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Tag Archives: Brunswick

Looking at the Counihan Gallery

What is it to look? To perceive clearly what is in front of you. To examine a landscape with the eye. To see the slight variations in the chaotic patterns. To notice. On average a person in an art gallery look at a work of art for only a few seconds but what if it was your job to look? In this post I will be looking at the current exhibitions the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick where there are two exhibitions about looking at landscapes.

Simon Grennan, Supplementary Search

Simon Grennan, Supplementary Search and Search Party (in day-go orange) oil on canvas

Simon Grennan’s “Almost Like A Reality: The Landscape and its Subjects” refers to the history of the Australian landscape both as art subject and as a forensic site. Twenty-six oil paintings with an Australian bush landscapes with gothic element. What are the professional emergency services personnel searching for? Someone who is lost, recovering a dead body or is it a crime scene?

There are clear references in Grennan’s paintings to the Heidelberg School, particularly Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin’s 1886 plein-air painting in the bush that is now Melbourne’s suburbia: from McCubbin’s Lost, to The artists’ camp by Tom Roberts. Robert and McCubbin’s camp site was about a mile south of Box Hill railway station near Damper Creek (now Gardiners Creek).

Simon Grennan,

Simon Grennan, Scenery, Quite Nice, Quite Nice 2, oil on canvas

Kirstin Berg

Kirstin Berg, Light Years, 2018 (detail)

In her exhibition, “The Dreamers”, Kirstin Berg explores the landscape, finding bush debris, clothing, reclaimed timber and transforming them into a dreamscape. It is a landscape of extreme contrast between black and white, the shadow and the highlight. This surreal landscape is furnished; the chairs like Dali’s stilt walking elephants, a bed that is impossible to sleep on and all the solid linen soaked in plaster. For more on Kirstin Berg read an interview with her by Camilla Wagstaff in Art Collector about her 2016 exhibition at Gallery Smith.

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Ash Coates, Mycolinguistics (Rubico-Sterolosis or Oneness)

Outside the Counihan, part of the gallery’s annual Winter Night Screen Project, is Ash Coates’s Mycolinguistics (Rubico-Sterolosis or Oneness) 2017. In 2017 Time Out listed Coates piece as one of “the 9 best projections at Gertrude Street Projection Festival” although this time it is not projected onto the building. Coates’s digital animation is of a colourful alien landscape like a microscopic world of fungal life. It is visible and audible (with a soundscape by Alister Mew) from outside the gallery; waiting for the tram on a cold, wet winter’s night with one eye on the screen and one eye on Sydney Road.

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Peak Books, Free Libraries and Art

We live at a time of peak stuff and consequently it is also the time of peak books. What once was rare and valued is now a glut. Collecting printed matter used to be a virtue and now it is the vice of a hoarder. Perhaps, we can only understand everything about books is when there is an excess of books.

Nicolas Jones, Holman Hunt book

My own book shelves are overflowing, packed two deep with books. More books are stacked in various strategic positions. Are they simply trophies of previous reads? How many of them will I ever read again or repeatedly consult?

Now, e-books might be an alternative to having physical books. I have read only one e-book, Medieval Graffiti, but I no longer have a dictionary or thesaurus or an encyclopaedia takin up space on my shelves. I no longer keep newspaper clipping or photocopy of articles as they are available online or in PDF files.

Peak books is a disturbing concept to bibliophiles and bookshop workers especially second-hand bookshops because peak books means more free libraries. I have been taking some of my excess books to the free libraries. There are free libraries at Coburg and Moreland stations, more around the streets and even one at Barkley Square shopping centre. I first noticed a free library in my neighbourhood in 2014 but the recent growth in them is a sure indicator of peak books.

Peak books means that there will be art made from the excess books, as art is made from excesses in a society. Art from books has been happening since before I started this blog and is on the increase. There are Melbourne based artists who used books as their primary media, for example Nicolas Jones. In Collected Odysseys, 2018, by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas, a two metre cairn of books blackened with ink in the middle of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.


The Intervention 10 Years On

“A Widening Gap: The Intervention 10 Years On” at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick is an exhibition marking the tenth anniversary of “the Intervention”.

Jacky Green, Seán Kerins and Therese Richie, Open Cut, 2017

Jacky Green, Seán Kerins and Therese Richie, Open Cut, 2017

“The Intervention.” it sounds like something that might be staged for an alcoholic friend. The Norther Territory National Emergency Response, as it is officially called, sounds like it might be doing something urgent however when it only implementing two of the ninety-seven recommendations in the NT Government’s Little Children are Sacred Report (2007) in a decade, you know that it is bullshit. So let’s call it for what it is a racist abuse of human rights and a land grab for miners that both the ALP and LNP support.

Curated by Jo Holder and Djon Mundine, from Cross Art Projects in Sydney, the exhibition is a wide examination of the issues imposed on the Aboriginal people in the NT from inadequate housing to inadequate justice; including artwork by an anonymous young artist from the infamous Don Dale Detention Centre.

Holder and Mundine have balanced the large polemic pieces with smaller works, such as the lively paintings and screenprints by Margaret Nampitjinpa Boko and Sally M. Mulda Nagala, that depict NT life with humour and passion, or the engaging series by artists in from Ntaria/Hermansburg, working in the watercolour tradition of Albert Namatjira, of mining operations dominating the landscape. Painting some of the landscapes that Namatjira painted with the addition of big yellow mining trucks in the foreground and, in one painting, a crashed UFO.

Benita Clements, Tjuritja (#396-16), 2016

Benita Clements, Tjuritja (#396-16), 2016

The mining trucks, and the UFO, are symbols of the alien invasion, a lack of consultation, the control of land, along with the environmental damage caused by mining. There are a number of works by Jacky Green, Seán Kerins and Therese Richie about the environmental impact of the McArthur River Mine where thousands of tons of waste released dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide.

This is not the first exhibition that the Counihan Gallery has held about this subject; in 2013 there was “Ghost Citizens: witnessing the intervention” curated by Holder and Mundine and featuring some of the same artists. Although it is a timely exhibition, considering that Victoria and NT have just announced that they would started treaty negotiations with the Aboriginal people, I have no confidence that, in 2023, there will not be yet another exhibition about the continuing “Intervention”.

Chips Mackinolty, "and there'll be no more dancing", 2007

Chips Mackinolty, “and there’ll be no more dancing”, 2007


Taree Mackenzie @ Neon Parc

Sometimes it seems that I have seen it all before, not more paintings about painting, please no more photographs of empty playgrounds, and then I see some new, amazing and beautiful art. This outstanding art is the reason why I’ve been visiting so many galleries and looking at so much average art.

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It is hard to see at first. Inside Neon Parc in Brunswick it is dark except for the coloured lights of Taree Mackenzie’s art. What is going on? The set up for each piece, rotating black shapes and panels of light and glass, neatly occupies the dark corners of the gallery. The elegant symmetry and minimalist design of the mechanism that creates the images are exposed. The science is known, involving reflectivity and coloured filters removing colours, you may have even seen some of it in dinky science demonstrations but never at this scale or elegance. The optical trick may be obvious but it is so beautifully executed that I didn’t care.

Mackenzie uses a couple of basic optical effects to create simple beautiful images, ultra-modern abstract animated images. The images that exist on the glass’s surface and looking through the glass are a purely retinal art. The simplicity and minimalism of the rotating objects and primary light colours contributing to their trippy, hypnotic experience.

Mackenzie has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from the Victorian College of the Arts and an interest in maths and science. She has a strong track record for creating installations that use simple tricks using light and colour to create abstract images. However, unlike Mackenzie’s previous exhibitions, this time her simple abstract images are mediated without the use of video cameras and monitors. For more read an interview with Mackenzie by Maura Edmond on Primer


Eyes open in Brunswick

I’m keeping my eyes open. I’m looking around. I have not got my face fixed on the screen of my mobile phone as I walk so I notice things on the streets of Brunswick and Coburg. Anarchist posters with anti-religion and anti-fascist graphics and all the beautiful aerosol works down the bluestone alleyways.

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Inspector Gadget over Tinning Street

I hope that whoever is doing the Wandjina spirit in paint, paste-ups (and now in ceramics?) has the cultural authority to use the sacred image. That they are an Mowanjum person from the Kimberley and not some Europeans living in the Blue Mountains, as in the 2017 controversy over the use of the image of the Wandjina spirit. But then this is the street and nobody is meant to know.

Discarded

Discarded

A piece by Discarded along the bike track is less obvious. I can’t be sure that I haven’t overlooked this piece for a year or more. The cast ceramic pieces of discarded items found on the street are collaged together into a new form. The piece is framed by the better brickwork outside the patch. I am keeping my eyes open as I quickly photograph the piece to avoid being run over by a bicycle when I kneel down.

Civil painting

Civil painting in Brunswick

Sometimes it is so obvious that you only have to be there. I see Civil behind a row of orange bollards, half way up another wall in a Sydney Road carpark. He is painting another scene of stick-figure people, dogs and bicycles with a brush. The description of stick-figures sounds crude when the practiced lines of Civil’s figures is anything but crude. They have the simplicity of a figure by Keith Haring or Matisse. The curved  lines arms and active legs along with the simple details of hats, dresses and bicycles.

I saw a lot of new Civil walls for it was only an hour before that I’d noticed that Civil has repainted his old wall in Tinning Street with more of his stick figures but this time against a bright green background. For more on Civil read my earlier post. 

Civil green wall

Another wall by Civil in Brunswick

Keeping my eyes open in Brunswick had its visual rewards.


Melting into Movement @ Counihan Galler

Two exhibitions of contemporary art that incorporate live performance and video elements for the start of the Counihan Gallery annual exhibition program; Collected Odysseys 2017 by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas and All That Is Solid Melts Into Movement 2017, by Kaya Barry, Rea Dennis, Jondi Keane.

Most of the artists in both galleries are wearing all white which works as a screen for the video projections. It also makes the works in the two galleries appear more linked than they actually are.

In both the movement of the artists is determined by the structure of the gallery. In Collected Odysseys (it is difficult to divide the works and assign a title because they overlap) the artists follow the gallery wall as they write. Two videos of artists without their art, a dancer from the head up and a pianist without a piano, projected on the walls and a 2 metre tall stack of ink black books.

In All That Is Solid Melts Into Movement a white gallery wall on casters is pulled and pushed back and forth across the gallery while a video of this is projected onto and then behind the wall. Adding to the drama the wall fits tightly into the gallery space, each time it moves it just miss hitting the video projector mounted on the ceiling by a few centimetres. Then another artist rides a bicycle around the wall as it continues moving forward and back. According to the artists this “allows gallery goers to collectively measure the affects/effects of structural shifts on our everyday experiences.”

There were also several sections of concrete sidewalk on casters but I didn’t experience them moving and can’t comment on the experience. All That Is Solid Melts Into Movement is an out standing work because of the way that the moving wall disrupts the site, uses perspective in a new way and merges the formal with the informal. The moving wall is dramatic, effective and points to the manipulation of the gallery space with walls.


Footbridge of Masks

In Brunswick there is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses over CityLink Tullamarine Freeway between Peacock Street and McColl Court. The bridge is adorned with 24 cast concrete faces. In 2017 a couple of newspapers reported on it under the headlines: “Brunswick’s creepy bridge – 25 concrete faces, not one nose and no one knows why” and “Creepy concrete faces appear on Brunswick bridge”.

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When I saw it on the news the artist who made the masks was a mystery to me (and I am trying to be an expert in the limited field of Melbourne’s street art sculpture) but one that I didn’t have time until now to investigate. Now that I have it is the paranoid reaction and the lack of any memory in suburbia that are the most disturbing elements.

What caused this paranoid reaction? Was this reaction just because a local graff writer, the prolific tagger Felon had decorated one of the faces, death metal style or was it because of the absence of a plaque to identify the art? I’m not surprised that the noses are all gone, it is the first thing to be damaged on a sculpture and it gives the masks an antique feel.

The propensity for paranoia in suburbia is no reason for alarm. A mystery has to have an element of danger and intrigue or it wouldn’t be mysterious. However, once the facts are revealed it generally turns out to be not that interesting, perhaps even mundane, like a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.

The following day The Age reported that it was the work of Melbourne artist Mary Rogers who “sculpted the 25 life-size faces in her home studio in the mid-1990s as part of the Freeway Bridge Project.”

The work combines architectural decoration on brutalist concrete and was intended to help humanise the freeway overpass. The masks were cast from local residents but, after twenty years, this has not given the bridge any local context or memory. The lack of any urban memory of the bridge speaks of the transitory nature of the urban life.

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