Tag Archives: Counihan Gallery

An Average Week’s Exhibitions

There is nothing essentially wrong with two or three star art, for such passable art is the benchmark by which quality is measured.Sometimes the art has limited ambitions, content, or scope, a little idea or more of the same but well presented. Other times the art is ambitious but limited by the talent, funding, space needed in order to carry the idea. I am always hoping to see something exceptional but it is inaccurate to only write about the exceptional. For most of the time I see exhibitions that are average, slightly below average or slightly above average. Take for example the exhibitions that I saw this week in Brunswick.

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TextaQueen, Muse, 2016

TextaQueen’s “Eve of Incarnation” is a solo exhibition at Blak Dot Gallery of colour nude photographs of herself on a beach. They could be from a nude calendar for like such calendars they are so carefully contrived that in 16 photographs not a single nipple or public hair is showing. However, TextaQueen does not depict herself a weak or vulnerable, but rather strong, wild and powerful. This is emphasised in the titles: ‘Agitator,’ ‘Summoner,’ ‘Harnesser’. I don’t know if the titles are enough but TextaQueen is an established artist who has worked with nudes and between low-brow and high brow art. So although this exhibition is not in her primary media is not far from her core interests of gender, race and Australia.

Hilary Dodd’s solo exhibition “Anomalous” at Tinning Street Presents is unfortunately not anomalous but all too familiar. So many artists have painted nearly monochrome paintings with an emphasis on the texture of the paint and anomalous tones or colours.

“Unhidden” curated by Kali Michailidis at the Counihan Gallery was not revealing. At its best it was clever but obvious like Kouichi Okamoto’s “Liquid taper cutter work”, 2013 where the ends of strips of tape that have been used to paint a wall black look like paint drips. At its worst it remained obscure.

Also at the Counihan was “As Above, So Below” works on paper by Charlotte Watson and Shannon Williamson. Above; Williamson’s works on paper look like outer space, like nubuela, spectacular, beautiful, random creations, over-laid with geometric notes in chalk or pastel. Below; a more difficult proposition, Watson stitches thread, like geomancy lines in the dark earth. The works are clearly linked in their mapping elements, as well as, their inspiration from Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries.

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Factivism @ Counihan Gallery

Liz Walker’s Still Life is based on the flower arrangement at the wake for murder victim, Jill Meagher at the Brunswick Green. It is a mix of beauty and danger, violent and domestic elements. It is all made from found and recycled materials. The sharp shards of the broken beer bottles are open like lilies, the stamen are knitting needles and bullet casings, the leaves are knives painted green. It is referencing the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

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Liz Walker, Still Life, glass, recycled and found objects, 2016

The facts:

On the first Thursday night of the month there is an exhibition opening at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. It is the final exhibition for the year, the public end of year for the gallery, the Moreland Summer Show, an exhibition of artists connected to the City of Moreland. This year there are forty artists producing work on the theme of “factivism”.

Counihan gallery’s curator, Victor Griss said that he wanted a word to be “diagonal counter” to slacktivism, the superficial show of online support for a cause. To have a theme that has both infinite possibilities and limits.

There were almost two hundred people, wine, nibbles, the obligatory speeches, from the Mayor of Moreland who won’t be Mayor in a week or so, the curator, Victor Griss and former curator, Edwina Bartlem. It is an inclusive community; for the first time there was an Auslan interpreter to translate the speeches into sign language.

Edwina Bartlem is a former curator of the Counihan and a local resident, who is now the Exhibitions Manager at the state Library of Victoria. Edwina recognised the community aspect of the exhibition opening suggesting that everyone talk to someone they hadn’t met. I already had, I had to compliment the recycling cyclist on his amazing waistcoat pinned with objects.

Lots of people to say hello to. It is a community that I have been writing about in this blog for many years. I have seen some artists develop from early attempts to their current work. I have written whole blog posts about some them: Wendy Black, Julian Di Martino and Alister Karl.


Three Exhibitions in Brunswick

“Rosencrantz: Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it.” (Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead)

There are currently two dark exhibitions on at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick: “Exhume” by Clare Humphries and “An Apprehension of Mortality” by Bruce Dickson. ‘Dark’ in both their colours and in the theme of mortality.

There is often an element of memento mori in the genre of still life but Humphries emphasises it by using personal objects of her deceased family members. The hand-burnishing of the linocuts softens the usual hard edges of the print allowing for subtle gradation of light to dark. The objects that Humphries depicts glow against the blackness of the paper.

Anyone complaining that art students don’t know how to draw doesn’t know that there are lecturers like Humphries. Clare Humphries lectures in Drawing and Printmedia at the VCA and the technical skill in these prints is amazing.

Of course, anyone complaining about today’s art students would point at Bruce Dickson’s exhibition at the Counihan. Dickson has more light than dark but it is a slack light, vaguely suggesting something. There are only three works in the exhibition, an “installation/sculpture” called “threshold”, where some paper that had been dipped in pigment hangs in sculptural manner, and two loops of video of some gauze-like material blowing around. Even when I appreciated the existential vibrations, in Dickson’s video loop “towards stillness,” I found the actual video annoying because of the inelegant arrangement of the three pieces of cloth kept distracting me.

Further along Sydney Road at Soma Gallery, a shopfront gallery is “Bush Nighmarez” by Lou Herrod. Demons with gum leaf horns and a “Bogan Dream Cather” hung with VB can and shotgun cartridges. In her bold and brutal paintings the iconic Australian gum leaf bush becomes a place of horror for Herrod. I haven’t seen art that so excoriates the thin skin of the Australian bush dream since an early Paul Yore exhibition, “Monument to the Republic” at Gertrude Contemporary.


State of the Nation @ Counihan

State of the Nation, curated by Kimberley Moulton, at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, is a group exhibition of six indigenous artists who live on Kulin and Eora countries. Amongst them the work of Jason Wing, seven years ago I reviewed one of his exhibitions and his work is completely different now,  going from street to contemporary and conceptual.

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Video still from Megan Cope, Blaktism, 2014

Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island in S.E. Queensland. Her impressive video, The Blaktism (2014), takes an absurd look at establishing her aboriginal identity at the same time questioning what Australian identity means. It was inspired by her experience in obtaining her ‘Certificate of Aboriginality’.

The video shows a theatrical ceremony where she moves from under the Union Jack to wearing the Australian flag. During the ceremony her pale skin is painted brown and dark contact lens inserted. In the end, after the fluoro dance party celebration, she removes the Australian flag, the contact lens and make-up choosing to return to her original appearance.

Paola Balla’s Unsettling Or The True Story of When Mok Mok Came to the Big Smoke (2016) is a photographic series with text. The title of the work is apt as ‘unsettling’ is disturbing, it is literally the opposite of what the colonial settlers did. To unsettle is to remove that feeling of ownership and familiarity. Balla takes on the spirit of Mok Mok, a female entity from Wemba Wemba Country that steals kids and chops up men. Here she is cooking and washing clothes in an urban domestic setting and composing a massive rant about all the injustices the indigenous women and children suffer.

Paola Balla is a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman of Calabrese and Chinese heritage; with this background it is not surprising that Melbourne’s Il Globo has a biographic article about her that emphasises her Calabrese heritage.

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Paola Balla, Untitled and Uncared For (a)

Balla also had a couple of installations in the exhibition, assemblages of objects are hairy and disturbing. Untitled and Uncared For (a) consisted of three objects. A tin cup with a colourful image of “Outback Australia” printed on it, revealing its tourism origins. A kangaroo skin bag that appeared to contain a head and a vintage hand-coloured photograph defaced with fur. In this work identity is removed, to be replaced with a cheap souvenir that is itself uncared for. I wasn’t so impressed with Balla’s Untitled and Uncared For (b), even though I could see the point of the dead native flowers and introduced weeds and the feral fox fur, as it is just a flower arrangement.


LOL @ Counihan or how to laugh in an art gallery

People are laughing at the art in the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

That’s good.

Curators Catherine Connolly and Victor Griss have assembled ten artists with a variety of comedic voices from around Australia. If all the artists in the exhibition were comedians Jordan Marani is the one who swears a lot. In Colourful Language: Charm Offensive Marani moves from the sublime abstract to the profane explicit.

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Stephen Bird

Stephen Bird’s plates are the opposite of the usual delicate, tasteful and pretty ceramics.

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Leon Van De Graaff

Local Brunswick artist, Leon Van De Graaff has created a robotic two-handed routine satirising the art gallery opening: “A show about Everything and Nothing: The episode where Yuri and Leon get really drunk at an opening and sing.” Unfortunately the opening was louder than the volume of Yuri and Leon.

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Brisbane based soft sculpture, Alice Lang ironically comments on communication in popular culture with an Epic Fail.

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Danielle Hakim

Danielle Hakim’s “The End” is a simple, effective and ridiculous one-liner.

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Sharon West

Joking aside, there is the comic vision of Sharon West’s fantastic dioramas depicting scenes in the epic comedy of an alternate Australian history.

Several of the artists have already been compared to comedians. John Bailey in The Age compared the performance and video art of Anastasia Klose to Jackass and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Sydney artists Kat Mitchell was described as the “lovechild of silent film star Harold Lloyd and video artist Christian Marclay” by Dylan Rainforth in the SMH. The Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane described Ronnie Van Hout as “a master of slapstick existentialism” and, I have compared local Coburg artist, Julian Di Martino to a prop comic and wrote that his exhibition “should be in the Comedy Festival.”

Now he is. Is This Thing On? is an exhibition in conjunction with the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Aside from exhibition of cartoons this is the first art exhibition that Rod Quantock remembers in his thirty years of performing at the comedy festival. Which is a bit odd because humour, like all other emotions, is expressed in the visual arts.

So why hasn’t there been an art exhibition before in the comedy festival? Although humour has always been present to some extent in the visual arts, it has only recently become a central theme. This may be due to the epic failure of modernism, changes in public and critical attitudes towards comedy and the growth of importance of the white box art gallery, what the Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty, compares to “a straight man in a slapstick routine.” (Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution, 2009) It might just be because people have learnt how to laugh in art galleries.

Not that curator, Victor Griss plans to make a comedy art exhibition a regular feature of the comedy festival or on the Counihan Gallery’s program. That easily become the antithesis of comedy, predictable, dull and obvious.


Science Friction @ Counihan Gallery

The Moreland Summer Show at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick has the work by fifty-two artist who live, work or are otherwise connected to the area. The theme of the exhibition is “Science Friction” and that meant several flying saucers: Daniel Armstrong and Melinda Capp’s made of various found materials and Nadia Mercuri’s classic saucer in cast green lead crystal and blown glass.

UFOs are a barometer for the ignorant paranoid thinking about the idea of science and many of the artists in the exhibition were conflating the idea of science with industry and commerce. Moans and complaints about science do not generally make for good art or an engaging discourse. In his opening speech at the exhibition, senior curator of contemporary art at the NGV, Max Delany was kinder referring to the portrayal of the unthinkable and unsayable.

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Frances Tapueluelu, Technological Colonisation

Maybe if the word “technology” was used instead of “science” then the artist would have been less confused. Artists are familiar with technology, old technology, new technology, pushing technologies and exploring technologies. Frances Tapueluelu provided more balance and beauty in looking at the impact of communications technology on Tonga culture. Technological Colonisation is a magnificent headdress made of old mobile phones, keyboard keys, wires and plugs.

Many of the artists in the exhibition use technologies, from ancient to new. There are several video works. Ben Taranto’s beautiful one minute video loop, Blue Space, that turns the floor into a small pond with fish. Jenny Loft combines both old and new technology in When Mary met Ada, with a glass sculpture, cast using the ancient lost wax technique, mounted on a digital print of a computer chip.

Alister Karl keeps on pushing drawing in surprising directions and graphite can conduct electricity. So Karl has hooked up two batteries to a mix media drawing of a rocket adding a circuit board element, two LED lights and a small speaker.

For me the work that best captured the theme of the exhibition was a small oil painting by Saffron Newey. Mashed Romantic is a beautiful but unreal landscape mixing images from the visionary American painter, Thomas Cole and other painters. This mashed image reminds the viewer that the artist’s, or other observer’s image of nature are always artificial constructs, mashes of ideas and impressions.


Comparing Modern Art Oxford

On a recent visit to Oxford I went to the city’s contemporary art gallery Modern Art Oxford (MAO). MAO and my local gallery, the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick are similar kinds of art galleries and yet very different and differences shows the impact of both local and national arts funding priorities on a small contemporary art gallery. Prior to my visit to Oxford I had seen a DVD from my local library about MAO.

Both of galleries are on property owned by the local city councils and city councils have roughly the same population; the population of the city and non-metropolitan district of Oxford is 157,997 (2014) and the City of Moreland has a population of 147,241 (2011). MAO was established decades earlier in 1966, has a larger staff and is much better funded Arts Council England. It does not benefit from the international tourism in Oxford; the tourists are there to see old Oxford and not contemporary art.

Josh Kline, detail of Freedom exhibition

Josh Kline, detail of Freedom exhibition

A major difference why MAO is far better gallery is that it is bigger. It has almost twice the size of galleries as the Counihan, plus other spaces over three floors. There is a bookshop, a basement performance space, a cafe (with kitchen) and a community access space for other exhibitions and events. It is in an old repurposed building that has been refitted for purpose.

The new entrance way to MAO makes a clear statement about its existence and purpose, unlike the entrance to the Counihan which is inside the foyer of the Brunswick Town Hall, past the stairs and beside the window where you pay licenses and fines. This is typical of Moreland City Council and following long established practice of using some other building (‘temporarily’ for decades) as a gallery or a library.

Both MAO and the Counihan show a program of free exhibitions. Due to its larger space Modern Art Oxford presents unique exhibitions from international contemporary artists, whereas the Counihan is more limited in its choice of artists. When I visited MAO there were two exhibitions on: Josh Kline Freedom and Kiki Kogelnik Fly Me To the Moon.

Josh Kline, Police States, 2015

Josh Kline, Police States, 2015

Josh Kline’s Freedom was enjoyable on many levels. Healing post-9/11 America will require the fantastic vision of telly tubbies in full riot gear. It will require cops to unhand-cuff  themselves from their obscene donuts of stereotypes. I really felt deeply satisfied at seeing digitally altered George Bush and his co-conspirators saying sorry for all that they had done. (If John Howard had been amongst the digitally altered figures it would have been very difficult to believe him saying sorry for anything).

Kiki Kogelnik’s art felt very dated especially in comparison to Kline’s exhibition. Kogelnik’s bright vinyl human figures  hang limply on clothes racks. Kogelnik who was part of an early and desperate revival of figuration died in 1997; we no longer go to the moon.


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