Archive for the 'Bill Viola' Category

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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16
Oct
10

Video: ‘Tristan’s Ascension’ and ‘Fire Woman’ by Bill Viola at St Carthages Church, Parkville

Installation dates: 8th October – 23rd October 2010, Mon – Sat 7.30pm – 10pm

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Anybody who reads this blog regularly will know my love of the work of Bill Viola. This installation of two immersive video and sound works at St. Carthage’s church in Parkville is no exception. What an experience. I came out of the church after an aural and visual bombardment and moments of reflection so excited by the visceral experience that I phoned a friend a babbled for a few minutes about the works and how I felt. They made me feel so exhilerated and alive!

After watching the videos through first time around I made the notes below the second time of viewing – a kind of mental sketch of what I seeing and feeling. Go see!

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Stone

cold

man pure white

rumble, subterranean underwater sounds

small drops – float upwards

water flowing backwards, heavier, hovering like a sword of Damocles, heavier, heavier

Torrent, elemental, body arches, thrown around – TEMPEST! SOUND!

White light, raging waters, body levitating and ascending, Christ-like …. disappears

Water slows, stops to quietness, sound on a corrugated roof

empty stone, reflection

drips

splashes

drops of ascending water like stars twinkling in the night sky

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……………………o

….o……………………………….o

……………………..o

…………..o………………o

….o……………………o

………..o……….o……………..0

………………………o

………..o

………………………….o

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Fire         [ROAR]

dark angel, walks forward, camera changes angles

WALL of fire       ||||||||||||||||

hell, the sun, conflagration of the apocalypse

Opens arms, falls backwards into a pool of water —— CRASH – SHOCK – SOUND ASSAULTS YOU!

Disappears

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Ripples of water/fire: camera closes in, distorting fire

Sounds becomes muffled

Yellow reflections ………………..almost nuclear, atomic, abstract (like a wonderful Richter!)

————————–

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gurlging sound of water, slow ripples reflecting fire and oil, fire dying out

intense blue/black, like tadpoles in a stream or the embers of darkness

Beauty

Contemplation

feeling: of life, of place in the world, of mortality … of the ineffable.

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Many thankx to the Melbourne International Arts Festival for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. There is a poor quality U Tube video of both works that gives you an idea of their impact.

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Bill Viola
Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall)
2005
Video/sound installation
Performer: John Hay
Photos: Kira Perov
Courtesy Bill Viola Studio and Kaldor Public Art Projects

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“Pioneering American artist Bill Viola has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art. For over 35 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces and works for television broadcast. His video installations – total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound – employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. His next major commission is the creation of two permanent altar pieces for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

For the 2010 Melbourne Festival, in partnership with Kaldor Public Art Projects, St Carthage’s Catholic Church in Parkville is turned into a video art shrine complete with the latest technology, surround sound and enveloping operatic narrative. Shown in a continuous loop, the two works, Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension, combine for a 20 minute visual and aural experience that extends Viola’s lifelong engagement with the human condition into ancient themes of life, love and death.

These two immersive installations are derived from Viola’s creation for Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde directed by Peter Sellars. Now separated from the opera, the stunning installations feature mythical and mystical apparitions set to their own new soundtrack, and can be experienced in all their glory in the sacred surrounds of St Carthage’s.

Bill Viola (b.1951) is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach. For over 35 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations – total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound – employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. They are shown in museums and galleries worldwide and are found in many distinguished collections. His single channel videotapes have been widely broadcast and presented cinematically, while his writings have been extensively published, and translated for international readers. Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences – birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness – and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.”

Text from the Melbourne International Arts Festival website

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Bill Viola
Fire Woman
2005
Video/sound installation
Performer: Robin Bonaccorsi
Photos: Kira Perov
Courtesy Bill Viola Studio and Kaldor Public Art Projects

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St Carthages, Parkville
123 Royal Parade
Parkville 3052

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21
Apr
10

Exhibition: ‘Desire’ at The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas

Exhibition dates: 5th February – 25th April, 2010

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Many thankx to the Blanton Museum of Art for allowing me to reproduce images from the exhibition in the post.

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Olaf Breuning
‘Brian’
2008
C-print
60 x 70 inches
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

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Glenn Ligon
‘Lest We Forget’
1998
Series including cast aluminum or bronze plaques, color photographs of plaques on site
Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

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Valeska Soares
‘Duet’
2008
Hand-carved white marble
Installation dimensions variable
Private Collection

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Tracey Emin
‘You Should Have Loved Me’
2008
Warm white neon
Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

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“This February, The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin investigates the notion of desire in an exhibition of the same name. Curated by Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Blanton curator of American and contemporary art and director of curatorial affairs, the exhibition features over fifty works from an international group of contemporary artists working in all media, including Glenn Ligon, Marilyn Minter, Petah Coyne, Bill Viola, Tracey Emin, Isaac Julien and many others. The accompanying illustrated catalogue will contain texts by art critics, fiction writers, poets, performing and visual artists, all written in direct response to the works of art in the exhibition.

Carlozzi states, “”Desire” is a complex human emotion and a driving force in our lives from childhood through old age. We all can recall examples of literature, film, and music that are rife with expressions of physical desire, but how do contemporary visual artists portray it, and all its attendant psychological states – anticipation, arousal, longing, regret, and so on? “Desire” assembles a really broad range of compelling works that together present a surprisingly diverse portrait of the experience.”

One provocative aspect of the exhibition is not its imagery, per se, but the manner by which many of the works translate intimate experiences into art ¾ a public expression. Marilyn Minter’s “Crystal Swallow” would seem to capture a private moment of visceral response, yet in such detail and exaggerated scale that it becomes a grotesque advertisement for arousal. Glenn Ligon’s series, “Lest We Forget”, commemorates those flickers of romantic fantasy that sometimes occur while people watching. And Tracey Emin’s “You Should Have Loved Me” is an accusation from a lover scorned, created with the neon light of public signage as if to broadcast raw feeling to an uncaring world.

Works by Kalup Linzy, William Villalongo, Olaf Breuning, James Drake, Petah Coyne, Gajin Fugita, Georganne Deen, Adam Pendleton, Peter Saul, Valeska Soares, Danica Phelps, Miguel Angel Rojas, Mads Lynnerup, Rochelle Feinstein, Richard Prince, Laurel Nakadate, Jesse Amado, Isabell Heimerdinger, Alejandro Cesarco, Eve Sussman, Robert Kushner, Luisa Lambri, Chris Doyle, and a dozen others, provide an engaging multi-generational exploration of desire. In addition, an informed selection of works of art from The Blanton’s print collection will add a historic counterpoint to the contemporary works on view.”

Press release from The Blanton Museum of Art website

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Will Villalongo
‘The Last Days of Eden’
2009
Cut velour paper
Courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York

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Petah Coyne
‘Untitled #1103 (Daphne)’
2002-3
Mixed media
77 x 83 x 86 inches
Collection of Julie and John Thornton

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Bill Viola
‘Becoming Light’
2005
Color High-Definition video on plasma display mounted on wall
47.6 in x 28.5 in x 4 in (121 cm x 72.5 cm x 10.2 cm)
Performers: John Hay, Sarah Steben
Photo: Kira Perov
Courtesy Bill Viola Studio

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Marilyn Minter
‘Crystal Swallow’
2006
Enamel on metal
Promised gift of Jeanne and Michael Klein, 2007

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Blanton Museum of Art
MLK at Congress (200 East MLK)
Austin, Texas 78701

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday from 10 – 5, Saturday 11 – 5, and Sunday 1 – 5

The Blanton Museum of Art website

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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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24
Feb
09

Review: ‘Ocean Without A Shore’ video installation by Bill Viola at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

“Ocean Without a Shore is about the presence of the dead in our lives. The three stone altars in the church of San Gallo become portals for the passage of the dead to and from our world. Presented as a series of encounters at the intersection between life and death, the video sequence documents a succession of individuals slowly approaching out of darkness and moving into the light. Each person must then break through an invisible threshold of water and light in order to pass into the physical world. Once incarnate however, all beings realise that their presence is finite and so they must eventually turn away from material existence to return from where they came. The cycle repeats without end.”

Bill Viola
25 May 2007
Text © Bill Viola 2007


 

 

 

The work was inspired by a poem by the twentieth century Senegalese poet and storyteller Birago Diop:

 

Hearing things more than beings,
listening to the voice of fire,
the voice of water.
Hearing in wind the weeping bushes,
sighs of our forefathers.

The dead are never gone:
they are in the shadows.
The dead are not in earth:
they’re in the rustling tree,
the groaning wood,
water that runs,
water that sleeps;
they’re in the hut, in the crowd,
the dead are not dead.

The dead are never gone,
they’re in the breast of a woman,
they’re in the crying of a child,
in the flaming torch.

The dead are not in the earth:
they’re in the dying fire,
the weeping grasses,
whimpering rocks,
they’re in the forest, they’re in the house,
the dead are not dead.

 

Text from the Ocean Without A Shore website www.oceanwithoutashore.com/ 

 

 

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

 

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

 

Bill Viola. 'Ocean Without A Shore' 2007 original video installation at church of San Gallo

 

Bill Viola
‘Ocean Without A Shore’
2007
Original installation at church of San Gallo

 

 

Originally installed inside the intimate 15th century Venetian church of San Gallo as part of the 2007 Venice Biennale incorporating its internal architecture into the piece using the three existing stone altars as support for the video screens, the installation has been recreated in a small darkened room at The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

And what an installation it is.

Deprived of the ornate surroundings of the altars of the Venetian chapel, altars that Viola has said “that as per the original development of the origins of Christianity these alters actually are a place where the dead kind of reside and connect with those of us, the living, who are here on earth. And they really are a connection between a cross, between a tomb and an alter – a place to pray,”1 the viewer is forced into concentrating on the images themselves. I believe this is no bad thing, stripping away as it does connotations of religious institutions responses to mortality.

In the work Viola combines the use of a primitive twenty five year old security black and white analogue video surveillance camera with a high definition colour video camera through the use of a special mirror prism system. This technology allows for the seamless combination of both inputs: the dead appear far off in a dark obscure place as grey ghosts in a sea of pulsating ‘noise’ and gradually walk towards you, crossing the invisible threshold of a transparent water wall that separates the dead from the living, to appear in the space transformed into a detailed colour image. As they do so the sound that accompanies the transformation grows in intensity reminding me of a jet aircraft. You the viewer are transfixed watching every detail as the ghosts appear into the light.

The performances of the actors (for this is what they are) are slow and poignant. As Viola has observed, “I spent time with each person individually talking with them and you know when you speak with people, you realise then that everybody has experienced some kind of loss in their life, great and small. So you speak with them, you work with them, you spend time and that comes to the surface while we were working on this project together, you know? I didn’t want to over-direct them because I knew that the water would have this kind of visual effect and so they were able to, I think, use this piece on their own and a lot of them had their own stories of coming back and visiting a relative perhaps, who had died.”1

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.

 

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

 

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

 

 

A friend who I went with said that the images reminded her not of the dead temporarily coming back to life, but the birth of a new life – the breaking of water at the birth of a child. The performers seemed to her to behave like children brought anew into the world. One of my favourite moments was when the three screens were filled with just noise and a figure then appears out of the beyond, a dim and distant outline creating a transcendental moment. Unfortunately there are no images of these grainy figures. As noted below Viola uses a variety of different ethnic groups and cultures for his performers but the one very small criticism I have is they have no real individuality as people – there are no bikers with tattoos, no cross dressers, no punks because these do not serve his purpose. There is the black woman, the old woman, the middle aged man, the younger 30s man in black t-shirt: these are generic archetypes of humanity moulded to Viola’s artistic vision.

Viola has commented, “I think I have designed a piece that’s open ended enough, where the people and the range of people, the kind of people we chose are from various ethnic groups and cultures. And I think that the feeling of more this is a piece about humanity and it’s about the fragility of life, like the borderline between life and death is actually not a hard wall, it’s not to be opened with a lock and key, its actually very fragile, very tenuous.  You can cross it like that in an instant and I think religions, you know institutions aside, I think just the nature of our awareness of death is one of the things that in any culture makes human beings have that profound feeling of what we call the human condition and that’s really something I am really interested in. I think this piece really has a lot to do with, you know, our own mortality and all that that means.”1

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Bill Viola website

National Gallery of Victoria International website

 

1. TateShots. Venice Biennale: Bill Viola. 30 June 2007.
www.tate.org.uk/tateshots/episode.jsp?item=10088




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

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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