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Tag Archives: performance art

Different Art Crowds

In the middle of January, a few galleries were opening again and one of these was BeinArt Gallery. BeinArt specialises in fantasy, pop-surrealist art; the type of art that makes you wonder why there is never really good Freudian psychiatrist around when you need one? If you are into pop surrealism or the macabre art then BeinArt is the place for you.

“Flesh & Bone” was a group exhibition at at BeinArt. The opening reception had turned into one of those Facebook events with 1.6K interested, 460 going and 1.2K invited. In reality a lot less people came than any of those numbers but, as it was a fine summer evening many goths, punks and other yet unspecified kinds of mutants were in attendance.

The Facebook event promised “entertainment from performance artist, Shamita Sivabalan.” I haven’t seen any body painting in decades.

That evening you could smell the crowd inside BeinArt Gallery from the door. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was a warm smell of humanity; it was about five degrees warmer inside with all the people.

It was a distinctly different crowd inside from the wine drinking contemporary art school crowd, or the beer drinking hetro graffiti and street art crowd. I am not simply proposing that different galleries attract different groups of people; that they are dressed differently, drink and eat differently at exhibition openings. Rather that these are distinctly different groups with different aesthetics and different values.

The high end art market and the contemporary art scenes might attempt to dismiss the crowd at BeinArt Gallery or the street art crowds as simply subcultures. That assumes that they themselves are not a subculture and that the dominant mass aesthetic culture in Australia, where the list of visual artists might be: David Bromley, Ken Done, Pro Hart, etc. the kind of artists who are not even exhibited in the state galleries.

I think that there are several totally different art crowds in Melbourne just as there are different music audiences depending on the genre of music. To imagine that there was only one type of music would be an obvious mistake today but not so a few centuries ago. This is more of an issue for a critic discussing these different genre’s than for the audience or artists.

BeinArt Gallery isn’t the only place in Sparta Place selling original art, a couple of doors along is Santa Clara comic book shop with some original art for sale too; art for the nerd and geeks. Faced with the hyperbole of the art in “Flesh & Bone” the depictions of the urban environment in comic book inspired art appeared both more relevant and restrained.

SpartaPlace caters to a wide mix of tastes: the bust of King Leonidas, the contemporary public art pillars by Louise Lavarack, the mass taste of bridal boutiques, the old Spanish Mission revival architecture along with the graffiti and street art in the parking lot.

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Re-Vault

Four people wearing yellow chemical coveralls are slowly moving in the City Square in Melbourne. It is Re-vault a performance about Vault, Ron Robertson-Swan’s ill fated sculpture that once stood in the City Square, hence all the yellow. It is one of EPA’s performances, part of Melbourne 47 “senses of the city” paid for though Melbourne’s Arts Grant Program and Monash University.

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Two of the performers are manipulating planes of steel grids for concrete reinforcing. These modernist grids refer to the angles of the steel planes of Vault. The other two people are tied together with yellow and black barrier tape. They act as pedestrian control and a human safety barrier creating a space between the shallow pools and the Christmas kitsch that is under construction in most of the square.

Jonathan Sinatra’s performance piece comes 35 years after Vault’s removal. The Christmas construction means that the performance could not be anywhere near the original location of Vault, in the northwestern part of the square. Not that it mattered as very few people passing by would have any idea of Robertson-Swann’s sculpture that now located in the forecourt of ACCA.

Although the limited audience of passing school groups, tourists and locals had no idea of the original sculpture the performance did. Aside from the obvious yellow there were a couple of other references. Vault was intended as a grand interlocking sculpture and Re-vault’s body-sculpture also acts as an interlocking sculpture, although less grand.

I take a seat at the Caboose Canteen order a pulled pork slider and a cider and watch the performance unfold. It is a beautiful day, the first day in Melbourne over 30 degrees since March. It was the perfect seat until the performers move one bridge up. It reminds me that these band of shallow water and the very shallow water pouring down the surface of the John Mockridge Fountain are the vestigial remains of the all important ‘water feature’ found in the original architectural brief for the square. In the original city square water the smell of chlorine filled the air as water poured over an enormous multi-stepped fountain. There was so much chlorine in the air that it pitted the bronze sculpture of Burke and Wills. Fortunately water is being used more wisely now.

Re: Vault my review of Geoffrey Joseph Wallis, Peril in the square: the sculpture that challenged a city (Indra Publishing, 2004)


Scartato, the Ultimate Trashman

A human rubbish pile slowly walks through the outer suburban landscape of Melbourne, Australia. It is Scartato by artist Michael Meneghetti, a performance work that blends environmental issues with endurance, psychogeography and body art. ‘Scartato’ means ‘discarded’ in Italian.

Michael Meneghetti, Scartato (photo by Melissa Edwards)

Michael Meneghetti, Scartato (photo by Melissa Edwards)

Meneghetti is a hard working Australian performance artist. He creates works that require endurance and extreme physical activity. His performances sculptural qualities of altering his figure and the way he moves through an environment with stilts or by carrying heavy things like wooden stocks or a large BBQ, see my post on Performprint.

Scartato was a physical challenge to see how much rubbish he could find and he attach to his body before he couldn’t move. To start in a normal human form that grows larger and is slowly transformed and obscured by rubbish. Each piece of rubbish was attached to his body with packing tape as he “gradually transforming into a human monument of litter.” Michael Meneghetti explained, “Collecting rubbish with packing tape felt very innate somehow. Packing tape is a very playful medium, I especially enjoy the sound it makes.”

I ask Meneghetti how he become interested in ‘fly-tipping’ (illegal rubbish dumping)?

“I have always been fascinated and repulsed by our pollution, especially the kind people make when dumping on the fly. The project really started when I took a series of photos of my Uncle’s piles of rubbish a few years ago, then as I began travelling I started thinking about the kind of art I could make on the road.”

Over six hours Meneghetti collected close to two cubic metres of discarded materials. The rubbish weighed around 80 kilograms (176 pounds) in total very close to his own bodyweight. “I was a little shocked how much rubbish is around.”

I had to ask if he had encountered any mattresses, or larger items?

“Surprisingly I did not, I found a few strange things, but plastic drink bottles and junk food wrappers are probably the most common items discard onto the street. Every piece of junk has a story.”

And what was the strangest object that you found while doing Scartato?

“I found lingerie, a telephone, a dead dog, a wig, christmas decorations, nothing overly wacky, it was all rather conservative trash.”

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

Scartato was divided into three, two hours expeditions exploring his local neighbourhood. I asked Meneghetti what he did to prepare?

“Warm-up stretches were perhaps the most important steps to prepare for this performance.” Meneghetti’s path was determined by the rubbish he knew about and what he found. He didn’t have to walk very far as he lives close to the freeway. “Each expedition began from my house and gradually I would gravitate towards the more industrial areas and finally hit the nature reserves. On one occasion, I walked around the back of the Altona Cemetery, collecting a lot of post-memorial debris blown over.”

Meneghetti lives in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Brooklyn (not to be confused with the NY suburb of the same name). It is the most polluted suburb in the state and it can smell awful; described in detail in this Environmental Protection Agency report about the Brooklyn Odour meeting on 15 November 2007. Michael told me that: “I feel from living out here that sometimes I live in that Mad Max realm, where society is on the top edge, just before the fall.”

Michael Meneghetti likes the immediacy and portability of performance art. “ I see performance as my own private opera presented publicly that enable me to explore a range of ideas face to face with the audience.”

In conjunction with his performance art Michael Meneghetti also curates videos for various organisations including: Melbourne’s Federation Square, Excerpt Magazine, and Propaganda Window,  a peer-funded public art project that ran from 2008-2012 as a dedicated video projection space on the external windows of Melbourne gallery, Dark Horse Experiment. So Scartato concluded with a video of the work projected across three shop front windows in the Eames Avenue shopping strip in Brooklyn with local music outfit, The Renovators providing a live soundtrack.

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

(photo by Melissa Edwards)


In the Post

Mailbox Art Space, formerly Mailbox 141, in Flinders Lane is the perfect location for this mini retrospective of Pat Larter’s mail art from the mid 1980s. Mail art was an international, underground art movement from the 1960 to the 1990s. It was the analogue equivalent to the internet driven, artistic side of street art.

Pat Larter, Untitled Mail Art (Art Risk Pat) c.1980, Screen Print on Paper, 29 x 24 cm. © Courtesy the artist’s estate.

Pat Larter, Untitled Mail Art (Art Risk Pat) c.1980, Screen Print on Paper, 29 x 24 cm. © Courtesy the artist’s estate.

Mail art incorporated aspects of print art, conceptual art and in Pat Larter’s case performance/body art. “Sex drama artist” is the text on one of Pat Larter’s publications. Another image is titled “‘artist action’ swinging the bag”. Photos of Pat wearing a bra with scurried faces sewn in the cups. In another photo she sits in a stiff parody of a poor porn pose, wearing fake breasts and fake vulva.

I like Pat Larter’s anti-erotic, laugh at pornography, making art from slippage between the public display of what is usually consumed privately; it is a more realistic approach than the current neo-con attitude. Pat Larter’s attack on the boys club of mail art, her ‘Female art’ rubber stamp is a pun on male art. There is a photograph of the ‘Female art’ stamp on Pat’s shaved armpit.

Pat Larter uses several print techniques include rubber stamps, photocopy, photographic and Print Gocco.

The mail boxes in the lobby of 141 Flinders Lane are full of zines, rubber stamps, props from photos and a some ceramic objects; a breast, a penis and an apple core. This exhibition shows that even a very small artist run space can host a significant retrospective exhibition.

For more on Pat Larter:

“Pat Larter from Kitchen to Gallery” by Joanne Mendelssohn

“In defence of bad taste: the art of Pat Larter and Lola Ryan” by Gemma Watson


Body of Work

When I arrived at Dark Horse Experiment Casey Jenkins, dressed in her metallic jumpsuit and high leather boots, was talking to a friend and having a smoke out the front of the gallery. It was at the end of her lunch break and she soon returned to start her work in the gallery.

Casey Jenkins, Body of Work

Casey Jenkins’s Body of Work is a three week durational, community-engagement performance artwork. Jenkins really works the idea of ‘work’ and ‘body’ and to some extent it worked.

Work is an important subject for a contemporary artist to examine; it defines us and in some cases, shapes our bodies. There are so many issues about work, from identity and gender to comparative rates of pay, that it was hard to find a focus in Jenkins, Body of Work.

Jenkins was setting different pay rates on days, this ranged from a negative fine of $1,200 (the amount street artist, HaHa was fined for about an hours work) to $1,586,852 p/h (the amount Mark Zuckerberg accrues per hour). These extreme differences did give Jenkins a couple of days off in the three weeks.

The difference between this work and reality tv shows, like World’s Toughest Jobs, is the gallery and the employers.

The gallery for Jenkins this was more of an installation, the antique punch clock, typewriter, the workbench, the bed. Sometimes she was hooked up to microphones to amplify her heart beat as she worked and the labour was screened live during working hours via the CCTV cameras. In someways the windowless gallery space appeared as a dystopian work environment with objects arranged for display rather than function.

The choice of jobs for Jenkins was more of an interaction with the employer. It required the engagement with people, provoking the public to invent short jobs that required no skills and could be done in the gallery space. In this respect both the jobs and the employers were less real than on a reality tv show. The poverty of the public imagination explains much of Jenkins work: sex acts, body painting and erotic polaroid photographs to compile tax receipts. Jenkins said many of these employee relationships were idealised, representing how the participant would like their boss to behave.

I wonder what would have happened if nobody had employed her? Is there much use for unskilled labour these days? I left the gallery as Jenkins got back to her ‘work’ updating someone’s Twitter account.

Jenkins has been a lot of news articles about the piece in The Guardian and The Melbourne Broadsheet. Jenkins is not a stranger to publicity the SBS2 The Feed’s report ‘Vaginal Knitting’ on her earlier work Casting Off My Womb has be viewed on YouTube 6,481,137+ times.

I have a growing interest in tenacious, hard-working performance artists. I have been seeing a lot of performance artists work hard recently from Amy-Jo Jory breaking rocks in Listening to Stones II and Matto Lucas working out in Endomorph, with dreams of becoming a Mesomorph. Maybe this is sympathy, because of they are amongst the losers in the art world along with art critics. Probably more due to being particularly impressed by local performance artworks by Stuart Ringholt, Michael Meneghetti, Peter Burke and others further away, like Tania Bruguera.


Love/City II

On Friday night I went to see Love/City II: of Time and Country, an artist run festival at Testing Ground. On the train I sat next to the Doritos Space Warrior, covered in orange triangles scale armour, illuminati triangle shield and cardboard laser rifle. He said that he was on his way to a costume party. There were a lot of people in strange costumes on missions in the city that night.

Mira Oosterwegel, Negotiating Stasis at Testing Ground

Mira Oosterwegel, Negotiating Stasis at Testing Ground

Testing Ground is an empty corner lot behind the Art Centre, all around it there are multi-story apartment buildings, hotels, the new ballet school. The empty lot has several converted containers that formed the bar and the gallery. Palette islands are the main architectural form creating towers, benches and platforms. It is a bit of urban acupuncture providing a temporary fix to an urban problem area.

Three food vans were there; food vans are now typical of festivals in Melbourne. I get some samosas from the African food van; yes samosas are African, I first had samosas when I was a primary schoolboy in Kenya.

I had a drink with photographer, Fiona Blandford, who had installed a photographic series of light boxes in one of palette islands, We Are Our Landscape: Butchers Creek, East Gippsland. Little viewers provided a magified view of the small photographs, this close up examination felt like looking for evidence in crime scene photographs, which it was, in a way. Butchers Creek was named after a 1841 massacre when Angus McMillian and his men killed an unknown number of Gunaikurnai.

In the gallery there interactive digital art works, Clark Beaumont’s Waiting for Barcelona, three channel video installation and Lyndal Irons, Goodbye Oxford Tavern, a series of photographs exploring the bright lights and tired world of strippers. There was a lot of photography and projected video art work but really worked for both the space and made me think about art was the live art. On stage was In My Hetroroclitic Body doing a hardcore electro-acoustic sonic performance with great costumes.

In My Hetroroclitic Body

In My Hetroroclitic Body

Mira Oosterwegel’s Negotiating Stasis was impressive with the perspex vitrine and florescent lights. The male performer, Lachlan Tetlow-Stuart was perfectly still. He was “relaxed and comfortable” to echo John Howard’s words about his ambition for the Australian public. The performer’s head was resting on an Australian flag beach towel, with his sunglasses he was isolated from the world in the perspex box.

Fitting perfectly with the location was Amy-Jo Jory, Listening to Stones II, an extremely physical endurance performance artwork using nineteenth century cut bluestone blocks, an archetype of Melbourne’s construction and a sledgehammer. Watching Jory smashing the granite blocks I was reminded me that Melbourne’s unemployed also broke these stones for ‘sustenance’ work during the Great Depression and the precarious financial position of performance artists.

Amy-Jo Jory, Listening to Stones II at Testing Ground

Amy-Jo Jory, Listening to Stones II at Testing Ground

On the way home to Coburg on the number 19 tram I saw a mass of people on the oval in costume and waving weird weapons. Over a hundred people were in a massive melee but by the time I got off the tram and across the road the battle was over. I thought that I might see the Doritos Space Warrior but these were more conventional fantasy warriors with foam swords and shields. Every Friday night at Crawford Oval, Princes Park south in Parkville, there is Swordcraft, a live action role-playing game.


Somatotype Workout

Matto Lucas’s performance, “Endomorph, with dreams of becoming a Mesomorph” in the front gallery of Off The Kerb on Friday night was about body building, working his body, using his body as a media for his art. He writes: “The body is the site where identity as defined by gender, race and sexuality is located, performed and challenged.” His workout was accompanied by his personal trainer and sound artist, Cat Tyson Hughes.

Matto Lucas

In one way it was very traditional art, a reference to Ancient Greece bring the gymnasium into the art gallery, the almost naked male body posed in the gallery, the contrapposto feet in his weight lifting stance.

During the strenuous workout Matto’s skin turning first pink, then red and even purple on the top of his shaved head, around his mohawk, as he became more exhausted. By then Matto’s performance, and the crowd, was spilling out onto the sidewalk but still visible from my seat at the window of the shopfront gallery. Personally I felt like a cat watching the workout while I drank Coopers Pale Ale. Work is very interesting; there is truth in work, if not beauty.

There is a great deal attention to detail in the performance and exhibition. The walls are covered in plastic as if the sweat from the workout was going to run down the walls. Aside from the performance there are two videos at the gallery. One video shows Matto’s body morphing into different shapes, absurd variations of his actual shape and the other of him in the gym.

Matto Lucas

In the upstairs gallery at Off The Kerb Sarah Louise Brownlow’s exhibition “The Great Pretender” is the antithesis of Matto Lucas’s “Somattotype” (note the double t including Matto’s name in the body type). Brownlow’s exhibition is about photographs and videos of the obscured body, the covered or masked face.

I first saw the work of Matto Lucas in the Metro 5 prize four years ago. Although he was the youngest artist in the prize I thought that he had an outside chance if the judges wanted something truly radical. (See my blog post: Metro Art Award 2011) Since then Matto has exhibited widely and is currently painting an Australia Post postie bike with a queer manifesto written by an anonymous activist in the 1970’s for the Midsumma Festival. He has also done some photographs for my forthcoming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures.

Matto Lucas’s work is about his own body, a body that he develops at the gym and that he also loathes. I’ve been wondering if  I could sell a story about his weight loss to some magazine? You know the usual weight loss story I lost x kilos in x time, proposing an artist diets and noting that overweight artists are rare. Matto and I could only think of Diego Rivera (height 6ft 1inch 316 pound in 1931), Pierre Manzoni (the Italian conceptual artist), William Turner and Isaac Julian (an installation and fine art film artist who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001). Do you ever skip a meal or eat a lighter meal so that you can continue working? Do you have a full time job? Can you afford food? Do you ever try to eat enough at a party to put off having your next meal?


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