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Tag Archives: ACMI

Manifesto @ ACMI

With 13 screens, a dozen characters played by Cate Blanchett and over a century of artist’s manifestos Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto at ACMI is overblown. It sounds very impressive, at first glance it looks spectacular but in the end the advertising was better than the exhibition.

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Posters for Manifesto

The advertising campaign featured a juxtaposition of some words about art and the face of Cate Blanchett made-up to play a role side by side in posters. In the urban environment the posters were intriguing, especially as there was almost no information on the two posters about who wrote the words and what was being advertised. The information about the exhibition on the poster was impossible to read as you passed by, you had to make an effort to read it.

The actual exhibition on close examination was unfortunately incoherent. The various manifestos are cut up, recombined, and re-written into scenarios making them into so many words. The elaborately scenarios did not contribute to any complimentary, ironic or contrasting meaning, that the manifestos might have had. Conceptualism set in a news studio and pop art around a traditional family dinner table.

Due the position of screens and speakers the manifesto’s would suddenly pile up as Blanchett and another Blanchett from another screen would both launch into different speeches. This possibly synchronised cacophony drains meaning from the vocalisation.

It could have been insightful rather than simply impressive and overblown. It seems like faced with so many manifesto’s Rosefeldt responded to a lack of any meaningful insight by emptying the meaning from the manifestos.

Rosefeldt’s three other videos on exhibition at ACMI are impressive, witty and coherent works. The dual realities of the actions and the foley sounds in The Soundmaker are fascinating, as are the dual realities of Stunned Man. Dali and Buñuel could only have dreamt of Rosefeldt’s Deep Gold which a credible and worthy addition to their L’Âge d’Or. Here Rosefeldt’s talent for designing complex camera tracks over tableaux is used both visually and intellectually to great effect.

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Memories of David Bowie

I remember that David Bowie Is… a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum that will be at ACMI in Melbourne from 16th July and 1 November. Not that I’ve seen the exhibition, I remember seeing the exhibition in the film. My brain felt like a warehouse… the lyrics sheets of familiar songs, the photographs, models of stage sets, over 50 costumes, memorabilia and lots of videos.

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Russell Briggs, Head of Exhibitions & Collections at ACMI described the media preview as “a Russian doll, a film of an exhibition of a biography…” There are a lot of Russian doll aspects to anything about Bowie, the actor playing an alien rock star, as you unpack one doll it is revealed to contain another and another. And David Bowie is hyperreal, he is more real in simulacra than actually.

During the film I remember thinking that blockbuster exhibitions and stadium rock have a lot in common and even with the audience for the exhibition capped at 200 visitors per hour the experience will be similar. Do I want another experience like Bowie’s Serious Moonlight concert in a packed (40,000+) at VFL Park, the Waverley Football stadium? From my position in the stands I saw most of it on the big screen, so maybe it would have been just as good to have watched it on TV. Andrew Peacock, the then Liberal opposition leader was also in the audience and Bowie was going through a 50s retro phase. Even though they are on the cutting edge there is something conservative about successful trend spotters, like Bowie.

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

The exhibition does over hype Bowie and it would like you to forget that Bowie with Mick Jagger ever sung a cover of “Dancing in the Streets”. I’d like to forget that too but having seen it I can’t. After watching David Bowie Is… (the movie) and during the writing of this post I avoided listening to any classic Bowie hits and restricted myself to an aural diet of his soundtrack for Labyrinth, the Laughing Gnome and Rubber Band. I started to wonder if Bowie hadn’t changed the whole history of the novelty song; taking it from a statistical minority of pop songs to the majority.

But remember that with all this novelty Bowie demonstrates the art/politics of constructed identities. The constructed identity is opposed to both the idea of a given or a natural identity and this is a very important contribution that liberated many people. The diversity of Bowie’s artist practice, from actor to visual artist defies assumptions about work and identity, but also a celebrity art practice in the role of producer/director and collaborator. But does this qualify as genius?

The discourse on this subject and the greater discourse around Bowie is another layer of Bowie’s much vaunted collaborations. The absence of Bowie is significant, the long periods between albums, the points where his only presence is in the public discourse about his career. Along with the exhibition there will be a two day symposium on The Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie, presented in partnership with The University of Melbourne and Deakin University with the support of the Naomi Milgrom Foundation.

David Bowie Is… would like to define how David Bowie will be remembered, a creation of art and design. I expect that in 2050 a scholarly book on the history of a century of rock music will be published but how many references to David Bowie will there be in the index? It depends on the way that author tells the history. If the book is about popularity, the mass effect of rock music or icons of rock then there may be a many references to Bowie. If the book is about the development of rock then there may less; there is only one reference to Bowie in the index of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces.


I’ll be Watching You

I went to see Spectacle – the music video exhibition at ACMI (Australian Centre For the Moving Image) with my friend, Sean Doyle, ACMI’s Macintosh Systems Administrator. Sean kindly invited me to an ACMI staff family and friends viewing of the exhibition. We saw the exhibition and had a beer at Optic while wait for Jane Routley who was still watching the music videos (she was in there for two and a half hours). There were so many familiar videos bringing back so many memories. There are so many videos in the exhibition that it would take days to cycle through them all.

Music videos are like Wagner’s dream of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a total art experience uniting the visual with the audio. Wagner was right it is “The Artwork of the Future” but not in the way he would have wanted it to be; Wagner would not have wanted the pointless luxury that the spectacle of music videos offers. Wagner may not have wanted his MTV but there is a lot to appreciate in music videos. At their best many overlapping with video art or experimental movies and at the worst slick advertising productions – and all in under four minutes (compared to the hours of Wagner’s Ring Cycle).

Why go to the exhibition when I could sit on the couch on a Friday or Saturday night and watch Rage? With the right host selecting the videos Rage can be almost good as the selection of videos at Spectacle. This is a problem that all popular arts exhibitions face when the work is shown outside of the popular context.

The exhibition does puts music videos in a historical context; you will be surprised at the age of the phrase “music video”. I did get a laugh from the literal videos; videos with the lyrics rewritten to describe, literally what is happening in the video. (Check out “literal videos” on YouTube.) But a book or a documentary could have done that.

It is a beautifully presented exhibition and there is more to do that put on headphone and watch videos at Spectacle. It has a few works from the bleeding edge of music videos, including some interactive music videos, crowdsourced music videos and a stereoscopic music video from Björk. Sean told me about the work that he had to do on the Johnny Cash Project of crowd sourced animation. It is originally a webpage and Sean was tweaking the code for that to make it function for the exhibition.

Although my music collection ranges from Gary Numan to bhangra want I’m really into is the intersection between art and music. This is well represented in Spectacle, with bands like the Residents or EBM because curators, like critics, love that intersection. Rage doesn’t tend to play videos by the Residents or EBM and one of the Resident’s giant eyeball masks is at the exhibition. Why didn’t it have something from Severed Heads?

There isn’t much memorabilia and preparatory material in the exhibition, things that you can see first hand at an exhibition. Along with the giant eyeball, there is a small case of Countdown material, some animation cells including some for Ah Ha’s “Take On Me” and some storyboards for videos.

 


The Meta-Cinema of Ian Burns

Are you tired of CGI dominating cinema but you still want to enjoy some illusions? Are you tired of the virtual world where windows of illusion disguise the operating system? Then you need the meta-cinema of Ian Burns.

“Contemporary technology overvalues invisibility in the delivery of the screen-based image. I find this a bit sinister. For me, this cult of the virtual is often the antithesis of the embodied experience that art viewing, when at its richest, is often about. The structure that supports the contemporary screen is not just a technological one, but a social and political one. I try to emphasise technological presence in my work, not just to relish its possibilities but to also expose its limitations and flaws.” – Ian Burns (ACMI blog)

You don’t need to know any art theory to appreciate the art of Ian Burns; the whole thing is exposed. All the wiring is visible, the little video cameras, the materials are all familiar ordinary things that you could buy down at the shops. It is a magic trick so good that the magician can show how the trick is done and you still marvel at it.

There is the appeal of the idea of an artist/inventor playing with artistic experiments like Leonardo da Vinci or Marcel Duchamp. Reminding me that the history of engineering started with Hero of Alexandria (c. 10–70 AD) making toys steam engines and other entertaining mechanisms and that currently computing technology is being driven by the games industry. Not surprisingly Ian Burns trained as an engineer.

There is more to the art of Ian Burns than a few video tricks. Burns describes his work as “meta-cinematic”. He gives the audience both the illusion and the crude reality that created it. It is about the satisfying that basic psychological drive to get to see the back of things, to know what is behind them. This knowledge does not destroy our interest in the illusions anymore than an atheist looses interest in religion (most atheists know more about religion than the religious) or watching a puppeteer pull the strings, instead it adds another level of interest to the work.

In his ACMI exhibition, “In the Telling” Burns sequences his kinetic devices to create separate shots for a simple road movie. We all have these dreams of escape, it is a simple illusion but the art is in the telling.

Ian Burns is the Commission Artist for the 2012 Melbourne Art Fair and is also on exhibition at ACMI. I first encountered Ian Burns art two years ago at Anna Schwartz Gallery and it left me wanting more (see my blog post: Ian Burns “and then…”).

 


Graffiti Makes Great History

Oriel Guthrie and Spencer Davids’s Writers Bench: The Evolution of Melbourne Graffiti and Street Art Culture 1980 – 2011 tells a social history of Melbourne graffiti in a neutral, balanced and insightful manner. In telling the history its answers the question of how Melbourne arrived at this current state of flourishing diversity in graffiti and street art. It is a story that progresses from crude beginnings to the current sophistication and inclusion in art galleries.

The documentary’s title, Writer’s Bench, comes from the congregation of graff writers on the benches at Richmond Railway Station. Graffiti and street art are mass art movements; there are hundreds of artists in Melbourne alone. There are so many artists that to pick favourites is just an exercise of personal taste. And the documentary interviews so many of the artists involved in Melbourne’s graffiti scene. There are so many people interviewed in this documentary that their numbers swelled ACMI’s largest cinema to near capacity for the premier.

The documentary is not just interviews. There are extensive images of Melbourne in the 1980s from the archives of news and artists. There are no trite moments of documentary film making with artists walking around or long panning shots; when there is music there are plenty of relevant images to go with it.

Writer’s Bench neatly edits the many interviews and images to tell a social and art history in three clear chapters: the Sharpies tags and political slogans, the hip-hop graffiti and finally the stencils and street art. Each chapter has a beginning and end that leads on to the next; how hip hop replaced the gang culture with aerosol art and music, how the impact of age, the police and heroin addictions on hip hop generation opened the space for the stencils and street artists.

Many art histories highlight certain artists as stars. In doing this they ignore so many other artists or suggest that they were either helping or hindering the success of the star. Writers Bench does not do this – the artists are presented as people involved in the history and not aesthetic masters. Writers Bench looks at an evolution that responds to the urban environment and not the development of the current style. It does not glorify the artists – it discusses the problems along with the achievements. You can make your own aesthetic and other judgements; Writers Bench documents the history.

For reasons of full disclosure I’m proud to call the co-producer, source, soundtrack and more, Spencer David my friend.


Shaun Gladwell – Physical Graffiti

I could get cosmic about the Gladwell’s art and write about the spinning fat god that is the turning universe. I could art historical and refer to Gladwell’s references to Turner and Caspar David Friedrich. Or examine his cinematic references to Mad Max and Ozploitation films. Instead, due to my interest in street art, I saw something else in Gladwell’s art a kind of physical graffiti.

Shaun Gladwell is most famous for his video “Storm Sequence” (2000) (it is not in the ACMI exhibition) but how did he come to this? I vaguely remember some of his early paintings.  Joanna Mendelssohn reviewing Shaun Gladwell’s exhibition at Sherman Galleries in Sydney has clearer memories of these paintings. Mendelssohn notes that Gladwell started painting giant copies of Penguin paperback classics. (Artlink Vol 23 no.3 2003) There is nothing of this early phase in Gladwell’s art in the ACMI exhibition. There are still a couple of minor works on paper scattered through out ACMI’s exhibition but they are largely incidental. One drawing, “Untitled” (2011) does provide a key to Gladwell’s art showing a diagram of train surfing yoga positions.

When Gladwell stopped focusing on painting and drawing and turned to video he was able to better integrate his art and his own life. Videos of Gladwell’s street movement; skateboard riding in “Storm Sequence” or hanging from the handrails of a Sydney train in “Tangara” (2003) became the foundation for his video art. Using BMX riders, break dancers, graffiti artists, skateboarders, pole dancers for his videos – this is physical graffiti.

Contemporary movement defines space in a creative, interactive way: what can be done with this space, what orders can be found, explored, used and created. Movement and perspective are not determined by the space but by the person using the space. This is body art as an urban intervention, captured in the locations and the momentum in Gladwell’s videos. In his photographs of the rollerblading police at the Louvre Gladwell is documenting changes in contemporary movement. “Planet & Stars Sequence: Bondi” (2011) looks at the movements of an aerosol art busker routine.

“Shaun Gladwell: Stereo Sequences” in the large Gallery 1 space at ACMI is the first in what ACMI promises to be a series of commissioned new works by ”leading Australian and international contemporary artists.” The horizontal tracking and the walk through “Parallel Forces” (2011) curiously reminded me that the long Gallery 1, deep under ACMI, was once a platforms at Flinders Street Station. It is an engaging exhibition and I hope that has an influence on Melbourne’s street art scene.


The Velvet Underground film

After about twenty minutes into the film parts of the audience started to walk out. Either the camera work had got to them or it was clear to them that the Velvets weren’t about to break into a chorus of Sweet Jane. What did these people expect from an Andy Warhol film? Hadn’t they heard The Velvet Underground playing Sister Ray? People continued to walk out throughout the film. I was chilled in the front row with TC, tranced out with the droning electric guitars that seemed to have more in common with the dust and scratches on the film than the black and white images of Nico or Lou Reed.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was filmed at the Factory in January 1966. Even though music video clips had not been invented yet this 67min film features many of what have now become clichés of music videos, including the use of rapid zooming and panning in time with the music. Even the plot for a music video is remarkably familiar: band is playing live and the cops turn up. One NYC police officer suddenly appears in shot, smiles at the camera and turns the music down. The band plays for a bit more – “that’s still too loud” says a voice off camera. The cops talk to Andy and Gerard Malanga, his studio assistant, And the band packs up.

Eventually the camera runs out of film, end of film. Although the camera remains in a fixed position throughout the film and there is only one shot. It appears that Andy, or who ever was behind the camera (because Andy is in front of the camera at the end), was endlessly playing with the camera rather than doing what Andy Warhol was famous for a static shot with no pans or zooms. If only they had done a fixed shot the film would have been a lot better.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was part of a series of films by Andy Warhol showing at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). I went with my old friend TC who played guitar in a garage band with me. We are both fans of the Velvets; we used to play cover versions of Sweet Jane and Venus in Furs. Later I played in a Velvet Underground cover band, Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose with Ron Rude. Although, we were both fans of the Velvets, neither TC nor myself had seen the film nor heard the music. This was a rare screening of the film. Except for footage from their revival tour I have never before seen The Velvet Underground playing. I have seen a few still images from this film but never the moving picture.

Although I had never heard the “symphony of sound” before the music was not unfamiliar. It was not unlike Sister Ray but without any vocals and an hour long – something like the performances that the Velvets would later do in the afternoons of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Mo Tucker’s ever steady drumming was holding the droning sound of guitars and electric viola together. At one stage John Cage appeared to play some amplified long steel springs with a table knife but it was difficult to see what he was doing as the camera was mostly on Nico (tambourine) or her 3-year old son, Ari (maraca).


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