Posts Tagged ‘deep time

03
Apr
22

Exhibition: ‘Marion Kalter. Deep Time’ at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 22nd May, 2022

Curators: Barbara Herzog, Kerstin Stremmel

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Arles' 1975

 


Arles
1975
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist
© Bildrecht, Vienna, 2022

 

 

The blink of an eye

To my great chagrin I have to admit that after 30 years of studying photography I had never come across the work of the the Austrian artist Marion Kalter. No longer. While it is difficult, nah impossible, to portray the lifetime’s work of an artist in so few photographs, I hope this posting gives some insight into Kalter’s portrayal of her own mortality and the absence / presence of her family … and through her portraits of notable human beings reflect on how, when looking at photographs, we “participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” (Sontag)

Kalter is a storyteller. In one section of the exhibition Deep Time the artist extrapolates the concept – in 1788 Scottish geologist James Hutton “posited that geological features were shaped by cycles of sedimentation and erosion, a process of lifting up then grinding down rocks that required timescales much grander than those of prevailing Biblical narratives” – by plunging into the abyss of time to create photographs that transcend yet somehow affirm humanity.

While the Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Berry (1914-2009) explored the spiritual implications of the concept of Deep Time by proposing “that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species,”2 Kalter applies this understanding of the macrocosm of the universe to the microcosm of her family history as a guide to her own effective functioning. As the press release states, the photographs are “an investigation of how she has tried to gain a better understanding of her origins and family history and an exploration of how she has tried to reconstruct them visually. There are historical photographs on display, as well as images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. These sensitively staged photographs, which capture different layers of time, bring Kalter’s complex family history to life.” The complex history of an intimate deep time.

The highlight of the exhibition are the exceptional portrait photographs. Kalter is really good at taking portraits. And I mean really really good: i.e. one of the best portrait photographers I have seen in a very long time. Unlike the scientific, experimental and lumpy portraits by Man Ray (“I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer”), Kalter’s portraits just sing with music and energy, with spontaneity and consequence. What do I mean by consequence? I mean that these photographic portraits are an important testament to the existence of these human beings – they serve as a sign, or evidence, of the quality of these people’s lives, their presence and their aura. Here is Kalter’s joy at “picturing” these human beings: such a sharp eye, such a responsive, intuitive blink of an eye – the shutter is essentially a blink as it opens and closes – which reveals something of the spirit of these people, made up as they are of atoms of the cosmos and linked as they are to the deep time of the universe. Atoms to atoms, dust to dust.

Heidegger states. “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”3

Now and then, the photographer artist has entered this room: a room full of wonder and mystery, of happenstance and previsualisation – just look at the spontaneity of the photograph being taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson of Jean Paul Riopelle, not even looking through the camera, and Katler’s instantaneous response – the trained eye of the artist approaching the mystery of life with aware and unblinkered eyes.

Through a slight pause in motion (the blink of an eye), dwelling in the world in a totally different way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. David Farrier and Aeon. “How the Concept of Deep Time Is Changing,” on The Atlantic website November 1, 2016 [Online] Cited 03/04/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Deep Time,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 03/04/2022
  3. Martin Heidegger. Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56

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Many thankx to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Marion Kalter’s (Salzburg, AT, 1951) photographs are always about human beings – they already captured the artist’s interest when she launched her career as a journalist. Celebrated writers including Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag as well as visual artists like Joan Mitchell and Meret Oppenheim and the filmmaker Agnès Varda were among her sitters. The jazz poet Ted Joans also played an important role for her. They met in 1974, and it was through him that Kalter came into contact with the jazz scene and Surrealism. Kalter met photographers mostly at the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles in the mid-1970s.

Deep Time is a search for the traces of Kalter’s childhood. Exhibited here are historical photographs and images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. Kalter’s sensitively staged photographs allow the different chronologies of these images to bring her complex family history vividly to life. Her unconditional way of experimenting with coincidence has enabled her to create a dense fabric of images over the years. It ends here with a series from 2017: a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Hartmann Books of Stuttgart has brought out a publication in German and English to accompany this exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

At left: Arles, 1975; and at second left, Bank Pietrasanta, 1974

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

At left: private photos of my father’s life, 1933-1948; and at right, private photos of my mother’s life, 1939-1945

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

at left: Armoire; at second left bottom, self-portrait; and at centre right, self-portrait – all from the Different Trains 2019

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

At left: Andy Warhol signs the shirt of Alain Pacadis, Paris 1977; and at third left, Pol Bury at home watches television in Paris, 1975

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

 

Installation views of Marion Kalter. Deep Time at Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2022
© Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Foto: Rainer Iglar

 

 

The photographs of Marion Kalter (Salzburg, AT, 1951) are always about people. As a young journalist, she was already interested in human subjects, such as the authors Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag and the artists Joan Mitchell and Meret Oppenheim. Kalter’s encounter with the artist, musician, and performer Ted Joans proved to be decisive for her life and career as a photographer – Joans was an important figure in the American Beat Generation, which was centered around Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and was a charismatic jazz poet. Kalter got to know Joans in Paris in 1974, where she was attending courses at the Académie des Beaux-Arts after having studied painting and art history in the United States. Kalter became close friends with Joans and accompanied him through Paris with her camera, going to the American Cultural Center and to galleries and readings at the bookshop Shakespeare and Company. She also went with him on trips to North Africa.

This immersion in the art, literature, and music worlds of Paris could be described as Kalter’s artistic awakening: she developed participatory observation into an intuitive artistic strategy – the art of being there and capturing the zeitgeist. Her photographs of well-known personalities in the Parisian art and culture scene testify to an open, curious photographic eye, aware of both what was “staged” and the game of chance involved in the pictorial exploration of unintentional events and situations.

It is thus no coincidence that one chapter of this exhibition, and of its accompanying publication, is entitled “Cadavre exquis.” With this title (which translates to “exquisite corpse”), Kalter refers to a famous parlour game that the Surrealists developed, in 1925, with the purpose of testing new ways of associative thinking. A sentence or drawing is created by several people on a piece of paper, which is folded so that no one sees what those before them have contributed. The resulting unpredictable combination of words, ideas, and images evokes a strangely hybrid, dreamlike visual world in which chance and collective authorship are united. Kalter refers to the law of chance as a creative concept, and assembled an impressive gallery of personalities whom she encountered at the time: Berenice Abbott, Gisèle Freund, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agnès Varda, Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Annette Messager, John Cage, Chantal Akerman, Claude LéviStrauss, Marguerite Duras, Meret Oppenheim, and many more.

Kalter became acquainted with other photographers, including David Hurn, Mary Ellen Mark, Marc Riboud, and Ralph Gibson at the legendary Rencontres de la photographie in Arles in the mid-1970s and, at times, also acted as their translator. She saw photography no longer as solely a medium for recording reality but as a pictorial means of expression, interpretation, enactment, and personal memory.

The exhibition Deep Time is also a search through Kalter’s childhood: an investigation of how she has tried to gain a better understanding of her origins and family history and an exploration of how she has tried to reconstruct them visually. There are historical photographs on display, as well as images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. These sensitively staged photographs, which capture different layers of time, bring Kalter’s complex family history to life. Her parents met and married in Salzburg after the Second World War and moved to the United States after Marion Kalter was born. The family returned to Europe a few years later, and Kalter grew up in France, which remains her primary place of residence. In the late 1970s, when she was still a budding photographer, Kalter began a series of staged self-portraits at her family home in Chabenet, in the heart of France. They are characterised by a melancholic longing to reclaim the physical place, the time that had lapsed, and the life story of her late mother, all through the medium of her deceased mother’s papers and belongings – that is, through the poetics of things. It was at this time that Kalter was given her first commissions by the magazine Le Monde de la musique. This work regularly took Kalter back to her native city and made her a sought-after chronicler of the Salzburg Festival.

Kalter’s uninhibited delight in experimenting with the coincidences of life has over the years created a dense meshwork of images. It finds a provisional final chord in the present exhibition with her documentation of a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 2017. She traveled to Beijing in the footsteps of her great-uncle Oscar Aaron, who had been compelled to make that same journey in 1940 to escape being murdered in Germany. Once again, a memory that must not be lost was what prompted Kalter’s journey – this time along the route taken by a man escaping persecution.

Press release from the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' 1975

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' 1978

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chasseneuil' 1976

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' France, 1978

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' France, 1979

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' France 1978

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Armoire' Nd

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' 1983

 

 

 

My father and my mother’s father in a frame, France 1983

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'HERSTORY' 1953-2015

 


HERSTORY
1953-2015

 

 

My mother in Washington DC 1953

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Private photos of my father's life' 1933-1948

 


Private photos of my father’s life 1933-1948
Nd

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Private photos of my mother's life' 1939-1945

 

 

 

Most of these self-portraits were taken after my mother’s premature death (I was 16) in the family house in France where I grew up. It took me years to find out that both of my parents had kept their during-the-war-memories hidden, each in their own wardrobe. They had taken “different trains” during WWII. While my father had fled Germany with his mother and sister, my mother started a career as an actress first in Vienna, then in Berlin and Warsaw. She played in the “German Theater” as well as with the KdF (“Kraft durch Freude” or Strength through Joy) organisation for the entertainment of German troops.

Directly after the war, my father came back to Europe as an American and began work as an assistant at the Nürenberg “IG Farben” trial. Just like the plot of the film by Axel Corti and George Stefan Troller Welcome in Vienna, my parents met in Salzburg. The “meet-cute”: the German Jew returning to work for the American Army meets the Austrian actress entwined in post-Nazi Germany.

I have chosen to show family photographs and documents from that period along with my self-portraits.

Marion Kalter artist statement on her website 2019 [Online] Cited 12/03/2022

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Untitled (self-portrait)' Nd

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Bank Pietrasanta' 1974

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Agnès Varda' Paris, 1977

 

 

 

Agnès Varda (French, born Arlette Varda, 30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019) was a Belgian-born French film director, screenwriter, photographer, and artist. Her pioneering work was central to the development of the widely influential French New Wave film movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Her films focused on achieving documentary realism, addressing women’s issues, and other social commentary, with a distinctive experimental style.

Varda’s work employed location shooting in an era when the limitations of sound technology made it easier and more common to film indoors, with constructed sets and painted backdrops of landscapes, rather than outdoors, on location. Her use of non-professional actors was also unconventional for 1950s French cinema. Varda’s feature film debut was La Pointe Courte (1955), followed by Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), one of her most notable film narrative films, Vagabond (1985), and Kung Fu Master (1988). Varda was also known for her work as a documentarian with such works as Black Panthers (1968), The Gleaners and I (2000), The Beaches of Agnès (2008), Faces Places (2017), and her final film, Varda by Agnès (2019).

Director Martin Scorsese described Varda as “one of the Gods of Cinema”. Among several other accolades, Varda received an Honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, an Academy Honorary Award, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. She was the first female director to be feted with an honorary Oscar.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Elvin Jones' Juan-les-Pins, 1975

 

 

 

Elvin Ray Jones (September 9, 1927 – May 18, 2004) was an American jazz drummer of the post-bop era.

Most famously a member of John Coltrane’s quartet, with whom he recorded from late 1960 to late 1965, Jones appeared on such widely celebrated albums as My Favorite Things, A Love Supreme, Ascension and Live at Birdland. After 1966, Jones led his own trio, and later larger groups under the name The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. His brothers Hank and Thad were also celebrated jazz musicians with whom he occasionally recorded. Elvin was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1995. In his The History of Jazz, jazz historian and critic Ted Goia calls Jones “one of the most influential drummers in the history of jazz.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Pol Bury at home watches television in Paris' 1975

 

 

 

Pol Bury (1922-2005) was a Belgian artist involved with the CoBrA group. He is primarily known for his kinetic sculptures, though he also produced collages and paintings. “I am searching for the point which exists between the moving and the non-moving,” the artist said of his practice. Born on April 26, 1922 in La Louvière, Belgium, Bury studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Mons from 1938 to 1939, where he became influenced by the work of René Magritte and Yves Tanguy. In 1952, after seeing the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder for the first time, Bury began creating motor-propelled weathervane-like sculptures. In the late 1960s, the artist created his first public work, a fountain on the campus of the University of Iowa Museum of Art in Iowa City. Bury died on September 28, 2005 in Paris, France.

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Annette Messager at her studio in Paris 1977' Paris, 1977

 


Annette Messager at her studio in Paris 1977
Paris, 1977

 

 

Annette Messager (born 30 November 1943 in Berck, France) is a French visual artist. Messager is known mainly for her installation work which often incorporates photographs, prints and drawings, and various materials. Her work rejects traditional methods in visual arts such as painting in favour of “bricolage” works that combine media and subvert value systems, often making experimental use of methods traditionally designated to a “so-called feminine sensibility.” “I found my voice as an artist when I stepped on a dead sparrow on a street in Paris in 1971. I didn’t know why, but I was sure this sparrow was important because it was something very fragile that was near me and my life,” states Messager. The sparrow was soon joined by others and became the exhibit The Boarders, which launched her career in 1972.

In 2005, she represented France at the Venice Biennale, where she won the Golden Lion for her Pinocchio-inspired installation that transformed the French pavilion into a casino. One of her most famous pieces is her exhibition The Messengers, which showcases an installation of rooms that include a series of photographs and toy-like, hand knit animals in costumes. For example, some of the animals’ heads were replaced by heads of other stuffed animals to reflect the ways in which humans disguise themselves or transform their identities with costume.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'John Cage in the house of Dorothea Tanning' Paris 1979

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Meret Oppenheim' Paris 1977

 

 

 

Surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim (Swiss, 1913-1985) catapulted to fame in 1936 with Object, a fur-covered tea set that became her most iconic work. Alongside her contemporaries Man Ray, André Breton, Dora Maar, and Max Ernst, Oppenheim developed an expansive multidisciplinary practice that embraced the uncanny and psychosexual. Throughout her paintings, drawings, jewellery, and mixed-media work, she riffed on everyday objects and explored themes of femininity, fantasy, dreams, identity, and the erotic. Oppenheim has been the subject of retrospectives at the Kunsthalle Bern, Moderna Museet, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, among other institutions. In addition to her studio practice, Oppenheim collaborated with avant-garde Italian designer Elsa Schiaperelli on accessories and famously posed for Man Ray’s Erotique voilée (1933). Object now belongs in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Text from the Artsy website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Karlheinz Stockhausen, Salzburg' 1995

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Karl Kalter, Fasching' Munich 1995

 

 

 

Karl Kalter: My father in 1995 two weeks before his death in Munich during Carneval

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Michel Leiris' Paris, 1979

 

 

 

Julien Michel Leiris (French, 20 April 1901 in Paris – 30 September 1990 in Saint-Hilaire, Essonne) was a French surrealist writer and ethnographer. Part of the Surrealist group in Paris, Leiris became a key member of the College of Sociology with Georges Bataille and head of research in ethnography at the CNRS.

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'James Baldwin, Ted Joans' Paris 1976

 

 

 

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American writer and activist. As a writer, he garnered acclaim across various mediums, including essays, novels, plays, and poems. His first novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain, was published in 1953; decades later, Time Magazine included the novel on its list of the 100 best English-language novels released from 1923 to 2005. His first essay collection, Notes of a Native Son, was published in 1955.

Baldwin’s work fictionalises fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures. Themes of masculinity, sexuality, race, and class intertwine to create intricate narratives that run parallel with some of the major political movements toward social change in mid-twentieth century America, such as the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. Baldwin’s protagonists are often but not exclusively African American, and gay and bisexual men frequently feature prominently in his literature. These characters often face internal and external obstacles in their search for social and self-acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, which was written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.

His reputation has endured since his death and his work has been adapted for the screen to great acclaim. An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the documentary film I Am Not Your Negro (2016), which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards. One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film of the same name in 2018, directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.

In addition to writing, Baldwin was also a well-known, and controversial, public figure and orator, especially during the civil rights movement in the United States.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Theodore Joans (July 4, 1928 – April 25, 2003) was an American jazz poet, surrealist, trumpeter, and painter. His work stands at the intersection of several avant-garde streams and some have seen in it a precursor to the orality of the spoken-word movement. However he criticised the competitive aspect of “slam” poetry. Joans is known for his motto: “Jazz is my religion, and Surrealism is my point of view”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Andy Warhol signs the shirt of Alain Pacadis' Paris 1977

 


Andy Warhol signs the shirt of Alain Pacadis
Paris 1977

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Berenice Abbott and Gisèle Freund' Paris, 1977

 

Berenice Abbott and Gisèle Freund
Paris, 1977

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Susan Sontag' Paris, 1979

 

 

 

I am especially moved by two portraits in this series. The first is of Susan Sontag, author of the famous essays collected in On photography (1973-1977), who was so devoted both to Paris, where she is buried, and to photography. She described herself as an “eternal photographic virgin,” but in fact she loved the camera and understood composition, as we see here and see so often in the photographs taken by her friend Annie Leibovitz, reflecting a state of both relaxed affection and that “density of abandonment” that her friend Barthes spoke of in connection with Robert Mapplethorpe’s Young Man with his Arm Extended (1975). And lastly there is Roland Barthes, standing at his window, lost in thought, expressionless – neither happy nor sad, neither present nor absent, drifting but not vague, the man who wrote such beautiful things about photography in Camera Lucida (1980). But one of his most astonishingly banal remarks is to be found in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1977). In the margin of a photo of himself as a toddler, he wrote: “Contemporaries? I was learning to walk, Proust was still alive, and finishing La Recherche (1913-1927).” Sontag sees it differently: “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” To conclude: in that blink of an eye – the shutter is essentially a blink as it opens and closes – the photographer artist has entered this room; she, too, is in that bed, sitting beneath a framed picture, or covered by a white cloth, in a (fortuitous) echo of photographs by Duane Michals and Hervé Guibert, a phantom image hidden under the white sheet of the darkroom.

Extract from Renaud Machart. “The frame and the void,” on the Marion Kalter website November 2013 [Online] Cited 04/04/2022

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Roland Barthes' Paris, 1979

 


Roland Barthes
Paris, 1979

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Marguerite Duras, Yann Andréa' Paris, 1981

 

 

 

Marguerite Germaine Marie Donnadieu (French, 4 April 1914 – 3 March 1996), known as Marguerite Duras, was a French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Her script for the film Hiroshima mon amour (1959) earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

Yann Andréa was born on December 24, 1952 in Guingamp, Brittany, France. He was an actor and writer, known for Cet amour-là (2001), I Want to Talk About Duras (2021) and L’homme atlantique (1981). He died on July 10, 2014 in Paris, France.

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Pierre Boulez rehearses a work by Luciano Berio with the Ensemble Intercontemporain' Paris, 1989

 


Pierre Boulez rehearses a work by Luciano Berio with the Ensemble Intercontemporain
Paris, 1989

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs Jean Paul Riopelle' Tanlay 1989

 


Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs Jean Paul Riopelle
Tanlay 1989

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Daido Moriyama in Paris' 2018

 

 

 

Museum der Moderne Salzburg
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Phone: +43 662 842220

Opening hours:
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Wednesday: 10am – 8pm
Monday: closed

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09
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘John Wolseley – Heartlands and Headwaters’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th April – 16th August 2015

 

John Wolseley. 'Regeneration after fire - the seeders and the sprouters, Mallee' (detail) 2009-11

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Regeneration after fire – the seeders and the sprouters, Mallee (detail)
2009-11
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil and pigment
152.2 x 256.7cm irreg.
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

I went for a long walk through recently burnt mallee scrub in the Big Desert Wilderness Park. Some of the mallee roots had vivid amber, scarlet and mauve new growth exploding from the surviving stumps. Nearby were scatterings of tiny, bright banksia seedlings that had germinated after the fire, causing seed pods to burst open and expel their seeds. Botanists call such trees ‘seeders’, while their companions, the mallee eucalypts, are known as ‘sprouters’. Sprouters have a large root, known as a lignotuber, which stores water and nutrients – this is part of a brilliant strategy for survival in arid landscapes.

 

 

This is a wondrous exhibition by John Wolseley at NGV Australia. The whole feeling of the exhibition, its scale and intimacy, the attention to detail and the sheer the beauty of the work is quite outstanding. I was fascinated with the text descriptions the artist gives with each piece of work, included here in the posting.

While Wolseley plays with time (deep time, shallow time and now time) and space here it is more than that, for deep time (or “the zone” in the alternative parlance of athletes) is also used in artistic activity to refer to the experience of being lost in the act of creation or the consumption of a work. To the viewer, so it would seem here for we become lost in the art of creation. There is a sense of timelessness, the experience of unusual freedom within time, an unawareness of time, within Wolseley’s work, yet still grounded in the past and present, flowing into the future of this planet. This sense of place, context, space and time(lessness) are lucidly resolved in the artist’s work.

As the Introduction to the exhibition states, Wolseley conceives the exhibition as gesamtkunstwerk , a total work of art, presenting new possibilities for understanding landscape in the twenty-first century. This generally works well in revealing the unique, dynamic processes of natural ecosystems when the work is on the wall. However, the floor of the gallery (natural timber boards) lessened the experience of the “total work of art” for me. If you are designing an exhibition that would seem to me to be immersive (to some extent) then the work needed more grounding than it contains here.

This is a minor observation in an otherwise superlative exhibition. The colours, the sensitivity of the painting, the flow of the images, water, music, prose… are a narrative almost like a fable if the issues were not so real. The heightened imagery and emotional effects of the work make us truly aware that now is the time for action. The future development of the new coal power stations must be stopped. Renewable energy is the energy of the future as much as it is light emanating from the past.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Artist Interview | John Wolseley 

 

 

Over the past four years, John Wolseley has travelled and painted throughout the Australian continent. He has journeyed from the swamps of the Tasmanian high country to the coastal flood plains of the tropical north, exploring the nature and action of water and how it has shaped the land.

Wolseley has worked on site beside strange and diverse wetlands – sphagnum bogs, ephemeral waterholes, bilabongs and mangrove swamps – and combined his own distinctive mark-making processes with more traditional watercolour techniques. He has ‘collaborated’ with plants, birds and insects and used a range of drawing systems that includes frottaging (rubbing against) burnt trees, burying papers in sand and swamps and nature printing from leaves, wood and rocks.

The artist’s layered and collaged papers have been assembled as an installation in the shape of a giant branching tree, surrounded by large-scale works which enclose the viewer in an immersive environment. Wolseley has rejected European landscape conventions that often reduce a complex, living system to a static and generalised representation. Instead, he endeavours to reveal the unique, dynamic processes of natural ecosystems. Conceived as gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), Heartlands and headwaters presents new possibilities for understanding landscape in the twenty-first century.

Introduction text to the exhibition

 

John Wolseley. 'History of the Whipstick Forest with ephemeral swamps and gold bearing reefs' 2011

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
History of the Whipstick Forest with ephemeral swamps and gold bearing reefs (detail)
2011
Watercolour, charcoal and pencil on 2 sheets (a-b)
233.5 x 286.6cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

One summer’s day I walked from my studio into the forest and followed a dry creek to some swamps and pools bursting with life. This arid landscape, so torn up and churned over, was still miraculously reinventing itself. Such resilience!

In this drawing I bring together the histories of three kinds of time: the ‘deep time’ of geology, ‘shallow time’ since European arrival, and ‘now time’ in October 2011. The history of the hidden workings of the earth I stole from a geologist’s map. Resting on this ancient framework in the painting’s centre is the green swamp. Above this is another map, which tells the story of William Johnson, a visitor to this forest 160 years ago, whose discovery of gold was the birth of the Bendigo goldfields.

When I was working on this painting, this bush was burnt in line with the government’s draconian legislation to burn all public bushland in Victoria every ten years. This often gives no time for vegetation to mature and seed, and biodiversity in certain fire-sensitive ecologies is being ravaged. My reverence for nature’s resilience was moved to a sense of deep chagrin that yet again we are destroying the matrix which is our home.

 

John Wolseley. 'From Siberia to Roebuck Bay - the godwits reach the mangrove swamps, WA' (detail) 2012

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
From Siberia to Roebuck Bay – the godwits reach the mangrove swamps, WA (detail)
2012
Watercolour over pencil, charcoal and coloured chalk
151.9 x 199.0cm irreg. Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

Each year in June the bar-tailed godwits fly 12,000 kilometres from their breeding grounds in Siberia to the north coast of Australia. I was standing by the sea on the north Kimberley coast when out of a clear sky the godwits arrived in vast, pulsing flocks that swooped down to rest on the mudflats. The land, with its mudflats and sandbanks, had been formed by the great king tides, dragged for eons by the cycles of the moon. And now I could see these great tides of godwit, pulled by another powerful force, flow down and merge with the waters.

 

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of swamps III, heron in swamp - Loy Yang Power Station' (detail) 2009-10

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Natural history of swamps III, heron in swamp – Loy Yang Power Station (detail)
2009-10
Watercolour, pencil, ink, black chalk, scratching out and leaf
114.0 x 176.0 cm
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

I was looking at a dam in the grounds of the Loy Yang Power Station, when in flew a black-backed heron. It looked for fish in the water and then peered at a billboard declaring ‘Hazelwood Power Station – WETLAND DEVELOPMENT PROJECT’. I walked down to the vast open-cut coalmine, and looked for fish fossils and Cryptogamic flora among the seams of coal. Then I returned to the heron, which now seemed to be looking at the steam and CO2 belching out of the cooling towers – those clouds of CO2 that came from the coal which was once a carboniferous swamp.

 

 

For four years, artist John Wolseley has roamed the coastal floodplains of the Northern Territory through to the glacial lakes of Tasmania, exploring and recording in exquisite detail the diverse wetlands of Australia. The works he has created will be revealed at NGV Australia.

This series of eighteen evocative works on paper, many of them monumental in scale (up to 10 metres in size), detail the geographical features and unique plants and animals of these wetlands in works characterised by minutely-observed drawing and rich watercolour washes.

Many works combine collage and unusual markings made through burying works or hoisting large sheets of paper across the charred remains of burnt tree trunks and branches. Through this ‘collaboration’ with the natural environment, Wolseley subverts traditional approaches to the depiction of landscape and seeking to give the natural world a more active presence in the work of art.

‘Heartlands and Headwaters celebrates Australia’s unique and diverse natural environment,’ said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV. ‘Wolseley’s work is not only of great beauty, but also demonstrates how depicting the landscape has become an important form of activism’.

The mangrove swamps of Roebuck Bay in Western Australia, the flood plains of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory, the Finke River in the Simpson Desert and the sphagnum swamps of Skullbone Plains in central Tasmania are just some of the sites detailed in these impressive works.

Commissioned by Sir Roderick Carnegie AC, these works celebrate the beauty of the Australian wilderness and encourage an understanding of the significance and environmental fragility of these remote and little-known sites.

 

About John Wolseley

Born in England in 1938, John Wolseley immigrated to Australia in 1976 and has gained recognition in the past four decades as one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists whose work engages passionately with the environment.

Over the years Wolseley has travelled extensively throughout the country, into the arid interior and remote wilderness areas in all states, camping out for extended periods and immersing himself in the landscape.

This approach is reflected in the distinctly non-traditional character of the landscape works Wolseley produces. Instead of presenting a single overarching view of a particular site they are composite images that combine precisely observed details of flora and fauna. Informed by readings in geology, biology, cartography and other disciplines, these provide multiple perspectives on the location’s topography, journal notations and observations of natural cycles or patterns of the area.

Press release from the NGV website

 

John Wolseley. 'Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts' 2008-10

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts
2008-10
From The Great Tree of Drawings 1959-2015, installed 2015
Pencil, watercolour and charcoal on 15 sheets (a-o)
Dimensions variable (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts (detail) 2008-10

John Wolseley Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts (detail) 2008-10

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts (details)
2008-10
From The Great Tree of Drawings 1959-2015, installed 2015
Pencil, watercolour and charcoal on 15 sheets (a-o)
Dimensions variable (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

This work was made in the Murray-Sunset National Park, where I found an island of unburnt scrub remaining after a bushfire. This refugium, or sanctuary, provided shelter for plants and small creatures from which they could later gradually recolonise the surrounding sand dunes. The small, flying sheets are papers I released to blow on the desert winds for weeks and sometimes months. Each sheet records carbon traces made by the burnt fingers of trees and shrubs. Having been made soft from dews and showers, and dried and tossed by the desert winds, they have become fixed in a variety of sculptural forms.

 

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' 2013

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania
2013
Watercolour, pencil, pen and ink, and sphagnum on 8 sheets (a-h)
155.6 x 407.6cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' (detail) 2013

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' (detail) 2013

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' (detail) 2013

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania (details)
2013
Watercolour, pencil, pen and ink, and sphagnum on 8 sheets (a-h)
155.6 x 407.6cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

As a creek moves down to the shores of Lake Ina in the central highlands of Tasmania, it swells out into an ancient sphagnum moss swamp. I leant over and peered into a gap between the mats of sphagnum, and a small fish emerged in the crystal water. This brief phantom – a Clarence galaxias – was only miraculously there because its ancestors had been isolated by a glacial moraine (ridge) upstream, which six million years later had saved it from the European trout, which had supplanted most of the other galaxias in the rest of Tasmania. And then, marvellously, it had been saved again by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, which had purchased these plains to protect them from further loss and degradation.

As the grey shadows moved down the hill and melted into the lake, I soaked and painted the spongy sphagnum mats with tinctures of watercolour – viridian and crimson and Indian yellow – and laid them on several sheets of paper. I did the same with water milfoils, spike reed, tassel sedges and bladderwort, and weighted them down overnight with slabs of bark. Their images were imprinted on the paper, emerging slowly like a photograph being developed.

 

John Wolseley. 'From the edge of the great flood plains of Garrangari and Garrangalli, NT' 2012-14

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
From the edge of the great flood plains of Garrangari and Garrangalli, NT
2012-14
Pencil, charcoal, black and brown chalk, watercolour, coloured pencil, coloured pastel, frottage and collages of linocut, wood relief printed in black and brown ink, watercolour, charcoal and coloured pencil over pencil and pen and ink on Japanese and wove paper
155.5 x 961.7cm irreg.
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

In June 2011 I was standing on the edge of the monsoon rainforest bordering a vast flood plain in East Arnhem Land with Djambawa Marawili, the great Yolngu leader and artist. Djambawa recounted how in the dawn of creation ancestral figures had moved up from the coast, digging for edible roots as they went, creating springs of fresh water that still bubble out along the plains. He described how when the first sun came up these ancestor women turned into brolga cranes. As he sang the song several brolgas emerged from the mists and flew slowly towards the coast.

This was the originary moment of this painting. For the next three years, guided by the Dhudi-Djapu clan leader and artist Mulkun Wirrpanda, I collected and drew specimens of plants and trees of the flood plain, and their edible roots and tubers. In the painting I have drawn many of them, along with the various trees festooned with vines.

For me the great miracle of that morning rested in that moment of time – being there, seeing the living land and sensing the ‘deep time’ so intimately linked with the life and art of the people who have lived in it for so long.

 

John Wolseley. 'A Daly River creek, NT' 2012

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
A Daly River creek, NT
2012
Watercolour, pastel, pencil, charcoal, ink, yellow pencil and collage of woodcut and linocut on Japanese paper (a-c)
152.0 x 602.0 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley. 'A Daly River creek, NT' (detail) 2012

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
A Daly River creek, NT (detail)
2012
Watercolour, pastel, pencil, charcoal, ink, yellow pencil and collage of woodcut and linocut on Japanese paper (a-c)
152.0 x 602.0 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

Here is a flowing tropical creek near Nauiyu, about two hours’ drive south of Darwin. It shows the fecund, flowing mass of life and aquatic plants and fish, and how they are all an integral part of one particular ecosystem. The plants were all drawn on the spot or collected and drawn later in Darwin. It was May 2012 and I went on several trips with the ethnobiologist Glenn Wightman, the Ngan’gi elder Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart AM and other artists from the arts centre at Nauiyu. They showed me the plants in their living habitat so that I could draw them in action, rather than as dried museum specimens – the Nymphaea waterlily, with its long, convulsive stems, several species of bladderwort, water chestnuts and duckweed.

In this tropical aquatic painting I have tried to show how landscape for me is made up of energy fields that I draw as passages of particular plant forms, in which the individual plants move or dance with different rhythms. My intention is to show how these rafts of different species weave in and out of one another, and across the surface of my painting, rather as a passage of a symphony changes key and mood.

 

John Wolseley. 'Cycles of fire and water - Lake Tyrrell, Victoria' 2011-12

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Cycles of fire and water – Lake Tyrrell, Victoria
2011-12
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil, sponging and scratching out on 2 sheets (a-b)
154.0 x 610.0cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley. 'Cycles of fire and water - Lake Tyrrell, Victoria' (detail) 2011-12

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
Cycles of fire and water – Lake Tyrrell, Victoria (detail)
2011-12
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil, sponging and scratching out on 2 sheets (a-b)
154.0 x 610.0cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

I was sitting on a low sandbank and drawing the pools of water that lay on this ancient salt lake. A rust-coloured cloud erupted into the air and darkened the sky over the water. The wind grew stronger, as if emanating from the core of the fire, and it carried embers and burning branches like dismembered limbs. I felt a kind of disquiet, almost dread. I knew such fires had always been part of the natural cycles of the bush, but this was one of several I had experienced that season where it felt as if fire itself was behaving in a different, more erratic way; as if the subtle equilibrium of the climate was changing.

From out of the billowing clouds of smoke some spoonbills, ibis and cormorants emerged, and flew far out over the lake. Several of them alighted on a patch of sunlit water and remained there, as if illustrating some cycle of eternal return – from action to stillness, from noise to quiet. But as I watched, the great black cloud drifted over their resting place, moving them on as if they were being chased away from the world they had known.

 

John Wolseley. 'After fire - spiny-cheeked honeyeaters at Lake Monibeong' (detail) 2009-11

 

John Wolseley (Australian, b. 1938)
After fire – spiny-cheeked honeyeaters at Lake Monibeong (detail)
2009-11
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil, gouache and brown chalk
151.7 x 128.9 cm
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

Walking through the recently burnt Cobboboonee Forest in Victoria one morning, I reached a lake where fresh water rested in sand dunes bordering the sea. I stood beside a burnt banksia tree with powdery black, corrugated bark. It had been a stormy night, but now the sea and lake were calm. Several spiny-cheeked honeyeaters swooped down, perched in the tree and sung out jubilantly. It was as if they were filled with elation at all these elements coming to rest in equilibrium – the lake resting within the sand dune, the quietening of the wind and the passing of the fire.

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Open daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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