Posts Tagged ‘anthropology

05
Aug
18

Review: ‘Dale Cox: Inner Logic’ at Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 12th August 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Usurper Ruminant' 2016

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Usurper Ruminant
2016
Acrylic on gold enamel on board
120cm x 90cm

 

 

Clarion call

The sky is blue, the sun is shining and yet, in this era of the Anthropocene, the Earth is in deep shit. Through the activities of a virus, a contagion that infests the planet…. that is – the ego, the selfishness of the individual human and, collectively, of the human race – “we are perhaps amongst the first to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but the doomed fate of the Earth itself.”

My friend Dale Cox’s exhibition Inner Logic at Australian Galleries dissects this situation in a most intelligent and imaginative manner. Instead of didactic protest, Cox uses the language of Australian pastoral landscape, iconic edifice and stratigraphic cross section to make ironic comment on popular culture, history and religion. As you dissect the various influences and concepts within the work you chuckle to yourself at the artist’s inventiveness and humour.

Mixing the tight style and formal, classical beauty of Australian colonial painting (with reference in particular to the work of John Glover) with the uncanny sense of reality and precision found in the paintings of Jeffrey Smart, Cox twists his realities and points of view. Shopping trolleys have a strange perspective when filled with Australian colonial landscapes; aircraft stairs seem strangely twisted as they lead to a geological cross-section topped with verdant greenery (a journey through time); clouds in the burning landscape look like that of an atomic bomb; an Uluru-like profile of Elvis in the Australian bush is dotted with tents and encampments; and Australian ute’s of unlikely shape sit at the base of a constructed Elvis edifice, the most prominent thing to my mind in the painting being the four air conditioning units at the base of the construction cabin, sitting in an absolutely barren landscape. The perspicacity of Cox’s (re)marks is exemplary.

My favourite works in the exhibition are the Usurper paintings. Here Cox condenses the customs, traditions and rituals of the human race (colonisation, farming, habitation – power, possession, destruction and modification of the environment and its animals) onto the body of the (b)ovine family, the livestock “genetically modified over time through the artificial selection of desirable traits by humans, with a view to increasing the docility of the animals, their size and productivity, their quality as agricultural products, and other culturally desired features,”1 to serve humans who are substantially dependent on their livestock for sustenance and other purposes. These artificial bodies, these illegitimate usurpers, float on a sea of gold enamel and wood grain form.

Cox’s declamations, his inner logic if you like, document in the most inventive way the liturgy of errors of the human race. His work is a clarion call for humans to be better custodians (for that is what we are) of the Earth. Through his subversive paintings, the artist “challenges the myopic tendency for us humans to fixate on ourselves in a way that bodes poorly for our ability to see the bigger picture and act as stewards for the entire planet rather than as self serving, selfish species.” (Email to the author, 28 July 2018). His humors (basic substances which are in balance when a person, or in this case the Earth, is healthy) add to the raised voices against the naysayers of global warming, the backward looking fossil fuel industry, the power of nations and corporations, and the vested interests of the rich and powerful, mainly men. It’s time for the dreamers, the artists, and the spiritual to confront these dinosaurs of the past, so that they may shape the future. So that the human race can cast aside their shadow and learn to walk on the Earth without leaving tracks.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Dale Cox for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Shaman

“There are two kinds of people in this world.

There are those who are dreamers and those who are being dreamed.

There comes a time in every mans life when he must encounter his past.

For those that are dreamed, who have no more than a passing acquaintance with power, this moment is usually played out on their death beds as they try to bargain with fait for a few more moments of life time.

But for the dreamer, the person of power, this moment takes place alone, before a fire, when he calls upon the spectres of his personal past to stand before him like witnesses before the court…

I am not speaking of remembering the past. Anyone can remember the past, and in remembering we frame it to serve and justify the present. Remembering is a conscious act and therefore subject to embellishment. Remembering is easy.

The person of power sits alone before the fire and confronts his past. He hears the testimony of these spectres and he dismisses them one by one. He acquits himself of his past. If you comprehend this, the man of power has no past. No history that can claim him. He has cast aside his shadow and learnt to walk in the snow without leaving tracks.”

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Dr Alberto Villoldo

 

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Usurper Transplant' 2016

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Usurper Transplant
2016
Acrylic on gold enamel on board
120cm x 90cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Usurper Glover' 2016

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Usurper Glover
2016
Acrylic on gold enamel on board
120cm x 90cm

 

John Glover (England 1767 - Australia 1849, Australia from 1831) 'The River Nile, Van Diemen's Land, from Mr Glover's farm' 1837

 

John Glover (England 1767 – Australia 1849, Australia from 1831)
The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm
1837
Oil on canvas
76.4 x 114.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1956

 

 

John Glover’s colonial landscapes can be divided into two groups: pastoral scenes of the land surrounding his own property, and pre-contact Aboriginal Arcadias. Although the Aboriginal figures are at times generic, they are shown as active participants in the landscape. Such scenes were, however, entirely imagined, as Glover encountered very few Tasmanian Aboriginal people while in the colony. Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Tract 38 (Burning landscape)' 2012

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Tract 38 (Burning landscape)
2012
Acrylic on canvas
102 x 152cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Tract 38 (Burning landscape)' 2012 (detail)

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Tract 38 (Burning landscape) (detail)
2012
Acrylic on canvas
102 x 152cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Flight SQ2118 to Thailand' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Flight SQ2118 to Thailand
2018
Acrylic on board
81 x 122cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Rewilding II' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Rewilding II
2018
Acrylic on board
81 x 122cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Anticolonial' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Anticolonial
2018
Acrylic on board
81 x 122cm

 

 

Inner Logic 2018

The motifs and elements in this exhibition are all related to our human predicament; to this era of the Anthropocene and our unique capacity amongst living things to contemplate our own mortality. While we have grappled with our impermanence for thousands of years, we are perhaps amongst the first to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but the doomed fate of the Earth itself. A kind of double death.

It’s a lot to take on board.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, we are well practiced at diversion, denial and a kind of wishful thinking when it comes to our fate. Religion has served us rather well as a kind of ‘soft landing’ into the unknown; furnishing us cradle to grave with a reassuring framework towards a life after death.

It is an intoxicating idea that when we die we go elsewhere. Anything but death seems like a plan. Indeed, many opine that a belief in an afterlife is essential to the very fabric of humanity, that our lives would be meaningless if it simply ended. Perhaps there is an inner logic to this: Is there a point to a life that simply ends?

Our aversion to annihilation runs deep, and in light of some fairly compelling arguments that it is so, humanity is slow to accept the deal. And now that we are facing mounting evidence that we are hurtling towards an environmental collapse of our own making, it seems the all too human ability to simply avert our gaze is once again at play. Desperate times call for desperate measures in collective denial, and so it seems we enter the post-truth era.

There are myriad ways in which we pull off this practised art of self-delusion. Central to it is our unerring fascination with ourselves, our own species. ‘Anthropocentricity’ has served us for millennia as an essential tool of survival by strengthening our ties as family units, tribes, villages and, by extension, nations. The gods we created invariably took a patriarchal form, and we still cling to these heroic manifestations of our own image.

Even our innate altruism appears limited to all things ‘us’. We seem ill-equipped as stewards of the planet of being capable of seeing the bigger picture, of accommodating the survival of all species. All animals are necessarily hardwired to fixate on their own collective survival at the expense of other species, but it is humans alone who can progress that exclusivity to global obliteration.

I generalise, of course. Many manage to stare reality squarely in the face, and many more understand the importance of the broader environment. And it will get harder to remain wilfully ignorant, as the ecological collapse is well underway, overtaking even the gloomiest of predictive models. It is in plain sight and will only become harder to ignore.

The environmental problems we face appear too colossal for individuals to consider; it all seems too overwhelming, too daunting. These are not ‘human-sized’ problems after all. But if we can apply the same collective fervour and inventiveness we applied to bettering our human lot, if we can find a global will to turn our remarkable capacity for enterprise in science, technology and innovation to repairing the planet as a whole, we may have just cause for hope.

Dale Cox

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'The Bungle Bungles' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
The Bungle Bungles
2018
Acrylic on board
122 x 244cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Always on my mind' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Always on my mind
2018
Acrylic on board
101 x 244cm

 

 

Anthropocene definition

Relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Evolutionary psychology definition

Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain useful mental and psychological traits – such as memory, perception, or language – as adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural selection.

The purpose of this approach is to bring the functional way of thinking about biological mechanisms such as the immune system into the field of psychology, and to approach psychological mechanisms in a similar way.

In short, evolutionary psychology is focused on how evolution has shaped the mind and behaviour. Though applicable to any organism with a nervous system, most research in evolutionary psychology focuses on humans. (Text from the Science Daily website)

Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behaviour is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments…

Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviours or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations including the abilities to infer others’ emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, and cooperate with others. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

Tract definition

A short piece of writing, especially on a religious or political subject, that is intended to influence other people’s opinions; a large area of land; a major passage in the body, large bundle of nerve fibres, or other continuous elongated anatomical structure or region.

Usurper definition

A usurper is an illegitimate or controversial claimant to power, often but not always in a monarchy. In other words, a person who takes the power of a country, city, or established region for themselves without any formal or legal right to claim it as their own. Usurpers are both those who overtake a region by often unexpected physical force, as well as individuals or organisations who overtake a region through political influence and subterfuge – though the word “usurper” denotes a single person; either an individual who acted alone, or the leader of a group which supported their controversial claim.

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Untitled (Lunar lander of wood)' 2012

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Untitled (Lunar lander of wood)
2012
Acrylic on board
51 x 77cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Cold War Reliquary' 2014

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Cold War Reliquary
2014
Mixed media Wood acrylics gold enamel metal rock glass
Dimensions variable
Created for the Blake Prize

 

 

Cold War Reliquary 2015-16

A reliquary (also referred to as a shrine or by the French term châsse) is a container for relics. These may be the purported physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures. (Wikipedia definition)

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My sculpture is a vessel- a craft, a portal, a reliquary. Like many Religious objects its serves as a nexus, a transport between Earth and Heaven. The Apollo Lunar Module carried the first Human to the Moon landing on July 20 1969. I was 3 months old. Russia had landed an unmanned craft safely on the moon ten years earlier. The ‘Space Race’ was chiefly an assertion of Ideological superiority between Communism and Capitalism, and the most symbolic battlefield of the ‘Cold War’.

I have long thought of mans tentative forays into space as a kind of membrane piercing journey into the Spiritual – the body released of its Earthly mass and transcended into the Heavens. The reference to a Religious Relic and object of Art – a reliquary for the precious moon rock it houses within the glass dome, elevates a Mechanical Machine to the status of a Religious Relic and is intended to supplant and parody the Christian Canon that asserts our ascension to Heaven (or Hell) upon death.

The essential role of Science as the facilitator of Space Exploration is significant, and as such the Spacecraft itself is venerated here as a Religious object.

The use of Quasi Religious painted panels directly references early Christian Art, whilst most of the Latin Inscriptions are direct translations of NASA Radio Transcripts between (Earth) Base Command and the Astronauts during the critical stages of the Moon landing, and the first historic moments upon landing. Buzz Aldrins remark as he first set foot on the moon was “Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.” In Latin Magnificus in desertum.

Dale Cox

 

 

 

Cold War Reliquary

The Cold War Reliquary is a vessel – a spacecraft, and a Holy Relic. Like many Religious objects, it serves as a nexus, a transport between Earth and Heaven.
I have long thought of man’s forays into space as a kind of membrane piercing journey into the Spiritual – the body released of its Earthly mass and transcended into the Heavens. This reliquary for the precious moon rock it houses within a glass dome, elevates a Mechanical Machine to the status of a Religious Relic and playfully parodies the Space Race as the era in which Science finally transcended Religion.

 

Inner Logic continues Dale Cox’s insightful and evocative explorations into environmental, spiritual and anthropological themes; investigating the impact of humankind on this planet and our collective search for meaning.

“The motifs and elements within the current exhibition of my paintings all are in some way or another related to our human predicament and this era of the anthropocene and our unique capacity amongst living things to contemplate our own mortality,” says Cox, “We humans have been grappling with our own mortality for thousands of years. Are we today, however amongst the first generations to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but also the doomed fate of the Earth itself? A kind of double death…”

Inner Logic presents a dynamic series of recent paintings in Dale Cox’s highly distinctive visual language, in which elements from the natural world and icons from popular, religious, industrial and historical culture are assembled in precarious, yet harmonious balance upon a backdrop of the vast unknown. Meticulously executed in acrylic paint, these works are visually intricate and conceptually dense, yet the clarity and significance of their message resonates with immediacy and power.

Dale Cox is equally proficient in sculpture as he is in painting and works across a wide range of media. This exhibition presents the artist’s compelling Cold War Reliquary (Finalist in the 64th Blake Prize); a magnificent recreation of the Lunar Lander spacecraft realised as a gilded religious receptacle, “My sculpture is a vessel – a spacecraft, a portal, a reliquary. Like many religious objects its serves as a nexus, a transport between Earth and Heaven. I have long thought of man’s forays into space as a kind of membrane piercing journey into the spiritual – the body released of its Earthly mass and transcended into the Heavens. This reliquary for the precious moon rock it houses within a glass dome, elevates a Mechanical Machine to the status of a Religious Relic and playfully parodies and challenges the Christian Church.” Dale Cox, 2018

Press release from Australian Galleries

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Art Mart' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Art Mart
2018
Acrylic on board
120 x 89cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'Albert' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
Albert
2018
Acrylic on board
160 x 122cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'The wonder of you' 2018

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
The wonder of you
2018
Acrylic on board
120 x 90cm

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969) 'The wonder of you' 2018 (detail)

 

Dale Cox (b. 1969)
The wonder of you (detail)
2018
Acrylic on board
120 x 90cm

 

 

Australian Galleries
35 Derby Street,
Collingwood 3066
Phone: +61 3 9417 4303

Opening hours:
Open 7 days 10am to 6pm

Australian Galleries website

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01
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part I’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Germany

Exhibition dates: 9th June 9 2013 – 17th May 2015

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Another group of interesting colonial African photographs from The Walther Collection. Similar in scope to the 20 volume series The American Indian (1906 – 1930) by ethnologist and photographer Edward S. Curtis which “documented as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared,” (Wikipedia), A. M. Duggan-Cronin’s 11 volume series The Bantu Tribes of South Africa (1928 – 1954), “set out to depict what he considered the disappearing indigenous populations of South Africa.” Disappearance and loss are the all to ready themes of these recorders of vanishing races.

“Santu Mofokeng’s ‘The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950’ introduces the concept of the photographic archive as both a repository of documents and an assemblage of representations “ (media release). In this work Mofokeng juxtaposes images of “civilized” natives – images urban black working- and middle-class families had commissioned, requested, or tacitly sanctioned without evidence of coercion – with text that spurns, questions or challenges official integrationist policies taking their model from colonial officials and settlers. “The images depicted here reflect their sensibilities, aspirations and their self-image.”

The artist asks:

“Are these mere solemn relics of disrupted narratives or are these images expressive of the general human predicament?”

“Who is gazing”

“Who are these people?”

“What were their aspirations?”

“Did these images serve to challenge prevailing western perceptions of the African?”

“Do these images serve as testimony of mental colonisation?”

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. See the full work and read the accompanying text of Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950.

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Part I: The Black House: Santu Mofokeng and A.M. Duggan-Cronin

“A juxtaposition of A. M. Duggan-Cronin’s The Bantu Tribes of South Africa and Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950 introduces the concept of the photographic archive as both a repository of documents and an assemblage of representations. Duggan-Cronin, an Irish South African who lived in the mining town of Kimberley, set out to depict what he considered the disappearing indigenous populations of South Africa. His monumental study, entitled The Bantu Tribes of South Africa, published between 1928-1954, includes photographs, descriptive captions, and anthropological essays. In addition to presenting all eleven Bantu Tribes books, a complete sequence of photogravure plates from The Nguni: Baca, Hlubi, Xesibe (1954) will be on view, alongside a selection of vintage gelatin-silver prints by Duggan-Cronin, which had previously circulated as individual objects.

In contrast to Duggan-Cronin’s renowned and contested ethnographic vision of African heritage, Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950 portrays the modern self-representation of African subjects. In the early 1990s, the artist collected family studio portraits from late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century South Africa and transformed the images into a slide show, complete with narratives about the sitters. He also produced a series of gelatin-silver print reproductions of the portraits, which are on view together with a selection of the project’s original vintage prints and Mofokeng’s research notes. Envisioned as a “counter-archive,” The Black Photo Album challenges fixed ideas most often associated with images of Africans.

By placing these two bodies of work alongside one another, Part I of Distance and Desire opens up the question of the “African Archive,” understood here not so much as an official repository of documents and objects but as a contested assemblage of representations that have helped to construct and project a dominant image of Africans that is now under pressure and revision.”

Press release from The Walther Collection website

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at me: 1890-1950' 1997

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'The Late Chief Jonathan Molapo' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
The Late Chief Jonathan Molapo
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Woman of Middle Age at Moitšupeli’s' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Woman of Middle Age at Moitšupeli’s
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'A Morolong Youth' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
A Morolong Youth
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Bomvana Initiates' 1930

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Bomvana Initiates
1930

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Ovambo (Ogandjera) Woman' 1936

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Ovambo (Ogandjera) Woman
1936

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Bishop Jacobus G. Xaba and his family? Photographer: Deale, Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony, c. 1890s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Moeti and Lazarus Fume)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Scholtz Studio, Lindley, Ouma Maria Letsipa, née van der Merwe, with her daughter Minkie, Orange River Colony, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, South Africa, early twentieth century)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Elizabeth and Jan van der Merwe, Johannesburg, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Elliot Phakane, Bethlehem Location, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified subjects, Clifton Studio, Braamfontein c.1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

Opening hours:
Thurs – Sunday by appointment and with guided tour only
Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

The Walther Collection website

Santu Mofokeng The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950

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18
Nov
11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Abstract

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

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Keywords

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

Word count: 5,056

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Significance of the Mural

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

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

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

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

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

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Issues in Conservation

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

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

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

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

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Ownership or custodianship

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

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

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

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

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The conservator and the cultural landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To restore or conserve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Current Crack is Wack
painted after 1990

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Now you see it, now you don’t

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Endnotes

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

2. Ibid.,

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

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

5. Gott, Ted. Op cit., pp.7-8.

6. Gott, Ted. Op cit., p.8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27. Ibid., p.2.

28. Ibid., p.3-5.

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

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

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

32. Ibid.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

44. Op. cit.,

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

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

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

48. Ibid.,

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

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

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

52. Wheeler, Donna Op cit.,

53. Sharpe, Emily Op cit.,

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

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20
Jul
11

Review: ‘Paradise’ by Brook Andrew at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th June – 30th July 2011

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Many thankx to Olivia Radonich for her help and to Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Images courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne. Photos by Christian Capurro.

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Brook Andrew ‘Paradise’ installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 1 (red)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28.5 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 2 (orange)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 34 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 3 (yellow)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28.5 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 4 (green)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
25 x 33.5 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 5 (magenta)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28 x 8

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This is a strong, refined photo-ethnographic exhibition by Brook Andrew at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne, one that holds the viewers attention, an exhibition that is witty and inventive if sometimes veering too closely to the simplistic and didactic in some works.

Rare postcards of Indigenous peoples and their colonising masters and surrounded by thick polished wood frames (the naturalness of the wood made smooth and perfect) and coloured neon lights that map out the captured identities, almost like a highlighting texta and forms of urban graffiti. This device is espcially effective in works such as ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ (both 2011, below) with their male and female neon forms, and ‘Flow Chart’ (2011, below) that references an anthropological map.

Other works such as ‘Monument 1’ (2011, below) lay the postcards into the rungs of a small step ladder covered in white paint that has echoes of the colonisers renovation of suburban homes and becomes a metaphor for the Indigenous peoples being stepped on, oppressed and downtrodden. In a particularly effective piece, ‘Monument 2’ (2011, below) the viewer stares down into a black box with multiple layers of neon that spell out the words ‘I see you’ in the Wiradjuri language: we can relate this work to Lacan’s story of the sardine can, where the point of view of the text makes us, the viewer, seem rather out of place in the picture, an alien in the landscape. The text has us in its sights making us uncomfortable in our position.

The work ‘Paradise’ (2011, six parts, above) can certainly be seen as paradise lost but the pairing of black/white/colour postcards is the most reductive of the whole exhibition vis a vis Indigenous peoples and the complex discourse involved in terms of oppression, exploitation, empowerment, identity, mining rights and land ownership. The two quotations below can be seen to be at opposite ends of the same axis in this discourse. My apologies for the long second quotation but it is important to understand the context of what Akiko Ono is talking about with regard to the production of Indigenous postcards.

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White… has the strange property of directing our attention to color while in the very same movement it exnominates itself as a color. For evidence of this we need look no further than to the expression “people of color,” for we know very well that this means “not White.” We know equally well that the color white is the higher power to which all colors of the spectrum are subsumed when equally combined: white is the sum totality of light, while black is the total absence of light. In this way elementary optical physics is recruited to the psychotic metaphysics of racism, in which White is “all” to Black’s “nothing”…”

Victor Burgin 1

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“In his study of Aboriginal photography, Peterson also looks at the dynamics of colonial power relations in which both European and Aboriginal subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other. Peterson in the main writes about two different contexts of the usage of photography of Aboriginal people

1. popular usage of photographs, especially in the form of postcards in the early twentieth century (Peterson 1985, 2005)

2. anthropologists’ ethnographic involvement with photography (Peterson 2003, 2006).

Regarding the first, Peterson depicts how the discourses of atypical (that is, disorganised) family structures and destitution among Aboriginal people were produced and interacted with the prevalent moral discourses of the time. He makes an important remark about the interactive dimensions that existed between the photographer and the Aboriginal subject. Hand-printed postcards in the same period showed much more positive images of Aboriginal people (Peterson 2005: 18–22). These were ‘real’ photographs taken by the photographers who had daily interactions with Aboriginal people…

Peterson gives greater attention to photographs taken by anthropologists for scientific purposes, and in this second context provides a more detailed treatment of his insight regarding the discrepancies between the colonisers’ discourse and the actual visual knowledge that photography offers…

These two contexts are not, of course, mutually exclusive. By dealing with image ethics and the changing photographic contract, Peterson (2003) shows the interlocking formations of popular image, anthropological knowledge and Aboriginal self-representation. In particular, it is important to remember that Aboriginal people have not always rejected collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the coloniser. Aboriginal people were not bothered by posing for photographers to produce images such as ‘naked’ Aboriginal men and women in formal pose, accompanied by an ‘unlikely combination’ of weapons (Peterson 2005); and at times complex negotiations occurred between the photographer and the photographed – resulting in both consent and refusal (Peterson 2003: 123–31).

These anecdotes suggest the necessity of unravelling the ‘lived’ dimensions of colonial and/or racial subjugation and resistance to that subjugation from the site of their occurrence …

Rather than scrutinising the authenticity of Aboriginality or taking it for granted that ethnographic photography is doomed to reproduce a colonial or anthropological power structure, it is more important to attend to the ‘instances in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms’, as Pratt (1992: 7, emphasis in the original) suggests. She proposes the term ‘autoethnography’ to refer to these instances: ‘If ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations’ (Pratt 1992).

Akiko Ono 2

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The work ‘Paradise’ buys into the first quotation in a big way, playing as it does with the idioms of black/white/colour. It can also be seen as a form of autoethnographic text that uses rare postcards to critique historical relations between peoples and cultures. What it does not do, I feel, is delve deeper to try to understand the “interlocking formations of popular image, anthropological knowledge and Aboriginal self-representation” and resistance to that subjugation from the site of their occurrence. As the quotation observes “Aboriginal people have not always rejected collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the coloniser” and it is important to understand how the disciplinary systems of the coloniser (the ethnographic documenting through photography) where turned on their head to empower Indigenous people who undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms. Nothing is ever just black and white. It is the interstitial spaces between that are always the most interesting.

In conclusion this an elegant exhibition of old and new, an autoethnographic text that seeks to address critical issues that look back at us and say – ‘I see you’.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Brook Andrew
Flow Chart
2011
Rare postcards, sapele and neon
283 x 449.5 x 8.5 cm

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Brook Andrew ‘Paradise’ installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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Brook Andrew
Men
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
82 x 264 x 12.5 cm

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Brook Andrew
Women
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
179 x 179 x 6 cm

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Brook Andrew
Women (detail)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
179 x 179 x 6 cm

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“Tolarno Galleries is pleased to present Paradise, a major solo exhibition by Brook Andrew. Widely regarded as a multi-disciplinary artist, Brook Andrew’s Jumping Castle War Memorial was a highlight of the 17th Biennale of Sydney. Recently his major installation, Ancestral Worship 2010, was included in 21st Century: Art in the First Decade at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. His powerful new installation – Marks and Witness: A Lined crossing in Tribute to William Barak 2011 – was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria and is currently on display at Federation Square, Melbourne.

Paradise expands Brook Andrew’s interest in forgotten histories. His new works ask us to think about what has disappeared from our worlds, literally, and also from our consciousness. The exhibition features a number of assemblages made in neon and wood and incorporating rare postcards and photographs collected over many years. Men 2011 includes the original postcard that became the source for Sexy and Dangerous, Andrew’s iconic work of 1995.

Brook Andrew’s continuing search for curious portrait images from the 19th and early 20th century represents his fascination with the way the camera has documented a particular ‘colonial’ gaze and an interest in the exotic. Outlining or highlighting these images in glorious colored neon emphasizes this point.

However bright the neon, Brook Andrew’s works are characterized by a formal beauty and simplicity that explores conceptually complex ideas and themes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Monument 4, a ‘boomerang bar’ or Monument 2, a black lacquer box of neon containing the words ‘I see you’ in Wiradjuri. Gazing into this ‘well of words’ is like looking into infinity.

Brook Andrew’s work is held in every major collection in Australia. An important survey of his work: Brook Andrew Eye to Eye was presented by Monash University Museum of Art in 2007. In 2008 his work was showcased in Theme Park at AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in The Netherlands. Major publications accompanied both of these solo exhibitions.”

Press release from Tolarno Galleries

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Brook Andrew
Monument 2
2011
Black lacquer, wood, perspex, neon, mirror and wire
38 x 99 x 87 cm

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Brook Andrew
Monument 2 (detail)
2011
Black lacquer, wood, perspex, neon, mirror and wire
38 x 99 x 87 cm

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Brook Andrew
18 lives in Paradise
Single box detail
2011

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The basic unit used in 18 Lives in Paradise is a cardboard printed box 50 x 50 x 50 cm. The boxes are the building blocks for a sculpture, wall or any other structure. The box is also a parody of the courier box – those containers daily transported around the globe in the vast movement of lives and identities today. What was thought of as fixed may not be so.

The images are sourced from postcards. The postcards range from the early to mid-twentieth century and form part of a worldwide curiosity in indigenous people, circus acts and personalities, environment and resources … The images come together as an assemblage of ‘freaks’ and represent the collision paths of indigenous and non-indigenous cultures; those being documented out of curiosity and those belonging to dominant cultures who have used the land and its people for entertainment and wealth.

18 Lives in Paradise can form a column or wall. It can be a barrier, a beacon or epitaph. En masse, the boxes are a symbol of many lives whose identities are sometimes twisted for the gaze of the curious world.

Brook Andrew 2011

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Brook Andrew
Monument 1
2011
Black lacquer, are postcards, wood, mirror and metal
104.5 x 69.5 x 58 cm

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1. Burgin, Victor. In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, p.131.

2. Ono, Akiko. “Who Owns the ‘De-Aboriginalised’ Past? Ethnography meets photography: a case study of Bundjalung Pentecostalism,” in Musharbash, Yasmine and Barber, Marcus (eds.,). Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge: Essays in honour of Nicolas Peterson. The Australian National University E Press [Online] Cited 16/07/2011.

  • Peterson, N. 1998. “Welfare colonialism and citizenship: politics, economics and agency,” in N. Peterson and W. Sanders (eds), Citizenship and Indigenous Australians: Changing Conceptions and Possibilities, pp. 101-17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Peterson, N. 1999. “Hunter-gatherers in first world nation states: bringing anthropology home.” Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 23 (4): 847–61.
  • Peterson, N. 2003. “The changing photographic contract: Aborigines and image ethics,” in C. Pinney and N. Peterson (eds), Photography’s Other Histories, pp. 119–45. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Peterson, N. 2005. “Early 20th century photography of Australian Aboriginal families: illustration or evidence?” Visual Anthropology Review 21 (1–2): 11–26.
  • Peterson, N. 2006. “Visual knowledge: Spencer and Gillen’s use of photography in The Native Tribes of Central Australia.” Australian Aboriginal Studies (1): 12–22.
  • Pratt, M. L. 1992. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writings and Transculturation. London: Routledge.

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Footnote 1. Peterson has built up a collection of process-printed (that is, mass-produced) postcard images and hand-printed images dating from 1900 to 1920 (that is, real photographic postcards), over 20 years, during which time he obtained a copy every time he saw a new image. He feels confident that he has seen two-thirds of the process-printed picture postcards from the period although it is harder to estimate how many hand-printed images were circulating (Peterson 2005: 25n.3). He had a collection of 528 process-printed postcards (Peterson 2005: 25) and 272 hand-printed photographs (p. 18) by 2005.

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000
Website: www.tolarnogalleries.com

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm, Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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