Posts Tagged ‘Ballarat

03
May
13

Exhibition and Art Award: ‘Art For Kids’ Sake’ Ballarat

Opening: May 4th, 2013

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I journeyed up to Ballarat with my friend and fellow photographer Andrew Follows and his guide dog Eamon to judge the Arts for Kids’ Sake art award today. Art For Kids’ Sake is an inclusive art exhibition and art award to raise funds and awareness for the Daylesford Dharma School. As the first school in Australia to offer an education on Buddhist principles, the school provides an alternative academic curriculum informed by mindfulness, care for the environment and conflict resolution.

We had a great time with Kim Percy from Ballarat based graphic design firm designscope who were offering the major prize of $2,500 dollars worth of design services for web or print. I went to University with Kim many years ago studying at RMIT for my Bachelor of Arts and she was our wonderful guide and host for the day. Below are the three winners in the sections ‘Most resolved’ (major prize), ‘Most spiritual’ and ‘Best environmental’. The work The Argument, an etching by artist Jackie Gorring was complex, mysterious, beautifully executed and resolved and touched close to home, coming as I do from a dysfunctional family where violence was never far from the surface. Let’s hope with the prize of design work by Kim’s company she can finally get a website to display her work online. Flowers by Amanda Holloway were made while sitting in front of the television. Three layers of hand cut, recycled paper with buttons at the centre were exquisitely executed. The time and patience to do this work – and they were selling in the exhibition for $2 each! Just beautiful. Finally the painting Macaw by Gav Barbey was visually arresting in how the intricately painted face of the macaw dissolved into this wondrous flight of fancy that was its plumage – totally enlightening.

A great day was had by all – thank you Kim for inviting Andrew and I to come up. Next time in Ballarat I will be opening the John Cato exhibition at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale and meeting Colombian artist Erika Diettes for whose exhibition Shrouds (Sudarios) I am writing the catalogue essay.

Marcus

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Marcus with The Argument by Jackie Gorring

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Marcus with The Argument by Jackie Gorring

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Looking at Flowers by Amanda Holloway

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Looking at Flowers by Amanda Holloway

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Gav Barbey. 'Macaw' (detail) Nd

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Gav Barbey
Macaw (detail)
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B1 Ballarat Art
14 Camp St, Ballarat

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01
Jul
12

Review: ‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 4th February – 8th July 2012

Please note: This posting may contain the names or images of people who are now deceased.  Some Indigenous communities may be distressed by seeing the name, or image of a community member who has passed away.

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Winter scene, Lake Wendouree, from Botanic Gardens, Ballarat
c.1866-88
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 20.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
View on the Moorabool River, Batesford
c.1879
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Bush scene near Highton
c.1879
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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“Kruger’s sweeping view shows his sophisticated understanding of how an image can be constructed to encourage viewing. He positions people strategically throughout the photograph and at a slight remove so that they are part of, rather than dominant figure in, an intricate visual imaging of the populated landscape. Kruger was also careful to articulate each element clearly, and this clarity greatly appealed to nineteenth-century tastes…

The expectation in the 1870s and, to a lesser degree, today is that the documentary nature of most early photographs makes them ‘transparent’ in meaning. However, this is invariably not the case. Kruger’s photographs are complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived as formed by his own creative talents and imaginative attitudes towards his adopted homeland. It is this combination of rich context, strong sense of time and place, and distinctive creative expression that makes Kruger’s work so notable in the history of Australian photography, and which gives his photographs the potential to engage with us more than 130 years later.”

Dr Isobel Crombie. Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscape, Photographs 1860s – 1880s. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2012, pp.122-125.

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Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes is an interesting large-scale exhibition of the work of the one of Victoria’s leading early photographers. Accompanied by an erudite and well researched catalogue by Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography, the exhibition and book provide the viewer with one of  their first chances to interrogate German-migrant Kruger’s pictorial style, images that  form an integral part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s nineteenth-century Australian collection.

Arriving in 1854 with his family from Berlin, Kruger changed profession from an upholsterer to a photographer in the mid-1860s, his work then widely ranging from picturesque views of Victoria (especially around his home town of Geelong) to portraits of properties both public and private and images that deal with topical events. Dr Crombie argues that it is his relationship with the landscape that shapes his creative vision, the origins of which are based on his childhood growing up in industrialised Berlin. “Kruger’s images offer a historical perspective on how European settlers altered the environment through farming and other developments, and also how they began to appreciate the picturesque qualities of the bush. Kruger’s images of the Aboriginal settlement of Corranderrk are a fascinating cased study in how photography was used to articulate and mythologise colonial race relations,” observes Dr Crombie. Above all, she continues, ” …the range of Kruger’s photographs of Victoria tell a creative story of place: a distinct and intimate study of a region by a photographer whose command of the medium has a unique quality… Through his orchestration of people within the landscape, his images draw us into a particular experience of the landscape in specific, even self-conscious ways.” (Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscape, Photographs 1860s – 1880s, p.3)

The importance of Kruger’s visual actuity (his clearness of vision) and his place in the pantheon of Australian colonial photography are things that can be called into question. Personally I think that he has a lazy eye; the word that comes to mind when looking at most of his photographs is: banal. Claims made for his picturesque renditions of landscape – some of which remind me of Peter Henry Emerson’s Arcadian photographs of the Norfolk Broads (see Winter scene, Lake Wendouree, from Botanic Gardens, Ballarat, c.1866-88, top) – and excursionists as “complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived” require a contemporary structural exegesis. When looking at the photographs without such theorising his images are mostly basic, straight forward photographs with few perceptive camera angles and which display an emotional and observational distance from the place being imaged. I felt most of the photographs lacked a unique insight into the essence of the land. Perhaps this emanates from an emotional detachment from, and lack of a relationship to, the land; a felt, emotional response to place. Certainly I did not get the feeling of an intimate relationship with the landscape.

There are exceptions to the rule of course: the best of the landscape photographs have nothing to do with Arcadian, pastoral life at all. For me Kruger’s photographs only start to come alive when he is photographing gum trees against the sky. Anyone who has tried to photograph the Australian bush knows how difficult it is to evince a “feeling” for the bush and Kruger achieves this magnificently in a series of photographs of gum trees in semi-cleared land, such as Bush scene near Highton (c.1879, above). These open ‘parklike’ landscapes are not sublime nor do they picture the spread of colonisation but isolate the gum trees against the sky. They rely on the thing itself to speak to the viewer, not a constructed posturing or placement of figures to achieve a sterile mise-en-scène. A view of the You Yangs, from Lara Plains (c.1882, below) is a stunning photograph, locating the viewer in the expansionist world of late 19th century society. The ownership of the land is not displayed by the presence of people but by the occupation of the landscape – the fenced off domestic garden space delineated from the pastures beyond with their flock of sheep, buildings and water tower leading the eye to the distant vista of the You Yangs, all “taken” from the porch of the large homestead of the land owner. A beautiful, darkly-hued photograph of dis/possession, ownership and occupancy.

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Fred Kruger
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1876
Museum Victoria

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Kruger’s most powerful and evocative photographs are, perversely, photographs of the people en situ at the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk near Healesville, Victoria. “Coranderrk was an Indigenous Australian mission station set up in 1863 to provide land under the policy of concentration, for Aboriginal people who had been dispossessed by the arrival of Europeans to the state of Victoria 30 years prior” (Wikipedia) which became victim of its own success (in growing hops) and institutional and social racism. “By 1874 the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) were looking at ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. The general community also wanted the mission closed as the land was too valuable for Aboriginal people.” (Wikipedia)

Kruger was commissioned by the government to take photographs of Coranderrk to support an inquiry into the operation of the station (but secretly to support its dismantling). It is ironic that Kruger’s photographs, his only portraits of human beings in the exhibition, the thing he least liked photographing, have become his most memorable work and only through payment being made. Kruger photographs ‘real natives’ (“full-blood” Aboriginals) standing by their mia-mias (bark homes), their lived experience excised in favour of a traditional pre-contact re-creation. He then contrasts them with the European dressed natives at Coranderrk. These photographs, representing the “civilising” of the residents at Coranderrk, also suggest people’s survival strategies – and how this approach involved a loss of traditional culture. His static portrayals of life at the station and family groups (due to the long time exposures required by the film) deny the animated energy of the lived experiences of these strong people.

The photograph Aboriginal men in canoe, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station (c.1883, below) is an example of this pre-contact re-creation. This dark print, the darkest (in terms of tonality) in the exhibition shows two Aboriginal men in a traditional canoe wrapped in possum skin cloaks. The sad, wrapped Aboriginal men (especially the man on the right) with the threatening, effusive bush behind lead to the original inhabitants of this land almost disappearing into the landscape, being occluded and swallowed up by the bush and by history (don’t forget at this time the Aboriginal people were thought to be on the point of extinction). A disturbing photograph.

The ABSOLUTE reason why you must see this exhibition is just one photograph, David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station (c.1876, above). This small, carte de visite sized photograph says more to me than most of the other photographs in the exhibition put together. It is almost as though the photographer had a personal attachment and connection to the subject. This poignant (in light of following events) dark, brown-hued photograph shows the son of elder and leader William Barak about the age of 9 years old in 1876. In 1882, David fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p.104).

Unlike other photographs of family groups taken at Coranderrk, Kruger places David front on to the camera in the lower 2/3 rds of the picture plane on his own, framed by the symmetry of the steps and door behind. David glasps his hands in a tight embrace in front of him (nervously?), his bare feet touching the earth, his earth. The only true highlight in the photograph is a white neckerchief tied around his throat. There is an almost halo-like radiance around his head, probably caused by holding back (dodging) during the printing process. Small, timid but strong, in too short trousers and darker jacket, this one image – of a child, a human being, standing on the earth that was his earth before invasion – has more intimacy than any other image Kruger ever took, even as he tried to engender a sense of intimacy with the environment.

While claims will be made about the importance of Kruger’s photographs of the Australian landscape and their sense of ease in this environment, a relational concept predicated on security and familiarity, his photographs remain deeply detached from the reality of lived experience. To my eyes they are documents of their time that rarely rise above basic reportage despite claims of the importance of placing people within the environment and the unique vision of the photographer. A sense of travel, one of the most important aspects of Kruger’s work as he journeyed around Victoria, is also absent in this exhibition, mainly because of the thematic nature of the sections of the exhibition and the hang. Sections such as buildings, places, homesteads, Coranderrk, for example, leave little sense of the adventure of travel and the integration of all of these things into a holistic whole. Perhaps a more inclusive hang would have disavowed this disjuncture and given a greater sense of the excitement of travel in colonial Victoria, the exploration of newly colonised spaces. Only in the section on Coranderrk do I believe that we actually get a feeling for the enigmatic Kruger and his personal connection to other human beings and the land to which he migrated. The wonderful catalogue, a select group of beautiful photographs, the section on life at the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk and the small, intimate photograph of David Barak are the main reasons to travel this path in the 21st century. The last is especially poignant, moving and illuminating. Well done to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing us to see these rare photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria 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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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
A view of the You Yangs, from Lara Plains
c.1882
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
c.1877
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Aboriginal men in canoe, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1883
albumen silver photograph
19.9 x 27.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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On 4 February the National Gallery of Victoria will open Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes, the first comprehensive survey of Fred Kruger’s (1831-88) photographs ever to be mounted. Fred Kruger was one of the leading landscape photographers of the 19th century in Australia, working extensively throughout Victoria. Kruger migrated from Germany in 1860 and a few years later opened a photographic studio in Carlton, Melbourne before moving his thriving practice to Geelong.

Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes features over 100 works drawn predominantly from the NGV Collection and incorporates loans from Museum Victoria, the State Library of Victoria and private collections. Many of the photographs in this exhibition depict iconic locations that will be familiar to Victorians, providing visitors with a glimpse back more than 130 years to scenes at the You Yangs, the Esplanade at Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale among others. This compelling exhibition also showcases Kruger’s highly distinctive command of photographic language, providing a fascinating insight into the political and social life of Victoria in the 1800s. Kruger’s photographs show how European settlers altered the environment through farming and other developments while also depicting their growing appreciation of the picturesque qualities of the bush. The contrast between Kruger’s heavily industrialised home city of Berlin and the spaciousness of his adopted home country intrigued him as he pictured the Victorian landscape as an environment of prosperity, productivity and ease.

Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography said:  “Kruger’s photographs draw us into an intimate experience of the landscape and are achieved through his orchestration of people within natural environments.”

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “Kruger’s photographs are complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived, as they are formed by his own creative talents and imaginative attitudes towards the land that he had made his home.”

Kruger made the most of the photographic opportunities presented to him. From the late 1860s he drove a horse and cart around Victoria taking both scenic views and private commissions. His most political commission was to record life at the Aboriginal settlement of Coranderrk Station at the request of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines.

Working at a time of rebellion at the station, Kruger’s images highlighted colonial race relations and still have importance today. These photographs were also widely circulated at the time, being reproduced in illustrated newspapers, included in international exhibitions and sold as part of albums. It is this combination of rich context, strong sense of time and place and distinctive creative expression that makes Kruger’s work so notable in the history of Australian photography.

This exhibition is accompanied by a major publication comprehensively exploring Fred Kruger’s career. 
This exhibition may contain the names or images of people who are now deceased.  Some Indigenous communities may be distressed by seeing the name, or image of a community member who has passed away.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
View on Barwon River, Queen’s Park, Geelong
c.1880
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Steamboat jetty and bathing houses, from Esplanade, Queenscliff
c.1878-82
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham
c.1871
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Wreck of the ship George Roper, Point Lonsdale
1883
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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03
Oct
10

Review: ‘John Davis: Presence’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th August – 24th October 2010

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Many thanxk to Alison Murray, Jemma Altmeier and The National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. There is also another John Davis exhibition in Melbourne at the moment at Arc One Gallery until 16th October 2010

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“In reality, I make one work over my life, so that when it’s all finished, there are a number of parts or contributions to an overall piece, each linking to another in some way.”

John Davis, 1989

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
Journey extended
1982
wood, twigs, calico, bituminous paint, paper, adhesive, cotton thread
(a-b) 35.0 x 60.0 x 610.0 cm (installation)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
Collection 128
1996
twigs, cotton thread, calico
107.0 x 65.0 x 13.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
(Spotted fish)
1989
twigs, cotton thread, calico, bituminous paint
55.0 x 145.0 x 30.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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This is a superlative survey exhibition of the work of John Davis at NGV Australia, Melbourne.

In the mature work you can comment on the fish as ‘travellers’ or ‘nomads’, “a metaphor for people and the way we move around the world.” You can observe the caging, wrapping and bandaging of these fish as a metaphor for the hurt we humans impose on ourselves and the world around us. You can admire the craftsmanship and delicacy of the constructions, the use of found objects, thread, twigs, driftwood and calico and note the ironic use of bituminous paint in relation to the environment, “a sticky tar-like form of petroleum that is so thick and heavy,”1 of dark and brooding colour.

This is all well and true. But I have a feeling when looking at this work that here was a wise and old spirit, one who possessed knowledge and learning.

Since one of his last works was titled ‘Kōan’ (1999, see image below), a story “the meaning of which cannot be understood by rational thinking but may be accessible through intuition,”2 I would like to use a quotation from Carlos Castaneda and ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ as an allegorical statement about the work and, more inclusively, about the human journey to knowledge and the attaining of a state of grace in one’s life.

Although I didn’t know John Davis I have a feeling from his work that he attained such a state. Stick with the quotation for it is through this journey that we relate to ourselves and world around us. The stuff of legend.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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“‘When a man starts to learn, he is never clear about his objectives. His purpose is faulty; his intent is vague. He hopes for rewards that will never materialize, for he knows nothing of the hardships of learning.

‘He slowly begins to learn – bit by bit at first, then in big chunks. And his thoughts soon clash. What he learns is never what he pictured, or imagined, and so he begins to be afraid. Learning is never what one expects. Every step of learning is a new task, and the fear the man is experiencing begins to mount mercilessly, unyieldingly. His purpose becomes a battlefield.

‘And thus he has stumbled upon the first of his natural enemies : Fear! A terrible enemy – treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the man, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest.’

‘What will happen to the man if he runs away in fear?’

‘Nothing happens to him except that he will never learn. He will never become a man of knowledge. He will perhaps be a bully or a harmless, scared man; at any rate, he will be a defeated man. His first enemy will have put an end to his cravings.’

‘And what can he do to overcome fear?’

‘The answer is very simple. He must not run away. He must defy his fear, and in spite of it he must take the next step in learning, and the next, and the next. He must be fully afraid, and yet he must not stop. That is the rule! And a moment will come when his first enemy retreats. The man begins to feel sure of himself. His intent becomes stronger. Learning is no longer a terrifying task.

‘When this joyful moment comes, then he can say without hesitation that he has defeated his first natural enemy.’

‘Does it happen at once, don Juan, or little by little?’

‘It happens little by little, and yet the fear is vanquished suddenly and fast.’

‘But won’t the man be afraid again if something new happens to him?’

‘No. Once a man has vanquished fear, he is free from it for the rest of his life because, instead of fear, he has acquired clarity – a clarity of mind which erases fear. By then a man knows his desires; he knows how to satisfy those desires. He can anticipate the new steps of learning, and a sharp clarity surrounds everything. The man feels that nothing is concealed.

‘And thus he has encountered his second enemy : Clarity! That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain, dispels fear, but also blinds.

‘It forces the man never to doubt himself. It gives him the assurance he can do anything he pleases, for he sees clearly into everything. And he is courageous because he is clear, and he stops at nothing because he is clear. But all that is a mistake; it is like something incomplete. If the man yields o this make-believe power, he has succumbed to his second enemy and will fumble with learning. He will rush when he should be patient, or he will be patient when he should rush. And he will fumble with learning until he winds up incapable of learning anything more.’

‘What becomes of a man who is defeated in that way, don Juan? Does he die as a result?’

‘No, he doesn’t die. His second enemy has just stopped him cold from trying to become a man of knowledge; instead, the man may turn into a buoyant warrior, or a clown. Yet the clarity for which he has paid so dearly will never change to darkness and fear again. He will be clear as long as he lives, but he will no longer learn, or yearn for, anything.’

‘But what does he have to do to avoid being defeated?’

‘He must do what he did with fear : he must defy his clarity and use it only to see, and wait patiently and measure carefully before taking new steps; he must think, above all, that his clarity is almost a mistake. And a moment will come when he will understand that his clarity was only a point before his eyes, And thus he will have overcome his second enemy, and will arrive at a position where nothing can harm him any more. This will not be a mistake. It will not be only a point before his eyes. It will be true power.

‘He will know at this point that the power he has been pursuing for so long is finally his. He can do with it whatever he pleases. His ally is at his command. His wish is the rule. He sees all that is around him. But he has also come across his thirst enemy : Power!

‘Power is the strongest of all enemies, And naturally the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules, because he is a master.

‘A man at this stage hardly notices his third enemy closing in on him. And suddenly, without knowing, he will certainly have lost the battle. His enemy will have turned him into a cruel, capricious man.’

‘Will he lose his power?’

‘No, he will never lose his clarity or his power.’

‘What then will distinguish him from a man of knowledge?’

‘A man who is defeated by power dies without really knowing how to handle it. Power is only a burden upon his fate. Such a man has no command over himself, and cannot tell when or how to use his power.’

‘Is the defeat by any of these enemies a final defeat?’

‘Of course it is final. Once one of these enemies overpowers a man there is nothing he can do.’

‘Is it possible, for instance, that the man who is defeated by power may see his error and mend his ways?’

‘No. Once a man gives in he is through.’

‘But what if he is temporarily blinded by power, and then refuses it?’

‘That means the battle is still on. That means he is still trying to become a man of knowledge. A man is defeated only when he no longer tries, and abandons himself.’

‘But then, don Juan, it is possible that a man may abandon himself to fear for years, but finally conquer it.’

‘No, that is not true. If he gives in to fear he will never conquer it, he will shy away from learning and never try again. But if he tries to learn for years in the midst of his fear, he will eventually conquer it because he will never have really abandoned himself to it.’

‘How can he defeat his third enemy, don Juan?’

‘He has to defy it, deliberately. He has to come to realize the power he has seemingly conquered is in reality never his. He must keep himself in line at all times, handling carefully and faithfully all that he has learned. If he can see that clarity and power, without his control over himself, are worse than mistakes, he will reach a point where everything is held in check. He will know then when and how to use his power. And thus he will have defeated his third enemy.

‘The man will be, by then, at the end of his journey of learning, and almost without warning he will come upon the last of his enemies : Old age! This enemy is the cruelest of all, the one he won’t be able to defeat completely, but only fight away.

‘This is the time when a man has no more fears, no more impatient clarity of mind – a time when all his power is in check, but also the time when he has an unyielding desire to rest. If he gives in totally to his desire to lie down and forget, if he soothes himself in tiredness, he will have lost his last round, and his enemy will cut him down into a feeble old creature. His desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge.

‘But if the man sloughs off his tiredness, and lives his fate through, he can then be called a man of knowledge, if only for a brief moment when he succeeds in fighting off his last, invincible enemy. That moment of clarity, power, and knowledge is enough.”

Carlos Castaneda. ‘The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge’3

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
You Yangs
1980
twigs, cotton thread, papier mâché, string, wood
196.0 x 90.0 x 30.0 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased, 1980. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation with funds from Dr W. R. Johnston
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
Evolution of a fish: Traveller
1990
twigs, cotton thread, calico, bituminous paint
110.0 x 130.0 x 18.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
Nomad (detail)
1998
twigs, cotton thread, calico, bituminous paint
(1-150) 163.0 x 1400.0 x 18.0 (variable) (installation)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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“The National Gallery of Victoria has opened John Davis: Presence, celebrating the work of influential Australian artist, John Davis (1936-1999). The exhibition draws together over 40 works by the artist including sculpture, photography and installations.

David Hurlston, Curator, Australian Art, NGV, said this important survey charts Davis’s development as an artist, from his early works, produced during the 1960s, through to his critically acclaimed sculptures and installation works leading into the nineties.

“At the core of his practice, particularly evident in his late works, was an awareness of ecology and a sensitivity to the elemental forces of nature and the effect of human actions. Now, at a time when issues relating to the environment seem more pertinent than ever, Davis’s sculptures have even greater resonance.

“John Davis was a pioneering Australian artist who during his life achieved a critically acclaimed international reputation as a sculptor and installation artist. This important exhibition has a particular focus on the artist’s interest in found and fragile organic materials, and the powerful evocation of the landscape,” said Mr Hurlston.

A highlight of the exhibition is a series of works featuring fish. From the mid 1980s, Davis used fish in his work as a symbol for human movement and relationships with each other and the environment. Davis commonly referred to his fish as ‘nomads’ or ‘travellers’ and once described his works as ‘a metaphor for people and the way we move around the world; a statement for diversity’.

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “Davis’s mature works reflected his sensitivity to the landscapes that surrounded him. Visitors will be excited by the vision of this extraordinary artist as they explore his development from the early sixties through to his death in 1999. This exhibition is a special tribute to one of Australia’s great conceptual and environmentally aware artists.”

Born in Ballarat, Victoria, in 1936, John Davis studied at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In 1972 Davis travelled to Europe and America before returning to Australia the following year to take up a position at Prahran College of Advanced Education. In subsequent years Davis was a senior faculty member at the Victorian College of the Arts and continued to travel widely and exhibit regularly in America, Japan and Australia.

John Davis was awarded a number of prizes, among them the 1970 Comalco Invitation Award for Sculpture and the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1993. He participated in the inaugural Mildura Sculpture Triennial, and he represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1978.  Davis was also the first artist whose work was profiled in the NGV Survey series in 1978.”

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website

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John Davis
c.1992
Photo: Penelope Davis

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
Kōan (detail)
1999
twigs, cotton thread, calico, bituminous paint
(a-l) 20.0 x 430.0 x 1086.0 cm (variable) (installation)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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John Davis
Australia 1936–99
River
1998
twigs, cotton thread, calico, bituminous paint
(a-l) 300.0 x 1070.0 x 90.0 cm (variable) (installation)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Penelope Davis & Martin Davis. Administered by VISCOPY, Australia

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1. Anon. “Bitumen,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 02/10/2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitumen

2. Anon. “Kōan,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 02/10/2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kōan

3. Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. London: Arkana Books, 1968, pp.84-87.

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The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square

Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria 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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