Posts Tagged ‘Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

02
Jan
13

Melbourne’s magnificent eleven 2012

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Here’s my pick of the eleven best artists/exhibitions which featured on the Art Blart blog in 2012. Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Review: The work of Robyn Hosking, AT_SALON at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

6th March – 24th March 2012

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Robyn Hosking
The Wing Walker
2011
Mixed media

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Robyn Hosking
The Wing Walker (detail)
2011
Mixed media

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… My favourite has to be The Wing Walker (2011) as an irate Julia Gillard tries to get rid of Kevin Rudd once and for all, even poking him with a stick to push him off the edge of the biplane. Balanced on a slowly revolving turntable with the world at its centre, this political merry-go round is panacea for the soul for people sick of politicians. This is brilliant political satire. The planes are all ends up and even when Julia thinks she has got rid of Kevin there he is, hanging on for dear life from the undercarriage of one of the planes…

Reminding me of the fantasy creatures of Tom Moore, these whimsical manifestations deal with serious, life changing and challenging issues with purpose, feeling and a wicked sense of humour. I really enjoyed this art (and joy is the correct word) because it takes real world issues, melds fantasy and pointed observation and reflects it back, as the artist observes, in a funfair’s distorted mirror. Magic!

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2/ Review: Martin Parr: In Focus at Niagara Galleries, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 31st March 2012

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This is a fine exhibition of the work of celebrated English photographer Martin Parr at Niagara Galleries, Richmond, albeit with one proviso. The mainly large colour prints are handsomely displayed in plain white frames within the gallery space and are taken from his well known series: Last Resort, Luxury, New British and British Food. Parr’s work is at its best when he concentrates on the volume of space within the image plane and the details that emerge from such a concentrated visualisation – whether it be the tension points within the image, assemblage of colour, incongruity of dress, messiness of childhood or philistine nature of luxury.

And so it goes. The dirt under the fingernails of the child eating a doughnut, the lurid colours of the popsicle and jacket of the kid with dribble on his face, all fantastic… They are joyous paeans to the quirky, incongruous worlds in which we live and circulate. They evidence life itself in all its orthogonal absurdity.

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Martin Parr
England. New Brighton.
From the series Last Resort
1983 – 1985
Pigment print
Edition of 5
102 x 127 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

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Martin Parr
England. New Brighton.
From the series Last Resort
1983 – 1985
Pigment print
Edition of 5
102 x 127 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

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3/ Review: Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1 – 41 by Nicola Loder at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 7th April 2012

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I have always loved the work of Nicola Loder ever since I saw her solo exhibition Child 1-175: A Nostalgia for the Present at Stop 22 Gallery in St Kilda in 1996. This exhibition is no exception. Loder is the consummate professional, her work is as imaginative and intriguing as ever and there has been a consistent thematic development of ideas within her work over a long period of time. These ideas relate to the nature of seeing and being seen, the mapping of identity and the process of its (dis)appearance…

Loder’s exquisitely sensuous description of disappearance allows us to see the phenomenal word afresh. I look forward with a sense of anticipation to the next voyage of discovery the artist will take me on.

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Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1 – 41 by Nicola Loder, installation photograph at Helen Gorie Galerie

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Nicola Loder
Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1-41 (no 11)
2012
Polyester thread, muslin
86 x 69cm

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4/ Review: Jane Brown / Australian Gothic at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th April – 12th May 2012

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Jane Brown
Big Trout, New South Wales
2010
Museo silver rag print
59 x 46 cm

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Jane Brown
Adelong, New South Wales
2011
Fibre based, silver gelatin print
16.5 x 20.5 cm

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This is a good exhibition of small, darkly hewn, traditionally printed silver gelatin photographs, beautifully hung in the small gallery at Edmund Pearce and lit in the requisite, ambient manner. There are some outstanding photographs in the exhibition. The strongest works are the surrealist tinged, film noir-ish mise-en-scènes, the ones that emphasise the metaphorical darkness of the elements gathered upon the stage. Photographs such as Big TroutThe Female Factory, Adelong, New South Wales and Captain’s Flat Hotel, New South Wales really invoke a feeling of unhomely (or unheimlich), where nature is out of kilter. These images unsettle our idea of Oztraliana, our perceived sense of Self and our place in the world. They disrupt normal transmission; they transmutate the seen environment, transforming appearance, nature and form.

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5/ Review: Jacqui Stockdale: The Quiet Wild at Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th April – 19th May 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale
Rama-Jaara the Royal Shepherdess
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Jacqui Stockdale
Lagunta Man, Leeawuleena
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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These are incredibly humorous, magical and symbolic photographs. A thought came into my mind when I was in the gallery surrounded by the work: for me they represented a vision of the Major Arcana of the Tarot (for example Jaguar Hombre could be seen as an inverted version of the Hanged Man with his foot in a figure four, the Hanged Man symbolising the need to just be in the world, yielding his mind and body to the Universal flow). The Major Arcana deal with the human condition, each card representing the joys and sorrows every man and woman can experience in a lifetime. In a way Stockdale offers us her own set of subversive Major Arcana, images that transgress the boundaries of the colonial vernacular, offering the viewer a chance to explore the heart of the quiet wild.

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6/ Review: Littoral by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff at Colour Factory Gallery, Fitzroy

Exhibition dates: 4th May – 26th May 2012

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It was such a joy then to walk around the corner from the CCP to the Colour Factory Gallery and view the exhibition Littoral by emerging artist Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. This is one of the best, if not the best, “photography” exhibition I have seen so far this year. As soon as you walk into the simple, elegant gallery you are surrounded by fourteen large scale horizontal photographs that are suffused with colour variations bouncing across the gallery – here a blue, there a green, now a lush orange palette. The effect is much like Monet’s waterlilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris; seated in the middle of the four curved paintings you are surrounded by large daubs of paint of various hues that have an elemental effect – resonances of earth, air, water, fire – on the viewer. The same affection of colour and space can be found in Laemmle-Ruff’s photographs.

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Olympic Stadium
2012
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Truck in Safi
2010
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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7/ Review: Lost & Found: Family Photos Swept away by the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st June – 15th July 2012

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What we are left with in these images are vestiges of presence, remnants or traces of people that have passed on. In a kind of divine intervention, these photographs ask the viewer questions about the one fact that we cannot avoid in our lives, our own mortality, and what remains after we pass on. We can never know these people and places, just as we can never know the place and time of our death – when our “time” is up – but these photographs awaken in us a subconscious remembering: that we may be found (in life), then lost (through death), then found again in the gaze of the viewer looking at the photographs in the future present. We are (dis)continuous beings.

There is no one single reading of these photographs for “there are only competing narratives and interpretations of a world that cannot be wholly, accurately described.” These indescribable photographs impinge on our consciousness calling on us to remember even as the speed of contemporary life asks us to forget. This ethical act of looking, of mourning and remembering, of paying homage to presence acknowledges that we choose not to let pass into the dark night of the soul these traces of our forebears, for each emanation is deeply embedded within individual and cultural memory.

These photographs are a contemporary form of Western ‘dreaming’ in which we feel a link to the collective human experience. In this reification, we bear witness to the (re)assemblance of life, the abstract made (subconsciously) concrete, as material thing. These images of absent presence certainly reached out and touched my soul. Vividly, I choose to remember rather than to forget.

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8/ Review: Berlinde De Bruyckere: We are all Flesh at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd June – 29th July 2012

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The main work We Are All Flesh (2012) reminded me of a version of the game The Hanged Man (you know, the one where you have to guess the letters of a word and if you don’t get the letter, the scaffold and the hanged man are drawn). The larger of the two hanging pieces featured two horse skins of different colours intertwined like a ying yang paux de deux. Psychologically the energy was very heavy. The use of straps to suspend the horses was inspired. Memories of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and The Godfather rose to the surface. My favourite piece was 019 (2007). Elegant in its simplicity this beautiful display case from a museum was dismantled and shipped over to Australia in parts and then reassembled here. The figurative pieces of wood, made of wax, seemed like bodies drained of blood displayed as specimens. The blankets underneath added an element of comfort. The whole piece was restrained and beautifully balanced. Joseph Beuys would have been very proud.

The “visceral gothic” contained in the exhibition was very evident. I liked the artist’s trembling and shuddering. Her narratives aroused a frisson, a moment of intense danger and excitement, the sudden terror of the risen animal

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
We Are All Flesh
2012
Treated horse skin, epoxy, iron armature
280 x 160 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galleria Continua

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
019
2007
Wax, epoxy, metal, glass, wood, blankets
293.5 x 517 x 77.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris

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9/ Review: Light Works at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd March – 16th September 2012

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This is an intimate and stimulating photographic exhibition at the NGV International featuring the work of artists Mike and Doug Starn, David Stephenson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bill Henson, Adam Fuss, Simone Douglas, Park Hong-Chun, Eugenia Raskopoulos, Sam Shmith, Christoph Dahlhausen and Patrick Bailly-Maitre-Grand. It is fantastic to see an exhibition of solely contemporary photographs at the National Gallery of Victoria taken from their collection (with nary a vintage silver gelatin photograph in sight!), one which examines the orchestration of light from which all photography emanates – used by different photographers in the creation, and there is the key word, of their work. Collectively, the works seem to ooze a mysterious inner light, a facing towards the transcendent divine – both comforting, astonishing and terrifying in part measure.

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Japanese 1948-, worked in United States 1972-
Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
42.3 x 54.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2009
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy The Pace Gallery, New York

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Mike Starn
American 1961-
Doug Starn
American 1961-
Sol Invictus
1992
Orthographic film, silicon, pipe clamps, steel and adhesive tape
175.0 x 200.0 x 35.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1994
© Doug Starn, Mike Starn/ARS, New York. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

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10/ Review: Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th September – 11th November 2012

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In his visual mosaics Crewdson engages our relationship with time and space to challenge the trace of experience. His tableaux act as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph. His photographs are a form of monism in which two forces (interior / exterior) try to absorb each other but ultimately lead to a state of equilibrium. It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic as much as information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time. This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the non-narrative / meta-narrative,”and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)” encourage escapism in the imagination of the viewer. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph as “felt knowledge” (Walter Benjamin), recalling to mind the sensory data placed before our eyes, something that can be experienced but cannot be explained by man: “the single moment of the present amidst the transience of life and searching for some kind of eternal truth.”

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Installation photograph of the series Beneath the Roses from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In a Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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11/ Exhibition: Janina Green: Ikea at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th November 28 – 15th December 2012

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Installation photograph of 'Ikea' by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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Installation photograph of Ikea by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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Janina Green. 'Orange vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Orange vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with orange photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Fable = invent (an incident, person, or story)

Simulacrum = pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original

Performativity = power of discourse, politicization of abjection, ritual of being

Body / identity / desire = imperfection, fluidity, domesticity, transgression, transcendence

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Intimate, conceptually robust and aesthetically sensitive.
The association of the images was emotionally overwhelming.
An absolute gem. One of the highlights of the year.

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16
Sep
12

Review: ‘Pat Brassington: À Rebours’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th August – 23rd September 2012

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Installation photographs of Pat Brassington: À Rebours at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

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This is a disappointing exhibition of Pat Brassington’s photographic work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Despite two outstanding catalogue essays by Juliana Engberg and Edward Colless (whose textual and conceptual pyrotechnics morphs À Rebours – against the grain/ against nature – into a “rebus,” an iconographic puzzle, a cryptic device usually of a name made by putting together letters and words; who notes that the work has strong links to the idea of perversion (of nature) and that the artist corrupts the normal taxonomic ordering of the photogenic so that the work becomes alien ‘other’, “an army of invaders from ‘the other side’ of the print, who give away their identities with the flick of reptilian tongue or a vulval opening on the back of the neck”) – despite all of this, the smallish images fail to live in the large gallery spaces of ACCA and fall rather flat, their effect as pail and wane as the limited colour palette of the work itself (which is why, I perceive, some of the gallery walls have been painted a sky blue colour, to add some life to the work).

Unlike most, I have never been convinced of the efficacy and importance of Brassington’s mature style. The work might have seemed fresh when it was originally produced but it now seems rather stale and dated, the pieces too contrived for the viewer to attain any emotional sustenance from the work. The vulvic openings, the blind steps on a path to nowhere, the libidinal tongues, fallen bodies, slits, effusions, effluxions and fleshy openings (where internal becomes external, where memories, dreams and alienness toward Self become self-evident) are too basic in their use of surrealist, psycho-sexual tropes, too singular in their mono-narrative statements to allow the viewer answers to the questions which the artist poses. In other words the viewer is left hanging; the work does not take you anywhere that is useful or particularly interesting. While it is instructive to see the work collectively because it builds the narrative through a collection of themes of disembodiment the claim (in the video) that sight lines are important in this regard does not stand scrutiny because the work is too small for the viewer to discern at a distance the correlation between different works. Look at the slideshow at the top of the posting and notice how the gallery hang makes the work and the space feel dead: too few pieces hung at too large a distance apart only adds to the isolation, both physically and conceptually, of the work.

For me, the revelation of the exhibition was the earlier work. As can be seen from the photographs posted here, the groupings of analogue silver gelatin prints within the gallery spaces have real presence and narrative power because the viewer can construct their own meanings which are not didactic but open ended. These pieces really are amazing. They remind me of the best work of one of my favourite artists David Wojnarowicz and that is a compliment indeed. In the video Brassington rails against the serendipity of working with analogue photography whilst acknowledging that this was one of its strengths because you sometimes never knew what you would get – while working in Photoshop the artist has ultimate control. Perhaps some of that serendipity needs to be injected into the mature work! I get the feeling from the analogue work that something really matters, but you are unsure what whereas the digital work has me fixed like a rabbit in the headlights and leaves no lasting impression or imprint on my memory.

It amazes me in these days of post-photography, post postmodernism where there is no one meta-narrative how curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work. Of course the other reason is that when a person walks into a room and there is a Henson, Arkeley or Brassington on the wall, the kudos and social standing of the person becomes obvious. Oh, you have a Bill Henson, how wonderful! It’s like a signature dish at a restaurant and everybody expects it to be the same, every time you go there. In art this is because the curators have liked the work and the collectors have bought the work so the artist thinks, right, I’ll have some of that and they make more of the same. Does this make this artist’s “style” the best thing that they have done. Sadly no, and many artists get trapped in the honey pot and the work never progresses and changes. Such is the case in this exhibition. Of course some artists have been more successful at evading this trap than others such as the master Picasso (who constantly reinvented himself in his style but not his themes) and in photography, Robert Mapplethorpe, who went from personal narrative to S & M photographs, to black men, to flowers and portraits as subject matter. What all of these transmogrifying artists do in all their bodies of work, however disparate they may be, is address the same thematic development of the work, ask the same questions of the audience in different forms. It is about time curators and collectors became more aware of this trend in contemporary art making.

In conclusion I would say to the artist – thank you for the work, especially the powerful analogue photographs, but it’s time to move on. Let’s see whether the journey has stalled or there is life and imagination yet on the path to alienation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
Cumulus Analysis
1986-87
18 silver gelatin photographs

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“As part of its Influential Australian Artist series, ACCA will present a survey of works by leading Australian photo-based artist Pat Brassington from August 11. Pat Brassington was one of the first artists to recognize the potential of the digital format, and has used it to create an enormous body of work – images that are hauntingly beautiful, deeply psychological, and sometimes disturbing.

Her works reference the tradition of surrealist photography. Recurring motifs usually include interior and domestic spaces and strange bodily mutations that take place within the human, predominantly female, form. The manipulation of the image is restrained, but the effect often uncanny and dramatic. À Rebours brings together works from Brassington’s exceptional 30 year career, presented over a series of small rooms aimed to emphasise the unsettling domesticity and claustrophobic atmosphere in her images. The exhibition title is inspired by the banned 1884 French novel of the same name, which in English translates as ‘against nature’ or ‘against the grain’.

Brassington was born in 1942 in Tasmania, and studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art in the early eighties She has exhibited in a number of group exhibitions including Feminism never happened, IMA, Brisbane (2010), On Reason and Emotion, Biennale of Sydney (2004) and in solo exhibitions at Art One Gallery, Melbourne, Monash University Museum of Art and Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. ACCA’s Influential Australian Artist series celebrates the works of artists who have made a significant contribution to the history of Australian art practice, and the exhibition will be accompanied by a substantial catalogue documenting the artists’ career.”

Press release from ACCA

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Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
Untitled (triptych)
1989
3 silver gelatin photographs

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The Secret: The Photo Worlds of Pat Brassington

Juliana Engberg

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The photo-based works of Pat Brassington gained significant attention in the mid to late 1980s.  Black and white images, sourced from reproductions, were arranged in grid and cluster formations to establish their status as a visual language which signified meaning beyond the apparent information they delivered. Adopting a modus operandi inherited from the montage, frisson-based tactics of surrealism, Brassington’s works seduced the viewer into a psycho-linguistic game of puns, Freudian jokes and visual metaphors by careful juxtaposition of images. Exploiting the license permitted by appropriation, and registering a knowledge of the use of signs and signifiers as part of an engagement with psychoanalysis and visual theory, Brassington’s works can be seen in the historical context of surrealist artists such as Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Brassai, Luis Buñuel and Raoul Ubac, as well as contemporary, post-modern artists, such as Barbara Kruger, Martha Rosler, John Baldessari and Silvia Kolbowski, who used image/linguistic associations and provocations to create meta-narratives.

Brassington’s early works, like The Gift, 1986, with its set of images showing details of the paintings of Christ as the ‘Man of Sorrows’ exposing the slit of wounded flesh, crops of cacti, hyper details of vampire movie stills in which blood gushes from a girl’s eyes, and the face of a man with eyes wide open and mouth agape, develop a disquieting set of associations – wounds, pricks, mouths, blood. These are the stuff of B-Grade horror movies, as well as evangelical ecstasy, and perhaps hint at more sinister rites. Similarly, Cumulus Analysis, 1987/8 with its play of clouds, shattered glass, fish, female body in the throws of a spasm, tensed hands, brail, hat crowns upturned to the sky, praying bodies, and angel statuettes, are a lexicon of signs that signify the female genitalia combined with violations and evangelical obsessions. Right of the grid, a solitary female face is seen, and with this simple exclusion from the ‘system’, Brassington turns the tables on the male gaze and replaces the ‘peephole image’ with a feminine look. Nevertheless in this ensemble, gathering analysis, the use of the female voyeur is an uncomfortable reversal. Instead of being witnesses to an oedipal drama, we are perhaps collusive on-lookers on an unspeakable trauma, along with a maternal watcher.

These earlier works of Brassington play out like story-boards for an inconclusive matrix of events. Like the early surrealists who looked outside ‘art’ towards forensic and medical images for their content, Brassington also borrows images from photographs depicting the research into hysteria conducted by Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpetriere hospital, Paris: an infamous 19th century asylum for (so-called) insane and incurable women; and from medical photographs of biological abnormalities. As well as their links to surrealism, Brassington’s borrowings from medical archives also acknowledge the feminist revisioning that took place during the 1980s, which saw in these images of women patients used as ‘hysterical’ evidence for the photographic and medical gaze, a female oppression by the patriarchal system. With this evident historical distancing and their clear links to popular culture through the borrowing of images from films, media and art, these mid-1980s works adopt an almost academic detachment from the personal: the open ended narratives become more general and part of a semiotic universality to some extent. For this reason many commentators, then and since, have been comfortable in describing these mid ’80s works as being within the theoretical, psychological-based feminisms of the 1980s.

Before these elegant, crisp and delineated works of the mid 1980s, however, Brassington made a series of small black and white images that carried a heavier, subjective and domestic load. Untitled VI, 1980, shows a young girl bound in rope and in Untitled IV, 1980, a little girl carries a decapitated doll. These small black and white photographs, altered in the development and printing process through over-exposure and intentional fuzziness, seem to burn like afterimages from some other time. Through visual manipulation, innocuous play obtains a macabre, torturous character. These photographs court unsettling ambiguity and suggestiveness. Unlike the more academic photo grids, these works also seem closer to home.

In the series 1+1=3, 1984 a male figure haunts the domestic space, his blurry outline, highlighted from behind to accentuate hirsuteness, seems ominous and domineering, his body is oversized to the frame of the image. In accompanying images from the same series, child like legs protruding from under a table, the skirt and dressed legs of a woman viewed from above, and a dog lying under a cover, all photographed with a kind of forensic clarity, suggest some ‘incident’ and portray hiding, and partial truths. These small, early works establish a precedent in Brassington’s future images in which very often legs are oddly organized, hoisted and disjointed from bodies, peculiar points of view are shown and bodies in partial concealment are all activated to produce mystery and unease.

In the early 1990s, the development of digital-format photography, with its capacity for image building, akin to, but even more potentially malleable then analogue forms of montage and collage, saw Brassington return to the mood of these earlier and enigmatic works with their focus on interiors and curious figures. The digital format provided Brassington with the opportunity to blend, blur, almost shake, and stain the photographic paper to unleash a new subjectivism. Works from the ’90s also see Brassington moving from black and white formats to experimenting with colour, which becomes vivid, livid and adds a kind of visceral saturation and abstraction to images with mute tonality.

In the works of the 1990s and 2000s Brassington enters into an extra-surreal phase, producing images that are cast adrift from reality or popular culture references and built from the imagination. Brassington’s own visual language is developed in these works that manipulate figures, surfaces, textures and odd attachments and visual interventions. As her expertise in image building increases Brassington’s works take on dense, viscous, and sometimes translucent qualities that tamper with natural tactility. Figures become phantasmic and morph-like, at times transparent or artificially bulky. Nostalgic colours are played off against sharper, off-registered hues. Bio-morphs appear liked strange growths attaching themselves to, or coming forth from bodies, especially mouths.

Brassington’s reoccurring symbolism is confirmed in these works in which fish are clutched, wounds appear like stigmata in necks and on dresses, tongues protrude and become uncanny matter, mouths are gagged, hold things or bring forth pearls of blood-red caviar seeds. The use of fabric, stockings and lace add a weird feminine monstrosity to the muted subject – mostly a child. This digital phase of newest works produce beautiful visual qualities in pearlescent colours and shiny surfaces, which make their clandestine, convulsive subjects all the more disconcerting to consider. Brassington lures the viewer into a game of guessing and provokes us to know – to dig deep into our collective unconscious, which innately understands these unnatural things. In these later works there is little, if any academic distancing. The images are compellingly honest and close.

During this time Brassington’s affiliation with surrealism and its deployment of artistic intuition drawn from the unconscious is strongly evident. Equally evident is the deliberation in these images, which is clear and unavoidable given the digital process which cannot provide an ‘accident’ like over-exposure, shaking, mis-framing or those usual happy ‘chance’ things that gave analogue photography its exciting edge for finding the surreal moment in a snap of reality. Brassington consciously works the unconscious. The domestic setting also reasserts itself in these later works in which odd things play out. In the series Cambridge Road, 2007 the atmosphere of reality is used in an almost bland, de-saturated way to give greater emphasis to figures which become smudges, dogs that seem electrified with alertness to some danger outside the frame, strangely framed corners of furniture, beds, and dressing tables that appear as dramatic items in some bizarre theatre of domesticity.

In Cambridge Road coated humans wear animal and portrait masks and adopt roles that are unclear: a wire clothes hanger, leaning on the wall, hung on a hook or discarded in the background takes on a nasty aspect. In these works an over exposed flash adds a spectral, apparitional aspect to the scene, causing it to seem inhabited by a haunting, or ghostly return. In another series Below Stairs, 2009, an x-ray rat and small child emerge from a trap door in the floor of a barren room. In a further work the trap door is vanished and a grown woman stands, with her back to the viewer indicating a closure against these hallucinations.  These works, which have affinities with Max Ernst’s drawing, The Master’s Bedroom, confirm Brassington’s knowing attachment to the idea of the room-box as theatre explored in surrealism by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell and female surrealists such as Dorothea Tanning, Lenora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois.

Around the same time as these picture theatres Brassington has created single figures. A scarlet dressed woman walks, retreating through an imaginary landscape in By the Way, 2010: a bag or pillow slip over her head – still hiding, or not seeing – but escaping – surviving perhaps.  A doll, dressed in a blue frock, Radar 2010, replaces the head with a light bulb stretched from the ceiling – rope like – unsettlingly similar to a noose, which demolishes cuteness. The bulb, standing in for the head, becomes a Cyclops, one-eyed thing, reminding us of the surrealist trope of the single eye ever used by Bataille, Ernst, Dali, Magritte, Man Ray, Buñuel and others, which in the surrealist visual language can so quickly become the mouth, the vagina dentate and object of possible castration. This bright spark of a doll is not all she seems.

These strange personages are like escapees from Brassington’s domestic dramas, new protagonists ready for their own story in the photo and digital world that Brassington has conjured from places we will never know, that are lived and returned in her own mind.  Among these personae Brassington creates an image of a person wrapped head to feet in a shiny eiderdown, a lone hand exposed clutches the cover closed.  The figure stands against the wall where shadow stripes stretch behind. This strangely real image reminds us of the small girl, in Untitled IV, 1980 once bound, who is now unleashed and protected, but still in hiding. In this most recent group Brassington has also delivered the compelling close-up face of a young child whose one eye turns inward towards the other. A torn blue piece of fabric covers the mouth. This image is called The Secret.”

Juliana Engberg

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Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

cactus-c-WEB

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
The Gift
1986
11 silver gelatin photographs

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An interview with Pat Brassington

What sorts of things have inspired your work?

Ideas. Ideas that come from life’s experiences, from family and friends, the ideas embodied in the vast array of exhibited and published visual artworks. Literature, cinema and music, the natural world and human nature.
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Are there any particular artists who have influenced you?

There is a moving feast of artist’s works that passes through one’s consciousness. Here are a few from the past that popped into my head as I write: Goya, Giacometti, Fuseli, Magritte, Ernst, Hoch, Hesse, Bourgeois….
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Can you explain the processes and techniques in your work?

They vary but I often recycle a lot of material from my own photographic archive, something I continue to accumulate. As a work develops a specific requirement may arise so I will hunt around, or create the elements to produce a result I’m after. Clarification about the shape of new work emerges during the making process. It’s important to entertain possibilities and not shut them off unexplored: it can be like being inan extended state of uncertainty. But decisions are made.
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When you began working digitally and using Photoshop and digital colour printing techniques how did this develop or change the themes in your work?

I didn’t have the opportunity to explore analogue colour photography, but I probably didn’t want to really. I liked working in black and white. My early digital work was monochromatic – the outcome of scanning black and white negatives – but I quickly realised that the potential was there to enhance the expressive qualities of an image by introducing colour.
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How did you realise its potential?

It is part of the form of the visual world. Generally I don’t try to feel or deal separately with the components of an image.
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People comment on the personal nature of your work – what do you think about that?

I’m assuming that you are asking whether my work is autobiographical!  I would certainly attribute or acknowledge that my life experience has influenced how I respond to, or interpret, ‘being in the world’. Some things stick, they become a part of you whether you like it or not. Art endeavours bring strange impressions back to life and create a different past, a new past with new phantoms miming actions and walking through walls.
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Was the emergence of feminist theory and film theory guided by semiotics important to you?

Yes. And exposure to key texts was a liberating experience.
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What kinds of literature do you enjoy reading?

Fiction mostly, including poetry on occasion. Just wish I could engage more often. The last book I read was Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and that was at least 12 months. I have bookshelves containing books I have read.  A few missing links mind you but those I have managed to keep are a reminder to me of where I have been.
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How would your work have developed if the digital process had not become available?

Well there can be an unstable relationship between content and process. Maybe the subject matter may not have been much different in much of the work, but you can find yourself projecting ideas in the mind through process or more specifically in the forms typical of a process. Possibly the demonstrated capacity of computers to store, manipulate and converge images lead the way. Without drama it happened and the chemical playground moved over and the pixel playground dominated my thinking, not about what to do but how to do it.
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Does the digital permit a freedom from reality?

Look if you did a count digital manipulation may provide a few more options more easily, but the real struggle for freedom is in the mind.

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Pat Brassington. 'Sensors' 2010

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Pat Brassington
Sensors
2010

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Pat Brassington. ‘Radar’ 2009

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Pat Brassington
Radar
2009

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Pat Brassington. 'By the Way' 2010

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Pat Brassington
By the Way
2010

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website

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19
Jul
12

Review: ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere: We are all Flesh’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd June – 29th July 2012

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Apologies, just a short review as I have been sick all weekend. It’s hard to think straight with a thumping headache…

  • An interesting exhibition with several strong elements
  • Wonderful use of the ACCA space. Nice to see the building allowed to speak along with the work; in other words a minimal install that shows off the work and the building to advantage. ACCA could do more of this.
  • The main work We Are All Flesh (2012, below) reminded me of a version of the game The Hanged Man (you know, the one where you have to guess the letters of a word and if you don’t get the letter, the scaffold and the hanged man are drawn). The larger of the two hanging pieces featured two horse skins of different colours intertwined like a ying yang paux de deux. Psychologically the energy was very heavy. The use of straps to suspend the horses was inspired. Memories of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and The Godfather rose to the surface…
  • I found it difficult to get past the fact that the sculptures were built on an armature with epoxy = the construction of these objects, this simulacra, had to be put to the back of my mind but was still there
  • Inside me III (2012, below) was a strong work reminding me of an exposed spinal column being supported by thin rope and fragile trestles. Excellent
  • The series of work Romeu “my deer” (2012, below) was the least strong in the exhibition. Resembling antler horns or the blood vessels of the aorta bound together with futon like wadding, the repetition of form simply emphasised the weakness of the conceptual idea
  • My favourite piece was 019 (2007, below). Elegant in its simplicity this beautiful display case from a museum was dismantled and shipped over to Australia in parts and then reassembled here. The figurative pieces of wood, made of wax, seemed like bodies drained of blood displayed as specimens. The blankets underneath added an element of comfort. The whole piece was restrained and beautifully balanced. Joseph Beuys would have been very proud!
  • The “visceral gothic” contained in the exhibition was very evident. I liked the artist’s trembling and shuddering. Her narratives aroused a frisson, a moment of intense danger and excitement, the sudden terror of the risen animal

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

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
We Are All Flesh
2012
Treated horse skin, epoxy, iron armature
280 x 160 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galleria Continua

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
We Are All Flesh (detail)
2012
Treated horse skin, epoxy, iron armature
280 x 160 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galleria Continua.

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“Berlinde De Bruyckere uses wax, wood, wool, horse skin and hair to make haunting sculptures of humans, animals and trees in metamorphosis.

Based in her home town of Ghent, Berlinde De Bruyckere’s studio is an old neo-Gothic Catholic school house. From here she creates her incredible sculptures – torsos morph into branches, trees are captured and displayed inside old museum cabinets and cast horses are crucified upside down in works that have been described as brutal, challenging, inspiring and both frightening and comforting.

Heavily influenced by the old masters, De Bruyckere’s early years at boarding school were spent hiding in the library, pouring over books on the history of catholic art. She went on to study at the Saint-Lucas Visual Arts School in Ghent, and was known in the early stages of her career for using old woolen blankets in her works, sometimes simply stacked on tables of beds, a response to news footage she had seen of blanket-swathed refugees in Rwanda.

Her breakthrough work In Flanders Fields, five life-size splay-legged horses captured in the throes of death, was commissioned by the In Flanders Fields Museum, in the town of Ypres, the site of the legendary World War 1 battle. She was then invited to participate in the 2003 Venice Biennale, and the subsequent work, an equine form curled up on a table titled Black Horse, firmly established her on the international scene. She has since had solo exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth in Zurich and New York and in prestigious museums across Europe.

“Berlinde De Bruyckere creates works that recall the visceral gothic of Flemish trecento art, updated to a new consideration of the human condition,” says Juliana Engberg, ACCA Artistic Director.

“Her work taps into our human need to experience transformation and transcendence, to experience great depths of feeling transferred from the animal to human. Through experiencing Berlinde’s amazing sculptural works we come closer to the human condition and the tragedy and drama of mortality, out of which something miraculous occurs in metamorphosis.”

We are all Flesh will include the rarely seen and iconic work 019 and two new commissions created specially for this exhibition.”

Text from the ACCA website

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
019
2007
Wax, epoxy, metal, glass, wood, blankets
293.5 x 517 x 77.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
019 (detail)
2007
Wax, epoxy, metal, glass, wood, blankets
293.5 x 517 x 77.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris

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What is the Meaning of Trecento (1300 – 1400)

The term “trecento” (Italian for ‘three hundred’) is short for “milletrecento” (‘thirteen hundred’), meaning the fourteenth century. A highly creative period, it witnessed the emergence of Pre-Renaissance Painting, as well as sculpture and architecture during the period 1300-1400. In fact, since the trecento coincides with the Pre-Renaissance movement, the term is often used as a synonym for Proto-Renaissance art – that is, the bridge between Medieval Gothic art and the Early Renaissance. The following century (1400-1500) is known as the quattrocento, and the one after that (1500-1600) is known as the cinquecento.

The main types of art practised during the trecento period showed relatively little change from Romanesque times. They included: fresco painting, tempera panel painting, book-painting or illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, relief sculpture, goldsmithery and mosaics.

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
Inside me III
2012
Wax, wool, cotton, wood, epoxy, iron armature
135 x 235 x 115 cm
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galleria Continua

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
Romeu “my deer”
2012
Pencil, watercolour, collage
37.5 x 28 cm
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galleria Continua

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Berlinde De Bruyckere
Romeu “my deer” (detail)
2012
Pencil, watercolour, collage
37.5 x 28 cm
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galleria Continua

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website

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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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13
Nov
10

Review: ‘Mortality’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 8th October – 28th November 2010

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“… this immersive exhibition swallows us into a kind of spiritual and philosophical lifecycle. As we weave our way through a maze-like series of darkened rooms, we encounter life’s early years, a youth filled with mischief, wonderment, possibilities and choices, and a more reflective experience of mid and later life, preceding the eventual end.”

Dan Rule in The Age

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I never usually review group exhibitions but this is an exception to the rule. I have seen this exhibition three times and every time it has grown on me, every time I have found new things to explore, to contemplate, to enjoy. It is a fabulous exhibition, sometimes uplifting, sometimes deeply moving but never less than engaging – challenging our perception of life. The exhibition proceeds chronologically from birth to death. I comment on a few of my favourite works below but the whole is really the sum of the parts: go, see and take your time to inhale these works – the effort is well rewarded. The space becomes like a dark, fetishistic sauna with it’s nooks and crannies of videos and artwork. Make sure you investigate them all!

There is only one photograph by Gillian Wearing from her ‘Album’ series of self portraits, ‘Self Portrait at Three Years Old’ (2004, see photograph below) but what a knockout it is. An oval photograph in a bright yellow frame the photograph looks like a perfectly normal studio photograph of a toddler until you examine the eyes: wearing silicon prosthetics, Wearing confronts “the viewer with her adult gaze through the eyeholes of the toddler’s mask, Wearing plays on the rift between interior and exterior and raises a multitude of provocative questions about identity, memory, and the veracity of the photographic medium.”1

‘Tilt’ (2002, see photograph below) is a mesmeric video by Fiona Tan of a toddler strapped into a harness suspended from a cluster of white helium-filled balloons in a room with wooden floorboards. The gurgling toddler floats gently into the air before descending to the ground, the little feet scrabbling for traction before gently ascending again –  the whole process is wonderful, the instance of the feet touching the ground magical, the delight of the toddler at the whole process palpable. Dan Rule sees the video as “enlivening and troubling, joyous and worrisome” and he is correct in this observation, in so far as it is the viewer that worries about what is happening to the baby, not, seemingly, the baby itself. It is our anxiety on the toddlers behalf, trying to imagine being that baby floating up into the air looking down at the floor, the imagined alienness of that experience for a baby, that drives our fear; but we need not worry for babies are held above the heads of fathers and mothers every day of the year. Fear is the adult response to the joy of innocence.

There are several photographs by Melbourne photographer Darren Sylvester in the exhibition and they are delightful in their wry take on adolescent life, girls eating KFC (‘If All We Have Is Each Other, Thats Ok’), or pondering the loss of a first love – the pathos of a young man sitting in a traditionally furnished suburban house, reading a letter (in which presumably his first girlfriend has dumped him), surrounded by the detritus of an unfinished Subway meal (see photograph below).

An interesting work by Sue and Ben Ford, ‘Faces’ (1976-1996, see photograph below) is a video that shows closely cropped faces and the differences in facial features twenty years later. The self consciousness of people when put in front of a camera is most notable, their uncomfortable looks as the camera examines them, surveys them in minute detail. The embarrassed smile, the uncertainty. It is fascinating to see the changes after twenty years.

A wonderful series 70s coloured photographs of “Sharps” by Larry Jenkins that shine a spotlight on this little recognised Melbourne youth sub-culture. These are gritty, funny, in your face photographs of young men bonding together in a tribal group wearing their tight t-shirts, ‘Conte’ stripped wool jumpers (I have a red and black one in my collection) and rat tail hair:
“Larry was the leader of the notorious street gang the “BLACKBURN SOUTH SHARPS” from 1972-1977 when the Sharpie sub-culture was at its peak and the working class suburbs of Melbourne were a tough and violent place to grow up. These photographs represent a period from 1975-1976 in Australian sub-cultural history and are one of the few photographic records of that time. Larry began taking photos at the age of 16 using a pocket camera, when he started working as an apprentice motor mechanic and spent his weekly wage developing his shots … He captured fleeting moments, candid shots and directed his teenage mates through elaborate poses set against the immediate Australian suburban backdrops.”2

Immediate and raw these photographs have an intense power for the viewer.

A personal favourite of the exhibition is Alex Danko’s installation ‘Day In, Day Out’ (1991, see photograph below). Such as simple idea but so effective: a group of identical silver houses sits on the floor of the gallery and through a rotating wheel placed in front of a light on a stand, the sun rises and sets over and over again. The identical nature of the houses reminds us that we all go through the same process in life: we get up, we work (or not), we go to bed. The sun rises, the sun sets, everyday, on life. Simple, beautiful, eloquent.

Another favourite is Louise Short’s series of found colour slides of family members displayed on one of those old Kodak carrousel slide projectors. This is a mesmeric, nostalgic display of the everyday lives of family caught on film. I just couldn’t stop watching, waiting for the next slide to see what image it brought (the sound of the changing slides!), studying every nuance of environment and people, colour and space: recognition of my childhood, growing up with just such images.

Anri Sala’s video ‘Time After Time’ (2003, see photograph below) is one of the most poignant works in the exhibition, almost heartbreaking to watch. A horse stands on the edge of a motorway in the near darkness, raising one of it’s feet. It is only when the lights of a passing car illuminate the animal that the viewer sees the protruding rib cage and you suddenly realise how sick the horse must be, how near death. Watch the video on the Lumen Eclipse website.

The film ‘Presentation Sisters’ (2005, see photographs below) by English artist Tacita Dean, “shows the daily routines and rituals of the last remaining members of a small ecclesiastical community as they contemplate their journey in the spiritual after-life.” Great cinematography, lush film colours, use of shadow and space  – but it is the everyday duties of the sisters, a small order of nuns in Cork, Ireland that gets you in. It is the mundanity of washing, ironing, folding, cooking and the procedures of human beings, their duties if you like – to self and each other – that become valuable. Almost like a religious ritual these acts are recognised by Dean as unique and far from the everyday. We are blessed in this life that we live.

Finally two works by Bill Viola: ‘Unspoken (Silver & Gold)’ 2001 and ‘The Passing’ (1991, see photographs below). Both are incredibly moving works about the angst of life, the passage of time, of death and rebirth. For me the picture of Viola’s elderly mother in a hospital bed, the sound of her rasping, laboured breath, the use of water in unexpected ways and the beauty of cars travelling at night across a road on a desert plain, their headlights in the distance seeming like atomic fireflies, energised spirits of life force, was utterly beguiling and moving. What sadness with joy in life to see these two works.

Many thankx to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of some of the images.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Gillian Wearing
‘Self-Portrait at Three Years Old’
2004
Digital C-type print
© Gillian Wearing

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Fiona Tan
‘Tilt’
2002
DVD
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Darren Sylvester
‘Your First Love Is Your Last Love’
2005
© Darren Sylvester

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Sue Ford and Ben Ford
‘Faces’
1976-1996
detail 
of 15 min b/w 
reversal silent film
16mm, shot on b/w 
reversal film

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Larry Jenkins
‘Chad, Jono and Mig, Twig, Beatie and Whitey walking down the street at Blackburn South shops’
1975
© Larry Jenkins

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Alex Danko
‘Day In, Day Out’
1991

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“From the cradle to the grave… ACCA’s major exhibition Mortality takes us on life’s journey from the moment of lift off to the final send off, and all the bits in between. Curated by Juliana Engberg to reflect the Festival’s visual arts themes of spirituality, death and the afterlife, this transhistorical event includes metaphoric pictures and works by some of the world’s leading artists.

Exhibiting artists include:

Tacita Dean, an acclaimed British artist who works in film and drawing and has shown at Milan’s Fondazione Trussardi and at DIA Beacon, New York.

Anastasia Klose, one of Australia’s most exciting young video artists whose works also include performance and installation.

TV Moore, an Australian artist who completed his studies in Finland and the United States and who has shown extensively in Sydney, Melbourne and overseas.

Tony Oursler, a New York-based artist who works in a range of media and who has exhibited in the major institutions of New York, Paris, Cologne and Britain.

Giulio Paolini, an Italian born artist who has been a representative at both Documenta and the Venice Biennale.

David Rosetzky, a Melbourne-born artist who works predominantly in video and photographic formats and whose work has featured in numerous Australian exhibitions as well as New York, Milan and New Zealand galleries.

Louise Short, an emerging British artist who works predominately with found photographs and slides. Anri Sala, an Albanian-born artist who lives and works in Berlin. He has shown in the Berlin Biennale and the Hayward, London.

Fiona Tan, an Indonesian-born artist, who lives and works in Amsterdam. Tan works with photography and film and has shown in a number of major solo and group exhibitions, including representing the Netherlands at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Bill Viola, one of the leaders in video and new media art who has shown widely internationally and in Australia.

Gillian Wearing, one of Britain’s most important contemporary artists and a Turner Prize winner who has exhibited extensively internationally.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

Albanian born artist Anri Sala’s acclaimed video work Time After Time, featuring a horse trapped on a Tirana motorway, repeatedly, heartbreakingly raising its hind-leg (see photograph below). Anri first came to acclaim in 1999 for his work in After the Wall, the Stockholm Modern Museum’s exhibition of art from post-communist Europe, and his work is characterized by an interest in seemingly unimportant details and slowness. Scenes are almost frozen into paintings.

Peter Kennedy’s Seven people who died the day I was born – April 18 1945, 1997-98 – a work from a series begun by the artist following the death of his father which connects individual lives with political and historical events. Kennedy’s birth in the last year of World War II and the seven people memorialized imply the multitude of others that died during this catastrophic event as well as the perpetual cycle of life.

A series of slides collected by British artist Louise Short, offering a beguiling insight into the everyday lives of everyday people accumulated as a life narrative.

Acclaimed British artist Tacita Dean’s Presentation Sisters, which shows the daily routines and rituals of the last remaining members of a small ecclesiastical community as they contemplate their journey in the spiritual after-life.

Three works from the Time series by influential Australian photographer Sue Ford, who passed away last year, will also be shown. The photographs capture the artist in various stages of her life.

Exhibiting Artists:

Charles Anderson, George Armfield, Melanie Boreham, Bureau of Inverse Technology, Aleks Danko, Tacita Dean, Sue Ford, Garry Hill, Larry Jenkins, Peter Kennedy, Anastasia Klose, Arthur Lindsay, Dora Meeson, Anna Molska, TV Moore, Tony Oursler, Neil Pardington, Giulio Paolini, Mark Richards, David Rosetzky, Anri Sala, James Shaw, Louise Short, William Strutt, Darren Sylvester, Fiona Tan, Bill Viola, Annika von Hausswolff, Mark Wallinger, Lynette Wallworth, Gillian Wearing.”

Text from the ACCA website

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Annika von Hausswolff
‘Hey Buster! What Do You Know About Desire?’
1995
colour photograph
courtesy of the artist and Moderna Museet

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Anri Sala
‘Time After Time’
2003
Video, 5 minutes 22 seconds

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David Rosetzky
‘Nothing like this’
DVD
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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David Rosetzky
‘Nothing like this’
DVD
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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Tacita Dean
‘Presentation Sisters’
2005
16 mm film
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Tacita Dean
‘Presentation Sisters’
2005
16 mm film
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Bill Viola
‘The Passing’
1991
In memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound
54 minutes
© Bill Viola

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Bill Viola
‘The Passing’
1991
In memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound
54 minutes
© Bill Viola

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1. Mann, Ted. “Self-Portrait at Three Years Old,” on the Guggenheim Collection website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_230_1.html

2. Anon. “History,” on the Blackburn South Sharps website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.blackburnsouthsharps.com/1024×768/history/history.htm

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website

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24
Nov
08

Review: ‘Intimacy’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2008 – 30th November 2008

The exhibition includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Nan Goldin, Steve McQueen, Sophie Calle, Mariele Neudecker, Jesper Just, Gabrielle de Vietri, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mutlu Çerkez, Amikam Toren, Margaret Salmon and Annika Ström.

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Sophie Calle. "Doleur exquise" 1984/1999

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Sophie Calle
Doleur exquise
1984/1999

Set up by Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan
Exhibition view at Rotonde1, Luxembourg, 2007

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An eclectic mix of mixed media, photography and video work is presented in this exhibition. The work examines concepts of intimacy – staged performances, stories of the city, of men, women, families and children; the artists “contemplate passion, love and longing, as well as feelings of disquiet, loss, and loneliness that embody intimate human relations.”

The show exudes a certain melancholia and is troubling in many aspects: loneliness, separation, desire for intimacy, desire for love all being expressed through the presented works. Some of the works are strong but others left me cold and uninterested. Few are joyous renditions of the closeness of intimate relations and most works ponder the dangers and disillusionment of failed intimacies that involve feelings of vulnerability (intimate acts often involve a degree of self-disclosure where intimates show something of themselves that may make them feel vulnerable), ambiguity (intimate acts are often an ambiguous and incomplete shared and often idiosyncratic view of the world) and secrecy (intimate acts are private: they are often constructed, by their participants, to be hidden from the view of others).1

The large work by English artist Steve McQueen features two naked black wrestlers shot in slow motion in grainy black and white video. The wrestlers are photographed from the waist down, images of moving legs, or from below, bodies clinging together, faces grimacing in a hyperreal performance of some hypnotic intimate dance – an acted out state of being.

Amikan Torren’s 2008 video work is by comparison is about the improbabilities of life’s daily encounters: in Downstairs over a video image of 3 steps outside a London railway station the narrator tells of a man, a stockbroker who after an accident sometimes needs help descending steps; in Blind the narrator comments on a person helping a blind man across the street; and in Carrots, over a video image of a London street the narrator tells a story about an adolescent and fresh carrots! The musings on the synchronicity and serendipity of everyday encounters are very effective.

Jesper Just’s two video works No Man Is An island II (2004) and The Lonely Villa (2004) were very effective and moving. In the first lonely men in a pub sing the Roy Orbison song Crying with pictures of naked ladies behind them – it is funny and sad at the same time. In the second men in the shadows sit or stand with telephones in front of them: two men sing to each other the song I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire with close-ups of their lips singing into the telephone: songs of loss, longing and remembrance.

The two most interesting pieces are not video works, nor are they the overrated photographs of Nan Goldin featuring photographs of family hugging and lying on a bed, but the work of two women: Sophie Calle and Louise Bourgeois.
In Doleur exquise (exquisite pain) Calle revisits fifteen years later the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath of that event: the distress and pain, the experiences of her friends in such circumstances and turns them into brilliant insightful art. A selection of the whole work is presented here that features colour photographs (multiples of a red telephone, abandoned car with it’s doors open, washbasins and empty bedrooms) above text woven onto linen – black on white, grey on grey. The texts are both painful and repetitive (Calle’s on the left) and others heartbreaking accounts of pain (on the right): “6 days ago, the man I love left me …”

(For an insightful analysis of this work see “Can Pain Be Exquisite? Autofictional Stagings of Douleur exquise by Sophie Calle, Forced Entertainment and Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan” by Anneleen Masschelein. “On the one hand, it deals with the most intense, acute experiences of pain in a human life. On the other hand, these moments are unique and “localised”, that is, they are connected to a concrete time and space, of which the details are forever inscribed in memory.”)

My favorite work from the show is Louise Bourgeois 10AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME (2006) – drawings on music paper of mainly red hands, the key a drawing of a 10am clock with a man the big hand with hands extended drawing towards him (or is it tethered to him) an armless woman, the small hand. Some have seen these as ‘ambiguous images of a hermetic cosmos, as acts of violence or love’ but they represent ‘both Bourgeois’s hands and those of her friend and muse Jerry Gorovoy’ and how he helps her and arrives at her studio at this, the designated hour.
To me they are joyous, liberating, spontaneous expressions of love and intimacy, fingerprints on the page, hands intertwining together. They made me feel the intimate expression of humanity: holding a babies hand, so small and vulnerable and feeling them grasp your hand. That connection is what Bourgeois achieves with this work and I thought it was wonderful.

This exhibition is no easy ride but is well worth the contemplation necessary to tease out the themes and feelings that the work investigates.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Louise Bourgeois. 'TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' (detail) 2006

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Louise Bourgeois
TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME (detail)
2006

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Louise Bourgeois. 'TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006

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Louise Bourgeois
TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME
2006

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1. Steve Howard, Frank Vetere, Martin Gibbs, Jesper Kjeldskov, Sonja Pedell, Karen Mecoles, Marcus Bunyan, and John Murphy. Mediating Intimacy: Digital Kisses and Cut and Paste Hugs. 2004.

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia
T: 03 9697 9999

Opening Hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends and Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

ACCA 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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