Category Archives: Guest Posts

Caminando vias de agua – 12th Havana Bienale

During the 12th Havana Bienale 2015 I walked a lost river in Havana, Cuba. The walk took me through an impoverished part of Havana that was not far from the center but somehow well concealed. I discovered colorful shanty houses, a stark contrast to the colonial architecture that characterizes most of Havana, odd sacrificial objects nailed to trees, offerings to the pantheon of Santeria gods and the old port area, yet to be revitalized by the influx of foreign investment pouring into Cuba. A characteristic of this type of work is the unpredictable discoveries made as one walks a route not available on any contemporary map. This work, Caminando vias de agua (Walking Waterways), was my contribution to a group exhibition organised by curator, Claudio Sotolongo Menendez whom I had met many years previously. Other artists involved included: Alessandro Celante (Brazil), Heather Freeman (USA), Herve Constant (France) and Mariana Branco (Brazil).

It has been my experience that much of the reclaimed land where waterways once existed is prone to flooding, and is used for public facilities such as car parks, sports grounds and parks but in some cases housing for poorer communities. As I neared the location where the waterway would have drained into the sea, I was informed that the flooding in this part of Havana can reach 2 meters.

Caminando vias de agua involves identifying waterways in urban settings that have all but disappeared from view, usually having been subsumed by the urban infrastructure, rendered invisible. Despite this erasure, traces remain: the shape of the land, the propensity for flooding and the way that the reclaimed land itself is used. These traces when paid attention too, can reveal what was once there.

The process involves the utilisation of maps from the 19th Century in order to identify the location of the waterways and then embedding this information in a contemporary map so that the waterway can be walked. A mobile phone with a camera and the ability to send an MMS is used to document the walk. This documentation is transmitted during the walk and appears in close to real time on a representation in the gallery space, through the website http://peripato.net.
screenshot

In 2003 I had visited Cuba for the first time to exhibit and present a paper at the V Salon Y Coloquio Internacional de Arte Digital. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long engagement with Cuba, its music, culture and most importantly, its people. I participated in the subsequent VI Coloquio and maintained contact with the organisers for many years, culminating in being invited to participate in the 12th Havana Bienale.

The curatorial theme of “the Biennial intends to involve architecture, design, the communicational phenomena, science and the forms in which the habitat is constructed”[1] to which my work was a good fit. This iteration of the ongoing series of walks grouped under the project heading Peripato Telematikos[2], was one of many that had taken place in many parts of the world, including Sao Paulo, Brazil and Istanbul, Turkey.

The curatorial team wanted the Bienale to spread out into public space, and it did this successfully except for one major hiccup. Tania Bruguera, a Cuban national, artist and activist tested the limits of the curatorial premise by re-staging a participatory performance piece in a prominent public space, Plaza de la Revolución, despite not being granted permission to do so. This landed her in jail and months of house arrest. Many locals supported her, whilst others felt that she had stolen attention away from the biennale itself. Whilst under house arrest, she performed a public reading of Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’.

At the time Cuba was in the midst of renewed negotiations with the US and the lifting of decades long restrictions. Bruguera’s incursion was intentionally testing the waters. Was the renewed negotiations with the US an indicator of a loosening of the strict control by which the Cuban government had reigned for decades? Not so, in that particular case. Some of my own experiences reflected this. I had been held up at customs for 4 hours because I needed to bring a wi-fi modem into the country. I had a letter from the Minister previously organized by the curator, but even this was not going to smooth my entry. I later discovered that this was because many Cubans were creating unauthorized internet access points and this was illegal in a country where the internet is very restricted and censored. I had also been warned about the photographic content of my work. There were unsettling times when soldiers would come running towards me, blowing a whistle, for photographing a building or landmark. The curator had conveyed to me warnings he had received from Bienale organisers, regarding the photographic component of my work. As he argued, thousands of tourists traipse through Havana every day taking many photographs that no one seems to worry about. But these warnings were not to be taken lightly so some anxiety prevailed.

On my way home, I received a message from a curator I had worked with in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I had staged a waterways work in 2009 at the Museum of Image and Sound. He informed me that since about 2010, there was a large interest[3] in the hidden waterways of Sao Paulo. Apparently, this was triggered by a water crisis in Sao Paulo, but the curator wanted to acknowledge my work that preceded. I suspect it was simply coincidence but it is humbling to think that I may have had a tiny influence.

Upon returning to Melbourne, I discovered that a friend was walking the whole length of the Murray River[4]. I accompanied him for a day. The walking continues.

Greg Giannis <giannis.greg [at] gmail.com>

[1] http://www.biennialfoundation.org/2014/05/havana-biennial-2015-curatorial-concept/

[2] http://www.peripato.net

[3] https://www.facebook.com/rioseruas

[4] http://mildurapalimpsestbiennale.com/blog/

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Peter Fraser’s Lizard : A Box of Gaps

The High St Northcote arts precinct has changed significantly in the last few years. Galleries have re-located (Kick Gallery to Collingwood, Synergy to CERES) , closed ( At Large, Disco Beans), or positioned themselves as  studio/desk rental + exhibition space (Liberte Arts – Lost Gallery), or retail art supplies + exhibition space (NiceCat). Challenging times,  certainly, but what else? An opportunity to re-think creative venues. Where they are, what they do, and how to engage the general public. To quote Darebin Councillor Trent McCarthy

“I actually believe we should be having art opportunities in every street in Darebin, and our High Street corridor is ideal for mini-galleries in shopfronts, nooks, and crannies. I’d encourage more traders and shop owners to make space available where they can. It adds to the colour and light of the city, and connects them to people interested in art…”

The Smallest Gallery in High Street (a doorway at Healthpoint Clinic) and Active Spaces in Darebin use non-traditional locations to display, perform and promote art. Peter Fraser’s Lizard : A Box of Gaps is a stunning example of this. Take a look at the work in progress album,  courtesy of Active Spaces in Darebin. Performed in March 2013, this Bodyweather-informed, Theatre Arts piece is inspired by pet store reptiles. Where better to stage it than a shop window?

Click to experience Lizard : A Box of Gaps, filmed by Iolanthe Iezzi.

Tom Matthiesson’s set construction is so evocative within this retail space, adding extra resonance to the movements within. Peter Fraser has successfully connected with his subject , urban space, and audience in a fresh and thought-provoking manner. Site-specific, vibrant art is alive and well in Darebin, albeit in places you may not expect…

Thanks to Mark Holsworth  for the opportunity to guest post. Always a pleasure to write about the arts – especially in my favourite neighbourhood.

Vetti : Live in Northcote


Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey showcases the talent and skills of graduate RMIT students exploring sustainability.

Where: First Site Gallery 344 Swanston Street

There were no deadly poisoned tunics ready to melt the skin from your very bones in this years showcase of graduate RMIT students which speaks well of the selection committee involved in choosing design students. They must have a ‘’No Medeas’’ policy. Though it would be interesting to figure out how exactly they could ascertain whether or not a student had a vengeful nature.

They hung from the ceiling like apparitions moving infinite nano inches from the breeze made from the air conditioning. This added to the allure of what was a very enjoyable and eye opening ode to sustainable forms of fashion. A waist coat made of growing grass hung on a limbless mannequin. It brought to mind a more army styled outfit that the first man, Adam himself would have worn had he been more creative and had more time in the garden of Eden before being distracted by illicit fruit. As I wandered the gallery quite spell bound, a gallery attendant sprayed water from a small spray bottle all over the green grass waistcoat in order to keep it lush. A cropped knitted jumper hung from a coat hanger with sleeves resembling wings and complete with plumage each tiny plume a different bright colour. I would have worn that quite happily. It would go so well with black leggings and ….

But I digress.

It is this kind of digression that made the whole exhibition so enjoyable. A blue dress made from garbage bags and a tutu skirt that included six strips of malleable metal curving around the flare of the skirt, adding a sense of resilience to another otherwise feathered friend inspired item. It is a dress for the environmentally conscious girl with a steely determination to succeed. How often do you by items of clothing because they are cheap and wear them once only to throw away soon after because they fall apart?

This exhibition is not just a flimsy excuse to look at pretty items of original clothing. It is an excuse to raise questions about consumption and excess in our day to day. Clothes become ladfill just as easily as take away coffee recepticles and plastic plates. We need to redefine how we think about clothes and fashion. This is not to say we must not enjoy it and take pleasure in a well fitted and flattering item but to simply be more mindful of how much we buy and dispose off over time. The talented students of RMIT should be proud of their accomplishment as its breadth is far wider than the confines of the gallery it inhabits.

By Jessica Knight


White Night with kids

We ventured into the inaugural White Night in Melbourne with 4 young people, two sixteen year-old girls and two ten year-old boys, each of our kids had brought a friend.

Because we had kids with us we did that nerdy thing of arriving right on time, in fact slightly before the official start – and really – arriving early for an event that was supposed to go all night was, predictably a little disappointing. When a show is all about the lights, its only ever going to be good after dark.

Walking down to Federation Square from a meal in Chinatown, we could see some settling up just off Russell St, but we had strung out during the walk and dawdlers had to keep up and not duck down side streets and get lost.

The teenagers had been shopping in town and were keen for a sit down, so we headed to St Paul’s Cathedral which was listed as a venue. I had never been into St Paul’s, so that was worth it just for the stickybeak- such beautiful woodwork on the ceiling – majestic. 7pm ticked up, the cathedral filling – and ticked past – that was when it occurred to us that any laser show would be better after dark, which was still more than an hour away. So, shoppers rested, we decided to check out the National Gallery.

Working our way across a not yet too crowded Federation Square where some zumba dancers were trying, with not a lot of luck, to engage the crowd, we hit our first success for the night. “Red Centre” by Konstanin Dimopoulos, not part of the White Night event, but it drew the boys like moths to a flame, because people were playing it like a tall, bright red percussion instrument, reaching grasping, rattling, banging. It sounded great, clunks, bangs, resonate thrums.

Heading on down St Kilda Rd we passed by the Arts Centre and let the boys join in the clambering on “Forward Surge” by Inge King while we watched the passing parade.

Continuing on the the National Gallery Victoria, “The Commoners” by Jompet Kuswidananto caught the teenagers attention, the missing bodies, the potential for noise (it wasn’t active when we went in). “How does it work?” What is it meant to do?”

Further on in the Great Hall, “Bouquet Final 2” by Michal Blazy beckoned.

Image 

What a hit! It has foam! What’s not to love? We spent awhile there. It was enchanting.

It was quite mesmerising as the billows of foam grew before your eyes, and yet at the same time imperceptibly. It was so hard to catch it actually growing. There was so much of it, huge walls of growing bubbles, and I don’t think they grew at a constant rate either. I suspect the pumps were variable.

The boys had a ball. It was all the fun a giant bubble-machine should be. You were allowed to play with any bits that had fallen off, and a lot did.

We had a few goes of foam volleyball, where you had to blow and keep the foam in the air.

They boys were sticky with it by the end.

From there we headed back to the Yarra and Birrarung Marr, where there were a large number of things to interact with, from creepy blow-up purple clowns to “From the Deep” laser show another highlight of the night.

I asked the 10year old to dictate something about what he thought of White Night.

The White Night was OK. I particularly like the laser show on the river, because of the way that they incorporated water and light to make the shapes and the colours.

I also really liked the foam thing in the gallery. It was really fun to play with, the bits that fell off, they were so foamy and bubbly.

How would you describe it?

Really really Awesome. And bubbly and foamy.

How would you rate it?

Seven out of 10.


Street art salvage

CDH is seeking to connect with street art collectors, advocates and artists to salvage culturally important street art from demolition sites.

In my capacity facilitating street art, I see the birth of a lot of art. But I also bear witness to the end of art; works lost in a cloud of dust when a derelict building is demolished. Sometimes amongst the rubble and industrial detritus, I find street art salvage: works painted on a roller door, a wooden hoarding or a sheet metal fence. Although assigned to a pile of garbage, many of these works may have value as cultural artefacts. Without the perspective of historical hindsight, it’s often difficult to recognise the difference. In a sense, this derelict street art might be more valuable than its gallery counterpart because this is authentic street art. So the question becomes, should we try to save these works?

Adnate work in Richmond at a building scheduled to be redeveloped into apartments

Adnate work in Richmond at a building scheduled to be redeveloped into apartments

Unlike the controversial ‘Out of Context’ Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basal, these works haven’t been pillaged from their original spatial context to be exhibited in a gallery. These works are already on their way to the tip. So the choice isn’t between the gallery vs the original environmental context intended by the artist. It’s a choice between a gallery and gone forever. So on first inspection it seems obvious that we should save the works. Ultimately I believe it is worth salvaging this street art, and I am seeking to connect with collectors, advocates and other artists to this end. But it is worth recognising that the issue is considerably more complex than it may appear upon superficial consideration.

'Out of Context' Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basel

‘Out of Context’ Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basel

Most importantly, salvaged street art can’t resurface in the secondary art market. There is the obvious practical issue that it would mean gallery exhibiting street artists would effectively be competing with themselves; it would discourage artists from painting on the street. But there’s another moral issue; the works on the street belong to the community. The wall the art is painted on might belong to a private building owner but the thin layer of paint that makes up the artwork is the property of the public. Taking a salvaged work and selling it for profit is akin to selling stolen goods. It’s more appropriate to regard people who hold salvaged street art as the custodians of a cultural artefact, until it can be re-exhibited for the general public.

It’s often argued that a key point of demarcation between street art and gallery art is ephemerality. Gallery art is perceived to have attained an immutable status through perpetual restoration, while street art is at the mercy of the environment, council cleaners and the community. The knowledge that street art is in perpetual jeopardy shapes our appreciation of it. Many people reading this article will have felt the pang of seeing a beloved street artwork suddenly gone one day. The legions of street art photographers are in part motivated by a shared angst that the works are transient and without record will be lost forever. Creating a system to preserve some of these works immediately changes this context. Yes, an artwork may still suddenly disappear tomorrow, but it may also be absorbed into a preservation collection. This changes the lenses through which we view and experience the art, by changing a key contextual element. This perpetually shifting contextual landscape has been synonymous with street art since its inception. What began as an outsider subcultural movement has been progressively recuperated into the mainstream. The politically conservative Lord Mayor of Melbourne has shifted from a zero tolerance stance on graffiti (as opposition leader of the state) to describing himself as ‘delighted’ with the city’s street art. Many street artists have moved into the commercial art system where possible. So it seems the outsider status of street art is even more fleeting than the art itself. Preserving works is part of this natural evolution, so it’s not incongruent with the direction of the movement.

Photographers in Hosier Lane

Photographers in Hosier Lane

Salvaging street art may contravene the wishes of the artist. Some street artists reluctantly accept ephemerality as a reality of the medium but some artists intend for their work to be transient. Ultimately many artists may prefer for their work to go to the tip, rather than see it preserved in a warehouse or a gallery. Although an artist’s consent is desirable, should it be a necessary prerequisite for preserving an artwork? On his death bed, Franz Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts. Brod ignored this request and published many of Kafka’s most important works posthumously. The writing was important and so the interests of broader society outweighed the preference of the artist. During the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s in Egypt, 22 ancient monuments risked being flooded. The monuments were relocated, although as religious sites it’s unlikely the original builders would have consented; imagine if the temple on the mount needed to be moved. The monuments were historically significant to us, so we acted in society’s benefit regardless. Ultimately street art is for everyone, not just the artist or the building owner. It belongs to the community so the primary directives are those in the interest of the community; the preferences of the artist are secondary, although they’re contextually important to record.

Gustav Metzger 'Acid Action Painting' 1961

Gustav Metzger ‘Acid Action Painting’ 1961

The exception is when the ephemerality is integral to the meaning of the work (not just the artist’s preference). Gustav Metzger’s Auto Destructive Art requires self-destruction to realise the meaning written into the work. To attempt to preserve ‘acid action painting, 1961’ midway through the corrosion of the work would ironically be the destruction of the art; it would become meaningless. But street art is typically quite different from the auto destructive art of Metzger. Metzger built the self-destruction of the work innately into the art. Street art is about relinquishing control of the art and handing it over to the cultural chaos of urban space. This usually causes the destruction of the art because society has diverse agendas; although 99 people might leave a work untouched, it only takes one to cap it. But if an artist relinquishes art to external forces, with a loose expectation that this will cause erasure of the work, they have to equally accept that external agents may preserve it. Unless the work requires ephemerality as an artistic imperative, it’s difficult to argue that an artists’ preference for transience should be honoured above society’s enrichment through sharing the art. As an artist, on a personal level it galls me that collectors could salvage my works from the street without my consent but from reasoned principles, I find it difficult to argue against.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH

So I seek to build a network of artists, advocates and collectors to salvage street artworks, with these ideas in mind. But what do you think? Is it right to salvage works imminently destined for destruction and if so, what principles should guide our actions?

If you’re interested in offering tips on works available for salvage or if you want tips on works available for salvage, please contact me at cdh.street.art@gmail.com and join our network.


L’Oreal Fashion Festival – Runway Shows 5 & 7

Before each runway presentation, an advertisement for L’Oreal products is played. It usually features close-up animations of skin cells and DNA strings. Perhaps being a medical librarian makes me biased in a way because I can’t help but scoff at the ‘scientific’ elements every time I see them.

But that is of no importance.

L’Oreal Fashion Festival – Runway Shows 5 & 7

Dion Lee’s collection was very strong and focused mostly on the hemline. He is a new up-coming designer who has had more coverage internationally than in Australia. I first heard of him via ELLE (US) when he was featured in the new designers section (unable to find exact reference). Collette Dinnigan’s presentation was to be expected, but featured a definite ‘Mad Men’ influence. However the shoes were totally wrong for the designs though – platform stilettos do not look well with ‘60s inspired dresses. Most of the music for Runway 5 was anon doof-doof but the final designer, Toni Maticevski, used Michael Nyman’s theme from Drowning By Numbers (Peter Greenway) – touch of class! Maticevski’s collection was wispy floaty and dreamy, ending with a standout piece of eveningwear; the models did have some trouble trying not to trip over the mini-trains.

I like Alannah Hill’s designs and decided to go to the show she was presenting in. The other designers appearing alongside were White Suede (high waisted skirts, brights, tie-dye), Wayne Cooper (party frocks, mini dresses, muted colours), Talulah (floppy hats with everything, a focus on the hips), Maurie Eve (shirt dresses, blacks tan peach), Joveeba (loose casual wear), and Bettina Liano (cardis, shorts). Alannah Hill’s collection wasn’t a surprise. As with Collette Dinnigan, they both have found a definite style that suits them and in Hill’s case, this means afternoon tea/garden party wear (florals, sequins, cute buttons, candy coloured jackets).

There were many AbFab moments that I observed before and after each runway presentation. ‘Darling!’ and air-kissing was not the only thing going on. Most were dressed to impress and many were looking at other people (I have to say that I was doing that as well) but what has to be remembered is that these runway shows are consumer events open to the public and not industry events (although industry types are represented). I wasn’t dressed designer and the pictures I have seen of industry-only runway events, the attendees are not dressed up to the nine’s either (remember, this is work for them).


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