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Tag Archives: North Melbourne

Walk to Giant

Jamit was planning to buy some spray-paint at Giant in North Melbourne and I agreed to walk with him.

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Setting up for Tiana Sanjaya to paint with spice in front of State Library of Victoria

We started at the front of the State Library. When I got there I found that there was an Indonesian artist, Tiana Sanjaya was setting up to paint with spices. Tumeric, candlenut, horseradish, mustard seed, nutmeg and chilli; it smelt good. It was part of the AsiaTopa 2017, the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts.

On the way we had a look at Blender Lane. Now that Blender Studios has closed I was wonder if the quality of the work in the lane will continue without Doyle being present?

Further to that subject, we also looked at the graffiti and street art in Lovelands, a series of lanes near Victoria Market carpark, near the corner of Queen and Franklin Street. It also has the same questions of redevelopment hanging over it. It doesn’t look like much has changed since I saw Itch painting last year during the Meeting of Styles.

We passed another lane painted during the Meeting of Styles in April 2016 but there is more to see on the streets than just graffiti and street art.

I am not just looking at graffiti and street art; I have other interests, like public sculpture. Outside School No.307 on Queensberry Street I stop to look at a Peter Corlett sculpture of Henry Barstow. Henry Barstow was the architect who designed many state schools. I hadn’t seen the sculpture before but this is not surprising given Corlett’s prolific production creating several figures each year.

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Peter Corlett, Henry Barstow, 2011

Finally we reach Giant in North Melbourne. Maybe we should have taken the tram but the walk has been worthwhile. Nth Melbourne is a long thin suburb and its geography of Nth Melbourne is disorientating because the streets are not aligned to the same axis as the grid of Melbourne’s CBD.

You have to be buzzed into the shop. Then there is a room, covered in stickers and aerosol spray paint where we are to leave our backpacks. Then there the room full of spray cans of paint, maker pens, graffiti magazines and more cans of paint, the whole spectrum plus metallics, plus effects…

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“Hello Mark” is the first thing that I hear.

At first I can’t see who is speaking because there is a big dude between me and the voice. It is Toby who runs Just Another Agency. Everywhere I go I run into people that I know, a bonus for writing this blog.

Jamit buys about two dozen cans and even though the cans are cheaper by the half dozen he doesn’t walk away with much change from $150.

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Submerged @ Gallery Smith

The underwater views of a lily pond are fantastic, new world’s waiting to be discovered like alien planets. They are Catherine Nelson’s Submerged at Gallery Smith in North Melbourne.

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Catherine Nelson, Unstill Life #02, 2016 (courtesy of Gallery Smith)

In the neo-baroque spirals of her underwater flower arrangements fish replace the insects and lizards that inhabit the baroque bouquets of Dutch still life paintings. The spectacle of dramatic point of view, often looking up to the surface of the water, exist to astonish the viewer.

Of course they aren’t real but then neither were the baroque paintings of flowers. Catherine Nelson’s artfully digitally manipulates photographs, assembled from cutting and pasting many photographs, the way that you might assemble a flower arrangement cutting and placing the flowers. Nelson has extensive experience working in visual effects photography for films including 300, Moulin Rouge and Harry Potter.

Time is compressed in Nelson’s underwater worlds: everything is budding, flowering and decaying simultaneously.

The baroque never died, its demise was contrived for the purposes of progress in art history. Now the baroque has returned with Nelson’s photographs and there are many examples of other Australian neo-baroque artists including Juan Davila, Vincent Fantauzzo, William Eicholtz, Bill Henson, eX de Medici, Sam Leech, and Sophia Hewson.

For more on the Neo-Baroque as an international trend read Angela Ndalianis Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment (MIT Press 2004) and Gregg Lambert The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture (Continuum, 2004, London).

There are similarities between the 17th and 18th centuries and the contemporary times. Both are from a time without a clear direction that knew that massive worldwide change is inevitable and immanent. This gives the baroque sense of movement and transformation. And both the artists of the baroque and the contemporary did not have a word that defined their period; the word ‘baroque’ was only applied later by art historians. (I hope that later art historians will find a better word than ‘contemporary’.)

Gallery Smith is in an art deco brick building on a quiet street in North Melbourne with the main gallery spaces on the ground floor and a project space on the first floor. Louise Gresswell’s exhibition, Imprint in the project space is a series of loose, informal, abstract mixed-media paintings, not large enough to be impressive, not ugly enough to be interesting.


Performprint Spectacular

“Extreme printmaking and macho ritual fuel Performprint – a ten-hour exploration of masculinity, live art and print reproduction in the 21st century.” Publicity promised a spectacular event from 9am to 7pm at the Arts House/Meat Market as part of the Festival of Live Art on Sunday March 23rd in Melbourne, Australia.

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The first question that I asked Joel Gailer, when I saw him a weeks ago. Joel looked relaxed, he was leaning on the cast iron lace railing of his terrace house veranda. “Are you in training for Performprint?”

“Yes, I did some training earlier today,” Joel replied. He had been in training. A few days later he and Michael Meneghetti, painted silver and orange, staggering through the Bourke Street Mall, in the centre of Melbourne with very large BBQs strapped to the backs. The ‘Stations of the BBQ’ was a live performance in the lead up Performprint. The masculine domain of the BBQ are locally believed to be quintessentially Australian; “throw another prawn on the barbie” comedian Paul Hogan would say in old Australian tourism advertisements.

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At Performprint, in the historic setting of the old Melbourne Meat Market printer, Joel Gailer and his old friend and collaborator, performance artist, Michael Meneghetti were both in sunglasses, t-shirts, black jeans and boots. They were constantly working with a silent concentrated intensity for the ten hour event except when Gailer would, megaphone in hand, would climb to the top of a ziggurat of half finished copies of Warhol’s Brillo Box to announce his print manifesto and laugh at painters. Gailer proclaimed that “the truth is a copy”, “the copy is primary” and “Warhol is our god”.

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Joel Gailer is an experimental printer; he presses hard up against the boundary of the definition of printing to get a good print of its relief. He has printed in many different processes from etching to commercial printing in art magazines for which he won the the Fremantle Acquisitive Print Award for Hot Process, a page of paid advertising in Art Almanac magazine. Action printing was the next logical step; the LPG gas fire in an iron grill for branding on slabs of pig skin. Branding is a form of print making.

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Gailer and Meneghetti were using many different printing processes from the traditional cast iron printing press to using a lawn roller to make giant prints with large plywood letters. Printing on a giant scale you need a casking gun of tar for ink and a line of rope strung across rigging.

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Meneghetti’s performance art a lot of stilt walking while wearing masks; see his YouTube page. As well as, assisting Gailer with the printing Meneghetti was occasionally walking around in several different versions of the stilts including one made crutches and broken surfboards. There was a video loop of two of his four legged creatures walking around on the rocks of the tidal zone as the water slowly came in.

Other looping videos showed Indonesian fighting cocks being prepared for battle, a man with a spectrum of coloured underpants and a hand holding sprigs of wattle flowers above a flame. The wattle is a reference to both the right-wing nationalist, Australia Natives Association’s ‘Wattle Day’, as a symbol of Australia, and Monty Python’s parody in their Bruce Sketch. Together Gailer and Meneghetti have refined and redefined ideas about Australia and country boy machismo into masochistic endurance performance art. Machismo and masochism are very close.

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There was skateboarding on two ramps at your own risk, with t-shirts printed with legal waivers for the event. The skateboard wheels were carved with letters and the ramps were covered with the printed word. There were many carved wheels and tires that Gailer and Meneghetti pushed around printing words onto the bluestone cobbled floor.

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It was somewhere between print making and rock’n’roll; smoke machines, spot lights, multiple TV sets, video projectors and Harley-Davidsons. This was an event with a bar, a coffee bar and a catering van.

At the end there was the cacophony of competing bands, MY ‘Michael Yule’ Band and Coffin Wolf, and the human branding. At 7:59pm Michael Meneghetti that night posted a photo on Facebook of Joel Gailer at the emergency ward. Gailer went to hospital on Arts House staff advice worried about alcohol poisoning after he consumed a bottle of gin too quickly during and post branding. He sat around for a while and then left before being examined.

A video of a 2013 outdoor version of Performprint.

A video on UStream of the Meat Market event that will make you head spin.

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Melbourne’s Favourite Drink

It gets hot in Melbourne, hot enough that the tar on the road bubbles and your eyes dry out. Walking around the city you need a drink and the all time favourite drink in Melbourne is water. With the ubiquitous bottled water you might think that there are no drinking fountains in Melbourne but there are drinking fountains all over the city, from the antique to the ultra modern.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

I’ve been looking at Melbourne’s drinking fountains; researching the history of Melbourne’s drinking fountains, testing which ones are still working and surviving without a water bottle. There is more to it than taps and bubblers, there are decorative drinking fountains and strange organizations like the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Anti-Sweating Labour League of Victoria.

Since ancient times a city’s prestige has been measure by the quality of its public fountains. The fountains tell a history of the city.

In the 1850s the Melbourne City Council was loath to erect drinking fountains, as publicans dominated the council. The earliest drinking fountain in Melbourne is the Victoria Fountain, opened 9th August 1859. It was erected in the centre of Collins and Swanston St. surrounded by bluestone kerbing and iron railings and was used by both people and horses. In the 1860s the lamp pillars in the city had water taps and ladles. Horses had their own drinking troughs and there are still a few operating water troughs around the CBD.

Horse trough in Melbourne's CBD

Horse trough in Melbourne’s CBD

The earliest of Melbourne’s proper drinking fountain still in use is the 1876 Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain at Nelson Place in Williamstown. It is a rare surviving example of an imported cast-iron ornate drinking fountain manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow.

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

The only other one other cast-iron drinking fountain known to still exist in Victoria is the Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain in North Melbourne. It was presented by the former mayor Thomas Henderson and was originally sited at the intersection of Errol and Queensberry Streets. In 1889 it was moved to make way for the cable-tram tracks and it moved again in 1917 to the footpath. In 1972, a vehicle collided with the fountain, badly damaging its canopy. In 1973 it was moved to its current and safer location outside the North Melbourne Town Hall and in 2001 a duplicate of the canopy was added – including the small figure of a kangaroo.

Changes in Melbourne’s traffic have had a big impact on drinking fountains making them less ornate. The granite Thomas Ferguson Memorial Drinking Fountain from 1912 was originally six meters high and far more elaborate than it is now. It was erected “In recognition of faithful service rendered by Thomas Ferguson, Secretary Melbourne Total Abstinence Society 1868-1904”. It was located in the centre of Russell Street opposite the Temperance Hall but was badly damaged when a truck hit in 1947. It is now in a much reduced form and safe from traffic in the middle of University Square, Carlton.

Australians think of themselves as big drinkers and the impact of the temperance organizations on local politics have almost been forgotten. The memory of the Total Abstinence Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria and the Independent Order of Rechabites survive in their drinking fountains. The Melbourne Temperance Society building is now a cocktail club.

The various temperance organizations erected many of the more elaborate drinking fountains in Melbourne. In 1901 The Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria presented the Duke & Duchess of York with a Memorial Drinking Fountain, located in Victoria Square (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.) It is a stone drinking fountain enclosed by four turned marble pillars and granite canopy with painted gothic arches; on the top of the canopy there is a marble figure holding an anchor.

Detail Duke & Duchess of York  Memorial Drinking Fountain

Detail Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain

Andrew Brown-May in his history of Melbourne Street Life notes “although the ‘decent working people’ formed a theoretical clientele in the minds of the temperance reformers, many of the taps were the favorite haunts of groups of boys.” (It makes you glad that children today have better things to do.)

Between 1901 and 1939 memorial drinking fountains were popular in Melbourne, There are various memorial drinking fountains erected for city councilors although many are no longer functional. On of the last of the memorial fountains is the 1937 Samuel Mauger Memorial Drinking Fountain on Victoria Parade (near the Eastern Hill Fire Station) in East Melbourne. Samuel Mauger was a former Post Master General, a founding member of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the founder of the Anti-Sweating Labour League. The Anti-Sweating Labour League was not against perspiration, it campaigned for minimum wages and other working conditions in sweat shops.

Elaborate drinking fountains ended with the era of the temperance movements and the increase in traffic. Post-1930 the taste in memorials turned to memorial fountains or pools and drinking fountains became less ornate; just a masonry pedestals supporting a basin and a Danks bubbler tap. The occasional memorial drinking fountain are still being installed, like the one commemorating a popular black swan named ‘Cookie’, who lived in the Alexandra Gardens and was killed in 1973.

In 2007 Water campaigner, Patrick Jones raised the issue of a lack of drinking fountains in Melbourne again. This time the motivation was a green campaign against bottled water. Bottled water is basically pollution; transportation, packaging, disposal or recycling of water bottles all produces various types of pollution.

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Good sense prevailed and new drinking water fountains were installed around Melbourne. In the Bourke St. Mall and elsewhere you can conveniently refill you bottle at a filtered water dispenser beside the drinking fountains. And the quality of the water is excellent although at Federation Square some fathead has left their McDonalds drink-cup on top of one of the drinking fountains.


Containment Structure @ No No Gallery

The first exhibition opening that I’ve attended this year. I enter No No Gallery from a lane in North Melbourne, with the ubiquitous Drew Funk painting. There is a small banner above door and then down a short very pink corridor. It is like a small bar, with carpet and club chairs and low red lights. The bar was selling bottles of Dutch or German beer for a “$3 donation”. Up a short flight of polished wood stairs was the small wooden floor and white walls of the gallery space with exposed ceiling beams and brick wall.

On the mezzanine floor people were waiting there turn to listen to the headphones at two of the exhibits. Maybe I could get into Daniel Jenatsch’s “para- archaeology society”, it is amusing in a pataphysical way but it doesn’t really go anywhere.

At first everyone was drinking beer and reading the catalogue essay: “Containment Structure” by Robert Nelson. Then they were wearing pink moustaches, something to do with Clare McCracken’s “Megafaunna Mo”. More and more people arrive, there are about 40 people at the opening, and more pink moustaches are applied. Very amusing but you’d have to have been there.

Why am I concentrating on the scene of the exhibition opening rather than the art? There wasn’t that much to see really, there never is at No No Gallery. It is one of those contemporary galleries that believe in lots curatorial space between the art and it is not a large space. This time there were 5 artists and 11 pieces of art. Stephanie Hicks’s 5 woven collages of pages of rocks and minerals were possibly the best, beautiful in their rigid crystalline structures. Jessica Brent’s two photographs were competent but I didn’t see the point in the way they were hung.

I think I’ll have another beer. The exhibition was too insular, it was like the self-recording of Heidi Holmes that edits out everything but the “I”. It wasn’t a containment structure; it was just another excuse for a group exhibition.


North Melbourne Galleries

Gallery Smith and Purgatory Artspace occupy the same old brick warehouse on Abbotsford St. in North Melbourne. Gallery Smith is a large commercial gallery with two exhibition spaces and “the lounge” with a selection from their stock room. Upstairs in the loft the “project space’ of Purgatory Artspace is more Spartan affair, a minimal white cube space. While I was in North Melbourne I also stopped by No No Gallery but it was closed before an exhibition opening that night.

At Gallery Smith the British-born Brisbane-based artist, Ian Friend was exhibiting a series of oil paintings in the main Gallery 1. I sat on the comfortable white lounge in the gallery enjoying the calm ambience of the paintings. Friend’s cool, pale paintings are inspired by the poetry of English poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) and the English landscape of the Southern chalk downs. Yellow, blue and grey dots float on a background of pale bands. One of the paintings, “Here love ends” provided a counterpoint to the series with a darker background, slightly rougher brush strokes and red tones. In Gallery 2 Valerie Sparks has a series of color photographs of taxidermy birds: “Little Bird, Big History”. The stuffed birds looked old but not as old as they actually were: they had been collected in the mid 18th century. The Yellow Tail Black Cockatoo was collected on Matthew Flinders’s second voyage to Australia. There were also some Eric Brigeman’s photographs stacked near the entrance of Gallery Smith; I recognized his work from last year’s Basil Sellers Art Prize exhibition.

Upstairs at Purgatory Artspace there was a remarkable exhibition of 3D painting by another Brisbane-based artist, Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox’s “Paradise”. I have never viewed a whole exhibition of paintings through polarized glasses. The paintings are not some purely technical exercise in creating 3D effects – the artist only discovered that her paintings worked this way by accident rather than design. The 3D effects are not mind blowing but very effective in their own right as parts of the paintings appear to float a centimeter above the background. Were it not for the 3D effects the mystical cosmic subjects of these paintings would have been a bit ordinary and superficial.

There aren’t many galleries in North Melbourne but there are more than there were only 5 years ago. I predict that there will be more in the near future as there are plenty of warehouses to convert in the area.


Empty Spaces

“In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo” – T.S. Elliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“What shall we use

To fill the empty spaces

Where we used to talk?” – Roger Waters, Empty Spaces

I heard about the opening last month of Dear Patty Smith, a new gallery in Fitzroy. It was just the opening of the space; there was no exhibition, just a space. And as people arrived at the gallery there was less and less of the space. It would have been better if they had kept the doors locked then the space would have been perfect.

In my blog entry about “The White Room” I discussed the milky homogeneity of Melbourne’s art galleries. In this entry I want to ask why so many look less than half filled. What is so important about all this empty space?

The space acts as a framing device for art without frames, the space acts as a plinth for sculptures without plinths. The art gallery space has become essential to so much contemporary art but at the cost that over half of it must remain empty, that more and more space must separate each work. So there is not much to look at.

Often there is only room for a single work, like Kristin McIver’s “Divine Intervention” at Blindside Gallery Two. “Divine Intervention” consisted of a circle of neon letters spelling out “Life Unlimited” hanging over a collection of artificial plants. In Blindside Gallery One, Harriet Parsons “Homeland” occupied one wall. And it is not just contemporary art, contemporary craft is also adopting this aesthetic of excessive space. At No No Gallery, in North Melbourne, Stephanie Hicks “A Short Season” occupied a little more than one wall, with a few wreaths of paper flowers made from children’s books and four A3 size photographic collages, but did not even include the image used to promote the exhibition.

In contrast to the packed aesthetic of the 19th Century the contemporary art gallery is the architectural space par excellence, consider the difference in architectural significance between the Guggenheim (New York or Bilbao) and the Louvre. The minimalist purity of the space exudes an aura of scientific seriousness to the activity within it. It is a hospital for the soul, a hygienic space concerned with healing the world spirit. It is a clinical space that presumptuously expects that some essential quasi-religious activity will take place in it when it is just somewhere to install art.


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