blockbuster exhibition (see my 2008 blog post for more on that subject).

Those readers who, like me, are horrified by the idea of riding through an exhibition in a rattling, little carriage maybe thinking about the gallery architecture as a meditative space, as an alternative to going to church or a temple. (For more on the aesthetics of space influences the brain see “How Museums Affect the Brain” by Laura C. Mallonee on Hyperallergic.) Or that modernist dream that museums, art galleries, public libraries, botanical and zoological gardens are like a university where the public is free to educate themselves. The reality is that the art gallery has always been a kind of infotainment mixed with a quasi-religious aura along with a vague idea of educational or even therapeutic purposes.

The art gallery has transitioned from a giant royal wunderkammer into the spectacle of early twenty-first century infotainment culture. I was about to indulge in a popular jeremiad that museums were becoming infotainment when I reminded myself of all the infotainment to be had in nineteenth century Melbourne.

Melbourne had Maximilian Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration – Anthropological Museum and Madame Sohier’s Waxworks. Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration presented moving dioramas, huge rolls of canvas painted with a narrative progression of images. Frederick Hackwood in his book Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England (Sturgis and Walton, 1909) records public house with collections of antiquities, taxidermy, fossils and pictures, so doubtless some of Melbourne’s many pubs also had collections worth visiting. Certainly the erotic nude Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebvre is still on display upstairs at Young and Jacksons opposite Flinders Street Station.

Should I continue to live in horror at this aspect of art or just get on board the ghost train carriage for an amazing ride?

Cloe

Chloe at Young and Jackson’s


Taste & Identity

Contrary to popular opinion taste is not subjective. Taste is both natural and reactive. Taste is a way that we express our identity.

It is easy to understand natural taste preferences. Liking chocolate is not a subjective, it is a natural human reaction to chocolate. If taste were subjective it would not be surprising to find an equal number of people who disliked the taste of chocolate. People who profess a dislike for chocolate are reacting to something about chocolate, perhaps they are allergic to chocolate.

Taste is also reactive. It is a reaction to a stimuli, it is a reaction to memories, it is a reaction to the tastes of others. Feedback loops can develop in tastes. Taste can also become a reaction that something is not as good as we remember. We react to our earlier tastes, we might grow tired of aspects of them. Reactive taste choices occur in response to a wide range of factors and account for much of the diversity of taste. It is an interpretation of the reaction, favourable or unfavourable or to other associated aspects.

Morrissey Edmiston suit 1993

Morrissey Edmiston suit 1993

Perhaps these example of about chocolate are not taste but an aesthetic judgements of chocolate. Perhaps taste is more about fashion and identity.

Wittgenstein wrote: “Take the case of fashions. How does fashion come about? Say, we wear lapels border than last year. Does that mean that the tailor likes them better broader? No, not necessarily. He cuts it like this and this year he makes it broader. Perhaps, this year he finds it too narrow and makes it wider. Perhaps, no expression is used at all.” Lectures on Aesthetics II.8, Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford)

Wittgenstein’s  imaginary tailor might be more comfortable with hip-hop expressions like hardcore, old school (traditional) or wild style (eccentric) as these stylistic descriptions do not imply that one likes one trend or taste is better than another. Terms like ‘hardcore,’ ‘old school,’ ‘freestyle’ are useful in understanding that a culture is not a unified and timeless thing, but rather a cluster of emerging and past styles.

For taste is not just matters of aesthetics but about affinity or alienation, for example identifying with people wearing wide or narrow lapels. Taste is about identification, especially in taste in fashion.

Taste is a discourse that an individual is having with the culture that they are part of and with cultures that they are not a member. Janine Burke’s book, The Sphinx on the Table (Walker & Company, 2006, New York) is an examination Sigmund Freud’s art collection as a psychological and biographical analysis of his character. Burke uses Freud’s taste as a demonstration of both his personality as well as the way that he chooses to express it in society at the time.

Taste is the way that individuals define themselves within a culture. If taste were simply subjective then you would not be able to judge a person by their taste in music (see the Date Report “What Your Taste in Music Says About You On a Date”) any more than it you could judge them by a preference for fruit.


Life in the Fast Lane

“Graffiti writers don’t read. They just look at pictures.” The author told me when he dropped his book off. Film maker, musician, graft writer and now author. I first encountered “S.D. Rokkatansky” (SDR) five years ago watching his Graff Hunter videos online. At the time he was only living a few blocks away and I’m happy to call him a friend. This is his first novel but I’m not going to pull my punches with this review.

Spud Rokk Life in the Fast Lane

Road to Redemption – Life in the Fast Lane is a youth crime novel set in Melbourne in the mid 1990s. The worst thing about this novel is the title that sounds like a Christian story of hope when it isn’t and there are so many other books called Road to Redemption. I really hate the title. But that is judging the book by its cover and so is bitching about the appearance of poor copyediting and clunky book design.

Still on the subject of the book’s cover what is the parental advisory logo doing on the cover? It not a legal requirement, maybe it is a marketing code to attract the teenage readers, the very kind of readers who should read this book.

So why did this novel need to be written at all? Not just because some teenagers would buy it. Firstly, there aren’t enough low level crime novels, people are always writing about murders and major crimes as if those crimes happen everyday. Shoplifting, tagging, selling weed, stealing cars, breaking and entering happen everyday and these are the crimes that the central characters are committing. There aren’t enough novels written about doing graffiti (why I paid my money for the Pozible campaign). There aren’t enough novels about living in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and the war on teenagers has been a continuing feature of society for decades.

Graffiti writers are prone to boasts and exaggerations about their deeds but the story didn’t strike me as false (or redemptive). The story was more Ancient Greek with nemesis punching the protagonist Tommy hard in the solar plexus for his over-reaching hubris.

SDR was in that scene in the 1990s doing graffiti and probably other shit so there are good details about the formulas for ink markers, the popular brand clothes, the brands of perfume and dog food but I wanted more descriptions.

I also wanted more descriptions of the characters because it was hard to keep the relationships between all the characters in mind, they needed more of a backstory or an explanation and not expect the reader to work so hard. Tommy is a bit too much, it was hard to keep him in focus with his diverse activities: rapping, graffiti, cars…

Too often characters have their “mouth agape” as if they are all a bunch of slack jawed yokels. SDR is nowhere near as good a writer as Irvine Welsh and SDR’s novel is written in the third person rather than Welsh’s superb first person stream of consciousness. But it did remind me of Welsh’s drugsploitation novels, the narrative alternating between the group of young men and young women. The young women are a lot more serious than the young men. The seriousness of the young women is contrasted to the young men who regard life a series of drinks, drugs and other escapades.

S.D. Rokkatansky Road to Redemption – Life in the Fast Lane (Carry Case Publishing, 2015, Australia) soft cover, 286 pages.


Coburg Carnivale – on authenticity and robots

This post about Coburg fades in and out of focus because I am jet lagged but read on and forgive me for my omissions and digressions because this is a local story about authenticity… and robots! There is a robot pushing baby carriage with a baby robot in it…

Robot performer Coburg

… Where am I?

I am in Coburg, the suburb in Melbourne, not the city in Germany. It used to be called Pentridge but that became the name of a prison, so it was changed to Coburg to make it sound more like the British royal family but that’s not important now. What is important to me now is to eat some Lebanese cheese pies and drink fruit juice at the Lebanese bakery overlooking the parking lot. Mulberry juice tastes great, just one of the benefits of living in a neighbourhood with a large Muslim population is that you have a great selection of fruit juice available…

… What is going on in the parking lot and Victoria Mall?

The Coburg Carnivale (sic.) presented by the Coburg Shopping Precinct and Moreland City Council. I always seem to be jet lagged during the Coburg thing or whatever it is called… no, it is definitely called the Coburg Carnivale (sic? Or if it was in italics would that make it all right? Is it important?)

It is also included in the Melbourne Fringe Festival (not a curated festival) to market to the hipsters. The Coburg Carnivale is definitely curated, it has a community, arty vibe to it and none of that carny festival feel. I suppose that the Coburg Shopping Precinct didn’t want anyone honing in on their trade.

Wow! The parking lot at the back of Coles in transformed, there are more people enjoying it than when it is full of cars. It should be a plaza all the time rather than another ugly carpark. Why do Australians believe in the right to free parking and no vehicle emission standards? I’m digressing, focus, focus …

… There is some art work around; public seating, like Callan Morgon’s Switchback deserves serious consideration as social sculpture. More gold is being applied by Alica Bryson-Haynes and Ria Green, see my earlier post about it.

Alica Bryson-Haynes and Ria Green, The Golden Opportunity Shop

Alica Bryson-Haynes and Ria Green, The Golden Opportunity Shop

… What time is it?

Saturday 26 September about 1:15pm, the sun overhead and it is pleasantly warm. Eid Mubarak to all my brothers and sisters of Moslem faith or “Bayramınız mübarek olsun” to my Turkish neighbours; I was reminded of this because I flew on Royal Brunei airlines. It is worth noting this fact because it was conspicuous by its absence at the Coburg Carnivale. I can see why, even though Coburg has many Moslems living here for generations, a mosque and a private Islamic school providing primary and secondary education, it is not something that you would advertise for a festival …

…. Okay if this is Coburg, then why are there so many South Americans around?

You are right. There are a lot of South Americans. It is Mosaik Experiences, a social enterprise providing authentic Latin American cultural experiences. But is that really authentic to Coburg’s population? When is a local festival not a local festival? How to unpack and explain that? The inauthentic authenticity of the festival is beginning to make my head spin as I am still having difficulty with reality due my jet lag…


Future of Arts in Melbourne

Imagining that Melbourne would become the centre for the arts and literature in the late 1970s could only be done with assistance of copious amounts of alcohol or other drugs. The post-industrial future of Melbourne was not secure and sections of Australia society was still openly hostile to any arts. The arts were considered a foreign, effeminate, waste of time and money compared to the macho occupation of exploiting natural resources by farming or mining. At the time Australia was suffering from ‘the cultural cringe’ that rejected any local cultural achievement as automatically inferior, the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ that strived for a mediocre undistinguished population and, consequently, a brain and creative exodus. It is amazing that Melbourne got this far, after all it could have become like Detroit.

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

The “Future of Art in Melbourne” was public forum on Thursday 13 August held on the upper floor of Melbourne Town Hall. There were about two hundred people were there but for anyone who missed the event the City of Melbourne has put three videos of it on YouTube.

Keynote by Councillor Rohan Leppert

Panel One: Ben Eltham, Eleni Arbus and Tony Yap (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Panel Two: Fiona Tuomy, Lynda Roberts and Christian Thompson (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Not that you missed much. Ben Eltham pointed out the eternal fault line between the underground and mainstream culture in Australia but then Luke McManus at the forum representing graffiti and street art, so it is not a major fault line.

The plan for the future of the arts in Melbourne does not address the megacity that Melbourne has become, it is just a plan for the City of Melbourne. What is needed if for the multiple local councils, at least in the inner city (is there life north of Bell Street?), to have a united plan for the arts. Actually the City of Melbourne’s plan addresses only a small part of the City of Melbourne; most of the focus of planning is on Melbourne’s cultural precinct. Even with a percent for public arts from the developments at Docklands the area has been written off as a cultural wasteland, well, what could you expect from Yuppies?

The biggest mistake of the forum was to think that future of arts in Melbourne is about art; it is not, it is about culture, life and everything else. It is not just the millions of cultural tourist attending major events in the city, the arts in Melbourne effect the shopping and hospitality sector and real estate prices. Although underground artists are very familiar with their impact on real estate prices, as they are slowly price them out of the areas that they first colonised, it appears from Eleni Arbus’s talk that some real estate developers remain ignorant.

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

At the risk of all that interstate rivalry bullshit, Melbourne is in competition in the culture stakes with all the other capitol cities in Australia, except for Perth. At first only Melbourne and Sydney were really in the race although Adelaide has the long established Arts Festival. Canberra has the national central position but lacks the history. Queensland has recently started with major exhibitions at GOMA. Hobart is also in with a running with MONA.


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