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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. 

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Sakura influenced art in Japan

The influence of cherry blossom time on the art of Japan. The masses of pale pink petals exploding across the bare trees before any green leaves appear have been a feature of Japan art for centuries. On a recent trip to Japan I did flower viewing hanami) of the cherry blossoms (sakura) in Ueno Park, Nara, Kyoto and in the mountains around Kobe. I also saw a couple of exhibitions and many beautiful works of art influenced by sakura time.

Tsuchida Bakusen, Oharame, Women Peddlers

Tsuchida Bakusen, Oharame, Women Peddlers, 1915 (photo Yamatane Museum of Art)

The Yamatane Museum of Art was showing a thematic exhibition: “Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2018 – Flower Viewing at the Museum!” (Exclamation marks are common in Japanese translated into English.) It was an exhibition of traditional Japanese art, separated from the influence of contemporary international art; paintings in ink or the thick opaque mineral based Japanese pigments. Even though most of the paintings were recent, their techniques and style are traditional. However, tradition does change and in Tsuchida Bakusen’s Oharame, Women Peddlers, 1915, there is an awareness of French modern art in the way the women’s foot was loosely drawn.

There were other exhibitions influenced by cherry blossom time, paintings beautiful women (bijinga). I didn’t see the exhibition at the Tokyo University of the Arts, “Masterpieces of Beautiful Women Paintings”, but I did see the Sumida Hokusai Museum’s exhibition “ Hokusai Beauty – the brilliant women of Edo”. The roots of bijinga are in genre paintings and ukiyo-e in the Edo period and although Hokusai is noted for his landscapes he did many bijinga during his long career. Paintings of beautiful women are genre in European art too but in Japan the focus in more on the fashion rather than the flesh.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum is a shiny new building built near the artist’s birthplace. It does not a large permanent exhibition but without the temporary exhibition it would have been a disappointingly small experience. The design of the building has a real triple bottom line by enhancing the local community with a local park and a children’s playground on the museum’s plaza. 

For more on sakura art read the Library of Congress notes on another exhibition.

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(photo thanks to Catherine Voutier)


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.


Biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne

Biomorphic surrealism was about making things in the shape of life, often microscopic animal or plant life. Alfred H. Barr defined biomorphism as: “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” It can be seen in the curvy amorphous forms created by modern artists, including Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. You might think that biomorphic surrealism was an evolutionary dead-end but it has a surprising number of ancestors, especially in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

The most obvious of these is on the NewQuay Promenade: Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02. This cluster of white sculptures are clearly influenced by Arp’s biomorphic sculptures.

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John Meade, Aqualung

Aqualung by John Meade in 2006 is like a big black slug or an enormous tube worm with a bifurcating end that stretches through the atrium of the National Bank/Lend Lease tower at 839 Collins Street. “The counter positioning of the sculpture against the utility of the design and function of the building” (artist statement 2006) Melbourne based sculptor Meade was born in Ballarat in 1956 and has a sculpture in the NGV collection and another public sculpture, Riverside Corolla 2011, a suspended sculpture the central atrium in Southbank.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Picinni, Car Nuggets, 2006

Patricia Piccinini’s Car Nuggets, 2006 are in the grounds of the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence. Piccinini is famous for her hyperreal sculptures of mutant creatures. In earlier work she made biomorphic mopeds with mirrors like antlers and I took this trio of sculptural seats to be the eggs or pupae of similar creatures.

 

Other biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne include Matthew Harding’s Fruition 2013 in Royal Park on the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue. And Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda; Tethya is the genus of some Port Phillip sea sponges. Biomorphic forms are still a fruitful form for many Melbourne sculptors.


Ten years of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti

Ten years in the history of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti told with a series of artists, crews and events. Rather than another listical of notable street artists this is an attempt at a kind of chronology that points out peaks rather than beginnings and endings. In it there are artists who opened new directions, who could not be ignored, who reinvented themselves or the techniques and the idea of street art and graffiti. There are artists who have persisted along with artists who for a short time made a big impact. It is a list based on my observation of Melbourne’s street art and writing them in this blog.

 

2008: Drew Funk and HaHa

Drew Funk and HaHa are two affable guys, studio mates and friends on the two sides of the aerosol paint use. Drew Funk’s aerosol art and HaHa’s stencil work were once ubiquitous with the Melbourne street art scene.

2009: Ghostpatrol and Miso

The power couple of the emerging illustrative street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s whimsical character illustrations and Miso’s paper cuts were fresh styles and techniques. Neither does any street art now both quickly moving into the fine art and legal murals.

2010: Yarn Wrap and Junky Projects

Both these artists expanded media of street art. Before Bali Portman and Yarn Corner crew there was Yarn Wrap guerrilla knitting. I was sceptical when I first heard about yarn bombing but I was wrong and the technique quickly became a favourite of city councils. Meanwhile, Junky Projects collecting rubbish from the street and transforming it in the most coherent and long term up-cycling project ever.

2011: The Everfresh and the AWOL Crews

The Everfresh crew of Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm and the Tooth have been the most significant crew in Melbourne. The AWOL crew of Adnate, Deams, Itch, Li-Hill, Lucy Lucy, Slicer were not far behind and by changing their styles they sprayed their way to more fame.

2012: CDH and Baby Guerrilla

Two ambitious artists who made a big impact but are no longer actively making art on the streets. CDH was the mad scientist of the street art scene; trying out new techniques using fire, hydroactivated paint and creating conundrums for the NGV with his Trojan Petition. At the same time, Baby Guerrilla was reaching for the heavens, trying to fill the largest and highest walls with her floating paste-up figures.

2013: All Your Walls & Empty Nursery Blue

Both projects buffed the walls of Melbourne’s graffiti central to good effect. Adrian Doyle painted the whole of Rutledge Lane blue. And, as a curated part of the NGV’s “Melbourne Now” exhibition, the whole of Hosier Lane was repainted by some of Melbourne’s best graffiti and street artists in All Your Walls.

2014: Rone and Adnate

In 2014 year both artists painted very large legal murals of big faces on big walls. Everfresh crew member Rone painted women’s faces and AWOL crew member Adnate painted Indigenous people.

2015: Kranky and Tinky

Kranky was a crazy explosion of assemblages, then it stopped; maybe the supply of plastic toys ran out. Tinky used even smaller toys to make her little scenes Along with other artists Kranky and Tinky revived the street art in Presgrave Place.

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Lush’s work in Richmond

2016: Lush and Nost

The most irritating assholes in Melbourne’s street art/graffiti scene where there are plenty of irritating assholes. These two guys have made it a speciality. Lush does have a trollish sense of humour but he highlights a problem that is essentially for so much street art, especially murals, they are just click bait. Nost is a tagger, an aerosol bomber who hates street art.

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2017: Astral Nadir

The art Astral Nadir encouraged me to look down at the sidewalk and not up on the walls. With so many walls already painted and the backs of signs covered in stickers Astral Nadir artistically exploring a relatively unused area in Melbourne.


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.


A gallery crawl down Flinders Lane

I started my gallery crawl at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane and worked my way down the hill to Elizabeth Street, having a look in the various art galleries. The art I saw varied from the beautiful, fun and engaging through to the why is this even being exhibited.

Lisa Seward “A thousand kisses deep”

Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep” at Forty-five Downstairs

Most of the commercial galleries were closed last Thursday for various reasons. Two, Arc One and Anna Schwartz were installing new exhibitions, Lesley Kehoe Galleries in 101 Collins Street was only open “by appointment” and it was too early in the day for Stephen McLaughlan Gallery to be open.

The only commercial gallery that I saw was FLG (Flinders Lane Gallery). It had two wall hanging sculpture exhibitions by the sculptors Richard Blackwell and Dion Horstmans. Blackwell’s curvy op-art sculptures are mesmerising and Horstmans’s look like the graffiti outlines with colour fades.

There were two exhibitions at Forty Five Downstairs. Mike Nicholls exhibition “Bird as totem” features both his wood carvings and works on paper; Melbourne sculptor Nicholls was a founding member of Melbourne’s first ARI, Roar Studios. And Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep”, an exhibition paintings, etching and installations. The only problem with Seward’s exhibition was that with 58 works it was a bit too much, too obsessive repeating a whimsical surreal thought about parachutes and jellyfish.

At Blindside, Majed Fayad “Fly, Sky High … Dubai” explores the neutral space aesthetic of airport passenger lounges with their bland aesthetics and complete surrender to international commercial interests. In Blindside’s second gallery there is a neon work, “Shift (corner)” by Meagan Streader and Genevieve Felix Reynolds painting on curved aluminium looks like a badly hung poster. There was also a video work, “I’m a steamroller baby” by Kray Chen from Singapore.

Miranda Jill Millen solo exhibition of paintings and ceramic sculptures My Kath & Kim was all boganfreude (a word coined by Brigid Delaney of the Guardian meaning “meaning the thrill you get from reading about bogans behaving badly”). The images based on the tv series Kath and Kim are so close to a copyright violation that only the legal fees are separating it. I think that the City Library can and has a responsibility to do better than simply having a publicly owned space for hire on a monthly basis that doesn’t take commission.

The ceramic cigarettes in Millen’s exhibition were similar to the textile versions of objects in Pimento Mori: Life and Desk Lunch by Chloe Smith at Mailbox Art Space at 141 Flinders Lane. However, unlike Millen’s work, Smith’s fantastic little exhibition is not laughing at outer suburban bogans, like Kath and Kim, but at everyone who has ever eaten at their desk. Smith’s round pimento shaped and coloured invitations were a perfect added detail.

And that concluded my gallery crawl down Flinders Lane and I wanted sushi for lunch.


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