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Tag Archives: Moreland

Counihan Politics and Protest

Thursday evening as I am going to the Counihan Gallery on the tram along Sydney Road. I am thinking about the theme of the exhibition: ‘people – politics – protest’ and Noel Counihan in a cage demonstrating the lack of free speech in 1933. Thinking that if I don’t see the police, or ultra-conservative demonstrators then the art isn’t great protest art… and then I saw the sandbag barricade out the front of the Brunswick town hall. Have the battle lines been drawn? Has Moreland seceded from Australia?

Rushdi Anwar

Rushdi Anwar, Art Like Morality, Consists of Drawing a Line Somewhere… is it?

Too good to hope for; the barricade were just an art installation. It wasn’t even part of the inaugural Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award. It was Kurdish Australian artist Rushdi Anwar’s Art Like Morality, Consists of Drawing a Line Somewhere… is it? and it was part of Morearts 2017, the annual temporary art exhibition. It made me consider the possibility that the best art about people, politics or protest in Moreland was possibly not in the Counihan Gallery’s Moreland Summer Show.

Perhaps, the most best protest art this year in this local came, not from artists but from the Moreland City Council. This year has been a turning point in Australia as sections of society, represented by three inner-city Melbourne councils are officially no longer celebrating Australia Day/Invasion Day. This symbolic act of removal is a clear protest that has not been ignored by the politicians Canberra or by other elements of the far right. Iconoclasm destroying the sacred and creating absence is part of a long tradition in contemporary art as in Marcel Duchamp’s rasée L.H.O.O.Q or Robert Rauschenberg’s work Erased DeKooning. So does the influence of the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys on organisation and political action as contemporary art.

Noel Counihan would not have understood that kind of post-modern art. Nor do the Moreland City Council consider that their removal of budget items for Australia Day/Invasion Day as a work of art; they weren’t even at the exhibition opening as there were holding a council meeting at the night. However, although they did not intend to be art, it maybe art, just as Noel Counihan’s famous protest locked in a cage may be the best thing he ever did, certainly it what he is most remembered for. It is not a functional thing; it is symbolic, a beautiful and culturally significant creation.

At the opening the artists, their friends and visitors drank wine and had a good time. Compared to what was happening outside the art inside the gallery was summed up with the metaphor of a silent readymade megaphone hung on a white gallery wall. Not that Kate Davis and Hannan Jones Study for the Speaker is that simply, it included an audio and text installation but I didn’t download those elements at the opening.

Looking around the exhibition at the Counihan Gallery at the work of the fifty local artists in a wide variety of media, commenting on a great variety of issues from identity politics to environmental. Amongst these the inaugural Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award went to Carmel Louise for her work Suicidal Tendencies; a photographic, mixed media collage reflecting on how most people have been watching climate change on TV from the comfort of their lounge. Maybe the media is not the message but a distraction. The judges praised Louise for her dealing with the issue of apathy and her use of contemporary collage. Second guessing the judges is not the role of either the critic or reporter; my role as a critic is to raise larger issues and to point out that rejecting the celebration Australia Day/Invasion Day maybe the most important piece political art in Moreland this year.

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Same Walls

Moreland Station

house-moreland-station

Fear of a Graff Planet - Moreland

Moreland Station Wall

The end wall of the terrace house opposite Moreland Station has been painted for as long as I can remember. It was one of the earliest walls in Coburg painted by OG23 and Askem. It was repainted in 2012  and then again this year. Thanks Arty Graffarti for the attributions.

Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer Brunsick Station

AWOL Brunswick Station

There are a couple of walls here that have been painted multiple times. Adnate and Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” in 2012 and then Adnate again along with the Dutch writer, Does in 2013. This wall became hotly contested territory and was splashed, bombed and capped into oblivion subsequently streets have been planted in front of it making the wall less visible.

Cyclist and Graffiti

Brunswick Station House

The end wall of the small row house was one of the first legal walls that sported a big piece. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the first time it was painted depicting Alice’s encounter with the caterpillar. The first photo is from 2009 by Grace (‘gerd’) and Rags. The second from 2012 times by Lapse and Gers/d. Again, thanks to Arty Graffarti and dannym for all the attribution, they made me aware of how much ‘ownership’ and maintenance of these walls exists by the particular writers.


Moreland Summer Show 2014

The Moreland Summer Show is the annual exhibition of “creative City Moreland”. Fifty artists exhibiting fifty medium sized works: paintings, photographs, prints, collage sculptures, assemblage and video.

Some of the artists are art students. Others are regular faces of the Moreland art scene like Peter Hanford and Julian Di Martino. And others are emerging or established artists represented by galleries like Dianne Tanzer, Fehily Contemporary and Stephen McLaughlan. They are all either residents of Moreland or artists with “strong connections” to Moreland, like Janelle Low, the resident Counihan gallery photographer and winner of the 2013 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Many artists have been attracted to the Moreland area because of cheap rents for both living and studio space; the former light industrial areas providing many warehouses for studios and galleries. However, with the rise of rental prices and the construction of apartment blocks the attraction is fading. Urban growth in the area was a topic for several artists and their artwork along with the hot political issue of the proposed East West Link. With these development this exhibition may prove to be the high water mark of Moreland’s creative tidal surge.

The work were selected primarily on their approach to the theme of this year’s exhibition of “speak out”. The political edge to the theme is typical of the Counihan Gallery. Brunswick, and by default the City of Moreland, has long been a centre of alternative politics and free speech from Noel Counihan to Barricade Books, an anarchist bookshop in the 1990s. (Neither Counihan nor Barricade Books were welcomed in Brunswick at the time and Barricade Books moved to Northcote before closing.)

For me the highlights of the Summer Show are Jenny Loft’s glass and shadow, mixed media sculpture, Shiva Lord Of The Dance: I Miss You and Stephanie Karavasilis’s installation Witness (in the silence). Karavasilis’s Witness (in the silence) is poignant, beautiful and unsettling; it uses text from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on plaster casts of folded sheets that were scattered amongst the found furniture and objects (old suitcase, children’s shoes and books). Jenny Loft’s Shiva refers to the stolen Shiva Nataraja that the National Gallery of Australia returned to India in September. Combining the old and new materials, the shadow and object elegantly portrays the contradictions of Shiva’s dance of creative destruction.

However, I must qualify my opinions by noting that I was using the preview and the opening of the Summer Show to meet as many local artists as I could and I don’t think that I really looked at all fifty works on exhibition.


Moreland and Art

Moreland Summer Show, the last show in this year’s season of exhibitions at the Counihan Gallery is an exhibition of 40 artists who live and work in Moreland. Don’t fear the community art show; there is no bad café art in this exhibition. None of the art is so terrible that it never should have been exhibited. Most of the works are in traditional media, oils, acrylics, photography, etc. Charlotte Watson’s hard edge abstraction Sans Two in cutaway layers coloured wax showed that innovation in media is not absent. Elwyn Murray used the Oxford English dictionary’s new word of the year #selfie for a backlight outline of a figure taking a selfie on their cell phone etched on mirror; a motion sensor switched off the light showing the viewer their own image. Julian Di Martino had a painting and reference sheet tallying various types of people, 2013 with references. One albino a summer does not make; as the Surrealist proverb goes.

Julian Di Martino, 2013 with references with Julian Di Martino in front making a reference.

Julian Di Martino, 2013 with references with Julian Di Martino in front making a reference.

Good ideas; I mean that, but nothing exceptional in the final analysis but I don’t want to write a boring blog post reviewing the Summer Show piece by piece. That’s not the point of the exhibition. This is not a display of talent/contest demonstrating the glory of Moreland’s artists. This is not about the being biggest, the best or the most innovative.

If we want to get into hyperbole… the opening of Summer Show on Thursday night was one of the most important cultural events in the northern suburbs this month, maybe even this spring. The arts in the northern suburbs art are saving it from becoming a post-industrial wasteland zombie dormitory. As I’ve said it thousands of times (quoting Gregor Muir) – artists are the storm troopers of real estate in transforming urban areas.

There were plenty of artists at the opening meeting up, not just artists in the show, lots of local artists, all networking, catching-up, and general chitchat talking. People kept on starting friendly conversations with strangers asking: “Are you one of the artists?” This is important; it makes the local art world go round.

I was working the room too; glass of red in one hand, pen and gallery list in another. Julian Di Martino was laughing telling me: “The theme of current tendencies is one of the broadest themes for a group show that I’ve seen in a long time.” I talk to the curator, Victor Griss; check that I’ve spelt his name right because I want to give him credit for a good exhibition hanging given the diverse variety of artists and styles.

Where did Benjamin Sheppard go? He was just talking to someone in front of his drawing. I wanted to talk to him because I’ve already written about a hundred words written about his last solo exhibition at the Counihan before I ran out of steam. His very large drawings with multi coloured biros on paper are a great take on ideas about high and low art; the whole idea of illustration and of art media and non-art media, that sort of thing.

See you the same time next year.


MoreArts & ArtLand

In a patch of grey blue gravel on a vacant lot beside the train tracks two sheep formed of growing green grass graze. If we are what we eat then sheep are grass. The grass and weeds along the fence-line frame this surreal sight. It is Candy Stevens’s “Landscape Gardeners” part of MoreArts.

Candy Stevens, “Landscape Gardeners”, 2011

Following up on my previous post, Paradigm Shift in Public Art, the annual MoreArts exhibition is a series of installations along in Moreland along the Upfield train-line between Jewell Station and Gowrie Station. There is a lot of wasteland that once was part of the light industrial area beside the tracks.

Many of the installations are site-specific. Tobias Hengeveld “Lookin’ Back Down the Line” used Brunswick stations old station office and ticket booth for the installation site. At the now un-staffed station the strains of American folk music echoed inside the disused station; from the ticket booth you could see warm orange light defused through a screen.

Many of the installations took advantage of the ubiquitous chain-link fences around these disused sites. Sansern (Zood) Rianthong’s “The Fence” used plastic straws to draw images on the fence. The chain-link fences also provided some security for the work. Michelle Robinson’s “Fugitive Piano” looked somewhat clichéd and by the time I photographed it the piano stool had become fugitive – so much for the effectiveness of the chain-link fence.

ArtLand at RMIT’s Brunswick campus was a geographically logical end for my ride to see MoreArts and many of RMIT’s students had wanted to participate (60 of them). But the result was poor quality art plonked everywhere around the campus with little consideration for the location; lots of stuff hanging from trees. Amongst this there were some gems, like Sharmiza Abu Hassan’s “Metamorphosis” where locally collected Kurrajong seedpods were painted with a Malay motif and attached in a pattern using Velcro strips to the trunk of a tree. Ricky Bhutta’s “Brunswick’s finest” had images on t-shirts that referred to the factories and graffiti opposite the carpark.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan, “Metamorphosis”, 2011

The most convenient way to see the exhibition is to walk or ride a bicycle along the bike track that runs parallel to the train tracks. And there were plenty of people walking and riding the trail to see the exhibition although many missed seeing all of the installations in MoreArt – I spoke to one couple who had only seen two installations between Brunswick and Moreland. There are a number of bicycle tours and walking tours of the exhibition.

Kallie Turner, "The Taste of Salt", 2011

MoreArt is an interesting exhibition for many reasons, one being because it is also in competition with the huge amount of street art on the walls along the railway line (contemporary art installations vs street art).


Reframed @ Counihan Gallery

“Reframed” is an exhibition of art from the Moreland Art Collection on exhibition at the Counihan Gallery. It is post-modern collection because of its post-colonial view and its inclusion of naïve artists. Although much of the work is in traditional media – the one installation in the exhibition by Kirsten McFarlane is a charming reminder of Sydney Rd’s vaudeville history – this is itself a feature of post-modernism.

The collection is based on the work of Noel Counihan who “never received the recognition afforded their rival Angry Penguin Associates.” (Trudi Allen, Cross Currents in Contemporary Australian Art, 2001, p.53) Counihan was more interested in socialist realism than the Angry Penguins’ expressionist Australian modernism. The Counihan Gallery received a substantial donation of works by Noel Counihan from art historian, Robert Smith. The exhibition has prints from the “Noel Counihan Tribute Folio” on the back wall of the gallery, like a base to the structure of the exhibition. Not that the exhibition (or even the tribute folio) is full of socialist realism but it is alternative starting point in art history for the collection. The collection shows that art and the understanding of political issues have developed from socialist realism to include wider issues, like the environment, and a variety of cultural vocabularies.

The exhibition’s narrative starts with a substantial and diverse collection aboriginal art and moves to more art exploring themes of identity, culture and place. Curator, Edwina Bartlem has organized the exhibition into several block that highlight themes in the collection: the environment, feminism, multi-cultural Australia and Moreland’s recent history.

One of the standout works of the show, for me, is by Turkish artist Füsun Çağlayan of a Turkish-Australian wedding. This powerful realist painting with its somber colors, the patterned border top and bottom with yellow photos of Turkish-Australian life on the top border. William (Bill) Kelly’s bronze Tiananmen Square Monument using the image of the man in front of the tank had a suitably vast base. I also enjoyed seeing Nusra Latif Qureshi’s “Balancing Act II” again, this time I noticed the way that flowers permeate the borders and outlines in her paintings.

The City of Moreland’s art collection shows what can be done over 20 years with a $10,000 annual budget and some good curatorial advice. It is not the perfect collection and Cr Alice Pryor speech admitted that mistakes that had been made; she regretted passing over a painting by Sam Leach before he won the Archibald. Some of the collection has been purchased from previous exhibitions at the Counihan Gallery; regular visitors to the gallery will recognize some of the art on exhibition. Unfortunately the exhibition did not include the dates of acquisition of the works so that visitors could see how the collection developed.

On Thursday evening local city councillors launched exhibition and the 2011 program at the Counihan Gallery with catering by local business, Poplars Café. It was a beautiful evening and as I ride my bicycle home I couldn’t help but notice the local art that wasn’t represented in the exhibition – all the anarchic street art beside the bicycle path.


Cross Currents @ Moreland Civic Centre

Cross Currents, paintings by Wen Jun at the Moreland Civic Centre would be almost entirely irrelevant were it not for the Chinese government currently throwing their weight around with attempts to censor and sabotage the Melbourne Film Festival. And the local debate in Moreland  usefulness of having sister cities. Moreland has three sister cities: Xianyang, in China, Viggiano, in Italy and Sparta, in Greece. Moreland does have a large Italian and Greek immigrant population but the connections with China are far more tenuous.

This is the 20th anniversary of contact between Moreland and Xianyang that was established by Wen Jun, Geoff Hogg and the then Mayor of Brunswick (now part of Moreland City). During this time Geoff Hogg has become an expert in public art and cultural exchanges. In 2006 he became the first Australian to be appointed an Honorary Professor of Art at Xianyang Normal University in China.

Moreland and Xianyang City Councils jointly sponsored the exhibition. At the opening of the exhibition there were of course the usual speeches, first by Robert Dorning, the Convenor of the Moreland and Xianyang Promotion Committee. The mayor, Cr Lambros Tapinos noted in his speech that Council has 2 of Wen Jun’s paintings in the council collections. In such low level diplomacy there is always talk about the benefits of such cultural exchanges without any evidence. It is an old line and probably no longer true in a time when there are many more routes for cultural exchange than just diplomacy. Wen Jun made a speech in Chinese, with a translation delivered by his daughter in English, about his art. About 40 people, including the artist, mayor, and city councilors, attended the opening of the exhibition. There was choice of a Long Vern 2008 Shiraz and Loire 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to drink and plenty of delicious finger food, typical of Moreland Council functions.

The best of Wen Jun’s paintings are reproductions of Tang Dynasty tomb frescos. His watercolor paintings are the same size as the original frescos. Xianyang was the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty and the location for the famous Terra-cotta warriors. In Wen Jun’s paintings of the frescos every crack, lacuna, faded colors and other blemishes on the frescos are carefully reproduced. There are extensive didactic panels in Chinese and English. His earlier work, described as ‘traditional’ or ‘spring festival’ paintings are chocolate box sentimental images.

What is the public to conclude from this display of petty diplomacy hiding behind art and culture? That is all about putting on a good face and political junkets. That art and tourisms celebrating China’s imperial past are favored by China but documentaries critical of China’s imperial present are not. Is there any evidence that after 20 years that such diplomacy there has been any positive benefit for the ratepayers of either city? There is currently a local debate about the expense of Moreland City Council’s gift of a statue of King Leonidas to another sister city Sparta. I think that the debate should be about which local sculptor will receive the commission.


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