Posts Tagged ‘Anne Zahalka

03
Aug
17

Review: ‘Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 6th August 2017

“A GREAT review Marcus. As always. A master piece.” ~ Peter Barker, artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' c. 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1980

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997

 

 

The misery of too much sun

Simply put (where the work in this exhibition is anything but), this is one of the most depressing Australian group photography exhibitions that I have seen in a very long time. I left the exhibition feeling like I wanted to slit my wrists.

“Reimagining” an image is always going to be problematic, especially such an iconic photograph as Max Dupain’s no-face, monolithic, Uluru-shaped, low depth of field, wet, British male tourist lying on Culburra Beach, New South Wales in the 1930s – an image that “supposedly conveys a quintessential Australian identity,” a “casual holiday snap that came to symbolise leisure and freedom in the 1970s [which] was taken in the uncertain economic times before the Second World War.”

The scope for such a contemporary conceptual exercise is vast and the artists in this exhibition don’t waste the opportunity. Variously but not exclusively we have:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Breakfast Club (1985), a movie in which five teenagers navigate identity issues
  • Indigenous massacres in Australia … positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928, when 63 massacres of Indigenous peoples took place
  • Samoan culture – malu – the female-Samoan tattoo (tatau)
  • The lifeless body of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey which now haunts the figure of the Sunbaker
  • Sufi-inspired choreography, the dancers wearing a hammam cloth
  • 1920s swimwear based on wartime camouflage schemes
  • Reclaiming of the feminist body both as a medium of deliberate submission and active resistance through women’s strength, endurance and resilience by undertaking physical and psychological experiments that test the limits of her body, playfully and painfully
  • Denunciating the violence of the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its peoples
  • Grandfather opal-mine worker in South Australia excluded from Aboriginal rights until 1967
  • Paradox of a nation seen as a sun-blessed paradise while its shores have been a place of contestation and misery
  • Memories of childhood landscapes and research into the Massacre Map published by the Koorie Heritage Trust, which identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853
  • Digitally animated Sunbaker to make it resonate as a symbol of the 229 years since colonisation

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How you get from a holiday snap of a tourist visiting Australia, having a swim, flopping down on the beach and all the joy that this entails to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Breakfast Club, female-Samoan tattoos, camouflage schemes, reclaiming the feminist body and more contestation and misery than you can poke a stick at – massacres, more massacres, symbol of 229 years of colonisation and a body of a three-year-old refugee which now supposedly haunts the figure of Sunbaker – is mind boggling. And no, the powerful image of that small body does not haunt Sunbaker. It never will. Only in the titular imagination of the artist!

Some of these reconceptualisations draw such a long bow that the arrow fell out of the sky long before the art work was finished. The trajectory of most of this work is so cerebral that you wonder whether the artists actually thought about visual and associative outcomes, something that the viewer would make connection to and with, before they started making the work. Is this really a good idea? Does the image, Sunbaker, actually evoke any of these relationships? For example, what have positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928 and identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853 have to do with a sun baker… other than to assuage white guilt over the invasion of Aboriginal land? That is the crux of the matter: it’s all about white guilt.

There is such a thing as acknowledging the past and letting it go, while taking responsibility for the present and the future. As a black American friend of mine said to me recently, he doesn’t blame white people for slavery, and neither do most black Americans… it’s history, acknowledge it and move on; take responsibility for present injustices. Of course, past, present and future time are linked; memory and history influence culture, narrative and identity. But to constantly conceptualise, as much contemporary Australian photography does, the past AS the present through existential angst ridden explorations that produce forgettable images simply beggars belief. Let’s have more contestation and misery; let’s perpetuate the cycle of guilt, shame, misery and despair that we acknowledge was totally wrong. Let’s invert Sunbaker into a demon – a fractured, negative identity – both literally and metaphysically. Two artists literally do this, as though by inverting an image using this trope, you give the negative image profound power.

Other than Anne Zahalka’s wonderful feminist re-imag(in)ing of Sunbaker, the most evocative excavation of relationship to the original image comes from that gorgeous photographer William Yang. Just a celebration of sun, sand, sea, and male identity through beautiful, intimate images of the male body – “At Bondi Beach, people were sunbathing. There was an attractive openness in the atmosphere…” An atmosphere and a generosity of spirit sorely lacking in the rest of the work.

Marcus

PS. And it’s Sunbaker not The Sunbaker!

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Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Sara Oscar’s Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

 

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW)
Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)
2017
Inkjet print on Hahnemuehle paper
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Sara Oscar draws connections between the present and the past. Interested in how time changes the meaning of images, her practice is drawn to allegory and metaphor.

In late 2015, photographs circulated widely of the lifeless body of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey. The pose has come to symbolise the plight of all refugees and now haunts the figure of the Sunbaker. Nauru – a picturesque island in Micronesia that imprisons refugees to Australia under the Pacific Solution – is the subject of this series that draws connections between the themes of colonialism, beach culture and immigration.

 

 

Nasim Nasr (born 1964, Tehran, Iran; lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Still for Eighty Years
2017
Courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Nasim Nasr

 

 

Nasim Nasr’s multimedia practice explores the cultural differences between East and West, looking at the complex identities that exist at their nexus.

Shot on Culburra Beach, NSW – where Dupain photographed the Sunbaker – Still for Eighty Years juxtaposes traditional motifs from the Middle East with the Australian beach landscape. Here, the beach becomes a place for cross-cultural dialogue. Inviting us to contemplate their mesmerising Sufi-inspired choreography, the dancers wear a hammam cloth specifically woven for the performance. Nasr’s work is a meditation on the transient nature of identity.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Nasim Nasr’s Still for Eighty Years (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

 

Nasim Nasr (born 1964, Tehran, Iran; lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Still for Eighty Years
2017
Production stills from video
Courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Justene Williams’ Home security: out of the sun (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Justene Williams (born 1970, Sydney, NSW) 'Home security: out of the sun' 2017

 

Justene Williams (born 1970, Sydney, NSW)
Home security: out of the sun
2017
Dye sublimation print on chromaluxe metal
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Home security is inspired by Dupain’s involvement in the Department of Home Security during the Second World War as part of the Sydney Camouflage Group. Working for the Australian Government, the group deployed visual illusions inspired by surrealism, cubism and abstraction to conceal military equipment. With his astute photographic eye for shadows, exposure and patterns, Dupain contributed to The Art of Camouflage, a manual that described techniques he later taught to soldiers in Darwin and Papua-new Guinea.

Inspired by the sheltering trees of the Sydney College of the Arts Callan Park Campus and 1920s swimwear based on wartime camouflage schemes, this work continues Williams exploration of the poetics and politics of camouflage.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Daniel von Sturmer’s Sunbaker (MGA replica) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Continuing his After Images series (begun in 2013), Daniel von Sturmer has photographed the shadow cast by the replica of Dupain’s Sunbaker held in the Monash Gallery of Art collection. Using a specially constructed ‘set’, the resulting work – a 1:1 image of the Sunbaker shadow – questions the aura held by the original, iconic image. How relevant is the original when multiple reproductions exist?

Examining the ability of photography to accurately capture the real world, this abstract black square draws connections between an image’s meaning and how significance is transferred from the original to the shadow.

 

Daniel von Sturmer. 'Sunbaker (MGA replica)' 2017

 

Daniel von Sturmer (Born 1972, Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Melbourne, Vic)
Sunbaker (MGA replica)
2017
Unique archival pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne / Sydney

 

 

Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker is a large-scale exhibition of new works commissioned from 15 artists responding to Australian photographer Max Dupain’s iconic ‘Sunbaker’ image. Artists include Peta Clancy, Christopher Day, Destiny Deacon, Michaela Gleave, Nasim Nasr, Sara Oscar, Julie Rrap, Khaled Sabsabi, Yhonnie Scarce, Christian Thompson, Angela Tiatia. Kawita Vatanajyankur, Daniel Von Sturmer, Justene Williams and William Yang. Under the sun is a travelling exhibition produced by the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP).

MGA Curator Stella Loftus-Hills said, “MGA is delighted to be hosting Under the sun and to be revisiting Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’ (1937) 80 years after its creation. Dupain’s iconic photograph entered MGA’s collection in 1980 and this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for our audiences to view the work in the context of contemporary art and to reflect upon its relationship to current ideas around national identity.”

Under the sun explores views of our culture, our identity and our nationhood through works that surprise, challenge and enthuse audiences. Commissioned by ACP, the mix of artists reflects Australia’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith nature, enabling a creative and often very personal exploration of the question ‘is there something new under the sun?’ These artists contemplate, challenge and interpret the representation of Max Dupain’s photograph – which became an icon of a particular time and a particular vision of Australian culture – while offering unique perspectives on what it could possibly signify in our current society.

ACP Curator, Claire Monneraye said: “Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’, remains an iconic representation of the Australian way of life and a milestone in the history of Australian photography. In this exhibition, the 15 artists have interrogated the social and political implications embedded within this image but also challenged the status of this photograph in our visual culture. Pushing the boundaries of the photographic medium, their works expose the aesthetical complexities at play in discussions around collective identity.

Examining the legacy of the past and questioning the relevance that this image might retain in the future, the exhibition draws on a range of diverse practitioners and creative forms to consider questions of representation and cultural pluralism while also reflecting on the depiction of the idealised body, discussing gender issues, cultural and political ideas relating to immigration and colonisation, and our relationship with the land.”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur (Born 1987, Bangkok, Thailand Lives and works Bangkok and Sydney, NSW)
Carrier (extract)
2017
Video, duration: approx. 5 mins
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Kawita Vatanajyankur

 

 

In this video work, Kawita Vatanajyankur reflects on her experience of migrating to Australia, exploring the resulting shift of identity. Celebrating women’s strength, endurance and resilience, Vatanajyankur’s captivating, seductive – and yet disquieting – videowork critiques the challenges faced by migrant Asian women in relation to everyday labour.

Referring to her performances as ‘meditation postures’, the artist undertakes physical and psychological experiments that test the limits of her body, playfully and painfully. The artist’s self-objectification is part of a feminist art tradition that reclaims the female body, both as a medium of deliberate submission and active resistance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Kawita Vatanajyankur’s Carrier (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur. 'Carrier' 2017

Kawita Vatanajyankur. 'Carrier' 2017

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur (Born 1987, Bangkok, Thailand Lives and works Bangkok and Sydney, NSW)
Carrier
2017
Video stills
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Destiny Deacon’s Sand minding and Sand grabs (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand minding' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Born 1957, Maryborough, Qld Lives and works Melbourne, Vic KuKu (Cape York) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) peoples)
Sand minding
2017
Archival inkjet pigment print
Sand grabs
2017
Archival inkjet pigment prints
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Throughout her career Destiny Deacon has orchestrated a personal and political theatre of kitsch and poignant ‘Aboriginalia’ to expose and deconstruct Indigenous issues. Deacon’s anti-art aesthetic confronts us with the cruelty of racism and the sombre reality of Australia’s colonial history.

Acknowledging the sand as central to Dupain’s photograph, Destiny Deacon denunciates the violence of the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its peoples. While hands are performing a destructive soil surgery, two uncanny dolls emerge from the sand. Both whistleblowers and guardians of the land, they invite us to consider a topical issue and its consequences.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Christopher Day’s Untitled (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Christopher Day. 'Untitled' 2017

 

Christopher Day (Born 1978, Melbourne, Vic, 1978 Lives and works Melbourne, Vic)
Untitled
2017
Pigment print

 

 

After processing, developing and scanning the photographs shot on his 35 mm camera, Christopher Day assembles, crops, combines and rearranges his images, again and again. Blending personal and historical narratives, Day’s complex imagery is ambiguous, humorous and allegorical, challenging simplistic definitions of identity and gender.

In this work a shiny round apple bearing visible teeth marks alludes to the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – each character embodying a set of clichés including Snow White herself, whose beauty and feminine charm become her undoing. The artist also refers to The Breakfast Club (1985), a movie in which five teenagers navigate identity issues.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Michaela Gleave’s Under One Sun (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Michaela Gleave. 'Under One Sun' (detail) 2017

 

Michaela Gleave (Born 1980, Alice Springs, NT Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Under One Sun (detail)
2017
Silver gelatin prints
Courtesy the artist and Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Under One Sun highlights the complexity of colonial history and the ambivalence of representing identity. Using Wikipedia’s listing of Indigenous massacres in Australia, Michaela Gleave highlights the lack of the associated verified historical data. Her zoomed out installation documents the positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928, when 63 massacres of Indigenous peoples took place.

James Cook’s first Pacific voyage, to document the 1769 Transit of Venus and investigate the existence of Terra Australis Incognita, opened the way for the European settlement of Australia. Drawing parallels between the development of photography, science and colonisation, the artist reminds us that technological advances in astronomy and navigation helped expand the British Empire, with science often justifying the atrocities committed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Yhonnie Scarce’s Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Yhonnie Scarce (Born 1973, Woomera, SA Lives and works Melbourne, Vic and Adelaide, SA Kokatha and Nukunu peoples)
Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields)
2017
Inkjet print on cotton rag paper, vintage metal bucket, blown glass
Courtesy the artist and This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

In this deeply personal work, Yhonnie Scarce pays tribute to her grandfather, who endured many hardships during his life as an opal-mine worker in South Australia. Looking at this family photograph, Scarce felt compelled to tell the story of a man who provided for his family and contributed to society, yet remained excluded from the rights of Australian citizenship until 1967.

Beyond the nostalgic, Scarce includes vernacular photographs in her installations not only to control her personal narrative but also to reaffirm the presence of unsung heroes. ‘Politically motivated and emotionally driven’, Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields) epitomises the experience of many Indigenous Australians while interrogating the effects of colonisation on future generations.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Angela Tiatia’s Dark Light (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Angela Tiatia (Born 1973, Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Sydney, NSW)
Dark Light
2017
Video, duration: 4 min, self-adhesive inkjet pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

With Dark Light, Angela Tiatia deconstructs every element of the Sunbaker to reconfigure its exact opposite. The sensual tension created by this process forces us to re-examine the familiar.

Tiatia also reveals deeper contradictions. A chandelier symbolising opulence and power is hung over the artist’s body which is baring the malu – the female-Samoan tattoo (tatau). In pre-Christian times, the malu signified protection and shelter as young women entered womanhood. However, it was condemned by missionaries alongside their male equivalent (pe’a) and some Samoan communities still forbid women to publicly expose the malu. Dark Light sees Tiatia resisting the forces of colonialism embedded within Samoan culture.

 

Christian Thompson (Born 1978, Gawler, SA Lives and works in London, England Bidjara people) 'This Brutal World' 2017

 

Christian Thompson (Born 1978, Gawler, SA Lives and works in London, England Bidjara people)
This Brutal World
2017
Inkjet pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Michael Reid, Sydney / Berlin

 

 

With This Brutal World, Christian Thompson focuses on portraiture and its ability to trouble the relationship between past and present.

Where Dupain’s Sunbaker supposedly conveys a quintessential Australian identity, Thompson reminds us of assimilation policies first outlined at the Aboriginal Welfare Initial Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities in 1937. Here the artist wears a costume borrowed from London’s National Theatre. His eyes are covered with dried roses and his body is superimposed on the glittering shallow creek beds – images captured during trips to his traditional homelands in outback Queensland. Thompson employs references to the natural world to evoke spirituality.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Julie Rrap’s Speechless (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Speechless' 2017

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Speechless' 2017

 

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Speechless
2017
Bronze and steel
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Julie Rrap’s long interest in the politics of the human body informed her investigation of the Sunbaker pose. A casual holiday snap that came to symbolise leisure and freedom in the 1970s, Dupain’s photograph was taken in the uncertain economic times before the Second World War.

Exploring the ambivalence of the pose and transposing this contradiction to now, Rrap draws attention to the paradox of a nation seen as a sun-blessed paradise while its shores have been a place of contestation and misery. Speechless places the viewer in two positions, showing the viewpoint of both the person who speaks out and the one who keeps their head down.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Peta Clancy’s Fissures in time (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #3' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #1' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #2' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #4' 2017

 

Peta Clancy (Born 1970, Melbourne, Vic, Lives and works Melbourne, Vic)
Fissures in time (L to R) #3 #1 #2 #4
2017
Archival pigment prints
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Drawing on memories of childhood landscapes, Peta Clancy repeatedly visited several locations in Victoria, taking photographs with her large-format camera. Informed by her research into the Massacre Map published by the Koorie Heritage Trust, which identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853, the artist has produced placeless images that question our relationship to landscapes of trauma and how we perceive reality.

After photographing a site, Clancy returned to install a large print on a custom-designed frame in front of the same landscape; slicing through the paper, then revealing sections of the scene behind before re-photographing it. The resulting images challenge you to see with fresh eyes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of William Yang’s SUMMER, A suite of images and My Time at South Bondi (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
SUMMER, A suite of images
2017
Digital pigment prints
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

My Time at South Bondi
2017
Video with music by Daniel Holdsworth
Duration: 4 min
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

A prolific documentary photographer, storyteller and performer, William Yang creates works that tell an intimate, autobiographical story.

For this installation, William Yang draws on his extensive archive of images, memories and sensual experiences, showing the unique atmosphere of freedom that prevailed on Sydney beaches in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Taken around Bondi and Tamarama, Yang has captured the joy of an era and the beauty of the elements with humour and generosity. More than reminiscence or exposé, Yang’s images reveal sensitive connections and insightful reflections about cultural identity.

 

William Yang. 'Golden Summer' 1987/2016

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Golden Summer
1987/2016
Digital print with gold foil
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Lifesaver Double' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesaver Double
1987/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Lifesavers #3' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesavers #3
1987/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #1' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #1
1994/2017
Digital print with digital text
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #2' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #2
1994/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #3' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #3
1994/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Bondi Beach (1970s)' 1970s/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Bondi Beach (1970s)
1970s/2017
Digital print with text
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Tamarama Lifesavers' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Tamarama Lifesavers
1981/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang 'Checking Out Bondi' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Checking Out Bondi
1981/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Childhood of Icarus' 1975/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Childhood of Icarus
1975/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Khaled Sabsabi (Born 1965, Tripoli, Lebanon Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
229 (extract)
2017
Three-channel video with sound
Duration: 3 min 49 sec
Hand-painted laser prints on transparencies
C-type prints
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Khaled Sabsabi

 

 

Khaled Sabsabi has recreated the negative of the Sunbaker by reframing the image and playing with the essential codes of the photographic medium. Sabsabi has multiplied, handpainted and digitally animated the photograph to make it resonate as a symbol of the 229 years since colonisation.

229 challenges the representation of race by inverting black and white, forcing us to question the almost imperceptible alterations, and examine notions of copyright and origin. Ultimately, 229 asks the viewer to be actively engaged and socially responsible.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Khaled Sabsabi’s 229 (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

 

Khaled Sabsabi (Born 1965, Tripoli, Lebanon Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
229
2017
Production stills from video
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

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21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” – Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (b, 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (detail)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0 cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below)

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Bathers
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

“When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomizing the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” – Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (b. 1967)
cantchant
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928)
Sunbather
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth ‘An artist in wonderland’ The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne]
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)
Balmoral (detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204 cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117 cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40 cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34 cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below)

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (b. 1947)
Abundance (detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (b. 1960)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn a Pxpapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, pxpapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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20
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Storm in a Teacup’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 27th September 2015

 

This is the best thematic group exhibition I have seen in Melbourne and surrounds this year.

Every piece in the exhibition is visually stimulating and intelligently constructed, all works combining to make an engaging exhibition. Nothing is superfluous, every work having something interesting to say, whether it is about the ceremony of tea drinking, colonisation, global warming, Stolen Generations or social mores. Congratulations must go to the curators and artists for their efforts.

Particular favourites where the Hotham Street Ladies Dark Tea (2015, below) made of royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, and found objects; the many sculptural objects which form the backbone of the exhibition, especially the work of Sharon West and Penny Byrne; and the wonderful vintage photographs that are displayed in the foyer of the gallery.

Accompanying this exhibition is another excellent exhibition, Ways to draw: A selection from the permanent collection by Betty Churcher, on till 27th September as well. If you want a day out from Melbourne with lunch in Mornington, some seriously good art and a drive along the coast, you could do no better than visit the gallery in the next week. Highly recommended.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007)
Dark tea (installation photo)
2015
Royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, found objects
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artists

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015 (detail)

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015 (detail)

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007)
Dark tea (details)
2015
Royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, found objects
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artists

 

Charles Blackman (b. Australia 1928) 'Feet beneath the table' 1956

 

Charles Blackman (b. Australia 1928)
Feet beneath the table
1956
Tempera and oil on composition board
106.5 x 121.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Barbara Blackman, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2005

 

 

Charles Blackman first encountered Lewis Caroll’s book, Alice in Wonderland, through a talking book for the blind which his wife, Barbara was listening to. Her developing blindness resulted in telescopic vision, spatial disorientation and a shrinking visual field. She was also pregnant with their first child and her distorted body image also had parallels with Alice’s experiences. By painting Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party Blackman could express his wife’s feeling of bewilderment and disorientation.

 

E. Phillips Fox (b. Australia 1865; d. Victoria 1915) 'The arbour' 1910

 

E. Phillips Fox (b. Australia 1865; d. Victoria 1915)
The arbour
1910
Oil on canvas
190.5 x 230.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest 1916

 

 

Melbourne born E. Phillips Fox, described as ‘one of the greatest of Australia’s Impressionist painters and the most gifted of her colourists’1 went to Paris in 1887 to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he encountered the work of the French Impressionists. He remained in Paris for several years but made frequent trips back to Melbourne to visit his family. The Arbour was painted in Paris in Fox’s garden but is based upon observations of family life in his brother’s garden in Malvern. The depiction of an elegant family taking tea al fresco is a study of refined gentility. The Arbour was exhibited at both the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon exhibitions and was regarded by Fox as the finest thing he had done.2 At the time the painting was much admired for its ‘subtle lights ad shadow’3 and his exemplary ‘use of delicate colour and refined harmonies.’4

  1. Courier Mail, 12 May 1949
  2. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1913
  3. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1913
  4. Le Courrier Australien, Sydney, 15 April 1949

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Some things were out in the open' 2007

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973)
Some things were out in the open
2007
Pigment print on Hahnemühle photo rag paper (ed. 3/5)
63.0 x 62.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Adam Hill (Blak Douglas) (b. Australia 1970) 'Not everyone’s cup of tea' 2009

 

Adam Hill (Blak Douglas) (b. Australia 1970)
Not everyone’s cup of tea
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
150.0 x 260.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2009

 

Kendal Murray (b. Australia 1958) 'Exceed speed, mislead, concede' 2011

 

Kendal Murray (b. Australia 1958)
Exceed speed, mislead, concede
2011
Mixed media assemblage
18.0 x 24.0 x 14.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Arthouse Gallery, Sydney

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) 'Tea for two in Tuvalu' 2011

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
Tea for two in Tuvalu
2011
Vintage porcelain figurine, vintage, Action man accessories, vintage coral, glass fish, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
15.0 x 19.0 cm
Private Collection

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) 'Tea for two in Tuvalu' 2011

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
Tea for two in Tuvalu (installation photo)
2011
Vintage porcelain figurine, vintage, Action man accessories, vintage coral, glass fish, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
15.0 x 19.0 cm
Private Collection

 

 

This piece was inspired by an underwater cabinet meeting held in 2009 by Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed in a campaign to raise awareness for activity on climate change. The thirty minute meeting was held six metres below sea level and was attended by eleven cabinet members calling upon all countries to cut their emissions to halt further temperature rises.

Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia, experienced a severe drought in 2011. A sate of emergency was declared and rationing of fresh-water took place which restricted households on some of the islands to two buckets of fresh water per day. Tuvalu is also especially susceptible to changes in sea level and it is estimated that a sea level rise of 20 to 40 centimetres in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable.

 

Kate Bergin (b. Australia 1968) 'The hunt for a room of one’s own' 2012

 

Kate Bergin (b. Australia 1968)
The hunt for a room of one’s own
2012
Oil on canvas on board
75.0 x 101.0 cm
Private Collection

 

 

Kate Bergin draws upon Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century tradition of still life painting to comment on our attitudes to animals. Bergin stages the scene on a crumpled white tablecloth upon which a large fox, based on a taxidermy fox she bought on eBay, regally sits centre stage. Meticulously rendered native birds, including a honeyeater, finch and triller, are based on photographs of specimens from the Melbourne Museum Collection. They flit about unperturbed by the introduced predator. Teaspoons, representing the impulse for collecting, entangle the fox and bird. Together with a teapot and cup, precariously placed, they contribute to the overarching sense of impending chaos.

Both afternoon tea and the fox represent English upper class social mores and were introduced into the colonies following British settlemnet. The fox arrived in 1855, brought in for recreational hunting, and has been a major cause of native bird extinctions. Fox numbers are increasing in some areas further threatening the precarious balance between wild life and introduced species.

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963) 'Two Koori Tribesmen receive a gift of afternoon tea from local colonists' 2014

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963)
Two Koori Tribesmen receive a gift of afternoon tea from local colonists (installation photo)
2014
Mixed media assemblage
15.0 x 46.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Heather Shimmen (b. Australia 1957) 'Tip me up' 2005

 

Heather Shimmen (b. Australia 1957)
Tip me up (installation photo)
2005
Linocut on paper and organza (ed. 7/30)
56.0 x 76.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

Trent Jansen (b. Australia 1981) 'Briggs family tea service' 2011

 

Trent Jansen (b. Australia 1981)
Briggs family tea service (installation photo)
2011
Slip cast porcelain, bull kelp, wallaby pelt, copper and brass
George (teapot) 22.5 x 20.5 x 13.0 cm; Woretermoeteyenner (sugar bowl) 16.0 x 13.5 x 9.0 cm; Dolly (milk jug) 12.5 x 12.5 x 8.5 cm; John (teacup) 7.0 x 8.5 x 8.0 cm; Eliza (teacup) 7.5 x 10.5 x 8.0 cm; Mary (teacup) 10.0 x 9.0 x 6.5 cm
Courtesy of Broached Commissions, Melbourne

 

 

The Briggs family tea service represents the marriage of George Briggs, a free settler, to Woretermoeteyenner of the Pairrebeenne people in Van Diemen’s Land and the four children they had together. Briggs arrived from Bedfordshire in 1791 and learned to speak the language of the local Pairrebeenne people, trading tea, flour and sugar fro kangaroo, wallaby and seal skins. It is understood that he became good friends with the leader of the Pairrebeenne people, Mannalargenna, and by 1810 he partnered his daughter Woretermoeteyenner. Their marriage meant she had to adapt to a way of life that merged her traditional cultural values with the ways of British settlers. The teapot and sugar bowl represent the parents while their first daughter, Doll Mountgarret Briggs is symbolised in the milk jug and the three cups each signify their other children John, Eliza and Mary.

The tea service is a hybrid design bringing together materials common to both cultures. To realize the set Jansen worked with Rod Bamford on the ceramic elements, Oliver Smith for the brass and copper and Vicki West, who uses the traditional methods of her Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors, worked with the bull kelp components.

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959) 'Blue (Bower-Bauer)' 1998–2000

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959)
Blue (Bower-Bauer) (installation photo)
1998-2000
Watercolour over black pencil on paper
114.0 x 152.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959) 'Blue (Bower-Bauer)' 1998-2000 (detail)

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959)
Blue (Bower-Bauer) (detail)
1998-2000
Watercolour over black pencil on paper
114.0 x 152.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

 

A turning point in eX de Medici’s career came in 1998 when she saw an exhibition of watercolours by Ferdinand Bauer comprising 2,000 rarely seen images of native flora and fauna made when Bauer was official artist on Matthew Flinder’s historic circumnavigation of Australia in 1801-03. Previously working with tattoo imagery, Medici found the intricate works so compelling she decided to change course and ‘retrograde’ herself and explore watercolour as a medium.1

Referencing Australia’s Bower bird that adorns its nest with anything blue, Medici entangles the history of vanitas painting with commentary about the desire to seek permanence and affirmation in the accumulation of things. The broken willow pattern platter, upturned jugs and cups, amassed with so many other decorative and functional objects, are juxtaposed with skulls, fruit and flowers – symbols of mortality. A reaction to what she considered John Howard’s regressive politics at the time, the work ‘is a kind of a backhanded discussion about colonising our minds with retroactive ideas’.2

  1. Ted Gott. ‘eX deMedici an epic journey on a Lilliputian scale’ Art and Australia Vol. 40, No. 1, Spring 2002, p. 105
  2. eX deMedici in Paul Flynn. Artist Profile #5, March 2008, pp. 28-35.

 

 

Storm in a Teacup reflects upon tea drinking in Australia. Introduced by the British colonials, the afternoon tea party was an attempt to ‘civilise’ the land. Tea drinking became so popular in the colonies that by 1888 the amount of tea consumed per capita exceeded the amount consumed in England. Soon after, billy tea was to become an enduring symbol of the pioneering spirit, immortalised by Henry Lawson’s stories published under the title While the billy boils.

Beginning with elegant paintings of the afternoon tea table from E. Phillips Fox and Arthur Streeton, the exhibition goes on to explore the darker side of tea drinking and the social and environmental impacts of the humble cup of tea. Michael Cook’s Object (table), 2015, provides an alternative history to the narrative of colonialism while Sharon West and Adam Hill both use humour to subvert colonial understandings of the afternoon tea party as an occasion of refined gentility.

The humble cuppa has been around for thousands of years, but this exhibition explores how a popular beverage can impact on us culturally, socially, environmentally and politically. There is more to debate than just the proper way to make a cup of tea. Storm in a teacup explores far-reaching issues brewing from tea, including the imposition of one culture upon another – especially on the colonial frontier; the production of ceramics and the environmental impacts of porcelain and its production; gender stereotypes and socialisation through tea parties. The exhibition also reflects upon tea drinking ceremonies in Asia within a western Orientalist paradigm and tea drinking as an occasion for familial cohesiveness and disconnect.”

Text from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Mark James Daniel (1867-1949) 'Verandah, "Harefield" - afternoon tea' Feb 1900

 

Mark James Daniel (1867-1949)
Verandah, “Harefield” – afternoon tea
Feb 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0 cm. (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Michael J Drew (1873-1943) 'Group taking tea in a garden' between 1890 and 1900

 

Michael J Drew (1873-1943)
Group taking tea in a garden
between 1890 and 1900
Glass negative
12.2 x 16.5 cm. (half plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Rex Hazlewood (1886-1968) '[Men drinking billy tea]' 1911 - 1927

 

Rex Hazlewood (1886-1968)
[Men drinking billy tea]
1911 – 1927
Silver gelatin print
Collection of the State Library of New South Wales

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Afternoon tea at "Vivaleigh"' 1917

 

Anonymous photographer
Afternoon tea at “Vivaleigh”
1917
Gelatin silver print
12 x 16 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) 'Lawn, Arylie, Hobart' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945)
Lawn, Arylie, Hobart
c. 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0 cm. (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) '[Tea on the verandah]' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945)
[Tea on the verandah]
c. 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0 cm (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Storm in a Teacup at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

“Tea is the medium of many a complex and commonplace rituals. Adopted in a variety of ceremonies and customs across the globe, its unique and symbolic place in our lives is subtle and powerful. Whether a quick cuppa around the kitchen table or a lavish display of refined gentility; from billy tea to Asian tea-drinking ceremonies, tea has played an important role in international trade but more curiously in facilitating social cohesiveness.

Comprising approximately 50 works including painting, photography, sculpture and installation Storm in a Teacup features artists such as Chares Blackman, John Perceval, Emma Minnie Boyd, E. Phillips Fox and contemporary artists Stephen Bowers, Danie Mellor, Penny Byrne, Rosalie Gasgoigne, Matthew Sleeth, eX de Medici, Anne Zahalka, Polixeni Papapetrou and a mad teaparty installation by Hotham Street Ladies.

Tea is said to have first been invented in China around 2700 BC, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to 1000BC. Initially consumed as a medicinal drink, it became widely popular as a common beverage and traded across Asia and Europe during the 16th century. It was King Charles II’s wife Catherine of Portugal who is said to have brought the tea habit to Great Britain. Indeed, the afternoon tea party first became fashionable in the seventeenth century following Queen Catherine de Braganza’s fondness for serving the beverage at Whitehall in London. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became widely consumed with tea smuggling bringing the tipple to the masses and later influenced the Boston Tea Party.

Tea drinking became a demonstration of social aspirations and grew in popularity giving rise to a subtle orchestration of manners, dress and serving paraphernalia which created new forms of commodity consumption. In the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria afternoon tea parties were a lavish display of settler understandings of refined gentility that were an attempt to signal allegiance to the values of the home country and ground the displaced community in their originating culture. In this respect the afternoon tea party expressed collective understandings of British identity and was a means of domesticating and civilizing the alien terrain of the colonies.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Family confection II' 2015

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Family confection II' 2015

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973)
Family confection II (installation photos)
2015
Sugar cubes stained with coffee and tea
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

 

Giuseppe Romeo (b. Australia 1958) Subjective landscape, 'Of consequence rather than reason' 2015

DSC1644-WEB

 

Giuseppe Romeo (b. Australia 1958)
Subjective landscape, ‘Of consequence rather than reason’ (installation photos)
2015
Found discarded objects, bitumen, paint
80.0 x 100.0 x 60.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Guiseppe Rome asks the simple question: ‘What are you going to do with it all?’

Romeo recalls the tea sets his mother and aunts possessed and the ‘good set’ kept for special occasions that were rarely used. In this work a silver platter is the support for a silver cake stand upon which a teapot, creamer, sugar bowl and various serving implements jostle with items required to clean up the mess. The bat, ball and stumps are a reference to playing cricket which ‘became an excuse for a big afternoon tea party in England’. A ribbon of wire holds it all together ‘like a dream from Alice in Wonderland when nothing is as it seems’, while a tinkling melody from a music box is a lullaby that sends us in to a contented sleep.

Romeo coats the sculpture in bitumen then paints it entirely in white. The effect is reminiscent of excavated items from an ancient ruin, as if w are peering upon the remains from a modern day Pompeii – artefacts that have been covered in lava and buried. This work alludes to the ways in which we deceive ourselves and ‘attempt to keep it all together through consumption but ultimately we can’t’.

 

Samantha Everton (b. Australia 1971) 'Camellia' 2009

 

Samantha Everton (b. Australia 1971)
Camellia
2009
From the series Vintage dolls 2009
Pigment print on rag paper (ed. AP2)
106.0 x 114.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965) 'Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession' 2010-15

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965)
Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession (installation photo)
2010-15
Porcelain, paperclay, cobalt oxide, timber, pigment, Jingdezhen tissue transfer
240.0 x 122.0 x 42.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965) 'Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession' 2010-15 (detail)

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965)
Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession (detail)
2010-15
Porcelain, paperclay, cobalt oxide, timber, pigment, Jingdezhen tissue transfer
240.0 x 122.0 x 42.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Robyn Phelan undertook a residency at the Pottery Workshop and Experimental Sculptural Factory of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province in China in 2008. Jingdezhen is known as the porcelain capital because it has been the centre of China’s ceramic production, beginning in the fourteenth century Yuan Dynasty, where fine porcelain was first exported all over the world.

Deposits of kaolinite, a clay found at Mt Kaolin nearby which can sustain very high firing temperatures produced a superior white porcelain of increased strength and translucency. Items made from kaolinite were fired with cobalt landscape designs and were highly sought after by European collectors. Over the centuries, because of excessive mining, the mountain’s deposits have become depleted. Phelan’s work is a lament to the desecration of the mountain and a reminder of the potential destructiveness of consumer desire.

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) '‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’' 2010

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’ (installation photo)
2010
Vintage porcelain figurine, found toys, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
80.0 x 33.0 cm
Williams Sinclair Collection

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) '‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’' 2010 (detail)

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’ (detail)
2010
Vintage porcelain figurine, found toys, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
80.0 x 33.0 cm
Williams Sinclair Collection

 

 

Penny Byrne’s reworked porcelain conversation piece was motivated by Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s cry to ‘drill, baby, drill’ during her campaign in 2008. A call for increase off-shore drilling of petroleum, including sites such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Palin claimed ‘that’s what we hear all across the country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into’.1

In Byrne’s piece the patriotic figures gorge themselves, blithely overindulging without care to the wastage. The new Disney production of Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton had just been released and this led Byrne to reflect upon the Mad Hatter’s tea party in which tea was drunk all day because time stood still and was stuck at tea-time.

  1. Transcript: The Vice-Presidential Debate, 2 October 2008. Reprinted in the New York Times, 23 May 2012.

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963) 'Joseph Banks’ tea party for a Botany Bay tribesman is ruined by flies and spiders' 2014

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963)
Joseph Banks’ tea party for a Botany Bay tribesman is ruined by flies and spiders
2014
Digital print on paper (ed. 2/5)
66.0 x 57.0 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Sharon West’s recreation of an afternoon tea party is set in the early days of first contact. Joseph Banks was the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour on the first voyage of discovery which mapped the east coast of Australia between 1768 and 1771. While ashore he made an extensive collection of native flora and fauna which was sent back to natural history museums in England. Banks was also instrumental in the British government’s decision to colonise the New South Wales settlement.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999) 'The tea party' 1980

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999)
The tea party (installation photo)
1980
Painted wood, celluloid, plastic, enamelled metal, feathers
83.0 x 35.0 x 20.0 cm
Private collection

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999) 'The tea party' 1980 (detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999)
The tea party (detail)
1980
Painted wood, celluloid, plastic, enamelled metal, feathers
83.0 x 35.0 x 20.0 cm
Private collection

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne found the kewpie dolls amongst a large number of discarded things from an abandoned sideshow at the Bungendore dump in the summer of 1976. ‘I thought “Oh, those dollies, they’re having a … very joyful … picnic. They’re … in the paddock, they’ve got all these old things … they’ve sat down on the teapots and waved their wings around.”

For Gascoigne beauty existed in the most humble of objects and the wear and tear from use only added to the appeal. The enamel teapots were also found at various dumps and were a particular focus of her collecting.

‘I had a thing about enamelware because I see it as being elegant. People see the holes in it. I was collecting brown and white at the same time. To me it had a sort of elegance that a Dalmatian dog has, spotty, very elegant’.1

  1. Rosalie Gascoigne, excerpts from her correspondence, email communication with Martin Gascoigne, 13 March 2015

 

Julie Dowling (b. Australia 1969) Badimaya people, Western Australia 'White with one' 2003

 

Julie Dowling (b. Australia 1969)
Badimaya people, Western Australia
White with one
2003
Synthetic polymer paint and red ochre on canvas
121.0 x 100.0 cm
Collection of Jane Kleimeyer and Anthony Stuart

 

 

Julie Dowling’s painting is a poignant reminder of the Stolen Generations and the plight of many young girls, forcibly removed from their families, who were brought up in government institutions and trained to be domestic servant to white families. Girls were targeted because women were considered the ‘uplifters’ or ‘civilisers’ of their communities and as future mothers their education into the values of white society was deemed essential to enable successful assimilation. Girls in service were supposed to receive a wage but often this was retained by their employer and not passed on. Dowling points out it is also a history of Stolen wages.

 

Michael Cook (b. Australia 1968) Bidjara people, south-west Queensland 'Object (table)' 2015

 

Michael Cook (b. Australia 1968)
Bidjara people, south-west Queensland
Object (table)
2015
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle cotton rag (ed. 2/4 + 2AP)
140.0 x 99.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Michael Cook’s photographic tableau ‘turns the table’ on racism. By depicting the body of a white woman as a functional object in service to others, Cook considers the dehumanisation and objectification of one race of people by another in the history of slavery.

The double portrait on the back wall is by Johann Zoffany from 1778, and features Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) who was born into slavery in the West Indies. The daughter of an African mother, her father was an English naval officer who left her to the care of his uncle, Lord William Murray, where she was raised as an equal with Murray’s niece. Murray was instrumental in outlawing slavery in the United Kingdom in 1772. In the painting Zoffany depicts the two women standing together, the niece affectionately reaching out to Belle. Hence Cook’s afternoon tea is also a reminder that prejudice and racial inequality can be surmounted.

 

Yenny Huber (b. Austria 1980; arr. Australia 2000) 'Room No. 14' 2006

 

Yenny Huber (b. Austria 1980; arr. Australia 2000)
Room No. 14
2006
Digital print on aluminium panel (ed. 1/6)
27.2 x 27.2 cm
Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Underpinned by the belief that any one person is comprised of diverse, fragmentary and often illusory selves, Yenny Huber explores the various ego states that reside within. This photograph is a self portrait taken in a hotel room, but it is also an impersonation of an identity available to women. Tea-drinking was once described as ‘an infallible sign of an old maid’1 and in this work Huber offers us an image of a good Catholic girl, knees together, elbows in, sitting demurely on the couch sipping tea. It is an image of femininity constrained by the dictates of religion and outdated socially sanctioned ideals of respectable female behaviour.

  1. The Horsham Times, Victoria, 26 April 1898

 

Anne Zahalka (b. Australia 1957) 'Saturday 5.18 pm 1995' 1995 (printed 1997)

 

Anne Zahalka (b. Australia 1957)
Saturday 5.18 pm 1995
1995 (printed 1997)
Type C photograph (ed AP)
125.0 x 162.0 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Gift of the artist, 2011
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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except Christmas Day and Good Friday

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13
Jul
10

Review: ‘The Way Things Appear’ by Anne Zahalka at Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 29th June – 24th July, 2010

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Anne Zahalka
‘National Portrait Gallery #1’
1992/2010

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Anne Zahalka
‘National Portrait Gallery #5’
2010

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A patchy exhibition by Anne Zahalka at Arc One Gallery, Melbourne. I can’t help feeling that we have seen this before, and done better, in the work of Candida Hofer and Thomas Struth.

Although the square photographs are taken by a medium format film camera (a Hasselblad I suspect) and printed as C-type prints (hence the lush colours) because the camera was handheld this means that, in some of the photographs, little is actually in focus. While this may add to the immediacy of the images, like a quick snapshot as Zahalka prowls the galleries, it detracts from the clarity of the previsualisation of the artist whilst also detracting from the visual depth of field that the subject matter needed.

On the positive side there are some lovely spatial relationships between the figures in the paintings and the busts on the pedestals: in one particular photograph (National Portrait Gallery #2, 2010) there is an almost symbiotic relationship between the man in the painting at left, the bust of the man on the pedestal and the man at the very left in the right hand painting. This arrangement is like a triple portrait of the same person. A similar understanding of the spatial relationships within the image frame can be seen in National Portrait Gallery #1′ (see photograph above), one of the more successful photographs in the series, with it’s wonderful red flocked wallpaper and gilt frames.

On the right hand side of the gallery there are numerous vertical colour photographs taken on a 35mm camera that feature the back of people looking at a work of art (see National Gallery of Australia, Masters of Paris #5, 2010). These are basic photographs that seek to conceptualise the act of looking at art as a tourist industry to no great affect or insight into the condition being examined.

Many thankx to Angela Connor and Arc One Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image.

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Anne Zahalka
‘National Portrait Gallery #3’
1992/2010

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Anne Zahalka
‘Prado Museum, Madrid’
1992/2010

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Arc One Gallery
45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, 3000
T: (03) 9650 0589

Opening hours:
Tue – Sat 11am – 5pm

Arc One Gallery website

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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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