Archive for the 'ACCA' Category

18
Nov
11

Essay: ‘Now you see it, now you don’t: the history and conservation of The Keith Haring Mural, Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne,’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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In response to the polemic article “Brushed aside: artistic landmark must return to 1980s glory” by Hannah Mathews in The Age newspaper on November 17th, 2011 I feel compelled to offer a more balanced appraisal of the problems regarding the conservation and preservation of the Keith Haring Mural painted on a wall of the former Collingwood Technical School in Collingwood, Melbourne.

I was not going to publish this essay but now the time is right!

As I note in the essay Haring’s attitude to repainting seems to be at best ambiguous. As several people advocate, I support building a wall perpendicular to the original and painting a facsimile on the new wall. As the original is one of few remaining outdoor murals in the artists hand, I believe it is important to conserve what we have left of the original and painting a simulacra would satisfy those that want a “fresh” copy.

This essay is based on my own question, namely an investigation into the deterioration of a public work of art; the stabilisation of an ephemeral work; the role of the conservator in preserving the work; and the broader cultural perspectives involved when treating the work: reflections on the community from which it originates and notions of ownership and authorship. It was completed as part of my Master of Art Curatorship being undertaken at The University of Melbourne.

Please remember that this essay was written last year in September 2010, before the report from Arts Victoria and was then recently updated. Many thankx to Dr Ted Gott and to Andrew Thorn for their knowledge and help during the research for this essay.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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PS. Apologies that there are no image credits in the essay. If anyone knows the photographers please let me know and I will post but I hope they do not mind me using the photographs (in the interests of art, research and conservation).

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Abstract

This essay will examine the history and conservation of The Keith Haring Mural painted on a wall of the former Collingwood Technical School in Collingwood, Melbourne. The essay will attempt to identify the issues involved with current attempts to conserve the mural, including issues of authorship, custodianship vs ownership, stabilisation of the mural and the debate between repainting and conserving. This essay is based on my own question, namely an investigation into the deterioration of a public work of art; the stabilisation of an ephemeral work; the role of the conservator in preserving the work; and the broader cultural perspectives involved when treating the work: reflections on the community from which it originates and notions of ownership and authorship.

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Keywords

Keith Haring, Collingwood Technical School, Collingwood, Melbourne, painting, mural, public art, urban art, graffiti, Ted Gott, Andrew Thorn, THREAD, gay art group, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, New York, National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Arts Victoria.

Word count: 5,056

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Introduction

In the early 1980s, New York artist and social activist Keith Haring (4th May, 1958 – 16th February, 1990) was on the brink of fame. He appeared at the Whitney Biennial and Sao Paulo Biennale in 1983 and made friendships with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.1 Haring was also gay; he died of HIV/AIDS at a young age. His folk art/graffiti style of bold figures and pagan inspired designs outlined in black and other colours investigated concepts of birth, life, death, power, money, technology and the relationship of human beings to the planet on which they live. Haring never feared confronting his viewer with difficult socio-political problems. Embedded in the street culture of the day, Haring was one of the first artists to be heavily influenced by disco dancing and rap music, his ghetto blaster blaring out as he painted his trademark murals. Today his work can be seen to represent the quintessential essence of the 1980s: through its use of colour; the vibrancy of the gyrating bodies; and the topicality of the issues the work addressed. His imagery “has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century”2 and his work represents a culture in which “notions of graffiti, advertising and design became increasingly blurred.”3

Early expressions of his creativity that are precursors to his mature style were the chalk drawings on black paper that Haring undertook in the subway stations of New York, using vacant advertising spaces. These drawings were made using quickness and stealth for fear of being caught and were ephemeral; either being destroyed when the next advert was pasted in place or, when his fame became greater, souvenired by acolytes.

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Keith Haring
Barking Dogs and Spaceships and Angels and Coyotes
both 1982

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“Riding the subway from his uptown apartment to the clubs, Haring noticed black paper hanging next to advertisements in the cars, awaiting the next ad. He used this opportunity to draw in chalk on the black paper with all sorts of childlike imagery: barking dogs, babies, unisex figures, spaceships, TV sets, etc. The outline style of imagery could be appreciated individually as cartoon cels or together to form a narrative. The subway drawings magnify Haring’s cartoons into a new Pop Art that at once was urban narrative, science fiction and hieroglyphics. These subway drawings initiated his first one man shows.”4

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As Ted Gott has commented, “… Haring was seen as revolutionary, around 1981, for the manner in which he mastered the freedom and fluidity of the graffiti artists’ calligraphic defacement of public property, and catapulted it over into a mainstream artistic form. By presenting the visual language of one social class in the medium [paint on canvas] and milieus [commercial art galleries] of another elite class, Haring broke the rules then prescribed by the art world…”5

Into this context of rising fame came John Buckley, inaugural Director of Melbourne’s new Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA, later called the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, or ACCA).6  Buckley met Haring in 1982 on a research visit to New York and invited him to Australia. After organizing various grants to fund the trip, Haring arrived for a three-week visit. He was in Australia from 18th February to 8th March 1984 and completed three major projects (The Water Wall mural at The National Gallery of Victoria, the mural painted in the forecourt of The Art Gallery of New South Wales and the mural painted on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School).7 During this period he also completed other smaller works (such as a piece for the Hardware Club in Melbourne and the Glamorgan preparatory school, part of Geelong Grammar School), as well as thirteen large exhibition-quality ink drawings and four acrylic paintings.8 The latter were eventually used in the exhibition Keith Haring at ACCA’s new premises in Melbourne between 10th October – 17th November, 1985,9 and then returned to the artist by John Buckley. Some confusion exists in this matter as Haring states in his biography that his Australian experience wasn’t that hot and that he felt ripped off because the paintings he left in Australia were never returned to him, that there had never been any exhibition of his work and that the work had never been paid for.10

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Keith Haring Water Wall Mural at The National Gallery of Victoria, later destroyed

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Since ACCA had not secured a physical home at the time of the arrival of Haring (later to be in the Botanical Gardens), Buckley arranged for Haring to paint a large mural on the inside of the water wall at The National Gallery of Victoria between 21st – 22nd February 1984. Haring then travelled to Sydney and painted the AGNSW mural between 28th February – 1st March 1984 before returning to Melbourne and painting the mural at The Collingwood Technical School in one day on Tuesday 6th March 1984.11 While the first two murals were intentionally impermanent (the Water Wall was supposed to last 3 months but was destroyed by vandalism just 2 weeks after its creation,12 Haring mistakenly believing that it was attacked as a protest against the mistaken belief that he had appropriated Aboriginal motifs in its composition13 and the AGNSW mural was painted over after one month to make way for the Biennale exhibition of 1984),14 the community based project in Collingwood would become Haring’s only large, permanent evidence of his visit to Australia:

“In his interview given at the Collingwood Technical School immediately upon completion of the project on 6 March 1984, Keith Haring said about the Collingwood mural: “I had fun. I mean, it’s the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s more fun working here than it is inside a museum. [and] It’s the only permanent thing that I did while I was in Australia.”“15

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Keith Haring painting The Keith Haring Mural, Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne, 1984

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The painting of The Keith Haring Mural, Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne, 1984

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“The base tint of yellow was painted onto the wall with rollers by Collingwood Technical School staff on Monday 5 March 1984,”16 the day before Haring’s ‘performance’ when he painted the mural in just two main colours, red and green, in front of a large audience; the performance was photographed and videotaped giving us unique footage of the artist at work.17 The mural features a multi-layered frieze of dancing figures in the lower half of the mural and his fear of technology in the upper half, a “hybrid man/computer monster, his vision of a future de-humanising evolution, which was ridden by two human figures …”18

In all three murals the work was undertaken freehand with no use of preparatory drawings or grids using ladders and a cherry-picker to raise and lower the artist into position – all to the blare of his ghetto blaster. For Haring there was no turning back: “Whatever marks I make are immediately recorded and immediately on view. There are no “mistakes” because nothing can be erased.”19

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Significance of the Mural

According to the Statement of Significance on the Heritage Council of Victoria database, “The Mural has historical and social significance as the work of a major artist. Keith Haring is considered one of the most significant artists of his generation. As a role model for gay artists and Aids activism his influence was international.

The Keith Haring Mural is of social significance as a landmark piece of public art in Melbourne. Its prominent inner city location is indicative of the changing physical and social landscape of a former working class suburb.

The Mural is also of social significance for its influence on young artists for its inner city setting and use of popular culture themes and imagery.”20

Emily Sharpe states that the mural may also be the last surviving extant [outdoor] mural in the world painted entirely by his hand,21 although this information is contradicted by The Haring Foundation in a quotation later in the essay (see the section ‘To restore or conserve?’ below, Footnote 49).

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 (painted 1984)

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Issues in Conservation

During the period 1994 – 1995 a recently formed gay art group in Melbourne called THREAD (of which I was a part, the acronym of which is now lost to my memory) became concerned about the deterioration of the Keith Haring mural on the side of the Collingwood Technical School in Johnston Street, Collingwood. The group tried to engage the city of Yarra (the inner Melbourne municipality where the mural is located) and other organizations (The National Trust) about the possibility of repainting the mural due to the importance of the mural and its painting by an internationally renowned gay artist. Basically, as conservator Andrew Thorn succinctly puts it, “to repaint the mural on the basis of identity giving ownership.”22

While the intentions of the group were entirely honourable in such a proposal, on reflection and with the passing of the years, being older and wiser, I realise the error of our ways. While acknowledging that the group probably did want to take ownership of the mural on the basis of sexual identity at the time I think the group was just motivated by a desire to get something to happen and we did at least succeed in starting a dialogue between those that had an interest in conserving the mural. One of the problems was that none of us had conservation experience and, as Tom Dixon noted in a phone call to him about the mural,23  the representation of the group was never consistent as it was always a different person that you were talking to.

The profile of the mural was also raised through newspaper articles: “A series of newspaper articles drew attention to the vexed issues around its historic significance and increasing deterioration; these articles formed an important research component of the subsequent classification report” (The book in which this article is quoted incorrectly states that students helped Haring paint the mural – see p.146).24 These concerns eventually led to the stabilisation of the mural by conservator Andrew Thorn in 1996 and its listing by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) (NTAV) in 1997. During the treatment of the mural in 1996 Thorn undertook various conservation treatments, namely cleaning of the paint surface (including removal of stains), paint consolidation (fine cracking and detachments within the red paint and reattachment of the yellow paint), reattachments of lower render due to rising damp, consolidation and protection of the paint film with a protective coating system and reintegration of small areas of loss. A proposal for future maintenance was envisaged that included regular inspections, maintenance and care,25 but unfortunately it would seem that this maintenance has not been undertaken. In a recent report (2007) on the condition of the mural Thorn notes that, “insipient deterioration can be avoided, but if regular maintenance is not continued, the painting will be lost.”26 Thorn also notes that the resin gloss layer applied in 1996 to prevent AO (anti-oxidant) and UV (ultraviolet) deterioration “shows clear signs of degradation,” and should have been reapplied at 5 yearly intervals to maintain effectiveness.27 The report also notes that the yellow ground has become paler since 1996, the eroded reds need consolidation, the rising moisture is having a greater effect on the surface than previously and the green brushstrokes are beginning to show signs of loss.28

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 detail (painted 1984)

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Ownership or custodianship

I support the concept of custodianship (or shared ownership) of a work of art rather than ownership per se. I believe that many people have a stake in the cultural value of a work of art and that custodianship, being a caretaker of the work, engages with the idea that the work belongs to everyone and that everyone should have access to enjoy it. Of course being gay offers a close affinity to the work of Keith Haring but, as Andrew Thorn notes, “that does not impart greater ownership of common property or of visual arts and imagery. It does give some ownership but not the right to snatch ownership from others.”29

In a separate email he continues, “At the same time it is necessary in giving ownership to wrest it from those that have claims and this process requires substantial diplomacy. It moves ownership from exclusive to shared. Ownership and identity are good and necessary things and if a work or an artist provides inspiration and support that is not to be denigrated and must be respected … Claiming of ownership is not an aggressive act but part of belonging and identity … It is necessary to engage in a community spirit to ensure a highly significant work and its maker are treated with the respect they deserve.”30

While the earlier attempts by the THREAD group could be seen as an attempt to obtain cultural ownership I acknowledge that this position is untenable. It must be a difficult task – the diplomacy of negotiating with all vested interests. But as Thorn rightly notes this comes down to the modern democratic process, the freedom to elect decision makers – not make the decisions themselves but delegate the responsibility to elected others. We must possess the ability to respect anybody’s relationship and enjoyment of the mural as much as we should respect Thorn’s professional judgment as an internationally renowned conservator to ensure this work is protected in the best possible way so that future generations can enjoy the work.

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 detail (painted 1984)

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The conservator and the cultural landscape

The conservation of artefacts is an integral part of the cultural landscape. The nature of the cultural landscape is a fluid environment: a palimpsest where the authorship of the original work of art is a textual site, where “change (and decay), alteration, editing, revision and restoration represent the true life of objects.”31

“The document is the textual site where the agents of textuality meet: author, copyist, editor, typesetter and reader.” In art and architecture there would be, besides artist and architect, builders, conservators, curators, preservationists, historians, viewers and users.”32 Embedded within the work are the memory and history of the object, within culture. Conservator Andrew Thorn observes, “It is a societal need to preserve the past and keep it for the future. Far more pragmatic issues dominate the profession [that of conservation] and unlike some contemporary art practice it does not need the props of modernist theory in any form to exist.”33

I beg to differ. Conservation exists only within culture. It is embedded within it and linked to the history and memory of the object. The nature of the cultural landscape and our heritage is a constitutive process: “an approach to heritage which understands it not as an object which is the static locus of some internal value, but as a process.”34 And that process invokes the social, cultural, economic and political contexts that include the act of interpretation and the concept of representation.

Laurajane Smith argues that, “heritage is heritage because it is subjected to the management and preservation/ conservation process, not because it simply ‘is’. The process does not just ‘find’ sites and places to manage and protect. It is itself a constitutive cultural process that identifies those things and places that can be given meaning and value as ‘heritage’, reflecting contemporary and cultural social values, debates and aspirations.”35 Gibson and Pendlebury unpack this statement further:

“In the first and most obvious sense, it follows from this position that there is nothing self-apparent or given about regimes of value and significance, rather these frameworks are specific to our particular social, cultural, economic and political contexts. Drawing on the anthropologist Marcel Mauss’s famous proscription on the cultural and historical specificity of contemporary personhood, objects, building and places are ‘formulated’ as heritage ‘only for us, amongst us’.”36

The value of an object cannot exist without reference to its historicity, its relationship to everything and everyone around us and conservation needs these frameworks of theory to have existence. As Foucault notes, “The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space. In other words, we do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.”37

Complementary to Foucault’s notion of a set of relations that delineates sites and heterotopic spaces is how Janet Wolff positions these sites, these texts, within a sociology of cultural production:

“…the meaning which audiences ‘read’ in texts and other cultural products is partly constructed by those audiences. Cultural codes, including language itself, are complex and dense systems of meaning, permeated by innumerable sets of connotations and significations. This means that they can be read in different ways, with different emphases, and also in a more or less critical or detached frame of mind. In short, any reading of any cultural product is an act of interpretation … the way in which we ‘translate’ or interpret particular works is always determined by our own perspective and our own position in ideology. This means that the sociology of art cannot simply discuss ‘the meaning’ of a novel or painting, without reference to the question of who reads or sees it, and how. In this sense, a sociology of cultural production must be supplemented with, and integrated into, a sociology of cultural reception.”38

I understand that the conservator is not an editor (and here I am not abrogating the right of conservators to conserve, far from it). What I am proposing, however, is that an acknowledgment of the many voices that constitute the life and memory of an object, including the post-structuralist theory that analyses these histories and interpretations, be included in the negotiations with all parties and stakeholders. This perspective also acknowledges the changing contexts of interpretation of the Keith Haring Mural as it becomes ever more precious as one of the few outdoor murals left in the world painted in the author’s hand.

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 (painted 1984)

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To restore or conserve?

“The painting can be preserved and not fade or deteriorate further if the recommendations of my 1996 and 2010 reports are adhered to. If you think this is not true you need to provide the evidence … it is assumed you respect my professional judgement in ensuring this work is protected in the best possible way so that all people can enjoy the masterpiece painted by Keith Haring as far into the future as possible. Over painting the mural ends the work of Keith Haring on that day.”39

The vexatious issue of restoring or conserving the Keith Haring mural has been an ongoing source of debate since the early attempts by the THREAD group to have the work “restored” (i.e. over painted) in the mid-1990s. Haring’s attitude to repainting seems to be at best ambiguous. The statement of significance of the mural when listed by The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) in 1997 notes that,

“Crucial to the fate of the mural and, given its exposure to the elements, is whether the artist himself would have accepted the deterioration of the mural or have condoned some form of restoration. Haring’s own feelings appear to have been ambivalent in the matter. In favour of restoring the mural i.e., repainting – is the fact that the simplistic three colour design devoid of subtle harmonies would not present serious problems in restoring it to its original condition. Opinion appears to be divided regarding the moral considerations in the matter and even the Estate of Keith Haring is unclear in this matter.”40

John Buckley “recalls a conversation with Haring who, with a characteristic lack of preciousness, said that the mural could, when needed, just be repainted by any good signwriter”41 but Andrew Thorn disputes this interpretation noting that “Keith talked about the continuity of his work. What Buckley stated contradicts the attitude presented by Haring throughout his biography. Another point to consider here is that Keith died within 6 years of completing the painting and I am certain beyond doubt that the condition of the painting even after 6 years would have been more or less pristine. There is no indication throughout the last two years of his life that Keith had any concern for his made works and that his declining health and the pain associated with that allowed him little time to consider anything other than his current work and failing health. If Buckley provides evidence of a friendship that Keith denies in his biography I for one would re-assess the intention of the artist.”42

This brings up the thorny issue of the ephemerality of street art. “Art academic Chris McAuliffe expressed his view regarding the impermanence of this work, arguing that ‘… as graffiti, it should be left to fade … If you subject it to conservation procedures then you transpose graffiti into a realm that it was opposed to. You make it art’.”43 Personally I believe that all street art, whether officially sanctioned (like the Keith Haring mural) or not, is art. Distinction can only be made between street art/graffiti (not necessarily officially sanctioned: think the early chalk drawings of Haring or the street art of Banksy) and vandalism or tagging. Perhaps ephemerality is inherently built into street art, that documentation is enough to substantiate the life of the work, but that does not mean we have to sit by and let work be defaced or fade away without attempts at conservation.

According to Donna Wheeler there is an “unbreachable divide” between the two camps of Haring devotees. “Those on the conservatorial side see the mural as a cultural artefact, one that contains the artist’s rare and authentic touch evidenced in each singular brushstroke; they advocate a commitment to preservation, or stabilisation, with the caveat that even with their best efforts, the mural will continue to fade and eventually cease to exist. The Haring Foundation, and many others, including several curators and Haring’s original Australian contact, John Buckley, are hoping to restore, or more accurately, repaint the work, claiming that this would most closely follow Haring’s wishes. Yes, the original paint and brushstrokes would be forever lost, but Haring’s intent, creative vision and integral design will live on, in all its jellybean vibrancy.”44

I disagree with the stance taken by those that wish to repaint the mural. The hand of the author would be lost and the mural would simply become a simulacra of the original, a sign value that is an illusion of reality, a repainting purporting to “look like” the original but actually nothing like it.45 Support for this stance are the photographs of the original Crack is Wack (1986) mural painted by Keith Haring and the over painted mural photographs shown by Andrew Thorn at the public forum into the future of the mural in April 2010.46 In this presentation Thorn, “illustrated the losses inherent with repainting and also showed that the most iconic Haring mural ‘Crack is Wack’, is not the painting that Haring is photographed in front of the day he completed it.”47

Thorn states, “I support making a new copy of the painting, I just believe it should not devalue the original. Repainting over the original destroys the original work by Keith Haring. What you have is a copy and an irretrievable original, that is to say you have destroyed the work of Keith Haring. This is against the law administered by Heritage Victoria and devalues the work monetarily. This may seem an odd point to raise but becomes more significant when one considers the copyright act in relation to artists and their rights. The law there clearly states that any action that devalues a work or diminishes the artist’s reputation is a violation of the copyright act. The Haring Foundation need to be aware of this international law and particularly in the context of the ‘Crack is Wack’ no longer being the work of Keith Haring and thereby diminishing his reputation by deception.”

In reply the Haring Foundation note that, “the ONLY Haring mural that was completely repainted was the Crack is Wack mural in NYC, due to it’s absolutely dreadful condition. It, too, is a landmark and highly valued by its community, and while no longer the original, it most definitely remains a Keith Haring mural. There are several outdoor murals that are untouched: Tuttomondo in Pisa (cleaned only); Necker Hospital in Paris; murals in Amsterdam and Phoenix, AZ. Numerous outdoor murals were only cleaned and lightly repaired and there are over a dozen indoor murals in public institutions that are untouched …

The Haring Foundation does not always recommend a complete repainting, that would be silly. But the awful condition of the Collingwood mural is similar to that of ‘Crack is Wack’ and therefore the Foundation does highly recommend that it be repainted. Further to ‘Crack is Wack’, when Keith originally painted it, he had no permission, and so was required by the city to paint it out, completely covering over his first version. Shortly thereafter, he was granted permission by the city, and the second version he painted was different from the first version. Keith’s first version is often reproduced in books and catalogs and this has led to the utterly incorrect assumption that the Haring Foundation actually destroyed his first version and replaced it with something completely different over it. Not true.”49

While it is correct that Haring returned on the following day and painted a second version, not a copy of the first, conservator Andrew Thorn states that, “Since his death in 1990, the west painting has been repainted with imagery not resembling either of the two original Haring works … and this has in turn been reapplied more or less faithfully in 2007. This last painting, the one currently visible, is the fourth in the series and bears no resemblance to either of the two original works … The current painting appears not to be the work of Keith Haring, but continues to be considered his signature outdoor work … Haring may have painted the third image, but there is no record of this … The third and seemingly anonymous rendition continues the overall message but with new iconography, and appears not to be the work of Keith Haring.”50

Thorn supports the painting of a facsimile, a replica of the original, as does artist and academic Dr Megan Evans: “I think the best option is to preserve it [the original] and then do a replica nearby which is done in honour of the Haring work. I think this would be more interesting conceptually also as to have a repainted work is like covering up the mark of the past and to make a facsimile is to recreate it in a contemporary context.”51 I agree with the concept of making a facsimile positioned close to the original. Perhaps this could be completed on a new wall that is perpendicular to the original wall that the mural is painted on. Of course the pertinent question would be the permissions needed to erect such a wall, the cost of its construction, the cost of painting the new mural and its upkeep.

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Keith Haring
Crack is Wack
as completed by Haring in 1986 (1st version, now overpainted)

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Current Crack is Wack
painted after 1990

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Now you see it, now you don’t

This brings me to my final point: now you see it, now you don’t. While I must take at face value the assertion by Andrew Thorn that the mural can be preserved and not fade or deteriorate further if the recommendations of his 1996 and 2010 reports are adhered to, and while I respect his professional judgment in that statement, unfortunately past experience (i.e. the lack of maintenance of the mural between 1996, the year of the last stabilisation, and now) tells me that the mural will continue to deteriorate and fade unless a specific and regular maintenance plan is financially funded and put in place. Donna Wheeler observes that the mural “is but a shadow of its former self”52 and I agree with this assertion. I was shocked to see the mural when visiting it recently compared to how I remember it in 1996 (ah, memory!). Though still an original Haring, it is pale and wane, almost an imitation of itself (and that is an irony in itself), and it made me sad to see the mural in this condition, as I remember how vibrant it was back in the early 1990s.

“According to ACCA curator Hannah Mathews, when the mural was last stabilised in 1996, it was estimated that a tiny sum of A$200 ($178) was needed annually to maintain the work. A combination of factors including pollution and time has left the mural in its current degraded state. Some estimate that it could cost around A$25,000 ($22,000) to stabilise, with an additional A$1,000 ($900) a year for maintenance. Although the issue of whether to repaint the mural is up for debate, all parties agree that the work needs stabilisation as soon as possible to prevent further surface lifting and cracking of the paint … Yarra mayor Jane Garrett said … “Following the forum [Yarra Talking Art forum: "The Keith Haring Mural: yesterday, today, tomorrow" on 29th April 2010 held in Collingwood], [the] Council [is setting up] a working group, which will seek to include representatives from Skills Victoria, Heritage Victoria, the arts community and other stakeholders, to discuss the mural’s future and come to a consensus on the most appropriate way to preserve it.”53

All parties need to agree and as quickly as possible. While Haring was quite happy to send his work out into the world for the enjoyment of all it would be a disservice to his memory and his status as an internationally renowned artist to have the only Haring mural in Australia deteriorate further. Time is of the essence. As Mark Holsworth on his Melbourne Art & Culture Critic blog insightfully opines, “Street art is not the property of the street artists – it belongs to everyone. Even if the artist intends for the art to be ephemeral there is no reason for their wishes to be carried out; the person giving the gift does not get to determine how the gift is used.”54

In the final analysis everyone needs to come to consensus about the future of the Keith Haring Mural for without proper conservation and maintenance it will truly be a case of now you see it, no you don’t.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Endnotes

1. Keith Haring on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 25/09/2010 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Haring

2. Ibid.,

3. Gott, Ted. “Fragile Memories: Keith Haring and the Water Window Mural at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Art Bulletin of Victoria Vol. 43. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, p.8.

4. “Keith Haring New York,” on the Woodward Gallery website [Online] Cited 25/09/2010
www.woodwardgallery.net/exhibitions/ex-haring-newyork.html

5. Gott, Ted. Op cit., pp.7-8.

6. Gott, Ted. Op cit., p.8.

7. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Draft of a paper given at a Keith Haring Public Forum, Collingwood, 29th April 2010 by Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria.

8. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. “Keith Haring in Australia.” in Art and Australia, v.39, no.4, June-July-Aug 2002: (560)-567. ISSN: 0004-301X. [Online] Cited 09 August 2010.
search.informit.com.au.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/fullText;dn=200205608;res=APAFT

9. Buckley, John. “Keith Haring” exhibition catalogue. Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), 1985.

10. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.564. See also Footnote 15 and Gruen, John. Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1991, p.113.

11. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit.,

12. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.562. See also Footnote 10 and Footnote 15. “Vandals,” Herald, Saturday 10th March 1984, p.1; “Vandals smash gallery pane,” The Age, Monday 12th March , 1984, p,19.

13. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., Footnote 15 and Gruen, John. Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1991, p.113.

14. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.564.

15. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

16. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

17. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

18. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.566. See also Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

“Uniquely, we have a surviving record of Keith Haring’s own interpretation of the Collingwood mural, revealed during an interview conducted with the artist shortly after the painting’s completion on Tuesday 6 March 1984. There Keith Haring noted how: “What’s going on in the bottom is about – I mean, all these people are doing different things, right? Some of them are like dancing, like rap dancing, or acrobatics.  Some of them are almost like they are fighting. But the way they are all together means that they can’t – I mean, if one of them comes out, the whole thing falls down. So they sort of depend on all of them to make it work. So it’s sort of like society or whatever, where the world only works when lots of individuals do their part, right?

The thing at the top is, I guess, the impending doom or impending possibility of technological … the confrontation between technology and the human element, which is still holding up the technology, and based on the technology. But it sort of takes a semi-circle in evolution, where people evolved up to a certain point, and now they’ve evolved so far that they’ve invented a computer or a machine to evolve further. And the computer is maybe evolving more than people were. So it’s about that sort of confrontation, I guess.”

19. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.562. See also Footnote 8 and Haring, Keith. “Keith Haring,” in Flash Art, No. 116, March 1984, p.22.

20. Anon. “Keith Haring Mural: Statement of Significance,” on Heritage Council of Victoria database [Online] Cited 04/10/2010.
http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/#detail_places;12532

21. Sharpe, Emily. “Saving Keith Haring Down Under: Melbourne work is last surviving wall painting by the late artist’s own hand,” on The Art Newspaper website. Published online 08/06/2010. Cited 06/08/2010.
www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Saving-Keith-Haring-Down-Under/20920

22. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 24/08/2010.

23. Dixon, Tom. Member of the Public Art Committee of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) (NTAV). Telephone conversation with the author 26/08/2010. The Public Art Committee considers murals, mosaics, and sculptures; and such works can be found in parks and reserves, public streets, squares and buildings; and publicly accessible parts of privately owned buildings.

24. Masterson, Andrew “Off the wall art,” in The Age. Melbourne: Summer Age supplement. December 27th, 1994, p.4-5 quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. “Values not Shared: The Street Art of Melbourne’s City Laneways,” chapter in Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.146.

25. Thorn, Andrew. “Conservation Treatment Report.” The Keith Haring Mural Johnston Street, Collingwood. Final Report prepared for Northern Institute, 1997.

26. Thorn, Andrew. “Review of Condition and Treatment.” The Keith Haring Mural Johnston Street, Collingwood. Prepared for City of Yarra, 2007, p.1.

27. Ibid., p.2.

28. Ibid., p.3-5.

29. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

30. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 24/08/2010.

31. McCaughy, Patrick. Review of “Securing the Past: Conservation in Art, Architecture and Literature” by Paul Eggert in The Australian, December 02, 2009. [Online] Cited 12/06/2010.
www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/securing-the-past-conservation-in-art-architecture-and-literature/story-e6frg8nf-1225805907660

32. Ibid.,

33. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

34. Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

35. Smith, Laurajane. Uses of Heritage. Oxford: Routledge, 2006, p.3 (italics in original) quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

36. Mauss, Marcel. “A category of the human mind: The notion of person; the notion of self,” in Carrithers, M, Collins, S and Lukes, S (eds.,). The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p.22, cited in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

37. Foucault, Michel. Of Other Spaces (1967), “Heterotopias.” Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986), pp.22-27.

38. Wolff, Janet. The Social Production of Art. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993, p.97.

39. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

40. National Trust of Australia (Victoria). Classification Report for ‘Keith Haring Mural’, Johnston Street, Collingwood, File numer 6675. Extract from Statement of Significance, 4th August 1997 quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. “Values not Shared: The Street Art of Melbourne’s City Laneways.” Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.146.

41. Wheeler, Donna. “When Keith Came To Town,” on Holiday Goddess, Female-Friendly Travel website. [Online] Cited 06/08/2010.
holidaygoddess.com/destinations/pacific/australia/keith-haring-mural-collingwood/

42. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

43. McAuliffe, Chris quoted in Masterson, Andrew “Off the wall art,” in The Age. Melbourne: Summer Age supplement. December 27th, 1994, p.4-5 quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

44. Op. cit.,

45. See Tseëlon, E. The Masque of Femininity: The Representation of Women in Everyday Life. London: Sage, 1995, p.128.

46. Yarra Talking Arts forum. “The Keith Haring mural: yesterday, today, tomorrow.” Thursday 29th April, 2010.

47. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

48. Ibid.,

49. Gruen, Julia. “Save the Keith Haring Mural” web page on Facebook [Online] Cited 21/11/2011
www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=117064188315110&ref=ts

50. Thorn, Andrew. “Another Red Haring,” keynote paper presented at the International Council of Museums Conservation Committee  (ICOMCC) triennial Conference, Lisbon, October 2011

51. Evans, Megan. Email to the author. 08/09/2010.

52. Wheeler, Donna Op cit.,

53. Sharpe, Emily Op cit.,

54. Holsworth, Mark. “Another Banksy Gone,” on Melbourne Art & Culture Critic blog. [Online] Cited 06/10/2010.
melbourneartcritic.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/another-banksy-gone/

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12
Mar
11

Galleries this week and ‘The Lost Diggers’

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It has been a busy week!

On Tuesday I visited Australian Galleries in Smith Street to view the ‘Drought Photographs’ by Sidney Nolan. A wonderful experience (review to follow). Thursday night was the opening of ‘Manstyle’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square (posting to follow), the new exhibition that “explores the extremes of masculine style and some of the most influential ideas that have pervaded menswear over the past three centuries.” A lively opening with lots of milliners, designers and fashionistas but only a modicum of style from many of the men in attendance.

Friday saw a trip up Flinders Lane to visit Arc One Gallery (review of ‘Navigating Widely’ by Vanila Netto to follow), Craft Victoria and drop in and say hello to Mary Lou Jelbart, director of fortyfivedownstairs and view the extensive renovations to the office and storage areas. Always good to catch up with Mary Lou. Then onward, battling terrible traffic, to the opening of ‘New11′ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) where the work was a bit ‘thin’ with a couple of notable exceptions.

Saturday saw a drive to Albert Street, Richmond to catch up with the galleries there – mostly stable exhibitions. Wade Marynowsky’s ‘The Hosts: A Masquerade Of Improvising Automatons’ at John Buckley Gallery were interesting for 10 minutes or so reminding me of evil, corseted, twirling, marionette Daleks. I then had a chat with the delightful Edwin at Sophie Gannon Gallery and saw the first stages of installation of the upcoming Daniela Federici exhibition that is part of L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival. Looks to be an interesting show.

Marcus

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Antoinette or Louis Thuillier
No title (unknown Australian soldier wearing sheepskin jerkin)
c.1916/17
France

This image is published under fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review (Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Acts: Copyright Act 1968 – Sect 41)

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This is a truly amazing story – finding these in an attic!

The original farmhouse has so much atmosphere. The photographs themselves are funny, poignant, informal, beautifully shot (the photographer, either Antoinette or Louis Thuillier, had a generous eye) and exhibit wonderful camaraderie; to actually find the original backdrop and be standing in the very place where these photographs were taken sends goose bumps up the spine just looking at the video. Imagine actually being there.

Look at the details – the hands, wedding rings, muddied boots, the children clasped by diggers with smokes in their hands, the props (chairs, motorbikes, guns, plant stands), sheepskin jerkins and the signs – ‘We will soon, be, home’, ‘All that is left of them, France, 1916 – 1918′. Just two men. They were so young, stoic, handsome. They stare out at you across time.

As Barthes and Sontag would say, these photographs haunt you.

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View the video of the remarkable story from the link The Lost Diggers.

Look at hundreds of wonderful photographs from the links below:

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17
Dec
10

melbourne’s magnificent eleven 2010

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Here’s my pick of the eleven best exhibitions in Melbourne for 2010 that featured on the Art Blart blog (in no particular order). Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Jenny Holzer at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

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Jenny Holzer
‘Right Hand (Palm Rolled)’
2007
Oil on linen
80 x 62 in. (203.2 x 157.5 cm)
Text: U.S. government document

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The reason that you must visit this exhibition is the last body of work. Working with declassified documents that relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Holzer’s ‘Redaction’ paintings address the elemental force that is man’s (in)humanity to man (in the study of literature, redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined (redacted) and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work) … I left the exhibition feeling shell-shocked after experiencing intimacy with an evil that leaves few traces. In the consciences of the perpetrators? In the hearts of the living! Oh, how I wish to see the day when the human race will truly evolve beyond. We live in hope and the work of Jenny Holzer reminds us to be vigilant, to speak out, to have courage in the face of the unconscionable.

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2/ ‘Pondlurking’ by Tom Moore at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran

This exhibition produced in me an elation, a sense of exalted happiness, a smile on my dial that was with me the rest of the day. The installation features elegantly naive cardboard cityscape dioramas teeming with wondrous, whimsical mythological animals that traverse pond and undulating road. This bestiary of animals, minerals and vegetables (bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals, birds and even rocks) is totally delightful … What really stands out is the presence of these objects, their joyousness. The technical and conceptual never get in the way of good art. The Surrealist imagining of a new world order (the destruction of traditional taxonomies) takes place while balanced on one foot. The morphogenesis of these creatures, as they build one upon another, turns the world upside down … Through their metamorphosed presence in a carnivalesque world that is both weird and the wonderful, Moore’s creatures invite us to look at ourselves and our landscape more kindly, more openly and with a greater generosity of spirit.

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Tom Moore
‘Birdboat with passenger with a vengeance’ (left) and ‘Robot Island’ (right)
2010 and 2009

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3/ ‘Safety Zone’ by John Young at Anna Schwartz Gallery

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What can one say about work that is so confronting, poignant and beautiful – except to say that it is almost unbearable to look at this work without being emotionally charged, to wonder at the vicissitudes of human life, of events beyond one’s control.

The exhibition tells the story of the massacre of 300,000 people in the city of Nanjing in Jiangsu, China by Japanese troops in December, 1937 in what was to become known as the Nanjing Massacre. It also tells the story of a group of foreigners led by German businessman John Rabe and American missionary Minnie Vautrin who set up a “safety zone” to protect the lives of at least 250,000 Chinese citizens. The work is conceptually and aesthetically well resolved, the layering within the work creating a holistic narrative that engulfs and enfolds the viewer – holding them in the shock of brutality, the poignancy of poetry and the (non)sublimation of the human spirit to the will of others.

Simply, this is the best exhibition that I have seen in Melbourne so far this year.

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John Young
‘Flower Market (Nanjing 1936) #1′
2010
digital print and oil on Belgian linen
240 x 331 cm
image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

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John Young
‘Safety Zone’
2010
60 works, digital prints on photographic paper and chalk on blackboard-painted archival cotton paper
Installation shot, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne
image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

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4/ ‘To Hold and Be Held’ by Kiko Gianocca at Gallery Funaki

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Kiko Gianocca
‘Man & dog’
found image, resin, silver
2009

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A beautiful exhibition of objects by Swiss/Italian artist Kiko Gianocca at Gallery Funaki, Melbourne, one full of delicate resonances and remembrances.

Glass vessels with internal funnels filled with the gold detritus of disassembled objects, found pendants: Horse, Anchor, Four leaf clover, Swan, Hammer & sickle … Brooches of gloss and matt black resin plates. On the reverse images exposed like a photographic plate, found images solidified in resin.

The front: the depths of the universe, navigating the dazzling darkness
The back: memories, forgotten, then remade, worn like a secret against the beating chest. Only the wearer knows!

As Kiki Gianocca asks, “I am not sure if I grasp the memories that sometimes come to mind. I start to think they hold me instead of me holding them.”

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5/ ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery, Richmond

The photographs invite us to share not only the mapping of the surface of the skin and the mapping of place and identity but the sharing of inner light, the light of the imaginary as well – and in this observation the images become unstable, open to reinterpretation. The distance between viewer and subject is transcended through an innate understanding of inner and outer light. The photographs seduce, meaning, literally, to be led astray … I found myself looking at the photographs again and again for small nuances, the detail of hairs on the head, the imagining of what the person was thinking about with their eyes closed: their future, their fears, their hopes, the ‘active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures’ (Orr, 2010) …

In the imagination of the darkness that lies behind these children’s closed eyes is the commonality of all places, a shared humanity of memory, of dreams. These photographs testify to our presence and ask us to decide how we feel about our life, our place and the relation to that (un)placeness where we must all, eventually, return.

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Jill Orr
‘Jacinta’
2009

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6/ ‘AND THEN…’ by Ian Burns at Anna Schwartz Gallery

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These are such fun assemblages, the created mis en scenes so magical and hilarious, guffaw inducing even, that they are entirely delightful.

There is so much to like here – the inventiveness, the freshness of the work, the insight into the use of images in contemporary culture. Still photographs of this work do not do it justice. I came away from the gallery uplifted, smiling, happy – and that is a wonderful thing to happen.

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Ian Burns
’15 hours v.4′
2010
Found object kinetic sculpture, live video and audio
Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

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7/ ‘Night’s Plutonian Shore’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

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Julia deVille
‘Nevermore’
2010

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This is an excellent exhibition by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond … This exhibition shows a commendable sense of restraint, a beautiful rise and fall in the work as you walk around the gallery space with the exhibits displayed on different types and heights of stand and a greater thematic development of the conceptual ideas within the work. There are some exquisite pieces.

In these pieces there is a simplification of the noise of the earlier works and in this simplification a conversant intensification of the layering of the conceptual ideas. Playful and witty the layers can be peeled back to reveal the poetry of  de Sade, the stories of Greek mythology and the amplification of life force that is at the heart of these works. Good stuff.

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8/ ‘Mari Funaki; Objects’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

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Mari Funaki
born Japan 1950, arrived Australia 1979, died 2010
‘Object’
2008
heat-coloured mild steel
36.0 x 47.5 x 14.5 cm
Collection of Johannes Hartfuss & Fabian Jungbeck, Melbourne
© The Estate of Mari Funaki

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Quiet, precise works. Forms of insect-like legs and proboscises. They balance, seeming to almost teeter on the edge – but the objects are incredibly grounded at the same time. As you walk into the darkened gallery and observe these creatures you feel this pull – lightness and weight. Fantastic!

And so it came to pass in silence, for these works are still, quiet and have a quality of the presence of the inexpressible. Funaki achieves these incredible silences through being true to her self and her style through an expression of her endearing will. While Mari may no longer be amongst us as expressions of her will the silences of these objects will be forever with us.

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9/ ‘Up Close: Carol Jerrems with Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and William Yang’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art

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When looking at art, one of the best experiences for me is gaining the sense that something is open before you, that wasn’t open before. I don’t mean accessible, I mean open like making a clearing in the jungle, or being able to see further up a road, or just further on. And also like an open marketplace – where there were always good trades. There is the feeling that if you put in a certain amount of honesty, then you would get something back that made some room for you in front – some room that would allow you to look forward, and maybe even walk into that space. Seeing Jerrems work gives you that feeling.

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Carol Jerrems
‘Mark and Flappers’
1975
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of James Mollison, 1994
© Ken Jerrems & the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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10/ ‘John Davis: Presence’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
(Spotted fish)
1989
twigs, cotton thread, calico, bituminous paint
55.0 x 145.0 x 30.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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This is a superlative survey exhibition of the work of John Davis at NGV Australia, Melbourne.

In the mature work you can comment on the fish as ‘travellers’ or ‘nomads’, “a metaphor for people and the way we move around the world.” You can observe the caging, wrapping and bandaging of these fish as a metaphor for the hurt we humans impose on ourselves and the world around us. You can admire the craftsmanship and delicacy of the constructions, the use of found objects, thread, twigs, driftwood and calico and note the ironic use of bituminous paint in relation to the environment, “a sticky tar-like form of petroleum that is so thick and heavy,” of dark and brooding colour.

This is all well and true. But I have a feeling when looking at this work that here was a wise and old spirit, one who possessed knowledge and learning … a human being who attained a state of grace in his life and in his work.

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11/ ‘Mortality’ at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

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Fiona Tan
‘Tilt’
2002
DVD
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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I never usually review group exhibitions but this is an exception to the rule. I have seen this exhibition three times and every time it has grown on me, every time I have found new things to explore, to contemplate, to enjoy. It is a fabulous exhibition, sometimes uplifting, sometimes deeply moving but never less than engaging – challenging our perception of life. The exhibition proceeds chronologically from birth to death. I comment on a few of my favourite works below but the whole is really the sum of the parts: go, see and take your time to inhale these works – the effort is well rewarded. The space becomes like a dark, fetishistic sauna with it’s nooks and crannies of videos and artwork. Make sure you investigate them all!

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13
Nov
10

Review: ‘Mortality’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 8th October – 28th November 2010

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“… this immersive exhibition swallows us into a kind of spiritual and philosophical lifecycle. As we weave our way through a maze-like series of darkened rooms, we encounter life’s early years, a youth filled with mischief, wonderment, possibilities and choices, and a more reflective experience of mid and later life, preceding the eventual end.”

Dan Rule in The Age

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I never usually review group exhibitions but this is an exception to the rule. I have seen this exhibition three times and every time it has grown on me, every time I have found new things to explore, to contemplate, to enjoy. It is a fabulous exhibition, sometimes uplifting, sometimes deeply moving but never less than engaging – challenging our perception of life. The exhibition proceeds chronologically from birth to death. I comment on a few of my favourite works below but the whole is really the sum of the parts: go, see and take your time to inhale these works – the effort is well rewarded. The space becomes like a dark, fetishistic sauna with it’s nooks and crannies of videos and artwork. Make sure you investigate them all!

There is only one photograph by Gillian Wearing from her ‘Album’ series of self portraits, ‘Self Portrait at Three Years Old’ (2004, see photograph below) but what a knockout it is. An oval photograph in a bright yellow frame the photograph looks like a perfectly normal studio photograph of a toddler until you examine the eyes: wearing silicon prosthetics, Wearing confronts “the viewer with her adult gaze through the eyeholes of the toddler’s mask, Wearing plays on the rift between interior and exterior and raises a multitude of provocative questions about identity, memory, and the veracity of the photographic medium.”1

‘Tilt’ (2002, see photograph below) is a mesmeric video by Fiona Tan of a toddler strapped into a harness suspended from a cluster of white helium-filled balloons in a room with wooden floorboards. The gurgling toddler floats gently into the air before descending to the ground, the little feet scrabbling for traction before gently ascending again –  the whole process is wonderful, the instance of the feet touching the ground magical, the delight of the toddler at the whole process palpable. Dan Rule sees the video as “enlivening and troubling, joyous and worrisome” and he is correct in this observation, in so far as it is the viewer that worries about what is happening to the baby, not, seemingly, the baby itself. It is our anxiety on the toddlers behalf, trying to imagine being that baby floating up into the air looking down at the floor, the imagined alienness of that experience for a baby, that drives our fear; but we need not worry for babies are held above the heads of fathers and mothers every day of the year. Fear is the adult response to the joy of innocence.

There are several photographs by Melbourne photographer Darren Sylvester in the exhibition and they are delightful in their wry take on adolescent life, girls eating KFC (‘If All We Have Is Each Other, Thats Ok’), or pondering the loss of a first love – the pathos of a young man sitting in a traditionally furnished suburban house, reading a letter (in which presumably his first girlfriend has dumped him), surrounded by the detritus of an unfinished Subway meal (see photograph below).

An interesting work by Sue and Ben Ford, ‘Faces’ (1976-1996, see photograph below) is a video that shows closely cropped faces and the differences in facial features twenty years later. The self consciousness of people when put in front of a camera is most notable, their uncomfortable looks as the camera examines them, surveys them in minute detail. The embarrassed smile, the uncertainty. It is fascinating to see the changes after twenty years.

A wonderful series 70s coloured photographs of “Sharps” by Larry Jenkins that shine a spotlight on this little recognised Melbourne youth sub-culture. These are gritty, funny, in your face photographs of young men bonding together in a tribal group wearing their tight t-shirts, ‘Conte’ stripped wool jumpers (I have a red and black one in my collection) and rat tail hair:
“Larry was the leader of the notorious street gang the “BLACKBURN SOUTH SHARPS” from 1972-1977 when the Sharpie sub-culture was at its peak and the working class suburbs of Melbourne were a tough and violent place to grow up. These photographs represent a period from 1975-1976 in Australian sub-cultural history and are one of the few photographic records of that time. Larry began taking photos at the age of 16 using a pocket camera, when he started working as an apprentice motor mechanic and spent his weekly wage developing his shots … He captured fleeting moments, candid shots and directed his teenage mates through elaborate poses set against the immediate Australian suburban backdrops.”2

Immediate and raw these photographs have an intense power for the viewer.

A personal favourite of the exhibition is Alex Danko’s installation ‘Day In, Day Out’ (1991, see photograph below). Such as simple idea but so effective: a group of identical silver houses sits on the floor of the gallery and through a rotating wheel placed in front of a light on a stand, the sun rises and sets over and over again. The identical nature of the houses reminds us that we all go through the same process in life: we get up, we work (or not), we go to bed. The sun rises, the sun sets, everyday, on life. Simple, beautiful, eloquent.

Another favourite is Louise Short’s series of found colour slides of family members displayed on one of those old Kodak carrousel slide projectors. This is a mesmeric, nostalgic display of the everyday lives of family caught on film. I just couldn’t stop watching, waiting for the next slide to see what image it brought (the sound of the changing slides!), studying every nuance of environment and people, colour and space: recognition of my childhood, growing up with just such images.

Anri Sala’s video ‘Time After Time’ (2003, see photograph below) is one of the most poignant works in the exhibition, almost heartbreaking to watch. A horse stands on the edge of a motorway in the near darkness, raising one of it’s feet. It is only when the lights of a passing car illuminate the animal that the viewer sees the protruding rib cage and you suddenly realise how sick the horse must be, how near death. Watch the video on the Lumen Eclipse website.

The film ‘Presentation Sisters’ (2005, see photographs below) by English artist Tacita Dean, “shows the daily routines and rituals of the last remaining members of a small ecclesiastical community as they contemplate their journey in the spiritual after-life.” Great cinematography, lush film colours, use of shadow and space  – but it is the everyday duties of the sisters, a small order of nuns in Cork, Ireland that gets you in. It is the mundanity of washing, ironing, folding, cooking and the procedures of human beings, their duties if you like – to self and each other – that become valuable. Almost like a religious ritual these acts are recognised by Dean as unique and far from the everyday. We are blessed in this life that we live.

Finally two works by Bill Viola: ‘Unspoken (Silver & Gold)’ 2001 and ‘The Passing’ (1991, see photographs below). Both are incredibly moving works about the angst of life, the passage of time, of death and rebirth. For me the picture of Viola’s elderly mother in a hospital bed, the sound of her rasping, laboured breath, the use of water in unexpected ways and the beauty of cars travelling at night across a road on a desert plain, their headlights in the distance seeming like atomic fireflies, energised spirits of life force, was utterly beguiling and moving. What sadness with joy in life to see these two works.

Many thankx to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of some of the images.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Gillian Wearing
‘Self-Portrait at Three Years Old’
2004
Digital C-type print
© Gillian Wearing

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Fiona Tan
‘Tilt’
2002
DVD
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Darren Sylvester
‘Your First Love Is Your Last Love’
2005
© Darren Sylvester

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Sue Ford and Ben Ford
‘Faces’
1976-1996
detail 
of 15 min b/w 
reversal silent film
16mm, shot on b/w 
reversal film

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Larry Jenkins
‘Chad, Jono and Mig, Twig, Beatie and Whitey walking down the street at Blackburn South shops’
1975
© Larry Jenkins

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Alex Danko
‘Day In, Day Out’
1991

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“From the cradle to the grave… ACCA’s major exhibition Mortality takes us on life’s journey from the moment of lift off to the final send off, and all the bits in between. Curated by Juliana Engberg to reflect the Festival’s visual arts themes of spirituality, death and the afterlife, this transhistorical event includes metaphoric pictures and works by some of the world’s leading artists.

Exhibiting artists include:

Tacita Dean, an acclaimed British artist who works in film and drawing and has shown at Milan’s Fondazione Trussardi and at DIA Beacon, New York.

Anastasia Klose, one of Australia’s most exciting young video artists whose works also include performance and installation.

TV Moore, an Australian artist who completed his studies in Finland and the United States and who has shown extensively in Sydney, Melbourne and overseas.

Tony Oursler, a New York-based artist who works in a range of media and who has exhibited in the major institutions of New York, Paris, Cologne and Britain.

Giulio Paolini, an Italian born artist who has been a representative at both Documenta and the Venice Biennale.

David Rosetzky, a Melbourne-born artist who works predominantly in video and photographic formats and whose work has featured in numerous Australian exhibitions as well as New York, Milan and New Zealand galleries.

Louise Short, an emerging British artist who works predominately with found photographs and slides. Anri Sala, an Albanian-born artist who lives and works in Berlin. He has shown in the Berlin Biennale and the Hayward, London.

Fiona Tan, an Indonesian-born artist, who lives and works in Amsterdam. Tan works with photography and film and has shown in a number of major solo and group exhibitions, including representing the Netherlands at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Bill Viola, one of the leaders in video and new media art who has shown widely internationally and in Australia.

Gillian Wearing, one of Britain’s most important contemporary artists and a Turner Prize winner who has exhibited extensively internationally.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

Albanian born artist Anri Sala’s acclaimed video work Time After Time, featuring a horse trapped on a Tirana motorway, repeatedly, heartbreakingly raising its hind-leg (see photograph below). Anri first came to acclaim in 1999 for his work in After the Wall, the Stockholm Modern Museum’s exhibition of art from post-communist Europe, and his work is characterized by an interest in seemingly unimportant details and slowness. Scenes are almost frozen into paintings.

Peter Kennedy’s Seven people who died the day I was born – April 18 1945, 1997-98 – a work from a series begun by the artist following the death of his father which connects individual lives with political and historical events. Kennedy’s birth in the last year of World War II and the seven people memorialized imply the multitude of others that died during this catastrophic event as well as the perpetual cycle of life.

A series of slides collected by British artist Louise Short, offering a beguiling insight into the everyday lives of everyday people accumulated as a life narrative.

Acclaimed British artist Tacita Dean’s Presentation Sisters, which shows the daily routines and rituals of the last remaining members of a small ecclesiastical community as they contemplate their journey in the spiritual after-life.

Three works from the Time series by influential Australian photographer Sue Ford, who passed away last year, will also be shown. The photographs capture the artist in various stages of her life.

Exhibiting Artists:

Charles Anderson, George Armfield, Melanie Boreham, Bureau of Inverse Technology, Aleks Danko, Tacita Dean, Sue Ford, Garry Hill, Larry Jenkins, Peter Kennedy, Anastasia Klose, Arthur Lindsay, Dora Meeson, Anna Molska, TV Moore, Tony Oursler, Neil Pardington, Giulio Paolini, Mark Richards, David Rosetzky, Anri Sala, James Shaw, Louise Short, William Strutt, Darren Sylvester, Fiona Tan, Bill Viola, Annika von Hausswolff, Mark Wallinger, Lynette Wallworth, Gillian Wearing.”

Text from the ACCA website

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Annika von Hausswolff
‘Hey Buster! What Do You Know About Desire?’
1995
colour photograph
courtesy of the artist and Moderna Museet

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Anri Sala
‘Time After Time’
2003
Video, 5 minutes 22 seconds

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David Rosetzky
‘Nothing like this’
DVD
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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David Rosetzky
‘Nothing like this’
DVD
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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Tacita Dean
‘Presentation Sisters’
2005
16 mm film
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Tacita Dean
‘Presentation Sisters’
2005
16 mm film
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Bill Viola
‘The Passing’
1991
In memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound
54 minutes
© Bill Viola

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Bill Viola
‘The Passing’
1991
In memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound
54 minutes
© Bill Viola

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1. Mann, Ted. “Self-Portrait at Three Years Old,” on the Guggenheim Collection website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_230_1.html

2. Anon. “History,” on the Blackburn South Sharps website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.blackburnsouthsharps.com/1024×768/history/history.htm

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website

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06
Feb
10

Review: Jenny Holzer at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th December 2009 – 28th February 2010

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“I draw from everything – from the National Security Archives collection to old material from the FBI’s website to postings by the ACLU. I concentrate on the content. It tends to be very rough material about what’s happened to soldiers in the field, about the good and bad choices they’ve been forced to make, and what has happened to detainees and civilians. I also go to material that’s almost completely gone, either whited out or blacked out, because that represents the issue. You don’t have to spill words when the page is completely black.”

Jenny Holzer

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Jenny Holzer
‘Projections’
various dates
with poetry by Wislawa Szymborska

Video of work can be seen on the MASS MOCA website

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This is a patchy but ultimately redemptive exhibition by Jenny Holzer at the Australia Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne. The main exhibition space at ACCA is filled with one installation created specifically for the space titled ‘For ACCA’ (2009) that in essence is the same as the installation for The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MOCA)(see photographs above and video of the work from the link).

The work is projected by a Cameleon Teleprojecteur into the large space and features poems by Wislawa Szymborska with titles such as “The End and the Beginning”, “The Joy of Writing”, “Children of Our Age” and “The Terrorist, He’s Watching” scrolling a la Star Wars opening credits from the bottom upwards into the darkened space. The words that flow into the mis en scene are distorted at the edges like a fish eye lens distorts reality. EVERYTHING IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS TO EMPHASISE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORDS, JUST IN CASE WE MISSED THE POINT. It feels like you have been metaphorically hit over the head with the artist’s concern and frankly, I soon lost interest in the mobilisation of meaning:

“I don’t require changes
from the surf,
now diligent, now sluggish,
obeying not me.”

“The Bomb in the bar
will explode at thirteen twenty
Now it’s just thirteen sixteen
There’s still time
for some to go in,
and some to come out.”

“There’s one thing
I won’t agree to:
My own return.
The privilege of presence -
I give it up.”

“I survived you by enough,
and only by enough,
to contemplate from afar – “

“After Every War
Someone has to tidy up.
Things won’t pick
themselves up, after all.”

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More interesting are the 4 bean bags placed on the floor that are covered in matt grey heat sensitive fabric. As you sit in the bags your indentations heat up the fabric. Upon standing the mark of your body, your temperature, form silver Yves Klein-like paintings of glowing phosphorescence reminding me of the emanations of heat from the underpants of the bomber on the US flight recently (a relationship that just popped into my head!). Looking back into the projector from your recumbent position you get an eerie view of the words coming towards you on the floor and going away on the ceiling, your body illuminated in words. What spoils the installation for me is the didactic ‘nature’ of the protestations, their proselytising soon wearing thin on a body more atuned to the pithy, insightful phrases of Barbara Kruger.

The electronic sculpture ‘Torso’ (see image below) “emphatically addresses the private body enmeshed and lost in information and government operations.” (catalogue text). Featuring 10 doubled LED projectors programmed with case files of American soldiers accused of war crimes in the Middle East, abuse questions of detainees, ‘For Official Use Only’ texts and personal messages of love the sculpture is at first seen from a distance, framed by two rectangular doorways of the previous galleries. The mainly blue background and pink lettered light emanating from the sculpture is beautiful and quite magical and as one enters the empty space of the gallery the light focuses the eyes on the moving words, their repetition, their flashing, their running at different speeds and colours, all with the same message  – words that seem to appear out of the wall and disappear back into it. The effect soon wears thin however; when you delve into the guts of the torso fascination begins to wane and you are left with repetition for repetition’s sake and with ‘pretty’ words that are just that: patterns of perniciousness displayed for our pleasure.

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The reason that you must visit this exhibition is the last body of work. Working with declassified documents that relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Holzer’s ‘Redaction’ paintings address the elemental force that is man’s (in)humanity to man (in the study of literature, redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined (redacted) and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work).1 Silkscreen printed as oil on canvas these paintings are some of the most poignant, moving, terrifying, enraging pieces of art that I have seen in a long time. I was moved to tears. They are tough works and they deserve to be.

Autopsy reports, a “Wish List” for alternative interrogation techniques (‘Wish List/Gloves Off’ 2007), a handwritten letter from an Iraq student detailing his experience of torture (‘By the Name of God’ 2006) and palm prints –  (some totally illegible as the censor eradicates human identity, erases with a double violence – to the person themselves, to the validation that they existed) – document a government’s malfeasance .

What a word malfeasance!
Etymology: mal- + obsolete feasance doing, execution ….

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In these paintings the artist pulls back and lets the work speak for itself – and it is all the more powerful because of this. Using the physical process of the hand in the making of these images implicates every one of us in the complicities of the faceless bureaucrats and military personnel that hide behind blacked out names. The most moving of the hand prints are the partial prints taken after death where some ‘body’ has pressed down the deceased detainees hand to make an impression, mapping an identity already deleted (‘Faint Hand’ 2007 – unfortunately I don’t have any images of these paintings to show you). One is even presented as it was taken, upside down (‘Right Hand Down’ 2007). These are indescribable images, they tear you up inside.

I left the exhibition feeling shell-shocked after experiencing intimacy with an evil that leaves few traces. In the consciences of the perpetrators? In the hearts of the living! Oh, how I wish to see the day when the human race will truly evolve beyond. We live in hope and the work of Jenny Holzer reminds us to be vigilant, to speak out, to have courage in the face of the unconscionable.

M Bunyan

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“Date of birth; 1947

Date/time of Death: 26 Nov 2003

Circumstances of Death: This Iraq  _____  died in U.S. custody”

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“We are American soldiers, heirs to a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.”

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Jenny Holzer
‘Torso’
2007

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“Holzer became well-known in the 1980s for her text-based works and public art. Her first series, Truisms (1977-79), contains concise, aphoristic statements that reveal and question truths, beliefs, and ideologies. While Truisms first appeared on posters placed in the urban environment, Holzer’s texts later took a number of forms including light projections on high-profile public buildings, LED (light emitting diode) signs, stickers placed on surfaces such as parking metres and telephone booths, and public furniture such as marble and granite benches. While Holzer still at times relies on the thirteen texts she wrote from 1977-2001, her recent practice has turned to incorporating the writings of others, including works by internationally celebrated poets and declassified government documents. Like her own texts, the borrowed writings and documents address personal and public calamities in a range of voices and tones that approximates the complexity of daily life.

Though Holzer has used words and ideas in public spaces for the past thirty years, she has also created large-scale projects for prominent institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum (New York), the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and the Centre Pompidou (Paris).

For ACCA’s main exhibition hall, Holzer will project poetry in the form of light onto the floors, ceilings, and walls, making the language something felt as well as read. In addition, she will display works from a series that began in 2005 where she translates declassified government documents into paintings. The documents are left exactly as they were found when rendered through silkscreen onto oil-painted grounds. The marks of a censor are seen in the text blocked out by a black scribble or box. These works come, as Holzer has said, from her “frantic worrying about the war and attendant changes in American society.” The projections and paintings will be supplemented by an LED installation titled Torso. In this work, Holzer stacks ten semi-circular signs that display in red, blue, white, and purple light the statements, investigation reports, and emails from case files of soldiers accused of various crimes in the Middle East. Providing these voices, part damning, contradictory, sympathetic, anecdotal, and evidentiary, Holzer layers accounts of abuse and blame.

“Jenny Holzer’s words ask us to consider our thoughts and actions in the world. This essentially humanist and philosophical project encourages us to seek self enlightenment through examining our prejudices, false beliefs, fall back positions, and habits, to reach a new level of tolerance, understanding and self awareness”

Juliana Engberg, ACCA’s Artistic Director

Text from the ACCA website

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Jenny Holzer
‘Left Hand (Palm Rolled)’
2007
Oil on linen
80 x 62 in. (203.2 x 157.5 cm)
Text: U.S. government document

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“What truly adds substance to the style are the Redaction Paintings. These blown-up pieces of censored materials, silk-screened on to stretched canvas, afford an unnerving glimpse at how we fight wars. Authored by countless bureaucratic functionaries, they feel both predictable and eye-opening.

All of the embedded journalists in the world couldn’t produce as clear a picture as the government did in documenting its own malfeasance. Many of these documents feature the blurred type of countless reproductions, a sign that time is burying these paperwork tragedies until they become illegible and unactionable.

Holzer didn’t have to doctor these documents for heightened effect; the black bars that enshroud the names of victims and their tormentors speak for themselves. One autopsy report describes the fatal suffocation of a prisoner of war forced to maintain a stress position. In some cases nearly whole documents are ominously blacked out, like a national Rorschach test.”2

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Jenny Holzer
‘DODDOACID 008769′
2007
Oil on linen

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Jenny Holzer
‘Right Hand (Palm Rolled)’
2007
Oil on linen
80 x 62 in. (203.2 x 157.5 cm)
Text: U.S. government document

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Jenny Holzer
‘Wish List/Gloves Off’
2006

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“WISH LIST” document:

A captain in the US Army human intelligence division requested a “wish list” from subordinate interrogation teams for, “innovative interrogation techniques that will prove more successful than current methods.” One person interpreted this request to mean, “the captain wanted suggestions legal, illegal and somewhere in between.” The WISH LIST document is a summary of alternative interrogation techniques that the 4th Infantry Division, ICE, devised, including phone book strikes, low voltage electrocution and muscle fatigue inducement.

The document can be found on the American Civil Liberties Union website. The “WISH LIST” is on p. 59.”3

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1. Definition of redaction on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 6th February 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redaction

2. Arizona, Daniel. Jenny Holzer and the Influence of Anxiety” on More Intelligent Life.com [Online] Cited 5th January 2010

3. Anon. ‘Jenny Holzer Projections’ on the MASS MOCA website [Online] Cited 17th January 2010

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Bookmark and Share

06
Jan
10

Melbourne’s Magnificent Dozen 2009

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Here’s my pick of the twelve best exhibitions in Melbourne for 2009 that featured on the Art Blart blog (in no particular order) – and a few honorable mentions that very nearly made the list!

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1/ ‘The Water Hole’ by Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger at ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art)

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Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. 'The Waterhole' 2009

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Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
‘The Water Hole’
2009

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“The most effective bed has a small meteorite suspended in a net bag above it. The viewer slides underneath the ‘rock’ placing the meteorite about a foot or so above your face. The meteorite is brown, dark and heavy, swinging slightly above your ‘third eye’. You feel its weight pressing down on your energy, on your life force and you feel how old this object is, how far it has traveled, how fragile and mortal you are. It is a sobering and enlightening experience but what an experience it is!”

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This was a magical and poignant exhibition that was a joy for children and adults alike. Children love it running around exploring the environments. Adults love it for it’s magical, witty and intelligent response to the problems facing our planet and our lives. A truly enjoyable interplanetary collision.

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2/ ‘Ocean Without A Shore’ video installation by Bill Viola at The National Gallery of Victoria

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Bill Viola. 'Ocean Without A Shore' 2007 video still

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The resurrected are pensive, some wringing the hands, some staring into the light. One offers their hands to the viewer in supplication before the tips of the fingers touch the wall of water – the ends turning bright white as they push through the penumbrae of the interface. As they move forward the hands take on a stricken anguish, stretched out in rigor. Slowly the resurrected turn and return to the other side. We watch them as we watch our own mortality, life slipping away one day after another. Here is not the distraction of a commodified society, here is the fact of every human life: that we all pass.

The effect on the viewer is both sad but paradoxically uplifting. I cried …

These series of encounters at the intersection of life and death are worthy of the best work of this brilliant artist. He continues to astound with his prescience, addressing what is undeniable in the human condition. Long may he continue.

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3/ Rosalie Gascoigne at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

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Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Sweet lovers' 1990

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Rosalie Gascoigne
‘Sweet lovers’
1990

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This was a wonderful exhibition. Gascoigne rightly commands a place in the pantheon of Australian stars. She has left us with a legacy of music that evokes the rhythms, the air, the spaces and colours of our country. As she herself said,

“Look at what we have: Space, skies. You can never have too much of nothing.”

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Nothing more, nothing less.

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4/ The Big Black Bubble’ paintings by Dale Frank at Anna Schwartz Gallery

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Dale Frank. 'Ryan Gosling' (2008/2009)

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Dale Frank
‘Ryan Gosling’
2008/2009

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The artist offered the viewer the ability to generate their own resonances with the painting, to use the imagination of ‘equivalence’ to suggest what these paintings stand for – and also what else they stand for. States of being, of transformation, wonder and joy emerged in the playfulness of these works.

‘Ryan Gosling’ was a tour de force. With the poetic structure of an oil spill, the varnish forms intricate slick upon slick contours that are almost topographical in their mapping. The black oozes light, becomes ‘plastic’ black before your eyes, like the black of Rembrandt’s backgrounds, illusive, illuminative and hard to pin down – perpetually hanging there in two dripping rows, fixed but fluid at one and the same time (you can just see the suspensions in the photograph above).

This painting was one of the most overwhelming syntheses of art and nature, of universal forces that I have seen in recent contemporary art. This exhibition was an electric pulsating universe of life, landscape and transformation. Magnificent!

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5/ ‘So It Goes’ by Laith McGregor at Helen Gory Galerie

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Laith McGregor. 'The Last Bastion' 2009 (detail)

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Laith McGregor
‘The Last Bastion’ (detail)
2009

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Simply spectacular!

I had never seen such art made using a biro before: truly inspiring.
Inventive, funny, poignant and outrageous this was a must see show of 2009.

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6/ ‘triestement (more-is u thrill-o)’ by Domenico De Clario at John Buckley Gallery

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Domenico de Clario. 'o (la grande maison blanche – snow clouds massing)' 2008/09

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Domenico de Clario
‘o (la grande maison blanche – snow clouds massing)’
2008/09

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Painted in a limited colour palette of ochres, greys and blacks the works vibrate with energy. Cezanne like spatial representations are abstracted and the paint bleeds across the canvas forming a maze of buildings. Walls and hedges loom darkly over roadways, emanations of heads and figures float in the picture plane and the highlight white of snow hovers like a spectral figure above buildings. These are elemental paintings where the shadow has become light and the light is shadow, meanderings of the soul in space.

de Clario feels the fluid relationship between substance and appearance; he understands that Utrillo is embedded in the position of each building and stone, in the cadences and rhymes of the paintings of Montmarte. de Clario interprets this knowledge in a Zen like rendition of shadow substance in his paintings. Everything has it’s place without possession of here and there, dark and light.

For my part it was my soul responding to the canvases. I was absorbed into their fabric. As in the dark night of the soul my outer shell gave way to an inner spirituality stripped of the distance between viewer and painting. I felt communion with this man, Utrillo, with this art, de Clario, that brought a sense of revelation in the immersion, like a baptism in the waters of dark light. For art this is a fantastic achievement.

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7/ ‘McLean Edwards: Songs from the Ghost Ship’ at Karen Woodury Gallery

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McLean Edwards. 'Venus' 2009

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McLean Edwards
‘Venus’
2009

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These heterogeneous paintings were a knockout with their wonderful, layered presence – they really command the viewer to look at them and celebrate the characters within them. Whimsical, ironic and full of humor these phantasmagorical images of creatures cast adrift with the night sky as background are fabulous assemblages of colour, form and storytelling.

My friend and I really enjoyed this exhibition. We were captivated by these songs, going back to the work again and again to tease out the details, to feel connection to the work. These are not lonely isolated figures but sublime emanations of inner states of being expertly rendered in glorious colour. And they made us laugh – what more could you ask for!

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8/ Tacita Dean at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

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Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007

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Tacita Dean
‘Michael Hamburger [Still]‘
16mm colour anamorphic, optical sound
28 minutes
2007

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“One can see echoes of Sebald’s work in that of Tacita Dean  – the personal narratives accompanied by mythical and historical stories and pictures. The tactility of Hamburger’s voice and hands, his caressing of the apples with the summary justice of the tossing away of rotten apples to stop them ruining the rest of the crop is arresting and holds you transfixed. Old varieties and old hands mixed with the old technology of film make for a nostalgic combination … Dean implicitly understands how objects can be elegies for fleeting lives.”

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Tacita Dean is a fantastic artist whose work examines the measure of things, the vibrations of spirit in the FLUX of experience. Her work has a trance-like quality that is heavy with nostalgia and memory and reflects the machine-ations of contemporary life. In her languorous and dense work Dean teases out the significance of insignificant actions/events and imparts meaning and life to them. This is no small achievement!

As an exhibition this was an intense and moving experience.

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9/ ‘Ivy’ photographs by Jane Burton at Karen Woodbury Gallery

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Jane Burton. 'Ivy #2' 2009

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Jane Burton
‘Ivy #2′
2009

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I feel that in these photographs with their facelessness and the non-reflection of the mirror investigate notions of ‘Theoria’ – a Greek emphasis on the vision or contemplation of God where theoria is the lifting up of the individual out of time and space and created being and through contemplative prayer into the presence of God. In fact the whole series of photographs can be understood through this conceptualisation – not just remembrances of past time, not a blind contemplation on existence but a lifting up out of time and space into the an’other’ dark but enlightening presence.

The greatest wonder of this series is that the photographs magically reveal themselves again and again over time. Despite (or because of) the references to other artists, the beauty of Burton’s work is that she has made it her own. The photographs have her signature, her voice as an artist and it is an informed voice; this just makes the resonances, the vibrations of energy within the work all the more potent and absorbing. I loved them.

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10/ ‘Sweet Complicity’ by eX de Medici at Karen Woodbury Gallery

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eX de Medici. 'Tooth and claw' (detail) 2009

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eX de Medici
‘Tooth and claw’ (detail)
2009

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In other less skilled artist’s hands the subject matter could become cliched and trite but here de Medici balances the disparate elements in her compositions and brings the subject matter alive – sinuously jumping off the paper, entwining the viewer in their delicious ironies, all of us sweetly complicit in the terror war (send more meat, send more meat!), fighting tooth and nail to keep urban realities at arm’s length. The dark desires that these works contain possess an aesthetic beauty that swallows us up so that we, too, become ‘Barbarians All’.

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11/ ‘Emily Kame Kngwarreye: The Person and her Paintings’ at DACOU Aboriginal Art

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Emily Kame Kngwarreye
‘Wildflower’
1994

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The paintings were painted horizontally (like the painter Jackson Pollock who intuitively accessed the spiritual realm) and evidence a horizontal consciousness not a hierarchical one. Knowledge is not privileged over wisdom. There is a balance between knowledge and wisdom – the knowledge gained through a life well lived and the wisdom of ancient stories that represent the intimacy of living on this world. The patterns and diversities of life compliment each other, are in balance.

Wisdom comes from the Indo-European root verb weid, “to see,” the same root from which words like vision come. In this sense these are “Vedic” paintings in that they are ancient, sacred teachings, Veda meaning literally “I have seen.”

On this day I saw. I felt.

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12/ ‘Unforced Intimacies’ by Patricia Piccinini at Tolarno Galleries

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’ (detail)
2008

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, chair
2008

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The terrains the Piccinini interrogates (nature and artifice, biogenetics, cloning, stem cell research, consumer culture) are a rematerialisation of the actual world through morphological ‘mapping’ onto the genomes of the future. Morphogenetic fields seem to surround the work with an intense aura; surrounded by this aura the animals and children become more spiritual in their silence. Experiencing this new world promotes an evolution in the way in which we conceive the future possibilities of life on this earth, this brave but mutably surreal new world.

This was truly one of the best exhibitions of the year in Melbourne.

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Honorable Mentions

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  • ‘Climbing the Walls and Other Actions’ by Clare Rae at the Centre for Contemporary Photography
    In these photographs action is opposed with stillness, danger opposed with suspension; the boundaries of space, both of the body and the environment, the interior and the exterior, memory and dream, are changed.
  • ‘Johannes Kuhnen: a survey of innovation’ at RMIT Gallery
    We stood transfixed before this work, peering closely at it and gasping in appreciation of the beauty, technical proficiency and pure poetry of the pieces.
  • ‘Double Infinitives’ by Marco Fusinato at Anna Schwartz Gallery
    The images are literally ripped from the matrix of time and space and become the dot dot dot of the addendum. What Fusinato does so excellently is to make us pause and stare, to recognize the flatness of these figures and the quietness of violence that surrounds us.
  • ‘all about … blooming’ by JUNKO GO at Gallery 101
    Go’s musings on the existential nature of our being are both full and empty at one and the same time and help us contemplate the link to the breath of the sublime.
  • ‘Mood Bomb’ by Louise Paramor at Nellie Castan Gallery
    They are dream states that allow the viewer to create their own narrative with the title of the works offering gentle guides along the way. These are wonderfully evocative paintings.
  • ‘New 09′ at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
    Finally you sit on the aluminium benches and contemplate in silence all that has come before and wonder what just hit you in a tidal wave of feelings, immediacies and emotions. The Doing and Undoing of Things.
  • ‘My Jesus Lets Me Rub His Belly’ by Martin Smith at Sophie Gannon Gallery
    At the end of days, when all is said and done, the funny diatribes with their ambiguous photographs are homily and heretic and together form a more inclusive body of bliss: ‘And also with you and you and you and you’

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23
Sep
09

Review: ‘Scenes’ by David Noonan at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15th August – 27th September 2009

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Installation view of 'Scenes' by David Noonan at ACCA

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Installation view of ‘Scenes’ by David Noonan at ACCA

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Thoughts

Limited colour palette of ochres, whites, browns and blacks.

Rough texture of floor covered in Jute under the feet.

Layered, collaged print media figures roughly printed on canvas – elements of abstraction, elements of figuration.

The ‘paintings’ are magnificent; stripped and striped collages. Faces missing, dark eyes. There is something almost Rembrandt-esque about the constructed images, their layering, like Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ (1642) – but then the performance element kicks in  – the makeup, the lipstick, the tragic/comedic faces.

Mannequin, doll-like cut-out figures, flat but with some volume inhabiting the tableaux vivant.

Twelve standing figures in different attitudes – a feeling of dancing figures frozen on stage, very Japanese Noh theater. Spatially the grouping and use of space within the gallery is excellent – like frozen mime.

The figures move in waves, rising and falling both in the standing figures and within the images on the wall.

Looking into the gallery is like looking through a picture window onto a stage set (see above image).

The fracturing of identity, the distortion of the binaries of light and dark, absence/presence in spatio-temporal environments.

The performance as ritual challenging a regularized and constrained repetition of norms (Judith Butler).

Excellent, thought provoking exhibition.

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noonan-a

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Installation view of ‘Scenes’ by David Noonan at ACCA

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“Noonan often works with found photographic imagery taken from performance manuals, textile patterns and archive photographs to make densely layered montages. These works at once suggest specific moments in time and invoke disorientating a-temporal spaces in which myriad possible narratives emerge. The large-scale canvases framing this exhibition depict scenes of role-playing, gesturing characters, and masked figures set within stage-like spaces. Printed on coarsely woven jute, collaged fabric elements applied to the surface of the canvases further signal the cutting and splicing of images.

Noonan’s new suite of figurative sculptures, comprise life size wooden silhouettes faced with printed images of characters performing choreographed movements. While the figurative image suggests a body in space, the works’ two dimensional cut-out supports insist on an overriding flatness which lends them an architectural quality – as stand-ins for actual performers and as a means by which to physically navigate the exhibition space.”

Press release from the Chisenhale Gallery website

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“For the Helen Macpherson Smith Commission, he will bring the characters depicted in his signature collage works off the wall and onto an imagined ‘stage’. Several life-size, wooden cut-out figures will inhabit the ACCA exhibition gallery, frozen in choreographed movements.

Noonan’s dancing figures will be framed by several large-scale canvas works, printed photographic and film imagery gleaned from performance manuals, textile patterns and interior books. Printed on coarse woven jute, he cuts, slices and montages images together constructing compositions that hover between two and three dimensionality, positive and negative space, past and present, stasis and action.

“‘Scenes’ recalls the experimental workshops and youth-focused exuberance of a more optimistic era, coinciding with the artists own childhood in the 1970s” says curator Charlotte Day. “With these new works, Noonan re-introduces the idea of ritual, of creating a temporal space beyond reason that is filled with both danger and hope.”

David Noonan is the fifth recipient of the Helen Macpherson Smith Commission, one of the most significant and generous commissions in Australia. The partnership between ACCA and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust offers Victorian artists the opportunity to create an ambitious new work of art, accompanied by an exhibition in ACCA’s exhibition hall.

Press release from the ACCA website

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Image from 'Scenes' by David Noonan at ACCA

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Australia Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

111 Sturt Street
Southbank 
Victoria 3006
Australia
03 9697 9999

Opening Hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

ACCA website

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20
Jul
09

Review: ‘Tacita Dean’ at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th June – 2nd August, 2009

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Photographs from the exhibition are in the chronological order that they appear.

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Tacita Dean. 'Grobsteingrab (floating)' 2009

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Tacita Dean
‘Grobsteingrab (floating)’
2009

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Tacita Deam. 'T & I' (Tristan & Isolde) 2006

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Tacita Dean
‘T & I’ (Tristan & Isolde)
2006

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Tacita Dean. 'Banewl' 1999

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Tacita Dean
‘Totality’
16mm colour film
2000

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“The subjects are connected to the medium I use. It’s all about light and time and phenomena to some extent, like a rainbow or a gust of wind or even an eclipse or a green ray, things like that. And this is the language of light. It’s not the language of binary pixels.”

Tacita Dean1

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“The value of her [Dean's] work, writes Winterson, is one of the virtues of art itself: it is an intervention into the rush of everyday life, holding up time and space for contemplation.”

Jeanette Winterson2

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old 16mm projector

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16mm film projector used by Tacita Dean to project ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’

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Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

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Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

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Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

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Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

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Tacita Dean
‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’
2007

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This is a dense, ‘thick’ exhibition by Tacita Dean at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne that rewards repeat viewing. The theatricality of each work and the theatricality of the journey through ACCA’s dimmed galleries (an excellent installation of the work!) makes for an engrossing exhibition as Dean explores the minutiae of memory and the significance of insignificant events: a contemplation on the space, time and materiality of the everyday.

The exhibition starts with 3 very large floating rocks (‘Grobsteingrab (floating)’, ‘Hunengrab (floating)’ and ‘Riesenbelt (floating)’ all 2009) printed on multiple pieces of photographic paper, the surrounds of the rocks painted out with matt black blackboard paint (see image at top of this posting). The rocks look like mountain massif and are printed at different levels to each other; they move up and down, earthed in the sense that the viewer feels their heavy weight but also buoyant in their surface shininess, seeming to float into the void. The textuality of the rocks is incredible, the suspension of the rocks fragmented by the fact that they are printed on multiple pieces of photographic paper, the edges of the paper curling up to dislocate the unity of form.

Opposite is the large multi-panelled ‘T + I (Tristan + Isolde)’, a tour de force of Romantic landscape meets mythological journey (see image second from top). Sunshine searing through cloud lights the 25 Turneresque black and white gravure panels that feature an inlet, fjord and ravine. Semi-legible words dot the landscape, reflecting on the legendary story: ‘undergrowth’, ‘dispute’, ‘brightening up’, ‘BLIND FOLLY’ and ‘the union involved in a manifestation(?)’ for example. Each panel is beautifully rendered and a joy to behold – my friend and I stood transfixed, examining each panel in minute detail, trying to work out the significance and relation between the writing and image. As with most of the work in the exhibition the piece engages the viewer in a dialogue between reality, story and memory, between light, space, time and phenomena.

After the small rear projected film ‘Totality’ (2000) that shows the extraordinary event of a total eclipse of the sun by the moon for a period of two minutes and six seconds the viewer takes a short darkened passage to experience the major installation in the exhibition ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007 (see images above).
The first thing you see is one image projected onto a small suspended screen, the rest of the installation blocked by a short gallery wall to the right. The dancer Merce Cunningham sits in studious calm and observes us. This in itself is magical but as we round the corner other screens of different sizes and heights come into view, all portraying Cunningham’s dance studio and him sitting in it from different angles, heights and distances (including close-ups of Cunningham himself). In the six screen projection the performances of Cunningham are sometimes in synch, sometimes not. The director Trevor Carlson, holding a stop watch, times the 3 movements of Cage’s musical piece 4’33” and directs Cunningham to change position at the end of every movement; his hands move, he crosses his legs and the performance continues.
The work is projected into the sculptural space using old 16mm film projectors and their sound mixes with the studied silence of the Cage work and white noise. The mirrors in the studio make spaces of infinite recess, showing us the director with the stop watch, the windows, the floor, the markings of the dancers hands on the mirrror’s surface adding another echo of past presences. As a viewer their seems to be an ‘openness’ around as you are pulled into a spatial and sound vortex, a phenomena that transcends normal spatio-temporal dimensionality. As people pass through the installation their shadows fall on the screens and become part of the work adding to the multi-layered feeling of the work. This is sensational stuff – you feel that you transcend reality itself as you observe and become immersed within this amazing work – almost as though space and time had split apart at the seams and you are left hanging, suspended in mid-air.

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Tacita Dean. 'Darmstädter Werkblock [Still]' 2007

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Tacita Dean
‘Darmstädter Werkblock [Still]‘
16mm colour film, optical sound
18 minutes, continuous loop
2007

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Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007

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Tacita Dean
‘Michael Hamburger [Still]‘
16mm colour anamorphic, optical sound
28 minutes
2007

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The next two films are my favourite pieces in the exhibition. ‘Darmstädter Werkblock’ (2007) shows us the significance of insignificant markings – edges and intersections, textures, blends and bleeds, the minutiae of existence in the markings on the fabric of an internal wall (see photograph above). Here is light, wood panelling, texture and again the sound of the whirring of the film projector. Usually I am not a fan of this kind of work having seen enough ‘Dead Pan’ photography and photography of empty yet supposedly important spaces in my life, but here Dean’s film makes the experience come alive and actually mean something. Her work transcends the subject matter – and matter is at the point where these interstitial spaces have been marked by the abstract signs of human existence that constantly surround us.

In ‘Michael Hamburger’ (2007) Dean reaches the empito-me of these personal narratives that inhabit everyday life. Film of an orchard with wind rustling through the trees, clouds drifting across the sky, rotting apples on the branches, fallen fruit on the ground and a clearing with a man looking up at the trees is accompanied by the industrial sounds of clicks and pops like that of an old radio (see photograph above). The swirling sound of the wind surrounds you in the darkened gallery space much as the panoramic screen of the projection seems to enfold you. The scene swaps to an interior of a house and shows the man, has face mainly in shadow, the film focusing on the different type of apples in front of him or on the aged wrinkles of his hands holding the apples. He talks intelligently and knowingly about the different types of apples and their rarity and qualities. This is Michael Hamburger (now dead which adds poignancy to the film) – poet, critic, memoirist and academic notable for his translations of the work of W. G. Sebald, one of Tacita Dean’s main influences (and also an author that I love dearly).
One can see echoes of Sebald’s work in that of Tacita Dean  – the personal narratives accompanied by mythical and historical stories and pictures. The tactility of Hamburger’s voice and hands, his caressing of the apples with the summary justice of the tossing away of rotten apples to stop them ruining the rest of the crop is arresting and holds you transfixed. Old varieties and old hands mixed with the old technology of film make for a nostalgic combination. As John Matthews of ArtKritique has so insightfully observed in his review of this work Dean implicitly understands how objects can be elegies for fleeting lives.

After this work one should have a break – go to the front of the gallery and have a coffee and relax because this is an exhausting show!

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The rest of the exhibition tends to tail off slightly, with less engaging but still interesting works.

In ‘Die Regimentstochter’ (2005) (the name of a Donizetti opera) Dean uses a pile of 36 found and mutilated old opera and theatre programs from the 1930s and 1940s such as Staats Theatre, Berlin, Der Tanz and Deutsche Openhaus. These programs have had portions of their front covers roughly but clinically cut to reveal the inner pages beneath (see image below) and Dean uses them to comment on the politicisation of culture in Berlin’s mid-20th century history. The top of a powdered wigged head or the face of Beethoven has been revealed when the title of the work has been neatly removed along with something else:

“Each programme gives a tantalising glimpse of a title or a face through a small window cut into the embossed cover; we recognise Beethoven, Rossini, the face of a singer perhaps. When and by whom this incision in the cover was made, very neatly one might add, even more why these disfigured programmes were kept remains a mystery. A swift search in an archive would easily show what has been removed; most likely an embossed swastika, for these performances all happened during the Third Reich. Why they were removed is left to our imaginations; perhaps an avid theatre-goer livid at the co-option of culture by the regime, perhaps someone afraid they might be misinterpreted as fascist memorabilia, while wishing to retain the memories these performances triggered.”3

High up on a wall opposite these programs is the film ‘Palast’ (2004) in which Dean reflects Berlin’s divided history in the jaded façade of the once iconic Palast, the government building of the former German Democratic Republic.4 Shards of light hit glass and reflections are fractured in their gridded panes (see images below). A bird is seen flying, viewed through the window and we see the stains on that window but in this film things feel a bit forced. Unlike the earlier ‘Darmstädter Werkblock’ there is little magic here.

Again the minutiae of existence is examined in the final two films ‘Noir et Blanc’ (2006), made on the last 5 rolls of Dean’s black and white double-sided 16mm film stock and ‘Kodak’ (2006), both made at the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône before it closed it’s film production facilities (see images below). With the demise of the medium that she feels closest to Dean sought permission to film at the factory itself and both films examine that medium by turning it on itself.

“Dean became acutely aware of the threat to her chosen medium when she was unable to obtain standard 16mm black-and-white film for her camera. Upon discovering that the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, was closing its film production facility, Dean obtained permission to document the manufacture of film at the factory, where cameras have never before been invited. The resulting rear-screen projection ‘Noir et Blanc’, filmed on the final five rolls Dean acquired, turns the medium on itself. The 44-minute-long work ‘Kodak’ constitutes a contemplative elegy for the approaching demise of a medium specific to Dean’s own practice. Kodak’s narrative follows the making of celluloid as it runs through several miles of machinery and explores the abandoned corners of the factory. On the day of filming, the factory also ran a test through the system with brown paper, providing a rare opportunity to see the facilities fully illuminated, without the darkness needed to prevent exposure, and underscoring the luster of the celluloid as the dull brown strips contrast with the luminous, transparent polyester.”5

As writer Tony Lloyd has commented, “The film “Kodak” documenting the manufacturing of film was as solemn and reverent as a Catholic mass and equally as dull and inexplicable.”6 I wouldn’t go that far but by the end of the exhibition the nostalgia for old technologies, the brown paper programs and the film strip as relic were starting to wear a bit thin, like the sprockets of an old film camera failing to take up the film.

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At her best Tacita Dean is a fantastic artist whose work examines the measure of things, the vibrations of spirit in the FLUX of experience. Her work has a trance-like quality that is heavy with nostalgia and memory and reflects the machine-ations of contemporary life. In her languorous (thankyou Tony Lloyd for that word, so appropriate I had to use it!) and dense work Dean teases out the significance of insignificant actions/events and imparts meaning and life to them. This is no small achievement!

As an exhibition this is an intense and moving experience. Go, take your time and enjoy!

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Tacita Dean. 'Die Regimentstochter' 2005

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Tacita Dean
‘Die Regimentstochter’
2005

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Tacita Dean. 'Palast' 2004

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Tacita Dean. 'Palast' 2004

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Tacita Dean. Two stills from the film ‘Palast’
2004

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“A major survey of work by the internationally acclaimed British artist Tacita Dean will open at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) on June 6th, 2009.

In a great coup for Melbourne, fourteen recent projects by this celebrated contemporary artist will come together in what is the largest survey of Dean’s work to ever be shown outside of Europe.

Tacita Dean is one of Britain’s most accomplished and celebrated contemporary artists. She won the New York Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss award in 2007, was a Turner Prize nominee in 1998, and has had numerous solo exhibitions in Europe – at the Schaulager in Basel, DIA Beacon in New York, the de Pont Museum in the Netherlands, the Tate Britain, UK, the Musee d’art Moderne in Paris, France and the Villa Oppenheim in Berlin, to mention just a few.

Dean was also recently given the highly prestigious title of Royal Academician, awarded sparingly to alumni’s of the revered London art school who have achieved greatness in their work.

Tacita Dean was born in Canterbury in 1965, and moved to Berlin in 2000 after being awarded a DAAD residency. Early works focused on the sea – most famously she explored the tragic maritime misadventures of amateur English sailor Donald Crowhurst. Since moving to Berlin she has devoted her attention to the architecture and cultural history of Germany, a recurring theme also being the salvaging, saving and collecting of things lost. Many of her works rest on the icons of modernism, heroic failures and forgotten utopian ideals.

Dean is best known for her work with 16mm film, although she also works with photography, print and drawing. The qualities of filmmaking itself play a central role in her works – which hauntingly capture the passing of time, space and the mysteries of the natural world.

Her work occupies a place between fact and fiction. As British author Jeanette Winterson says, “Her genius, with her slow, steady, held frames, is to allow the viewer to dream; to enter without hurry, without expectation, and to accept, as we do in a dream, a different experience of time, and a different relationship to everyday objects.”

Included in this exhibition is Dean’s revered film installation, ‘Merce Cunningham Performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007, which was recently presented at the DIA Beacon in New York, and the 2007 work Michael Hamburger. Two new wall-based works especially created for this exclusive ACCA exhibition will also feature.

Dean is also known for creating ‘asides’ – totally absorbing texts on the subjects explored in her work. She will contribute texts on all the projects included in the exhibition for a catalogue which will be published to coincide with this unique ACCA survey.

The exhibition has been curated by ACCA’s Artistic Director, Juliana Engberg and follows an early 2002 exhibition of Dean’s work curated by Engberg for the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

“Tacita’s works continue to enthral and inspire me. Not only has she rescued relics from history and restored them with a visual dignity and affection in her wonderful film projects, but increasingly she rescues the traditional art forms of drawing, print making, painting, photography and film from a digital abyss,” says Juliana Engberg. “Her works have a truth and quiddity about them, but also a playful artifice and technical tactic to bring out the tactile and material in all she deals with. Tacita is a sublime story-teller, a narrator of odysseys and attempts. She is a true artist sojourner.

In this selection of works made since 2004 we grasp the breadth of her practice and her pursuit of the time-honoured landscape, portrait and abstract genres,” she says.”

Text from the press release from the ACCA website

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Tacita Dean. 'Noir et Blanc [Still]' 2006

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Tacita Dean
‘Noir et Blanc [Still]‘
16mm black-and-white Kodak film
2006

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Tacita Dean. 'Kodak' 2006

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Tacita Dean
‘Kodak’
16mm colour and b/w film optical sound
44 minutes loop system
2006

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Australia Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

111 Sturt Street
Southbank 
Victoria 3006
Australia
03 9697 9999

Opening Hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment 
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

ACCA website

Tacita Dean website

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1. Dean, Tacita quoted in Bunbury, Stephen.“Still Lives,” in The Age. Melbourne: Fairfax Publishing, A2 section, Saturday June 6th, 2009. p.20.

2. Winterson, Jeanette, quoted in Bunbury, Stephen.“Still Lives,” in The Age. Melbourne: Fairfax Publishing, A2 section, Saturday June 6th, 2009. p.20.

3. Anonymous. Product synopsis from ‘Tacita Dean Die Regimentstochter’ [Paperback] on the Amazon website [Online] Cited 19/07/2009.

4. Anonymous. Description of ‘Tacita Dean: ‘Palast” on the Tate St. Ives website [Online] Cited 19/07/2009.

5. Anonymous. ‘The Hugo Boss Prize: Tacita Dean’ on the Guggenheim Museum website [Online] Cited 19/07/2009.

6. Lloyd, Tony. ‘Opnion: Tacita Dean at ACCA’ on ArtInfo.com.au [Online] Cited 19/07/2009.

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24
Jan
09

Review: ‘The Water Hole’ exhibition by Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger at ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art), Melbourne

“Warning. Watch your step while gazing at distant view.”

Sign at entrance to the exhibition. 

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. Entrance to 'The Waterhole' exhibition at ACCA, Melbourne, 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
Entrance to ‘The Water Hole’ exhibition at ACCA, Melbourne
2009

 

A cave like entrance presents itself to the visitor as they enter the exhibition leading to a long winding tunnel that is lined with silver insulation foil and tree branches, lit by floor mounted electric light bulbs. The foil moves with the natural movement of air causing not a rustling of leaves but of artificial surfaces.

At the end of the tunnel the viewer enters a large installation space, confronted with a effusive pop art Garden of Eden, a Magic Forest. It takes a while to work out what is going on, there are so many elements to the sculptural piece. The main elements are buckets, toilets, basins and drainage pipes, plumbing fittings that all lead to a bed with a drying dam in the centre of a satin bedspread: the ‘waterhole’ of the exhibition title. The waterhole is fed by water dripping from a medical bag suspended high in the air above the dam, a nice touch. The rest of the forest and pipes are dry. The installation comments on our water supplies and the ‘technologies of production’ (Foucault) that permit us to produce, transform or manipulate things. We might install rainwater tanks to catch water but if there is no water to catch in the first place then we are in trouble: we make our bed and have to lie in it, the empty basins like our catchment areas, dry and bleak. 

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. 'The Waterhole' 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
‘The Water Hole’
2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. 'The Waterhole' 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
‘The Water Hole’
2009

 

Other elements of the forest have an environmental theme, the installation developed by the artists in response to the extensive drought most of Australia (and it particular Melbourne) is experiencing. Here are spiders with hairy legs and mobile phones for bodies infesting the installation, plumbing fittings with natural seeds sprouting from their ends, brightly coloured crystal forms fed each day with water by gallery staff so that they grow. An upside down umbrella with Polar bear images printed on it’s material has imaginary water draining down a bamboo pipe into a bucket; empty water bottles form a large nest with broken eggs inside; artificial plants, bones, crabs, seaweed and flying stuffed owls are form some of the other elements in the installation.

 

 Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. 'The Waterhole' 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
‘The Water Hole’
2009

 

Climbing a few steps we enter a ‘bird’ watching gallery replete with binoculars to observe the humans in the forest as much as the forest itself. A water cooler sits incongruously in this watching space, silent and somehow complicit in its ironical presence.

The viewer then moves to another room. 4 video projectors display another water themed installation on the gallery walls, the videos meeting in the middle of the walls and reflecting each other. Ambient music accompanies images of rain!, spurting water, owls and plastic pipes, plastic flowers and plastic horses as the viewer relaxes on a waterbed in the middle of the space. The effect of the music and images is quite meditative when combined with the gentle rocking of the waterbed, the projections of the video forming kaleidoscopic ‘Northern lights’ on the ceiling of the gallery. This room is an extension of the themes of the large installation.

 

 Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. Installation view of waterbed at 'The Waterhole' exhibition at ACCA, 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
Installation view of waterbed at ‘The Water Hole’ exhibition at ACCA, Melbourne
2009

 

 

Moving forward the viewer enters another room – the meditation room. This room is most effective in encouraging contemplation of the different planes of our existence and our orientation in (environmental) space.

Three beds are present – one suspended from the ceiling by four metal rods. Climbing onto this bed the movement from side to side caused by your weight makes you feel seasick and slightly disorientated. Above the second table is a wonderful mobile made of twigs, branches, dried leaves, plastic flowers, beads, plastic bags, baby dummies and jewellery moving gently in the breeze. Lying on the table with the mobile about a foot above your head things drift in and out of view as you change the focus of your eyes – close, mid, far and then onto the moving shadows on the ceiling.

The most effective bed has a small meteorite suspended in a net bag above it. The viewer slides underneath the ‘rock’ placing the meteorite about a foot or so above your face. The meteorite is brown, dark and heavy, swinging slightly above your ‘third eye’. You feel its weight pressing down on your energy, on your life force and you feel how old this object is, how far it has traveled, how fragile and mortal you are. It is a sobering and enlightening experience but what an experience it is! 

Entering the final room small colour photos of people being hugged from behind and lifted into the air, laughing, line the gallery walls. These are the weakest elements of the exhibition and seem to bear no relation to all that has passed before.

Running off of this gallery is an alcove that is a dead end, a full stop to the exhibition with an installation ‘Desalination plant for tears’. 

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. Installation view of 'Desalination plant for tears' from 'The Water Hole' exhibition at ACCA, Melbourne, 2009


Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. Installation view of 'Desalination plant for tears'  (detail) from 'The Water Hole' exhibition at ACCA, Melbourne, 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
Installation view of ‘Desalination plant for tears’ from ‘The Water Hole’ exhibition at ACCA, Melbourne
2009

 

A cheap Formica desk sits at the end of the space. Perched above the desk is a tv showing live black and white images of the earlier bird watching gallery – the watcher now the watched. On the desk itself is a microscope (with slide of human tears), pencil, a candle for heat under a glass flask of water (looking like a spider  from the large installation!) and various glass test tubes and vials. A diagram explains the working of a ‘Desalination plant for tears’ an analogous reference to the desalination plant earmarked for Wonthaggi, south-east of Melbourne.

Irony is again present in the ‘2 leaves grown at Singapore Airport by desalinated water (2008)’, two framed, brown dead leaves, and in the ‘Tear system’ diagram where glands have turned into forests and the eye into a lake (see below).

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. Diagram from 'Desalination plant for tears' from the exhibition 'The Water Hole' at ACCA, Melbourne, 2009

 

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger
Diagram from ‘Desalination plant for tears’ from the exhibition ‘The Water Hole’ at ACCA, Melbourne
2009

 

This is a magical and poignant exhibition that is a joy for children and adults alike. Children love it running around exploring the environments. Adults love it for it’s magical, witty and intelligent response to the problems facing our planet and our lives. Go and enjoy this interplanetary collision. Highly recommended!

 

 

Exhibition dates: 23 December 2008 – 1 March 2009 

More information on the ACCA website

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger website 

25
Nov
08

Louise Bourgeois. “TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME” 2006

Louise Bourgeois. “TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME” 2006

 

Louise Bourgeois
“TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME”
2006




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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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