Archive for the 'W. G. Sebald' Category


Review: ‘Sistagirls’ by Bindi Cole at Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 8th July – 31st July 2010


Bindi Cole. 'Bimbo' 2009


Bindi Cole Chocka (Australian, b. 1975)


Bindi Cole. 'Buffy' 2009


Bindi Cole Chocka (Australian, b. 1975)



The exhibition Sistagirls by Bind Cole at Nellie Castan Gallery contains some beautiful photographs and others that are less successful. The successful portraits the ones that depict the Sistagirls in a more natural, less stylised way – they are the more interesting photographs. The subjects seem to speak for themselves without restriction, to be not so beholden to the pose that photographer wishes them to assume and/or the pose they wish to impose on themselves.

For example, the photograph of Jemima (see below) is just stunning in it’s naturalness and beauty. The two photographs of Crystal and Patricia, where the transgendered person asked to be photographed in traditional body paint with traditional objects, are highly successful in their form, composition and in the ability of the photographs to challenge stereotypical notions of Aboriginal culture.

Other portraits are anachronistic and a little try hard, with the misplacing of persons and objects in regard to each other. The portrait of Bimbo (very top photograph) did not need the two objects placed on the beach next to the person to make it a successful photograph; the portrait of Frederina (below) had enough going on in the photograph without the seemingly gratuitous placement of traditional objects in the background. We get the point and there was really no need to labour it.

One of the problems, of course, of a ‘stylised’ portrait (Bind Cole’s word in her artist statement) is that the portrait can become a double forgery, that of the pose of the person and that of the photographer imposing the style …

” … in a sense, the posed photograph is a kind of forgery, an imposition of an artificial composition before the recording instrument. On the other hand, the photo of a posing subject captures the authenticity of the practice of posing. A version of a person’s image is still an image of that person …

We are confronted with the pose, the conscious composition of the image to be photographed, the inherent constructedness of the posed photograph. Our heretofore implicit faith in the photograph as an evidentiary document is shaken. This is not to imply an outright rejection of photography … the effect is more properly an inducement to engage the document directly, personally, and on its own terms.”1

As noted at the end of the quotation, we, the viewer, must cut through this com-pose-ition to address the document directly. We must cut away the appendages of style and view the person and the photograph on its own terms. This is why the simpler portraits in the exhibition have so much more power than the overly constructed ones – they reach for an intangible essence that Cole is seeking by dropping away style and surrendering to the ineffable, a recognition of the lightness and joy in just being.

Marcus Bunyan


  1. Feiereisen, Florence and Pope, Daniel. “True Fiction and Fictional Truths: The Enigmatic in Sebald’s Use of Images in The Emigrants,” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, p. 175.

Many thankx to Olivia Poloni and Nellie Castan Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. The permission is most appreciated. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © Bind Cole, courtesy of the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery.


Bindi Cole. 'Crystal' 2009


Bindi Cole Chocka (Australian, b. 1975)


Bindi Cole. 'Frederina' 2009


Bindi Cole Chocka (Australian, b. 1975)



The term ‘Sistagirl’ is used to describe a transgender person in Tiwi Island culture. Traditionally, the term was ‘Yimpininni’. The very existence of the word provides some indication of the inclusive attitudes historically extended towards Aboriginal sexual minorities. Colonisation not only wiped out many indigenous people, it also had an impact on Aboriginal culture and understanding of sexual and gender expression. As Catholicism took hold and many traditions were lost, this term became a thing of the past. Yimpininni were once held in high regard as the nurturers within the family unit and tribe much like the Faafafine from Samoa. As the usage of the term vanished, tribes’ attitudes toward queer indigenous people began to resemble that of the western world and religious right. Even today many Sistergirls are excluded from their own tribes and suffer at the hands of others.

Within a population of around 2500, there are approximately 50 ‘Sistagirls’ living on the Tiwi Islands. This community contains a complex range of dynamics including a hierarchy (a queen Sistergirl), politics, and a significant history of pride and shame. The Sistagirls are isolated yet thriving, unexplored territory with a beauty, strength and diversity to inspire and challenge.

During August and September of 2009, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a month living with the ‘Sistagirls’ on the Tiwi Islands creating a series of highly stylised portraits of them. I loaded a barge with a four wheel drive, lights, a generator, cameras and enough film to fill a suitcase. Each day brought an emotional roller coaster from moments of elation around what was being achieved with the images to complete anxiety from the many dramas that occurred. This time has affected me in a profound way. The ‘Sistagirls’ have touched my heart. I only hope that in some way I have captured the essence of who they are and the spirit of their community. I know that they will always be a part of me and that I will be a regular visitor to Tiwi to visit the ‘Sistagirl’ community for the rest of my life.

Artist statement from the Nellie Castan website [Online] Cited 22/07/2010 no longer available online


Bindi Cole. 'Jemima' 2009


Bindi Cole Chocka (Australian, b. 1975)


Bindi Cole. 'Patricia' 2009


Bindi Cole Chocka (Australian, b. 1975)



Nellie Castan Gallery

This gallery is no longer open.


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Melbourne’s Magnificent Dozen 2009

January 2010


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



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


Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger. 'The Waterhole' 2009


Gerda Steiner (Swiss, b. 1967) and Jorg Lenzlinger (Swiss, b. 1964)
The Water Hole



“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!”

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.


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


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


Installation photograph of Ocean Without A Shore at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne



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 rigour. 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.


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


Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Sweet lovers' 1990


Rosalie Gascoigne (Australian born New Zealand, 1917-1999)
Sweet lovers



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.”

Nothing more, nothing less.


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


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


Dale Frank (Australian, b. 1959)
Ryan Gosling



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!


5. So It Goes by Laith McGregor at Helen Gory Galerie


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


Laith McGregor (Australian, b. 1977)
The Last Bastion (detail)



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.


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


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


Domenico de Clario (Australian born Italy, 1947)
o (la grande maison blanche – snow clouds massing)



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.


7. McLean Edwards: Songs from the Ghost Ship at Karen Woodury Gallery


McLean Edwards. 'Venus' 2009


McLean Edwards (Australian, b. 1972)



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 humour 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!


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


Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007


Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Michael Hamburger [Still]
16mm colour anamorphic, optical sound
28 minutes



“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.”

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.


9. Ivy photographs by Jane Burton at Karen Woodbury Gallery


Jane Burton. 'Ivy #2' 2009


Jane Burton (Australian, b. 1966)
Ivy #2



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.


10. Sweet Complicity by eX de Medici at Karen Woodbury Gallery


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


eX de Medici (Australia, b. 1959)
Tooth and claw (detail)



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’.


11. Emily Kame Kngwarreye: The Person and her Paintings at DACOU Aboriginal Art



Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian, 1910-1996)



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.


12. Unforced Intimacies by Patricia Piccinini at Tolarno Galleries


Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008


Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Doubting Thomas (detail)


Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' 2008


Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Doubting Thomas
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, chair



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.


Honorable mentions

  • 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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Quotation: ‘After Light’

November 2008



“And on the other end of the spectrum, there is the AFTER LIGHT, a light of the past, which are echoes from past experiences so intense that they sometimes appear in front of us in the form of unexpected shadows. They hide on clear days under the roofs of houses. It is believed to be the same light seen by people we knew many years ago that survives like a message in a bottle, but always in a precarious way and often vanishes into thin air.”

, Pablo. “How to Understand the Light on a Landscape,” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography After W. G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, p. 119.




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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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