May 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Well, it has been a while. I’ve been focusing on making rather than writing (and occasionally wondering why) but the past week in Canberra has been too excellent to resist a summary post.
Some in the arts were affectionately referring to last week as ‘Sculpture Week’, with the symposium at the NGA, and three fantastic sculpture-based exhibitions opening: the first in a pair of exhibitions by emerging artist Roman Stachurski at CCAS Manuka on Wednesday (the second opens this Wednesday); Wolfgang Buttress at the Drill Hall Gallery on Thursday; and Making Tracks at the ANU School of Art on Friday. The latter is an all-guns-blazing show of many of the spectacular alumni of the sculpture workshop of the ANU School of Art. It’s well worth a look- just about every work had me loathe to move on to the next, from a wonderful work by the late Pamela Lofts, to the mind-blowing work by Louis Pratt, and great works by Anne Neil, Melanie Fitzmaurice, Jacqueline Bradley, Owen Lewis, Jay Kochel and Rachel Bowak, just to name a few (you can see the full list here).
And then there was the Skywhale. When one of Australia’s most well-known sculptors is commissioned to create a work for the Canberra Centenary, to be launched in the city where she (Patricia Piccinini) grew up, the alarm bells don’t exactly sound in terms of public controversy. But a public controversy it has been, with all of the usual comments trawled (or is it trolled?) out. ‘But art’s supposed to be bewdiful!’ ‘They’re spending my tax dollars on what?!’ ‘Why isn’t it about x? (In this case substitute x with Canberra/the Centenary.)’ To my surprise I have really enjoyed the debate over this magnificent beast of a hot air balloon. First it was hilarious, with commenters on news websites and community forums such as the Riot-ACT using this mammal of the sky as a lofty platform for humour, both anti- and pro-Skywhale. Then the vitriol started to soar. Then the defenders valiantly rose up, and the celebratory references to our world-first began.
A couple of the best are this article, by someone who has NEVER EVEN BEEN TO CANBERRA, a circumstance I hope they remedy soon; and the Skywhale cake featured within the article, but originally posted on Twitter, it seems. I didn’t have a strong initial reaction to Skywhale either way- as someone who has seen Piccinini’s work over the past ten years, and has felt increasingly indifferent about it- but the discussion that has surrounded it has been enlightening and multifaceted and has thrust contemporary art into the spotlight in a way that is rarely seen. And for this, (and the fact that it’s pretty great and the embodiment of an elegant idea about evolution), I am now a massive Skywhale fan.
I’ll end this little check-in with another link, to an article I just read today; a very considered piece on gender issues in arts organisations by Joanna Mendelssohn- here. Thanks for reading!
October 12, 2012 § 4 Comments
The ACT election is a bit over a week away. I wouldn’t tell anyone how to vote, but I would like to give you a few things to think about. And to use this blog as my personal soapbox, because I believe democracy can’t exist unless people say what they think and others engage with what they say/write/etc.
I’ll preface this by saying I am usually a Greens or Labor voter, depending on the candidates up for election. I am less inclined to vote Green this time in the ACT because of their Arts policies, and the way in which the party has handled (along with the Canberra Liberals) the ongoing Megalo situation and the completely unimpressive Inquiry into the use of the Fitters Workshop. Of course, I’m also thinking about non-arts related policies as I make up my mind who to vote for, but the arts is definitely one of my primary considerations.
All Arts representatives- Minister Joy Burch (Labor), Shadow Minister Vicki Dunne (Liberals) and Greens Member Caroline Le Couteur- released their Arts promises/ideas on the 19th of September. Media releases can be found here, here and here. Then that evening all three attended and spoke at a forum hosted by the Childers Group. I went to the forum. You can read their commitments for yourself, but these are the key things I took away from the Media Releases and the forum, and some of the major issues I had with the announcements.
• The Labor Party and Arts Minister Joy Burch are, in my opinion, the only ones even coming close to understanding the arts in Canberra and what they need. They’ve committed six million dollars to the arts in Canberra, and quite well placed, including a badly needed one million dollars to upgrade Gorman House- a ready-made arts hub which houses many of the ACT’s Key Arts Organisations, and has a fantastic new Director, Joseph Falsone. My only hope for a returning Labor Government on top of what they’ve announced is that they can work more closely with Key Arts Organizations to get a better idea of what Canberra’s artists, arts organizations and art-going public want and need.
• The Canberra Liberals and their arts spokesperson Vicki Dunne have committed around three million dollars, most of which has the potential to make the Canberra arts scene very dull indeed. They envision the Cultural Facilities Corporation developing and managing the Kingston Arts Precinct, which is quite baffling. When all of the legwork has been done by ACT government (and I’m talking bureaucrats here, not Labor), including a lot of work on arts hubs, and with ArtsACT’s good relationships with the arts organizations who would potentially move into the Kingston Arts Precinct (including Megalo), why wouldn’t this continue? The Corporation does good work with CMAG, the Theatre, and the ACT’s historic houses, but that doesn’t qualify them to develop a vibrant precinct and engage the tenants that this would require. Maybe the Liberals really do want to slash ACT government jobs? Dunne did have one solid criticism of the current government’s arts record, referring to the choice of public artworks (especially from artists outside of the ACT) by former Chief Minister and Arts Minister Jon Stanhope, which I have written about before, but it seems that Burch already gets this. Stanhope is gone; it is time to move on.
• And then there was Caroline le Couteur. I understand (and decry) that the Greens don’t get to do as much of the big sexy stuff in politics, except in partnerships, particularly with the Labor Party. But one of Caroline le Couteur’s ideas, the thing which she seemed most excited about, was a complete embarrassment. The doozy she came out with, and which left me so seething I felt I could run a marathon (or more aptly, cycle one) was that she wanted artists to make bike racks. The amount of money they would get to do this is debatable too, but completely irrelevant because A) IT IS NOT ARTISTS’ JOB TO MAKE BIKE RACKS, B) THIS DOES NO JUSTICE TO THE GREAT WORK DONE BY THE A.C.T.’S ARTISTS, and C) THERE IS A WHOLE FIELD OF PEOPLE – SOME OF THEM STUDYING AND TEACHING IN CANBERRA AT U.C. – CALLED INDUSTRIAL DESIGNERS, AND THEY WOULD ALMOST CERTAINLY LOVE TO MAKE BIKE RACKS!
What Caroline seems to not understand is that one of the reasons art is so valuable is because it doesn’t need to be functional, or decorative. Because artists are free to make whatever they choose (within reason and certain limitations, of course) they not only advance their own work and art in general, but can be responsible for the progression of ideas and technologies that are very beneficial for society, in ways that all political parties but ESPECIALLY the Greens should be happy to support. I will write more on this very soon, because the value of art in society is something that doesn’t get enough attention.
Oh and then there’s le Couteur’s other idea that it’s difficult to find out what’s going on in Canberra, especially since Canberra Arts Marketing (CAM) was axed years ago. Well, here’s the thing- it seems that no one quite knew what the point of CAM was and no one missed it too much when it wasn’t there anymore. And more importantly, when anyone I know needs to find out what’s on in town the first port of call is BMA’s Gig Guide, either in print or online. Please don’t overlook this territorial treasure or waste money trying to replicate it in a boring brochure or drab website. I know I’ve been pretty harsh on le Couteur here, but I expect more from the Greens.
I am always interested to hear what others are thinking about as the election approaches… Happy voting!
September 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It’s easy to get lost in movement. Soulful beats and the anonymity provided by dark space, flashing lights and a smoke machine combine, and suddenly it doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life; you’re free and so is everyone else around you.
Alexander Boynes’ works have the same effect. Figures move, flail, heave and fall. Transparent and reflective surfaces, light, and increasingly, glowing colours, add to the pendulous back and forth between sinking gravity and euphoric lightness.
Dance has become a more and more prevalent source of movement in Boynes’ work. Earlier bodies of work, such as After Hours at CCAS Gorman House in 2009, referenced heady nightlife and urban culture in general; figures breaking free from their prescribed personal spaces. Recent work in Smoke & Mirrors at ANCA Gallery in 2012 used dance and movement in a more abstract way to explore the figure, it’s potentials and possibilities.
The Weight of Shadows, on show at ANU School of Art’s Photospace Gallery, is a new body of work shaped by an extraordinary experience. In July 2012 Boynes went out into the Tanami Desert to Paraku, an Indigenous Protected Area, and nearby Mulan, a community of around 120 people, to partake in the Paraku Project where artists and scientists work alongside the local Indigenous people.
Boynes went into the desert being open to the possibility of making new work, but neither he nor we could have predicted what would result. He had a hand in organizing a ‘shadow dancing’ evening in Mulan, setting up material, lights and even a smoke machine which had traveled with him on the four-day drive from Canberra (“You never know when you might need one!”).
Random CDs from the car provided the music, until the kids took over and put their own favourite new Rap and R&B music on. Boynes said that the night quickly turned into “an all-in showcase of some of the best booty-dancing, shirt-swinging and karaoke singing ever seen – somewhere between Bangarra and a Baltimore club.”
Boynes photographed some of the kids dancing, capturing their joyful smiles and creative dance moves. These photographs are the basis for his work in The Weight of Shadows. Boynes acknowledges that it’s difficult for a non-Indigenous Australian to talk about or make work about Indigenous people or issues- there is so much history and so many landmines under the surface of that territory. But the experience at Mulan and Paraku brought these issues into the light for Boynes. Everyone at Mulan and Paraku were incredibly welcoming and lovely to the visitors, but it was the children who made the biggest impression.
Children are open and adaptable, willing to accept anyone who will play and laugh with them. In addition to this, Boynes noticed how technology was making the world a much smaller place for these kids. All proficient in touch screens and downloading music from the internet from a very early age, these Indigenous children have the tools to connect with the rest of the world. But as important as the internet is in breaking down time and space barriers, Boynes found that physically sharing time and space with the people of Mulan and Paraku was truly wonderful.
When it comes down to it, despite the horrible history we share as Australians, we’re all people, and by connecting with each other in time and place, by relating to one another and having a great time together we can all shape the present and the future. “Moments like that are small victories”, Boynes said.
The amazing presence of the kids in Boynes’ works is heightened by the crisp lines and strong tones he has built into the photographs, both within each figure and in the background; sculptural bodies, clothing in motion, surging smoke-machine vapour and fold-lines in the fabric shadow screen.
The aluminium on which these photographs are printed reflects light differently at different angles, emphasizing the sense of movement in the works as you move around them. Bold colours provide a sense of excitement and playfulness, whilst the kids’ clothing exaggerates their dynamic movements. And close up, the black that defines many of the images, such as Mulan Shadows (pictured), reveals itself as being made up of tiny specks of shimmering colour from the printing process.
Each work is a diptych or triptych, the figures holding their own but relating to one another in their ecstatic dancing. The separate pieces also allow for colour to glow around the edges of each work, thrown onto the walls by neon paint behind the works.
All of this dynamism and exuberance is taken back a notch by a reflective poignance, shadows both literal and metaphorical. The shadows that loom from and over the subjects are darkly outlined heavy shapes, hinting at the weight of history. But at the same time, the kids are so dynamic that they seem like they could break free from their shadow at any minute, like Peter Pan. Maybe that’s the key- to maintain our inner child, our ability to laugh and have fun with our fellow humans despite differences and past wrongs.
All in all, Boynes’ experience at Paraku and this resulting work in The Weight of Shadows is full of hope and positivity. This new body of work holds youth aloft as a powerful and joyful state, with hope that this fresh generation of Australians will engage powerfully with each other and with the world, in ways that weren’t possible a generation ago. Similarly, Alexander Boynes has made works that engage very differently and very playfully with movement and the human figure. The Paraku Project (and a bunch of smiling kids) have been a catalyst of sorts, and it will be very interesting to see what Boynes does next.
The Weight of Shadows is on now at ANU Photospace Gallery, closing 15 September.
April 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I highly recommend going to see Fiona Veikkanen’s exhibition Creature Comforts if you can make it and haven’t already. Creature Comforts opened at CCAS Manuka on Thursday evening and closes this Sunday at 5pm. Fiona is an incredibly talented and conceptual artist who makes work about craft and functional objects (‘about’ being the key word here). She is rightly coming to be acknowledged as a force to be reckoned with, including by Yolande Norris at Useless Lines, and her successes are steadily accruing despite the responsibilities of a young family. In fact, her work is influenced by her home life in a way that really sets it apart from the kind of work made in a studio- it is not separate from life, but made around it and intrinsically part of it.
Fiona asked me to write something about her work in the show, so here it is below, but it looks much nicer in the catalogue Fiona had printed! I’ll try to get some photos up soon but you can see some of it lurking in the backgrounds of David’s photos as well as his write-up at the CCAS Social Pages. You might want to visit Fiona’s blog too!
In her solo exhibition Creature Comforts, Fiona Veikkanen engages with the multifaceted concept of craft. Craft is interesting for so many reasons. It is accessible and invites the participation of others; it involves familiar, repetitive processes; it provides tactility and a sense of comfort and care and homeliness. Veikkanen explores all of these general aspects of craft, but she goes many steps further.
For Veikkanen, craft really gets interesting when it gets personal. Most crafts involve rigid patterns and rules, but a person’s individual choices and mistakes can make something really beautiful and personal. Better yet, when someone throws out the rulebook and starts with a technique or idea, the results can be startling. African-American quilt-makers in centuries past made quilts from irregular shaped and sized fabric scraps. Made using no measurements, templates or designs, these functional quilts are extremely unique and personal. A certain aesthetic comes out of this emphatic one-of-a-kind-ness, all the more beautiful for its imperfection. This aesthetic is present in Veikkanen’s works, but the one-of-a-kind-ness is derived from her idiosyncratic ideas about craft and specific objects- sleeping bags, jumpers, pompoms. Her works become embodiments of these ideas rather than ordinary, functional objects.
Craft is usually preoccupied with functional objects and masterful techniques, but art exists on a much more hypothetical and imaginative plane where ideas about craft and craft objects can be interrogated. In many of her works, Veikkanen actively detaches the object from its function. In her unravelled and remade Available In works, the knit garment is no longer wearable. Pompoms are interesting to Veikkanen because they don’t have a particular function- they are an afterthought to a beanie or other object, or an amusement or decoration in their own right. In Veikkanen’s A Case for Sleep works, function is almost a contrary consideration.
Sleeping bags are normally vaguely rectangular, and made using a pattern that accommodates the human body. But Veikkanen’s A Case for Sleep works start with a small circle of irregular triangles of fabric cut from sleeping bags, and work outwards, forming a homely, quilted effect. Each irregular concentric circle informs the next, growing organically. Veikkanen often uses circular forms in her work, and this makes a lot of sense- working outwards in a circle seems almost natural if there isn’t a function in mind; if no corners are needed to spread over a bed or floor or table.
Veikkanen brings the unique and personal effects of craft to objects that are typically man-made, industrial and impersonal. When objects have a function, we think about them primarily in the terms of that function. But when function is removed, we experience the object in all its glory. A Case for Sleep becomes about the experience of sleeping outdoors- the cool touch of sleeping bag material that warms up quickly on cool nights spent by the smoky campfire and then curled up in the tent. Feeling at home when not at home.
As well as the personal nature of craft, Veikkanen is fascinated by its social and collaborative possibilities. Have A Ball is a collaborative work that brought Veikkanen’s family and friends together to learn a craft (pompom making) and contribute towards a communal project. It amazed Veikkanen to observe that when two different people are given the same materials and instructions, they may end up with two very different results. The pompoms cluster together in the gallery space and disperse again as exhibition viewers take them home. Viewers are invited to choose a pompom that appeals to them, snip it from the cluster, and take it home as a unique and precious object in a perfect brown box. This clever experiment demonstrates how craft can be intensely personal and communal at the same time.
Veikkanen has continued to explore these ideas through her craft kits, Manageable Packageables, which are available for purchase. Each kit provides the materials, tools and instructions to make a second-hand jumper into an art object by unravelling the jumper and French-knitting or making pompoms out of the unravelled yarn. Veikkanen poses fascinating questions about whether these works, made by someone else, are art objects… and if so, is Veikkanen the artist or is the maker the artist?
Creature Comforts further establishes Veikkanen as a most interesting artist who illuminates our experience of the environments that we make ourselves at home in, and in particular the objects that facilitate our comfort in these environments. Her work considers and defines the relationship between art and craft and between the personal and the shared, proving there’s a lot more to objects than their functionality.
April 11, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Yesterday I went to the funeral of an old friend- Jerome Pink. I knew him best when we were 18 to 20, then saw him less and less after I broke up with one of his best friends (who I’m still friends with, and is the reason why I knew Jerome in the first place) and he went on exchange to Canada (where he met his amazing wife Amelia).
My fiance ran into Sam (the ex-boyfriend/friend) in the hospital on the day Jerome was diagnosed with cancer. It was difficult to imagine someone so full of life and energy having such a disease. But Jerome still rock-climbed for as long as he could and he put a lot of energy into expressing his thoughts, experiences, feelings and wisdom on his blog, Lifestyle Over Cancer.
Blogs can be trivial, but Jerome’s was anything but. It is an honest, sometimes raw, account of Jerome’s will to live and passion for life. It is full of emotion and insight and courage. As well as the obvious courage with which Jerome faced his disease, it was courageous to put such honesty and emotion in words and for all to see. I, for one, and I know there are many more, hope that people will read it and get a sense of what life is all about, and what an amazing young man Jerome was.
You can read Jerome’s blog here. RIP Jerome. My most heartfelt sympathies to his wife, Amelia, and to all his family and friends. I’ll finish this post with one of my favourite memories of Jerome (Owen, in his eloquent eulogy, requested that everyone share their memories of Jerome with everyone possible), and a couple of my favourite passages of writing of his.
Mollymook, NSW, November 2004. We’re all at the coast, renting a house for one heady, joyful week. No uni work, no work work, just good friends and good times. Beach cricket, boozy walks along the beach at night, and a game of kings no one will ever forget (especially Charles). I remember waking up one morning to the sound of Jerome’s voice bantering in the living room. We’d all been up late the night before and I could have slept for hours longer. How could Jerome be so incredibly awake? Eventually the lively voice won, against the grumpy hungoverness, and so started a particularly good day, chatting in the lounge room with all the other half-asleep people and Jerome. A bit of a mundane memory, really, but the point is that he had so much energy for life and for his friends that you couldn’t help but be inspired and affected by it, and that stuck with me.
“Life is hard and short. But it is so for everybody. In the end the fear of dying is just an extension of our confusion about why we are here. Religion puts a neat solution into the hands of many but anybody who thinks hard quickly realises that any one of the religions is unlikely to be right in every detail although they may be correct in the spirit. The question of what is the meaning of life haunts us as we die as equations haunt the dreams of a student who knows a test is too close to study for. What happens to us after death? I have no idea. In truth I suspect that nothing happens although I no longer hold that to be the absolute truth I did when I was younger. Perhaps this possibility is just the desperate wish of a man with not long to live. Perhaps I am older and wiser. In the end nobody can know what we are here for or what happens after we die and anybody who claims to know for sure is a simpleton or a fraud. Indeed the mystery in life is one if its greatest draw cards. So as we face death a million unanswerable questions swell in the mind. These questions are not unique but still deeply personable and profoundly emotional. I do not know the answers but the questions themselves are beautiful beyond description.” (Jerome Pink, Life 2, September 21 2011)
“I just want to leave everything behind and start walking. Just see what happens. I would give everything to live in the back of a van at a cliff and climb. Such simple things and so readily available to everybody. What is wrong with this world. How is it that so few spend their lives doing things they love and so many do that that they hate for something they do not need. I want to shout to the masses but do few would listen. I would not have listened.
This is it. Do it now. You will not be here again.” (Jerome Pink, Sick, January 9 2012)
February 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Blaze 6 is opening in one week at CCAS Gorman House! I’m a co-curator along with Alexander Boynes. This is the second Blaze exhibition we’ve curated, and this time around we have been a lot more thoughtful about the show as a whole and we wrote the catalogue essay together (I did the last one, which you can read here). It has been a great exhibition to work on, and I’m super excited to see it all come together in the gallery next week.
Please come along to the opening at 6pm Friday 17th February. You can catch the show until the 24th of March.
February 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This is an article I wrote for BMA in December. The amazing exhibitions the article is about are still on at CCAS Gorman House until this Saturday, 4pm.
Print is everywhere- books, newspapers, magazines (like this fine one you’re reading), posters, stamps, fingerprints, shoe-prints. Three artists exhibiting at CCAS Gorman House this summer prove how exciting and experimental print can be when they exploit its everyday, pop-culture pervasion.
Alison Alder uses screen-printing to make large-scale video projections about nuclear activity in Australia, pushing print into another dimension. Alder is the Artistic Director and CEO of Megalo Print Studio and Gallery, an organization that really puts Canberra on the map as a print powerhouse. She has been making political posters since the 1980s, but her work in Dirty Water also references vintage magazines and postcards, and old films. As well as the video projections, this exhibition includes a series of poster-sized prints based on old magazine covers, with the titles ‘Fall Out’ and ‘Half Life’. Dirty Water’s message is less strident than political posters past, but there is still plenty of political fodder to chew on.
Rather than using print to develop his work, Clem Baker-Finch uses found print as a starting point. For Self Titled he takes clippings from covers of trashy magazines and uses a computer program he devised to weave text into the image. The results are undeniably humourous, but also a little unsettling. Baker-Finch’s large digital prints boldly point out our trust in photography and print journalism, even of the tabloid variety. They also illustrate the extremely tragic nature of celebrity, writ large with text from the articles the cover image refers to, and also more highbrow tragedies such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.
U.K Frederick engages with print differently again, printing directly from found objects: old vinyl records. In the tiny concentric grooves of the record, white paper between the black lines, we can see where the music has been stamped into the vinyl. We can also see all the scratches and irregularities that have occurred over the life of the record; proof that someone has bought, played and loved it. In Frederick’s exhibition Lament, you will be able to not only see the prints of the records, but also hear music digitised from the same records. In the small Cube space, it is a complete experience that may take you to a different time and place, via powerfully moving rock songs from artists who were taken from the world too soon.
The different ways these three artists engage with print make their work very fascinating and very contemporary. Print lends itself to work that has a strong sense of process and experimentation, leading to surprising results. Interesting things also happen when media collide, and print works brilliantly with video, photography, and the found object in these three exhibitions. Print may be everywhere, but these big, bold exhibitions will take it and you somewhere else.
Dirty Water- Alison Alder
Self Titled- Clem Baker-Finch
Lament- U.K. Frederick
CCAS Gorman House, 55 Ainslie Ave Braddon
Opening 6pm Friday 9 December, continuing until 11 February.