Posts Tagged ‘National Gallery of Victoria



11
Jun
09

Exhibition photographs: ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Melbourne Winter Masterpieces at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th June – 4th October 2009

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You saw it first on Art Blart!

Installation photographs from the latest Winter Masterpieces blockbuster from the media preview on the day the exhibition opened at NGV International, Melbourne. Thank you to Jemma Altmeier, Media and Public Affairs Administrator at the NGV for the invitation. Photographs were taken using a digital camera, tripod and available light. There is a posting on the Melbourne Jeweller blog about this exhibition, complete with interesting drawings of the jewellery – well worth a look.

Fantastic to see my friend and curator of the exhibition, Dr Ted Gott, at the opening. Congratulations on a wonderful show!

Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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© All photographs copyright Marcus Bunyan 2009 and the National Gallery of Victoria. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be reproduced without permission.

Do you need a photographer for your exhibition, opening or installation in Melbourne?
Please contact
Marcus Bunyan for more information.

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Photographs proceed from the beginning to the end of the exhibition in chronological order.

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Entrance to the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Entrance to the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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3 panel video installation of the Catalan countryside around where Salvador Dali lived

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3 panel video installation of the Catalan countryside where Salvador Dali lived. 13 minutes duration.

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Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Early work from the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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To the left ‘View of the Cadaques from the Creus Tower’ 1923; to the right ‘Table in front of the Sea. Homage to Eric Satie’ 1926

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Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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In the centre ‘The First Days of Spring’ 1929; to the right ‘Surrealist composition’ 1928

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dali-installation-j

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Installation view with The Age art critic Associate Professor Robert Nelson at centre right

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Installation view with ‘Memory of the child-woman’ 1932 at right

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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‘Lobster Telephone’ 1936

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Jewellery Gallery at the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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Television with film installation at 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Televisions with film installation at ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Installation of black and white photography with Dr Ted Gott, curator of the exhibition, with back to camera at centre

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Reproduction of ‘Gala foot. Stereoscopic paintings’ 1975 – 76 in an installation using mirrors that would have been originally used to obtain the stereoscopic effect

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Final exhibition space at ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Final gallery space at the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition featuring ‘The Ecumenical Council’ 1960

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National Gallery of Victoria (International)
180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Opening hours: ‘Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire’ is open 7 days a week and until 9pm every Wednesday from 17 June

Tickets
Adult: $23
Concession: $18
Child: $11 (ages 5-15)
Family (2 adults + 3 children): $60
NGV Member Adult: $16
NGV Member Family: $40

Unlimited entry tickets
Adult: $55
Concession: $45
NGV Member Adult: $40

National Gallery of Victoria Dali website

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18
May
09

Exhibition: ‘Light Years: Photography and Space’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 8th May – 27th September, 2009

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A small but fun show at NGV International, Melbourne that is drawing in the crowds. A selection of beautiful, breathtaking images from NASA really takes you into space. I had a great time researching and finding the images from the exhibition on the NASA Images website!

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Neil Armstrong. 'Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon near the leg of the Lunar Module (LM)' 1969

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Neil Armstrong
‘Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon near the leg of the Lunar Module (LM)’
1969

Note the reflection of the shadow of the astronaut, the photographer and the leg of the LM in the visor of Buzz Aldrin.

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“In 1948, the British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle speculated that “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available, we shall, in an emotional sense, acquire an additional dimension … and a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Hoyle encapsulated the immense anticipation that was felt in the mid-twentieth century, when the idea of leaving Earth and viewing it from afar was on the verge of becoming reality.

When astronauts and spacecraft began exploring our solar system, it was the photographs from these voyages which visualised the reality of the epic feats of science, engineering and human imagination. These photographs transcended a strictly scientific purpose and depicted scenes of unexpected and sublime beauty.

This exhibition brings together works from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria that depict space travel, seen in archival images from NASA, space allegories, and altered perceptions of reality inspired by ideas of science and space. These photographs also show a fascination with light, as both the means and the subject of the image.

The exhibition focuses largely on the 1960s and 1970s – an exciting time for the artistic and scientific exploration of worlds beyond our own. These were ‘light years’, in which people looked up to the skies and beyond, in a real and an imagined sense, and through photography discovered additional dimensions.”

Text from the NGV International website

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Raymond De Berquelle. 'Where do you come from? Planet Earth (Self-portrait with radio telescope)' 1968

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Raymond De Berquelle
‘Where do you come from? Planet Earth (Self-portrait with radio telescope)’
1968

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John Wilkins. 'Alien Icicle' c. 1970

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John Wilkins
‘Alien Icicle’
c. 1970

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Charles Conrad. 'Astronaut Bean, Apollo XII, November 1969, on moon' 1969

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Charles Conrad
‘Astronaut Bean, Apollo XII, November 1969, on moon’
1969

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‘Light Years: Photography and Space‘ will feature around 50 works drawn entirely from the NGV Collection. Focusing largely on the 1960s and ‘70s, the exhibition will include photographs taken during early NASA missions. The exhibition celebrates the International Year of Astronomy and the 40th anniversary of the first Moon walk.

Maggie Finch, Assistant Curator, Photography, NGV said that cameras were used to give form to both the fantasies and realities of space travel, revealing extra dimensions and animating space.

“The 1960s and ‘70s were an exciting time for the artistic and scientific exploration of worlds beyond our own. They were ‘light years’ in which people looked up to the skies and beyond, in a real and an imagined sense, and through photography discovered additional dimensions. The photographs in Light Years represent a giant leap forward in the collective journey into space. They retain the extraordinary sense of awe and wonderment that encapsulates our first encounters with a larger universe,” said Ms Finch.

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Pioneer 11. 'Image of Saturn and it's Moon Titan' 1979

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Pioneer 11
‘Image of Saturn and it’s moon Titan’
1979

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Voyager 1. 'Photocollage of Jupiter and its four moons' 1979

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Voyager 1
‘Photocollage of Jupiter and its four moons’
1979

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Apollo 12. 'View of two U.S. spacecraft on the surface of the moon, taken during the second Apollo 12 extravehicular activity (EVA-2)' 1969

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Apollo 12
‘View of two U.S. spacecraft on the surface of the moon, taken during the second Apollo 12 extravehicular activity (EVA-2)’
1969

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A highlight of the exhibition is a collection of more than 30 NASA photographs, on display for the first time in over twenty years. Among the NASA selection are many celebrated space photographs, including the iconic image of Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr standing on the lunar surface, taken in 1969 by Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the Moon.

These remarkable photographs will be on display alongside works by Sir George Pollock, John Wilkins Raymond de Berquelle, Dacre Stubbs, Val Foreman, Susan Fereday, Olive Cotton and Ronnie van Hout – artists who have been inspired by, and have responded to, the mysteries of space and science.

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “The photography from the NASA missions of the 1960s and ‘70s has a fascinating yet nostalgic quality, particularly when one considers the advances in both science and photographic technology since that time. These early photographs of space changed our awareness and offered a new understanding of the Earth, the universe and our shared existence within it. Coinciding with the International Year of Astronomy and the 40th anniversary of the first Moon walk, this exhibition will delight viewers, providing a glimpse into another dimension,” said Ms Lindsay.”

Text from Artdaily.org website

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Skylab. 'Three Skylab 2 crewmen demonstrate the effects of weightlessness' 1973

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Skylab
‘Three Skylab 2 crewmen demonstrate the effects of weightlessness’
1973

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Skylab. 'Solar Flare recorded by NASA Skylab, December 1973' 1973

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Skylab
‘Solar Flare recorded by NASA Skylab, December 1973′
1973

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National Gallery of Victoria International

180, St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Opening hours: 10 – 5pm, Closed Tuesdays.

NGV International website

All NASA images are from the NASA Images website

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20
Mar
09

Review: ‘Order and disorder: archives and photography’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2008 – 19th April 2009

 

“Archives contain elements of truth and error, order and disorder and are infinitely fascinating. As both collections of records and repositories of data, archives are able to shape history and memory depending on how, when and by whom the materials are accessed. Their vastness allows for multiple readings to be unravelled over time.

Photography is naturally associated with archives because of its inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images. With this in mind, this exhibition brings together artists drawn largely from the permanent collection of the NGV who explore the idea of archives as complex, living and occasionally mysterious systems of knowledge. Several of the selected artists act as archivists, collecting and ordering their own unique bodies of photographs, while others create disorder by critiquing the ideas and systems of archives.”

Text from the NGV International website

 

 Patrick Pound. 'Writing in a library' 1996

 

Patrick POUND
New Zealander 1962–, worked in Australia 1989–
Writing in a library 1996
photocopies, oil stick, card
169.4 x 127.2 cm (image); 180.2 x 137.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Patrick Pound  

 

 

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

T.S. Eliot


An interesting exhibition is presented in the permanent third floor photography gallery at NGV International, Melbourne on a subject that deserved a much more rigorous investigation than could been undertaken in this small gallery space. Presenting single works by Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Patrick Pound, Robert Rooney, Simon Obarzanek, Penelope Davis, Candid Hofer, Linda Judge and Charles Green and Lyndell Brown the works seek to investigate the nature of the relationship between photography and the archive, between the semi-permanences of an archival memory and the spaces of a transgressive intertexuality marked by fragmentary, ironic counter-performances.

As noted in the catalogue essay by NGV curator Maggie Finch the archive is a place for holding knowledge that contains elements of truth and error, order and disorder; archives are able to shape history and memory, depending on how, when and by whom the records are accessed. Any disruption of order, governance and authority can lead to alternative readings and interpretations as the arcane ‘mysteries’ of the methods of classification are overturned. Since Victorian times when the body came under the self-surveillance of the camera and was found wanting, photographs have documented the faces of criminals, the physiognomy of degeneration and the fever of war.

As Yiannis Papatheodorou has observed when reviewing Jacques Derrida Mal d’Archive

“Derrida declares that since the dominant power of the archive derives from the economy of knowledge, it also provides the institutional responsibility of the interpretation. The localisation of the information transforms the inscription, provided by the function of the archive, into the impression of a memory’s trace, conscious or unconscious …
The preservation of memory, the access to information, the “resources” of the sources and the working environment are not just the representation of a future memory. They are active practices and discourses that create hierarchies and exclusions. The archives are the languages of the past, activated however dialogically, according to scientific and social demands. The content of our choice is marked by the way we are seeking information. Far from being an abstract principle, our choice is an ideologically oriented negotiation closely related to the politics of interpretation.”1


An there’s the rub. Not only is this exhibition a reordering of an unpublished memory by the artist (for that is what an archive is, a unique unpublished memory whereas a book has multiple copies) it is also a reiteration of the authority of the gallery itself, the “institutional responsibility of the interpretation.”2 Deciding what was in this exhibition and what to leave out creates hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion – and in this case the inclusions are mainly ‘safe’ works, ones that challenge the ontology of existence, the cataloguing of reality in a slightly ironic way but oh – nothing too shocking! nothing too disordered! Nothing here then of the archive of images that substantiate the horrors of war, the trans/disfiguration of men in both World Wars for example. There are few images to haunt us, none to refresh our memories in a problematic way.

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed RUSCHA
American 1937–
Every building on the Sunset Strip 1966 
artist book: photo-offset lithographs, letterpress, concertina, cardboard cover, silver-coated plastic-covered slipcase, 1st edition
17.8 x 760.7 cm (open); 17.8 x 14.4 x 0.8 cm (closed); 18.6 x 14.6 x 1.4 cm (slipcase)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Ed Ruscha, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York

 

The more successful pieces, the works that challenge the order of the archive (“what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way”)3, are the ones by Ed Ruscha (above), Penelope Davis and Simon Obarzaneck (below).

Ruschas vertical inverted cityscape is trapped in a display cabinet opened out on the horizontal plane in concertina format, like one of those optical illusion images in which you see an image looking from one direction and a different image from the other direction. Ruscha’s personal experience of driving down Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and his anthropological recording of the urban experience has been disseminated in a mass produced ‘artists’ book. No unique unpublished archive here. Beneath the facades of the shops other narratives emerge – images are stitched together, cars chopped off, people dismembered – all in a very linear, conceptual way; a journey from one point to another, one that is both subjective (the voice  and hand of the author) and objective (the en masse production of the book).

As Chris Balaschak has noted, “The images, taken during the day, capture only the facades of the buildings. Ignorance is given to cars or people, both of which are often cut in half between separate exposures. The imperfections of matching the facades are cracks along Ruscha’s drive. Through these cracks we find Ruscha, not such an anonymous author after all. Splitting cars in two, and mismatching facades we become keenly aware of the passage of time. The facades of buildings may appear as stage sets but they are active points on other itineraries, anticipating future and past narratives.”4

This is Ruscha’s trace through the city but also our intersection with his journey, our chance to make our own itineraries as Balaschak in his insightful writing rightly points out. The fragmentary dismembering becomes the space between, the disorder of the linear into a heterotopic space of remembering. We the viewer create our own narrative, flitting through the cracks in the archive of memory, the photographer, the author of our own journey.

 

Penelope Davis. 'Shelf' 2008

 

Penelope DAVIS
Australian 1963–
Shelf (2008)
from the Fiction-Non-Fiction series 2007–08
type C photograph
90.0 x 70.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008 (2008.100)

 

 

Penelope Davis photograms are luminous objects. She makes resin casts of the spine of discarded books and places the casts directly onto photographic paper and then exposes them to light. The books glow and hover in the blackness, the words on the spine reversed. Stripped of their context, of their memory, they become ethereal books, phantom texts, liminal images that hover between what is known and what is imagined. As Davis has said, Most people assume that when they look at a photo that they are looking at the thing photographed – but they are not. They are looking at a photo. Books and photographic images and archives are enigmatic – you can’t be sure of a singular definition or meaning.”

Davis is ‘messing around’ with the idea of veracity, the truth of photography and the ordering of the archive of our mind through the images we collate. We seek to grasp the original memory of an event, of the reading and ordering of our life through images and none is available to us, for as Foucault has observed memories are only ever fragmentary and distorted representations, partial truths a best. Like Jorge Luis Borges’ journey into the infinite universe of The Library of Babel for Foucault the psyche is not an archive but a mirror, like the shining silver foil surface of the cover of the Ed Ruscha book:

“The search for the self is a journey into a mental labyrinth that takes random courses and ultimately ends at impasses. The memory fragments recovered along the way cannot provide us with a basis for interpreting the overall meaning of the journey. The meanings that we derive from our memories are only partial truths, and their value is ephemeral. For Foucault, the psyche is not an archive but only a mirror. To search the psyche for the truth about ourselves is a futile task because the psyche can only reflect the images we have conjured up to describe ourselves. Looking into the psyche, therefore, is like looking into the mirror image of a mirror. One sees oneself reflected in an image of infinite regress. Our gaze is led not toward the substance of our beginnings but rather into the meaninglessness of previously discarded images of the self.”5


This leads us nicely onto the images of Simon Obarzanek.

In a great series of photographs, the only ones of this exhibition that seemed to haunt me (as Susan Sontag says images do) Obarzanek photographs people in an ordered almost scientific manner. Photographed face on against a non-contextual background using a low depth of field, these repetitive, collective, unnamed people remind me of the images of Galton. But here the uniformity is overwhelmed by quirky differences – the placement of eyes and lips seem large offering a strange, surreal physiognomy. These images resonate, the challenge, they remain with you, they question the order of things as no other photograph in this exhibition does. From simplicity comes eloquence.


Simon Obarzanek. '6 faces from 123 faces' (2000–02)

 

Simon OBARZANEK
Israeli/Australian 1968–, worked in United States 1995–2001
6 faces from 123 faces (2000–02)
gelatin silver photographs
(a) 33.1 x 25.4 cm; (b) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (c) 33.2 x 25.3 cm; (d) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (e) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (f) 33.4 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2003 (2003.86.a-f)
© Simon Obarzanek

 

 

To finish I must address the elephant in the room, in fact two elephants!

There is not one digital photograph contained in the exhibition, the work being collage, Type C colour or black and white silver gelatin prints. There is no mention in the catalogue of the crisis of cultural memory that is now permeating our world. Some believe the ever expanding digital archive, the Internet, threatens our lived memories “amidst the process of the ‘digitisation of culture’ and the new possibilities of storing.”6 This vision entails the fear of loosing cultural contents, hitting the delete button so that  memory passes into forgetting. This is a vision to which I do not subscribe, but the issue needed to be addressed in this exhibition: how are digital technologies altering our re-assemblance of memory, altering photography’s ability inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images? What about the aura of the original or was there never such a thing?

Furthermore, it would seem that with photographs becoming less and less a fixed essence, with the meaning of the photograph more and more divorced from its referent, with the spectators look the key to reading photographs and the performance of the photograph a cut and paste reality then perhaps we are left not with the two polar opposites of order and disorder but some orthogonal spaces in-between.

The second elephant in the room in the gallery space itself.

Whilst the curators of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria do an amazing job running large exhibitions such as the Andreas Gursky and Rennie Ellis shows that have starred this year, the NGV ‘International’ is shooting itself in the foot with the current permanent photography gallery space. Small, jaded and dour it seems an addendum to other larger spaces in the gallery and to be honest photography and Melbourne deserves better. Personally I feel more alive in the fashion gallery that is on the floor below and that, for an photographer, is a hard thing to say.
As the theme for this exhibition deserved a greater in depth investigation so the gallery needs to expand it’s horizons and give the permanent photography gallery a redesign and overhaul. Where is the life and passion of contemporary photography displayed in a small space for all to see in a gallery that sees itself as ‘International’? In an occularcentric world the key word is intertexuality: the gallery space should reflect the electri-city, the mixing of a gallery design ethos with images to surround us in a space that makes us passionate about contemporary photography. Now that would really be a new order of things!

M Bunyan

 

 

1.  Papatheodorou, Yiannis. History in the promised land of memory. Review of  Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive, Paris, Éd. Galilée, 1995 [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009. http://www.historein.gr/vol1_rPapatheodorou.htm 

2. The archive is understood as collective reservoir of knowledge fulfilling diverse functions and conditioned by three main factors: conservation, selection and accessibility. How are contents stored and which media are used to conserve them? What is selected for storage and what is decided to be cleared out and thus forgotten? Who decides what is archived and who has access to the resources? All these questions paint the archive as a political space where relations of power cross aspects of culture and collective identity.” 

Assmann, A. (2003) Erinnerungsräume, Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnis. [Memory Spaces, Forms and Transformations of Cultural Memory] Special paperback editon, 1st edition publ. 1999, München: Beck, p.343-346.

3. Derrida, J. (1996) Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression. Transl. by E. Prenowitz, p.18 orig. publ. as ‘Mal d’ Archive: une impresion freudienne’ in 1995, Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.

4. Balaschak, Chris. Itineraries [part 3] [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009. http://glowlab.com/lab2/artist_project.php?project_id=114&artist_id=5

5. Hutton, Patrick. “Foucault, Freud, and the Technologies of the Self,” in Martin, Luther and Gutman, Huck and Hutton, Patrick (eds.,). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock Publications, 1988, p.139.

6. Featherstone, M. (2000) “Archiving Cultures,” British Journal of Sociology, 51(1): 161–184.

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

25
Nov
08

Andreas Gursky. “Pyongyang 1” 2007

Andreas Gursky. “Pyongyang I” 2007

 

Andreas Gursky
“Pyongyang I”
2007

C-Print 
205.0 x 260.0 x 6.2 cm

25
Nov
08

Opening night at Andreas Gursky exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

Opening night at Andreas Gursky exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Opening night at Andreas Gursky exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

25
Nov
08

Andreas Gursky banner at NGV International exhibition, Melbourne

Andreas Gursky banner at NGV International exhibition, Melbourne

 

Andreas Gursky banner at NGV International exhibition, Melbourne

M Bunyan




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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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