Posts Tagged ‘Jill Orr

07
Feb
20

Exhibition: ‘Dressing up: clothing and camera’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2019 – 9th February 2020

Curator: Gareth Syvret

Artists: Gordon Bennett, Polly Borland, Pat Brassington, Eric Bridgeman, Jeff Carter, Nanette Carter, Jack Cato, Zoë Croggon, Sharon Danzig, Rennie Ellis, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Christine Godden, Alfred Gregory, Craig Holmes, Tracey Moffatt, Derek O’Connor, Jill Orr, Deborah Paauwe, David Rosetzky, Damien Shen, Wesley Stacey, Christian Thompson, Lyndal Walker, Justene Williams, Anne Zahalka.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Making an appearance

There are some stimulating and challenging works in this first exhibition curated by new MGA Associate Curator Gareth Syvret, who was parachuted into the project at the last moment. The curator has pulled together work that examines the complex interweaving of “cultural scenarios,” “interpersonal scripts,” and “intrapsychic scripts” that ground how the camera, and the photographer, picture our relationship to dressing up…. and how we see ourselves pictured by the camera.

In various ways, the works interrogate how clothes (or the lack of them) reinforce the postmodern fragmentation of the individual or group, the self being decentred and multiple, as when we change from work clothes, to drag, to leather, to wearing our footy beanie and scarf… and how these e/facements, these everyday performances (for that is what they are), camouflage or reveal our “true” nature. Do we dress up to fit in (to a tribe or group, or representation), or do we rebel against the status quo, as did that enfant terrible who refused all categorisation throughout his life, the Australian fashion pioneer Leigh Bowery. How do we turn our face towards, or away from, the camera? (turning away is a re/action to the power of representation, even if a negative one)

Firstly we must recognise that “cultural forms do not have single determinate meanings – people make sense of them in different ways, according to the cultural (including sub-cultural) codes available to them.” And secondly, we must acknowledge that, “the analysis of images always needs to see how any given instance is embedded in a network of other instances”1 through intertexuality – where we, reality, our representation, and the image, are just nodes within a network whose unity is variable and relative.

“Critical to understanding the construction of these constantly shifting networks in contemporary society are the concepts of weaving and intertexuality. Intertextuality is the concept that texts do not live in isolation, ‘caught up as they are in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network… Its unity is variable and relative’ (Foucault, 1973). In other words the network is decentred and multiple allowing the possibility of transgressive texts or the construction of a work of art through the techniques of assemblage [Deleuze and Guattari] – a form of fluid, associative networking that is now the general condition of art production.”2

This weaving of surfaces disrupts histories and memories that are already narrativised, already textualised. It disrupts this marking, the continual reiteration of norms, by weaving a lack of fixity into objects, namely how we see ourselves, how we pictures ourselves. Through dress, and the camera, through a constant process of reconceptualisation of space and matter, we can redefine the significations of the body of the animal in the fold of inscription, through a process of materialisation. The production of this materialisation (the matériel, or arms, of sartorial elegance) – of this signified – is open to struggle, the simulation “by virtue of its being referent-free invites a reading of a different order: it is a perpetual examination of the code.”3 A code which, Julia Kristeva notes, is not simply the product of a single author, but of its relationship to other texts and to the structures of language itself. “[A]ny text,” she argues, “is constructed of a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another.”4 And this is what is happening in this exhibition – work, and images, which are a mosaic of quotations fighting over unity and fragmentation, reality and representation… and the construction of identity.

What this exhibition, and this materialisation, does not, and cannot answer, is the critical question: why do we dress up in the first place? What is the overriding reason for this ritualistic, performative enactment, this action, which happens time after time, day after day. And what is that face that we present to the camera during this performance? As Roland Barthes lucidly observes in Camera Lucida, “The PORTRAIT-PHOTOGRAPH is a closed field of forces. Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.”5

So, who I am?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3
  2. Foucault, Michel cited in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 01/04/2011 no longer available online
  3. Tseëlon, E. The Masque of Femininity: The Representation of Women in Everyday Life. London: Sage, 1995, pp. 128-130
  4. Kristeva, Julia. “Word, Dialog and Novel”, in Moi, Toril (ed.,). The Kristeva Reader, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986, p, 37 quoted in Keep, Christopher; McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. “Intertextuality,” on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 07/02/2020
  5. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida, London, 1984, p. 13

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Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All installation photographs proceed in a clockwise order around the exhibition. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Dress and clothing are so much a part of the way people present themselves to the camera and this subject provides a strong theme through which to explore MGA’s extraordinary collection. Some photographs in the exhibition are well known, others have not previously been shown. All are equally compelling in showing the way photographers record and manipulate dress to tell their stories.

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Gareth Syvret, MGA Associate Curator

 

As cultural hybrids, images are used as if they simultaneously block and unveil truth, reality, ways of seeing and understanding.

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Ron Burnett. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, p. 237

 

The meanings of clothes may usefully be divided into two types, ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’, each working in its own way on its own level. … Denotation is sometimes called a first order of signification or meaning. It is the literal meaning of a word or image… Connotation is sometimes called a second order of signification or meaning. It may be described as the things that the word to the image makes a person think or feel, or as the associations that a word or an image has for someone…

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Barnard, Malcolm. Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge, 1996

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne with at left, Gordon Bennett’s Self-portrait (Nuance II) (1994) and at right, Deborah Paauwe’s Foreign body (2004)

 

Gordon Bennett. 'Self-portrait (Nuance II)' 1994

 

Gordon Bennett
Self-portrait (Nuance II)
1994
Gelatin silver prints
50.8 x 40.6 cm (each)
Photographer: Leanne Bennett
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1995
Courtesy of the Estate of Gordon Bennett and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

Gordon Bennett’s Self -portrait (nuance II) performance was staged for the camera rather than a live audience. The artist prepared for the performance by painting his face with polyvinyl acetate glue. The process of peeling away the pale skin, created by the dry glue, was then documented in a series of photographs. This work is a subtle critique of simplistic oppositions between people who have light skin and people who have dark skin. Bennett discovered that he was of Aboriginal descent when he was 11 years old, but he resisted identifying as an Indigenous Australian for another 20 years. Conceived as a self-portrait, this work alludes to Bennett’s own process of ‘coming out’ as an Aboriginal man; removing his white mask. But, rather than representing this process in terms of a simple opposition, the photographs emphasise the nuanced ambiguities and transitory nature of identity.

 

Deborah Paauwe. 'Foreign body' 2004

 

Deborah Paauwe
Foreign body
2004
From the series Chinese whispers
Chromogenic print
120.0 x 120.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2004
Courtesy of the artist, GAGPROJECTS Greenaway Art Gallery (Adelaide) and Michael Reid (Sydney)

 

 

Deborah Paauwe’s photographs are loaded and coded psychosexual puzzles. In this photograph Foreign body, who are the subjects and what is their relation? What is the nature of the embrace Paauwe concocts: eroticism or comfort? In their opposition as clothed and naked Paauwe’s models perform a drama, on desire, for the camera in which dress is figured as a method for revealing or concealing the body as the border between eye and flesh.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Eric Bridgeman’s Woman from settlement with boobs (2010) and at right, two photographs from Tracey Moffatt’s series Scarred for life

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Tracey Moffatt. 'Job hunt' 1976 1994

 

Tracey Moffatt
Job hunt
1976 1994
From the series Scarred for life
Off-set print
80.0 x 60.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1998
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (Sydney)

 

 

Scarred for life is a series of works based on true stories about traumatic childhood experiences. In response to each story, Moffatt has staged and photographed a scene that illustrates the tragic tale. The photographs have been made to look like snapshots from a family album, emphasising the everyday nature of the incidents and their ongoing significance as memories. The photographs have been presented in a way that mimics the format of the 1960s American magazine, Life, which was well known for publishing photo-essays in this captioned format. Moffatt often draws on the story-telling conventions of magazines, cinema and other popular forms of visual communication in ways that give her photographs a heightened sense of drama. In Job hunt the tension between the fictive nature of Moffatt’s artistry and the ordinariness of the subject’s dress as a schoolboy dramatises the everyday. This effect is explored further in The Wizard of Oz where the awkwardness of Moffatt’s casting of a boy in a dress as Dorothy in her own fiction is heightened by his father’s overblown gesture.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Christian Thompson’s Gods and kings (2015) and at right, Damien Shen’s Ventral aspect of a male #1 and #2 (2014)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Gods and kings' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Gods and kings
2015
From the series Imperial relic
Chromogenic print
100.0 x 100.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2018
Courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid (Sydney + Berlin)

 

 

In this photograph by Christian Thompson the artist wears a makeshift hooded cape fashioned out of multiple maps of Australia charting different and conflicting Indigenous and colonial histories. The melding of these narratives through a careful but fragmented process of folding references the instrumentality of the map as a weapon of territoriality to challenge the idea of colonial power predicated on the designation of Australia as terra nullius. Describing his use of portraiture Thompson says, ‘I don’t think of them as being ‘myself’, because I think of my works as conceptual portraits. I’m really just the armature to layer ideas on top of … I really like the idea of wearing history, I like the idea of adorning myself in references to history.’ By wearing his cloak of maps, Thompson transfigures his body into a terrain where difficult histories are re-explored.

 

Damien Shen. 'Ventral aspect of a male #1' 2014

 

Damien Shen
Ventral aspect of a male #1
2014
From the series On the fabric of the Ngarrindjeri body – volume II
Pigment ink-jet print
59.4 x 42.0 cm
Photographer: Richard Lyons
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the artists and MARS Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

This work is from Shen’s series On the fabric of the Ngarrindjeri body – volume II (2014), which comprises 12 black-and-white photographs showing the artist and his uncle, a Ngarrindjeri elder known as Major Sumner. Across the series, the two subjects are shown from different angles, either together or individually. Their bodies have been painted in the traditional Ngarrindjeri way and they perform in front of the camera in a studio setting. While the majority of the images were taken in front of the studio backdrop, four of the images document Major Sumner ‘behind the scenes’.

This series is typical of Shen’s practice in that it explores his Indigenous identity and family history through portraiture. For Shen this series is extremely personal, as it documents his uncle sharing his cultural knowledge and experience with him. However, the series was also created to more broadly document Ngarrindjeri culture and the history of his ancestors. Furthermore, Shen’s use of a plain studio backdrop and sepia toning, along with his prosaic titles, directly reference 19th-century ethnographic portraiture, drawing attention to the history of the representation of Indigenous people. The candid backstage images are not sepia toned and have been juxtaposed with the staged portraits in a way that further highlights the artificiality of the studio setting.

 

Damien Shen. 'Ventral aspect of a male #2' 2014

 

Damien Shen
Ventral aspect of a male #2
2014
From the series On the fabric of the Ngarrindjeri body – volume II
Pigment ink-jet print
59.4 x 42.0 cm
Photographer: Richard Lyons
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the artists and MARS Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Jill Orr’s Lunch with the birds (1979) and at centre, Zoë Croggon’s Lucia (2018) and at centre right, Justene Williams Blue foto (2005)

 

Jill Orr. 'Lunch with the birds #3' 1979

 

Jill Orr
Lunch with the birds #3
1979
Ink-jet print, printed 2007
Photographer: Elizabeth Campbell
30.0 x 44.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2008
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Jill Orr’s Lunch with the birds performance took place on St Kilda beach on a wintery day in 1979. It was conceived as a shamanistic ritual that would provide an antidote to the junk food that is often thrown to scavenging seagulls. Dressed in her mother’s wedding gown, Orr lay on the beach surrounded by a meal of whole bread, fresh fish and pure grain, and waited for the birds to come and commune with her on the foreshore. Apart from the photographer Elizabeth Campbell, who had been commissioned to document the event, there was no human audience on the beach. Like other performances that Orr has enacted in the landscape, nature itself is the primary audience for this ritual. All the same, Orr is quite conscious of using photography to share the performance with gallery audiences. Working with the photographic documentation after the event, Orr composed the images as a narrative sequence (from which these works are taken) and presented them on black mount boards to suggest a filmstrip.

 

Zoë Croggon. 'Lucia' 2018

 

Zoë Croggon
Lucia
2018
From the series Luce Rossa
Pigment ink-jet print
65.0 x 79.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Daine Singer Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

Zoë Croggon uses collage techniques to explore spatial relationships between the human form, architecture and the physical world. Her practice is informed by her experience of studying ballet and dance. In many of Croggon’s works, found photographs of the human body are cut out and re-placed, in tension, against surface and structure to explore the politics and poetics of space. For the series Lucia Rossa, the source materials are derived from Italian pornography, eroctica and fashion magazines. Although it is not overtly depicted, this work responds to the ways that the female body is ‘arranged, fragmented and presented for consumption…’ As such, ‘Lucia’ considers the condition of fabric, clothing and dress as a space for the body, laden with the politics of sexuality.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Justene Williams Blue foto (2005) and at right, Christine Godden’s photographs

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with the assistance of The Robert Salzer Foundation 2015
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Christine Godden’s photographic work is a highly personal and poetic form of documentary practice, which is informed by a feminist interest in developing distinctly female perspectives on the world. Godden’s familiarity with the tradition of fine art photography in North America is evident in her commitment to high quality printing, which accentuates the sensuality of her subject matter. This photograph is from a body of Untitled works that was originally exhibited in 1976 at George Paton Gallery, Melbourne and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. This tightly organised sequence of 44 photographs intended to show ‘how women see [and] how women think.’ The photographs present fragments or tightly cropped glimpses of textures and bodies (usually of women) that, with their combination of tenderness and formal rigour, take the appearance of being ‘female,’ while at the same time unpicking or unhinging the logic of a feminine imagery or style.

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with the assistance of The Robert Salzer Foundation 2015
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with the assistance of The Robert Salzer Foundation 2015
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Christine Godden’s photographs; at middle left David Rosetzky’s photographs; and at far right Sharon Danzig’s No escape (2004)

 

David Rosetzky. 'Hamish' 2004

 

David Rosetzky
Hamish
2004
Chromogenic prints
50.0 x 61.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2005
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

This work by David Rosetzky is an early examples of cut-out and collaged photographic portraits that he has been producing periodically since 2004. To create these images, Rosetzky produces slick studio portraits of young models, referencing the style of photography prevalent in advertising and fashion magazines. He then layers a number of portraits on top of each other before hand-cutting sections to reveal parts of the underlying prints. Through this method of image making he seeks to represent the identity of his subjects as multi-layered, shifting and often concealed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Sharon Danzig’s No escape (2004) and at right, the work of Pat Brassington

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing work from Elizabeth Gertsakis’ series Innocent reading for origin (1987)

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis. 'Innocent reading for origin' 1987

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis
Innocent reading for origin
1987
Gelatin silver prints
74.0 x 48.5 cm (each)
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1994
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

For the series Innocent reading for origin, Elizabeth Gertsakis uses photographs of her family taken at the time of their migration to Australia from Florina, Greece, her birthplace, when she was an infant. These photographs are presented with typescripts of her readings and observations about the photographs. As viewers we are witness to how the images form the artist’s words and, placed alongside them, how her words form the images. The dress of the people in the photographs is particularly significant for their interpretation and description and the ways that these images operate on the artist and the viewer. Gertsakis is concerned here with how photographs transmit memory and meaning in private and public. By shifting the format and scale of family photographs from shoebox to gallery wall, Gertsakis calls into question the status of the medium as vernacular and/or fine art.

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis. 'Innocent reading for origin' 1987

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis
Innocent reading for origin
1987
Gelatin silver prints
74.0 x 48.5 cm (each)
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1994
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

As necessity or luxury, to integrate or rebel, in freedom or oppression, dress is the nexus of selfhood. Photography and dress are forever entwined; from its inception in the 1840s one of photography’s main objectives has been the making of portraits. Clothing has been imaged by photographers ever since. In documentary mode, photography provides a record of the ways we dress and how clothing has changed over time. As an instrument of empire photography was used for the purpose of recording the dress and appearance of Indigenous people. Since the early twentieth century the practice of fashion photographers has posed body and garment to create brands and promote lifestyle choices to sell us the clothes we wear.

This exhibition draws together photographs from the MGA collection that feature dress or clothing as a significant element in their making. Some of the photographers included have produced works with documentary intent. For many, a classification of their practice is not so clear cut. These artists photograph dress, clothing and the body to actively question appearances. They use photography as a tactic for testing the nature of consumer culture, challenging social norms or protesting histories of colonisation and discrimination. Shaping and shaped by the individual, our clothes can conceal, reveal and transform who we are. Like the photographs in this exhibition they are the bearers of memory, emotion and time.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 22/12/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Polly Borland from her Bunny series (2004-05)

 

Polly Borland. 'Untitled XXIII' 2004-05

 

Polly Borland
Untitled XXIII
2004-05
From the series Bunny
Chromogenic print, printed 2008
25.3 x 17.1 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2008
Courtesy of the artist and Murray White Room (Melbourne)

 

 

This photograph is from Polly Borland’s Bunny series, which consists of more than 50 images. Borland worked over an extended period of time in close collaboration with actress Gwendoline Christie as the subject of the photographs. The Bunny series plays upon the physicality of its model – who is extraordinarily tall – rendering tense, awkward and absurd poses. The surreal character of Bunny created through gestures of masking and dressing up acts as a darkly playful riposte to the objectification of the Playboy centrefold. Through a process of costuming explored between photographer and subject these images lampoon the fetishism of the glamour shot, supplanting it with their own fantasies both revealed and concealed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left the work of Alfred Gregory, at centre the work of Jack Cato (1930s-1940s), and at right Lyndal Walker’s Lachlan sprucing by the hearth (2013) from the series Modern romance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Jeff Carter at left: Saturday arvo, Cronulla Beach (1960) and Clan gathering, Wangaratta (1955); and at right, Rennie Ellis’ Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG (1974)

 

Jeff Carter. 'Saturday arvo, Cronulla Beach' 1960

 

Jeff Carter
Saturday arvo, Cronulla Beach
1960
Gelatin silver print
26.8 x 38.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1992
Courtesy of the artist

 

Jeff Carter. 'Clan gathering, Wangaratta' 1955

 

Jeff Carter
Clan gathering, Wangaratta
1955
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 31.9 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1992
Courtesy of the artist

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Chromogenic print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2007
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive (Melbourne)

 

 

This is one of the most famous photographs of the most important date in the Australian football calendar: Grand Final Day. Ellis turned his lens off the field onto the fans of the winning side on 28 September 1974, the Richmond Tigers. Ellis’s photograph encapsulates the centrality of clothing and colour to the tribalism of football fandom – in particular among ‘cheer squads’ – some of it official merchandise, some adapted or homemade. The image brilliantly exemplifies the unique ability of still photography to render human physicality and a moment in time.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Derek O’Connor’s Untitled (1981-84) and at right, four Rennie Ellis photographs (see below).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Confrontation, Gay Pride Week Picnic, Botanical Gardens' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis
Confrontation, Gay Pride Picnic, Botanic Gardens
1973
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive (Melbourne)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Drag queens and security guard' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis
Drag queens and security guard
1973
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
30.0 x 44.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive (Melbourne)

 

 

In 1973 the Australian Gay Liberation movement instigated a series of Gay Pride festivals in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. This was a time when homosexual sex was classified as a criminal act across Australia, and the Gay Pride events sought to challenge these repressive laws and openly celebrate gay and lesbian culture in public spaces.

Rennie Ellis, one of the most prolific photojournalists of Australian society during the 1970s and 1980s, documented Melbourne’s Gay Pride Week with his characteristic warmth and candour. Commissioned to photograph the event for the National Review, Ellis captured everything from transgressive cross-dressers and camped up political banners to same-sex couples enjoying romantic interludes on the lawns of the Botanic Gardens.

Ellis made the only substantial visual record of Melbourne’s first gay and lesbian festival. These photographs show the importance of dress as a method for open expression of gay and queer identities. Since the making of these photographs, significant progress has been made on this issue, most notably with the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill, 2017 providing equal rights to same sex couples. Continued work and education towards the eradication of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, however, remains imperative.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Derek O’Connor’s Untitled (1981-84) and at right, two photographs by Wesley Stacey, both Untitled (1973) from the series Friends

 

Derek O'Connor. 'Untitled' 1981-84

 

Derek O’Connor
Untitled
1981-84
From the series Amata
Image 2 of a series of 4
Gelatin silver print
50.8 x 61.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2007
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Derek O’Connor took this series of photographs in the early 1980s while he was living at Amata, an Aboriginal community situated in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara / Yankunyjatjara Lands in the far northwest of South Australia. They show a group of Aboriginal youths congregating around a campfire on the outskirts of the township, casually incorporating various elements of capitalist culture into their own communal space: second-hand ’70s clothing, a portable cassette player, a tin can with a Hans Heysen label, and petrol.

Photographs of this sort, which represent Aboriginal people as fringe-dwellers on the margins of White Australia, date back to the nineteenth century. Early examples of this genre typically cast Aboriginal people as a dying race, whose way of life was rapidly being undermined by the colonial regime. In O’Connor’s photographs, however, the Aboriginal youths personify a sense of persistent vitality, in spite of their circumstances. As O’Connor explains, ‘there is no self-pity or passive resignation in the way they face the camera. Their quiet defiance has a palpable sense of integrity.’

 

 

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28
Feb
11

Review: ‘Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2010 – 20th March 2011

 

Nici Cumpston. 'Nookamka - Lake Bonney' 2007

 

Nici Cumpston (Barkindji Australian, b. 1963)
Nookamka – Lake Bonney
2007
watercolour and coloured pencils on ink on canvas
74.2 x 203.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008
© Nici Cumpston

 

 

“It is this irreversibly modified world, from the polar caps to the equatorial forests, that is all the nature we have.”

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Simon Schama. Landscape and Memory 1

 

“The term “landscape” can be ambiguous and is often used to describe a creative interpretation of the land by an artist and the terrain itself. But there is a clear distinction: the land is shaped by natural forces while the artist’s act of framing a piece of external reality involves exerting creative control. The terms of this ‘control’ have be theorised since the Renaissance and, while representations of nature have changed over the centuries, a landscape is essentially a mediated view of nature.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie 2

 

“And, finally, what of the vexed, interrelated matter of non-Aboriginal Australians’ sense of belonging? While the Australian historian Manning Clark speculated that European settlers were eternal outsiders who could never know ‘heart’s ease in a foreign land, because … there live foreign ancestral spirits’, it now seems plausible that non-Aboriginal Australians are developing their own form of attachment, not to land as such, but to place. Indeed, it has recently been argued that for contemporary non-Aboriginal Australians, belonging may have no connection with land at all. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why art photographs of the natural landscape have lost their currency and are now far outnumbered by photographs of urban and suburban environments – after all, it is ‘here’ that most Australians live and ‘there’ that the tourist industry beckons them to escape.”

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Helen Ennis. Photography and Australia 3

 

 

This review took a lot of research, reading, thinking and writing, all good stuff – I hope you enjoy it!

 

Heavy Weather: Photography and the Australian Land(e)scape

There is nothing fresh about the work in this exhibition. If feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the term ‘landscape’, the land itself gasping for air, for life. What the exhibition does evince is an “undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests that all is not as it may appear” (wall text) – and on this evidence the process of photographing the Australian landscape seems to have become an escape from the land, a fragmented and dislocated scoping, mapping and photographing of mental aspects of the land that have little to do with the landscape itself. Landscape as a site of psychological performance. In this sense, the title Stormy Weather should perhaps have been Heavy Weather for contemporary photographic artists seem to make heavy going of photographing our sense of belonging to land, to place.

Is it the artists or the curators that seek to name this work ‘landscape photography’ for it is about everything but the landscape – an escape from the land, perhaps even a denial of it’s very existence. I believe it is the framing of landscape and its imaging in terms of another subject matter. While I am not going to critique individual works in the exhibition, what I am interested in is this framing of the work as ‘landscape photography’.

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Since colonial settlement there has been a rich history of photographing the Australian landscape. In the early colonial period the emphasis was on documenting the building of new cities and communities through realist photography and later more picturesque and panoramic vistas of the Australian land as settlers sought comfort in familiar surroundings and a sense of ‘belonging’ to the land (for example day trippers and photographers travelling to the Blue Mountains). Photographers rarely accompanied expeditions into the interior, unlike the exploration and mapping of the land from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States. Unlike America there has been little tradition of photographing sublime places in Australia because they are not of the same scale as in the USA. It is very difficult to photograph the vast horizon line of the Australian outback and make it sublime. Photographing the landscape then ventured through Pictorialism in the interwar years, Modernism after WWII through to the emergence of art photography in the 1970s (for example see my posting on Dr John Cato), wilderness and tourist photography. An excellent book to begin to understand the history of photography in Australia is Photography and Australia by Helen Ennis (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) that contains the chapter “Land and Landscape.” As Ennis comments in this chapter, “… landscape photography has been the practice of settler Australians and the expression of a settler-colonial culture … The viewpoint in landscape photography has therefore been almost exclusively European”4 although this culture has been changing in recent years with the emergence of Indigenous photographers.

Ennis observes that contemporary landscape photographers embrace internationalist styles, showing a distaste for totalising nationalist narratives and a rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints, noting that an overarching framework like multiculturalism has lost its currency in favour of transnationalism (which is a social movement grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the loosening of boundaries between countries) that does not disavow colonial inequalities and asymmetrical relations between countries and continents.5 Photographers have developed a “photographic language that allows for the expression of the contradictions inherent in contemporary settler Australians’ relations with the land,”6 whilst offering visual artists a “non-linear, non-didactic way of dealing with the complexities of Australia history and experience, and the relationship between past and present.”7

This much then is a given. Let us now look at the framing of the work in the exhibition as ‘landscape photography’.

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Simon Schama in his erudite book Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage, 1996) believes that there can never be a natural or neutral landscape (even the brilliant meadow-floor [at Yosemite] which suggested to its first eulogists a pristine Eden was in fact the result of regular fire-clearances by its Ahwahneechee Indian occupants) and that it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape. There was also a recognition that ‘nature’ was neither neutral nor beyond ideology during the 1970s – 1980s. Hence there is a double mediation – by both nature and the artist.

Despite the rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints by contemporary photographers and an acknowledgment of the mediated view by/of nature one can say that there is not a single photograph in this exhibition that is just a ‘landscape’. Even the most sublime photographs in the exhibition, David Stephenson’s (Self-portrait), Reflected moon, Tasmania (1985) is cut up into a grid, or Murray Fredericks Salt photographs (2005, see below) where the photographer has waited agonisingly for weeks for just the right weather conditions to take his photographs which the general public, when visiting Lake Eyre, would have no chance of ever seeing. Through this mediation there seems to have emerged an abrogation or denial of landscape by the artists and curators conceptualisation of it, as though they are performing a particular condition, a style; working out a plan of what to do and say. Is it just a denial or is it an artistic strategy?

I believe that these are strategies that limit artists, not strategies that enable them. The curators are equally implicated in these strategies by their naming of these works ‘landscapes’. What purpose does this naming serve, in terms of the development of a sense of place, not nation, that people living in Australia seek to have? We can ask the question: Where do you stand in relationship to the landscape both philosophically and geographically?

After Butler, we can also ask: What forms of cultural myth making are “embedded” in the framing of landscape by the curators, the naming of such work as ‘landscape photography’?

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Rarely is the framing recognised for what it is, when it is the viewer interpreting the interpretation that has been imposed upon us, that limits the visual discourse, producing a view of Australian landscape as fragmented norms enacted through visual narrative frames – that in this case efface the representation of land and place. This conceptual framing of what the work is about limits the grounds for discourse for a frame excludes as much as it corrals. The curators form an interpretative matrix of what is seen (or not seen, or withheld), reinforcing notions of landscape photography, the ‘landscape photography’ “that requires a certain kind of subject that actually institutes that conceptual requirement as part of its description and diagnosis.”8 In other words the description ‘landscape photography’ established by the curators becomes a limiting, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personally, I think the problem with a landscape exhibition is that this is virtually an inane topic. Somehow “documentary” works as a topic because it is about a mental discipline. But “landscape” is no longer really a topic – it used to be a topic when landscape painters wanted to show the landscape (!) but does anyone really want to show this today? Even when the landscape painters wanted to show the sublime, the landscape was always treated with deference. No-one thinks of Minor White as a landscape photographer for he was a metaphysical photographer. And that’s what this exhibition needs – another word to give sense to a photographers efforts.

This is difficult subject matter. While artists may reject essentialist or absolutist viewpoints what has been substituted in their place is a framing, a definition that is post-nature, that undermines any sense of belonging to land, to place. The dissolutive pendulum has swung too far the other way; we look to theory to be inclusive and sometimes stand on our heads to achieve this to our detriment.

As of this moment we are not at the point where we can look back with some certainty and see that we have reached the beginning of the path of understanding. What I would propose to any artist is a photography that is broadly based, cumulative, offering a layered body of work that builds and refers back to an original body of work, much like the photographs of Robert Adams – photographs that do not make claims but ask questions and hint at a more responsive engagement with the landscape.

My hope is that a more broadly based view of place and our sense of belonging to the land emerges, one that challenges our contemporary understanding of the landscape, a viewpoint and line of sight that calm our troubled sense of reality. Robert Adams has written eloquently about photography and the art of seeing. Here is a quote from his seminal book Why People Photograph (Aperture Foundation, 1994) that aptly concludes this review.

“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect – a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.”9

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to 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.

 

Addendum

Further to my argument above there is a session ‘Australian Identity: Australian Bio-diversity and the Landscape of the Imagination’ at the Festival of Ideas, Friday June 17th 2011 at the University of Melbourne where, in the details of the upcoming session, Ian Burn has been quoted about the loss of the landscape:

Details of the session: ‘The connection between landscape and national identity figures prominently in discussions of Australian experience. Recently the pairing of the two has taken a melancholic turn; artist Ian Burn has remarked that ‘A commitment to representing the landscape has come to be about the “loss” of the landscape’. Has the landscape that once supported the Australian legend disappeared? The landscape is represented not only in art but also through science, law and commerce. Are new landscapes and new identities now being imagined and discovered?’

Quotation: “The idea of landscape does not just invoke rival institutional discourses, but today attracts wider and more urgent reflections. A commitment to representing the landscape has become about the ‘loss’ of landscape in the twentieth century … that is about its necessity and impossibility at the same time. Seeing a landscape means focusing on a picture, implicating language in our seeing of the landscape.”

Burn, Ian quoted in Stephen, Ann (ed.,). Artists think: the late works of Ian Burn. Sydney: Power Publications in association with Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1996, p. 8.

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Other sessions on Saturday June 18th 2011 include ‘The Pull of the Landscape’ and ‘Contemporary Visions and Critiques of the Landscape’.

 

Footnotes

  1. Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. New York: Vintage, 1996, p. 7
  2. Crombie, Isobel. Stormy Weather. Contemporary Landscape Photography (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2010, p. 15
  3. Clark, Manning quoted by Peter Read in “A Haunted Land No Longer? Changing Relationships to a Spiritualised Australia,” in Australian Book Review CCLXV (October 2004) pp. 28-33 in Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 71-72
  4. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 51-52
  5. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p. 123, p. 133
  6. Ibid., “Land and Landscape,” pp. 71-72
  7. Ibid., “Localism and Internationalism,” p. 128
  8. Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2010, p. 161
  9. Adams, Robert. Why People Photograph. New York: Aperture Foundation, 1994, p. 179

 

 

Harry Nankin. 'Of Great Western tears / Duet 2' 2006

 

Harry Nankin (Australian, b. 1953)
Of Great Western tears / Duet 2
2006
From The rain series 2006-07
Gelatin silver photographs
(a-b) 107.1 x 214.3 cm (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2007
© Harry Nankin

 

Stephanie Valentin. 'Rainbook' 2009

 

Stephanie Valentin (Australia, b. 1962)
Rainbook
2009
From the earthbound series 2009
Colour inkjet print
69.9 x 86.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Philip Ross and Sophia Pavlovski-Ross, 2009
© Stephanie Valentin

 

Murray Fredericks. 'Salt 154' 2005

 

Murray Fredericks (Australia, b. 1970)
Salt 154
2005
From the Salt series 2003-
Colour inkjet print
119.3 x 149.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Murray Fredericks

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

Siri Hayes (Australia, b. 1977)
Plein air explorers
2008
Type C photograph
104.3 x 134.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Siri Hayes

 

 

The work of the contemporary Australian photographers highlighted in this exhibition comes from a profound engagement with the lived landscape around them. The quiet intensity of their work comes from their close and sustained relationship to particular environments. These photographers may use that lived observation to reveal the layers of history in a landscape; to provoke ecological concerns; as the place for site specific performances; or to use the specific poetics of light to reveal the beauty of a place.  However for all of them, the real world is the starting point for images of particularity.

Photographers’ interest in the landscape has increased in the last few years. Perhaps as a result of heightened environmental awareness, or an evolution in our engagement with Australian history, practitioners are again turning to the natural world as a site for critical practice and inspiration.

Drawn from the permanent collection the National Gallery of Victoria, the selected photographers in this exhibition have a particular focus that comes from their active relationship to various environments. The artists displayed here reveal history in a landscape; provoke ecological concerns; use the landscape as a site of performance; or reveal the distinctive beauty of a place.

Frequently underpinning these works of quiet intensity and considerable beauty is an undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests all is not as it may first appear.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 26/02/2011 no longer available online

 

Rosemary Laing. 'weather #9' 2006

 

Rosemary Laing (Australia, b. 1959)
weather #9
2006
From the weather series 2006
Type C photograph
109.9 x 184.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007
© Rosemary Laing and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jill Orr. 'Southern Cross to bear and behold - Burning' 2007)

 

Jill Orr (Australia , b. 1952, lived in the Netherlands 1980-84)
Southern Cross to bear and behold – Burning
2007
Colour inkjet print
65.5 x 134.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2010
Photographer: Naomi Herzog for Jill Orr
© Jill Orr

 

 

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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17
Dec
10

melbourne’s magnificent eleven 2010

December 2010

 

Here’s my pick of the eleven best exhibitions in Melbourne for 2010 that featured on the Art Blart blog (in no particular order). Enjoy!

Marcus

 

1/ Jenny Holzer at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

 

Jenny Holzer. 'Right Hand (Palm Rolled)' 2007

 

Jenny Holzer (American, b. 1950)
Right Hand (Palm Rolled)
2007
Oil on linen
80 x 62 in. (203.2 x 157.5 cm)
Text: U.S. government document

 

 

The reason that you must visit this exhibition is the last body of work. Working with declassified documents that relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Holzer’s ‘Redaction’ paintings address the elemental force that is man’s (in)humanity to man (in the study of literature, redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined (redacted) and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work) … I left the exhibition feeling shell-shocked after experiencing intimacy with an evil that leaves few traces. In the consciences of the perpetrators? In the hearts of the living! Oh, how I wish to see the day when the human race will truly evolve beyond. We live in hope and the work of Jenny Holzer reminds us to be vigilant, to speak out, to have courage in the face of the unconscionable.

 

2/ ‘Pondlurking’ by Tom Moore at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran

This exhibition produced in me an elation, a sense of exalted happiness, a smile on my dial that was with me the rest of the day. The installation features elegantly naive cardboard cityscape dioramas teeming with wondrous, whimsical mythological animals that traverse pond and undulating road. This bestiary of animals, minerals and vegetables (bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals, birds and even rocks) is totally delightful … What really stands out is the presence of these objects, their joyousness. The technical and conceptual never get in the way of good art. The Surrealist imagining of a new world order (the destruction of traditional taxonomies) takes place while balanced on one foot. The morphogenesis of these creatures, as they build one upon another, turns the world upside down … Through their metamorphosed presence in a carnivalesque world that is both weird and the wonderful, Moore’s creatures invite us to look at ourselves and our landscape more kindly, more openly and with a greater generosity of spirit.

 

Tom Moore. 'Birdboat with passenger with a vengeance' (left) and 'Robot Island' (right) 2010 and 2009

 

Tom Moore
Birdboat with passenger with a vengeance (left) and Robot Island (right)
2010 and 2009

 

3/ ‘Safety Zone’ by John Young at Anna Schwartz Gallery

What can one say about work that is so confronting, poignant and beautiful – except to say that it is almost unbearable to look at this work without being emotionally charged, to wonder at the vicissitudes of human life, of events beyond one’s control.

The exhibition tells the story of the massacre of 300,000 people in the city of Nanjing in Jiangsu, China by Japanese troops in December, 1937 in what was to become known as the Nanjing Massacre. It also tells the story of a group of foreigners led by German businessman John Rabe and American missionary Minnie Vautrin who set up a “safety zone” to protect the lives of at least 250,000 Chinese citizens. The work is conceptually and aesthetically well resolved, the layering within the work creating a holistic narrative that engulfs and enfolds the viewer – holding them in the shock of brutality, the poignancy of poetry and the (non)sublimation of the human spirit to the will of others.

Simply, this is the best exhibition that I have seen in Melbourne so far this year.

 

John Young. 'Flower Market (Nanjing 1936) #1' 2010

 

John Young (Australian, b. 1956)
Flower Market (Nanjing 1936) #1
2010
digital print and oil on Belgian linen
240 x 331 cm
image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

 

John Young. 'Safety Zone' 2010

 

John Young (Australian, b. 1956)
Safety Zone
2010
60 works, digital prints on photographic paper and chalk on blackboard-painted archival cotton paper
Installation shot, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne
Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

 

4/ ‘To Hold and Be Held’ by Kiko Gianocca at Gallery Funaki

 

Kiko Gianocca. 'Man & dog' found image, resin, silver 2009

 

Kiko Gianocca (Swiss, b. 1974)
Man & dog
Found image, resin, silver
2009

 

 

A beautiful exhibition of objects by Swiss/Italian artist Kiko Gianocca at Gallery Funaki, Melbourne, one full of delicate resonances and remembrances.

Glass vessels with internal funnels filled with the gold detritus of disassembled objects, found pendants: Horse, Anchor, Four leaf clover, Swan, Hammer & sickle … Brooches of gloss and matt black resin plates. On the reverse images exposed like a photographic plate, found images solidified in resin.

The front: the depths of the universe, navigating the dazzling darkness
The back: memories, forgotten, then remade, worn like a secret against the beating chest. Only the wearer knows!

As Kiki Gianocca asks, “I am not sure if I grasp the memories that sometimes come to mind. I start to think they hold me instead of me holding them.”

 

5/ ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery, Richmond

The photographs invite us to share not only the mapping of the surface of the skin and the mapping of place and identity but the sharing of inner light, the light of the imaginary as well – and in this observation the images become unstable, open to reinterpretation. The distance between viewer and subject is transcended through an innate understanding of inner and outer light. The photographs seduce, meaning, literally, to be led astray … I found myself looking at the photographs again and again for small nuances, the detail of hairs on the head, the imagining of what the person was thinking about with their eyes closed: their future, their fears, their hopes, the ‘active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures’ (Orr, 2010) …

In the imagination of the darkness that lies behind these children’s closed eyes is the commonality of all places, a shared humanity of memory, of dreams. These photographs testify to our presence and ask us to decide how we feel about our life, our place and the relation to that (un)placeness where we must all, eventually, return.

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Jill Orr. 'Jacinta' 2009

 

Jill Orr. 'Jacinta' 2009

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Jacinta
2009

 

6/ ‘AND THEN…’ by Ian Burns at Anna Schwartz Gallery

These are such fun assemblages, the created mis en scenes so magical and hilarious, guffaw inducing even, that they are entirely delightful.

There is so much to like here – the inventiveness, the freshness of the work, the insight into the use of images in contemporary culture. Still photographs of this work do not do it justice. I came away from the gallery uplifted, smiling, happy – and that is a wonderful thing to happen.

 

Ian Burns. '15 hours v.4' 2010

 

Ian Burns (Australian, b. 1964)
15 hours v.4
2010
Found object kinetic sculpture, live video and audio
Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

 

7/ ‘Night’s Plutonian Shore’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

 

Julia deVille. 'Nevermore' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Nevermore
2010

 

 

This is an excellent exhibition by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond … This exhibition shows a commendable sense of restraint, a beautiful rise and fall in the work as you walk around the gallery space with the exhibits displayed on different types and heights of stand and a greater thematic development of the conceptual ideas within the work. There are some exquisite pieces.

In these pieces there is a simplification of the noise of the earlier works and in this simplification a conversant intensification of the layering of the conceptual ideas. Playful and witty the layers can be peeled back to reveal the poetry of  de Sade, the stories of Greek mythology and the amplification of life force that is at the heart of these works. Good stuff.

 

8/ ‘Mari Funaki; Objects’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Mari Funaki. 'Object' 2008

 

Mari Funaki (born Japan 1950, arrived Australia 1979, died 2010)
Object
2008
Heat-coloured mild steel
36.0 x 47.5 x 14.5 cm
Collection of Johannes Hartfuss & Fabian Jungbeck, Melbourne
© The Estate of Mari Funaki

 

 

Quiet, precise works. Forms of insect-like legs and proboscises. They balance, seeming to almost teeter on the edge – but the objects are incredibly grounded at the same time. As you walk into the darkened gallery and observe these creatures you feel this pull – lightness and weight. Fantastic!

And so it came to pass in silence, for these works are still, quiet and have a quality of the presence of the inexpressible. Funaki achieves these incredible silences through being true to her self and her style through an expression of her endearing will. While Mari may no longer be amongst us as expressions of her will the silences of these objects will be forever with us.

 

9/ ‘Up Close: Carol Jerrems with Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and William Yang’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art

When looking at art, one of the best experiences for me is gaining the sense that something is open before you, that wasn’t open before. I don’t mean accessible, I mean open like making a clearing in the jungle, or being able to see further up a road, or just further on. And also like an open marketplace – where there were always good trades. There is the feeling that if you put in a certain amount of honesty, then you would get something back that made some room for you in front – some room that would allow you to look forward, and maybe even walk into that space. Seeing Jerrems work gives you that feeling.

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Mark and Flappers' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Mark and Flappers
1975
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of James Mollison, 1994
© Ken Jerrems & the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

10/ ‘John Davis: Presence’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

John Davis. '(Spotted fish)' 1989

 

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

 

 

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,” 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 … a human being who attained a state of grace in his life and in his work.

 

11/ ‘Mortality’ at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

 

Fiona Tan. 'Tilt' 2002

 

Fiona Tan (Indonesia, b. 1966)
Tilt
2002
DVD
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

 

 

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!

 

 

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29
Jun
10

Review: ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd June – 3rd July, 2010

 

A huge gallery crawl on Wednesday last saw me take in exhibitions at Nellie Castan Gallery (‘Malleus Melficarum’: strong sculptural work by James and Eleanor Avery; ‘Broken Canon’: vibrant mixed media collages by Marc Freeman); Anita Traverso Gallery (‘Peristereonas’: sculptures, photographs and mixed media by Barry Thompson); John Buckley Gallery (‘Perpetua’ by Emma can Leest, beautiful cut paper works; rather mundane paintings by Christian Lock); Karen Woodbury Gallery (‘Every breath you take’: wonderful galaxy-like paintings, perhaps as seen by the Hubble telescope, with a geometric/cellular base by Lara Merrett); The Centre for Contemporary Photography (‘Event horizon’: a group exhibition that “engages the horizon as a means to establish a physical locality with relation to the Earth’s surface and more broadly to the universe of which it is a miniscule component.” An exhibition that left me rather cold); and ACCA (‘Towards an elegant solution’ by Peter Cripps, again a singularly unemotional engagement with the precise, contained work: interesting for how the work explores spatial environments but in an abstract, intellectual way).

The stand out work from this mammoth day was ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery. Simply put, it was the strongest, most direct, most emotionally powerful work that I saw all day.

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Many thankx to Amelia Douglas and Jenny Port Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in this posting.

 

 

Jill Orr. 'Megan' 2009

Jill Orr. 'Megan' 2009

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Megan
2009

 

 

Jill Orr’s new participatory performances are photographs of children from Avoca Primary School painted with white clay from the area, displayed in pairs. The children are photographed once with eyes open, once with eyes closed. Orr asked the children to imagine their future life when they had their eyes closed. The key to the work is a group photograph of the ghostly children outside the primary school where everyone is isolated from each other (see photograph below).

“White faces loom up out of a dark ground, described by Orr as a void. On the surface these portraits are finely crafted, the skin of masked face becomes one with the digital file to create a facial landscape. The materiality of the face and the photographic file are exposed for the viewer. Titling the series ‘vision’ Orr ventures into a ‘haptic visuality’ where “vision itself can be tactile, as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes.”

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From the catalogue essay by Professor Anne Marsh, Monash University

 

 

In the performance, the ritual of being photographed, Orr instructs the children who are placed under the surveillance of the camera. “We are confronted  with the pose, the conscious composition of the image to be photographed, the inherent constructedness of the posed photograph.”1 The child assumes the pose by which they wish to be memorialized. The gaze (of the camera, of the viewer) is returned / or not in this spectacle.

Something happens when we look at these photographs. The text of the photographs becomes intertextual, producing as Barthes understands a “plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.”2 This is because, as Foucault observes, texts “are caught up in a system of references to … other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network …  Its unity is variable and relative.”3

The photographs invite us to share not only the mapping of the surface of the skin and the mapping of place (the history of white people living on the land in country Australia) and identity but the sharing of inner light, the light of the imaginary as well – and in this observation the images become unstable, open to reinterpretation. The distance between viewer and subject is transcended through an innate understanding of inner and outer light. The photographs seduce, meaning, literally, to be led astray.

As American photographer Minor White, who photographed in meditation hoping for a revelation in spirit though connection between person > subject > camera > negative > print, observes in one of his Three Canons

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over
4

.
Here the power of the photographer acting in isolation, the modernist tenet of authorship, is overthrown. In it’s place, “White supposes a relationship with subject that is a two way street: by granting the world some role in its own representation we create a photograph that is not so much a product solely of individual actions as it is the result of a negotiation in which the world and all its subjects might participate.”5 The autobiography of a soul born in the age of mechanical reproduction. This is the power of these photographs for something intangible within the viewer does take over. I found myself looking at the photographs again and again for small nuances, the detail of hairs on the head, the imagining of what the person was thinking about with their eyes closed: their future, their fears, their hopes, the ‘active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures’ (Orr, 2010).

These photographs seem to lengthen or protract time through this haptic touching of inner light. As Pablo Helguera observes in his excellent essay ‘How To Understand the Light on a Landscape’ that examines different types of light (including experiental light, somber light, home light, ghost light, the light of the deathbed, protective light, artificial light, working light, Sunday light, used light, narrated light, the last light of day, hotel light, transparent light, after light, the light of the truly blind and the light of adolescence but not, strangely, inner light)

“Experience is triggered by light, but not exclusively by the visible light of the electro-magnetic spectrum. What the human eye is incapable to perceive is absorbed by other sensory parts of the body, which contribute to the perception that light causes an effect that goes beyond the merely visual …

There is the LIGHT OF ADOLESCENCE, a blinding light that is similar to the one we feel when we are asleep facing the sun and we feel its warmth but don’t see it directly. Sometimes it marks the unplace, perhaps the commonality of all places or perhaps, for those who are pessimists, the unplaceness of every location …

We may choose to openly embrace the darkness of light, and thus let ourselves through the great gates of placehood, where we can finally accept the unexplainabe concreteness of our moments for what they are.”6

In the imagination of the darkness that lies behind these children’s closed eyes is the commonality of all places, a shared humanity of memory, of dreams. These photographs testify to our presence and ask us to decide how we feel about our life, our place and the relation to that (un)placeness where we must all, eventually, return.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

  1. Feiereisen, Florence and Pope, Daniel. “True Fiction and Fictional Truths: The Enigmatic in Sebald’s Use of Images in ‘The Emigrants'” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, p.175.
  2. Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text” in Image, Music, Text. trans. S. Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977 quoted in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006. www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm (link no longer active)
  3. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1973 quoted in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006. www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm (link no longer active)
  4. White, Minor. Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations. Aperture, 1969
  5. Leo, Vince. Review of Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations on the Amazon website [Online] Cited 26/06/2010
  6. Helguera, Pablo. “How to Understand the Light on a Landscape,” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, pp.110-119

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Jacinta' 2009

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Jacinta' 2009

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Jacinta
2009

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Avoca Primary School' 2009

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Avoca Primary School
2009

 

 

Jill Orr’s work centres on issues of the psycho-social and environmental where she draws on land and identities. Grappling with the balance and discord that exists between the human spirit, art and nature, Orr has, since the 1970s, delighted, shocked and moved audiences through her performance installations.

This current body of work involved children from the Avoca Primary School as active participants in Orr’s performance for the camera. The result is a series of high contrast black and white photographic portraits, which are shown as diptychs portraying the different states of seeing both outwardly and inwardly. One of each pair frames the child looking directly at the camera. The gaze meets the viewer. Who is looking at whom? The second captures the child whose eyes are closed. An inner world is intimated, but not accessible to the viewer.

In terms of the ‘gaze’, these works turn to the child as conveyer of the imaginary engaging both within and without. ‘I have found that creative acts require the visionary sensibilities of both the inner and outer world to operate simultaneously, consciously and unconsciously as dual aspects of the one action. In this instance the action is that of active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures.’[Jill Orr, 2010]. The portraits also reflect the present relationship to place that is etched into the faces of youth as already kissed by the harsh Australian sun.

Avoca is one of many townships that has been socially, economically and environmentally affected by drought and climate change. The portraits are created against this background.

Text from the Jenny Port Gallery website

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Vision' installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Vision' installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery

 

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Vision installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery
June 2010

 

 

Jenny Port Gallery
69 Victoria Parade
Collingwood, Victoria, 3066, Australia

By appointment only

Jenny Port Gallery website

Jill Orr website

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07
May
09

Opening 1: ‘Faith in a Faithless Land’ photographs by Jill Orr at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 30th May 2009

 

Installation view of Jill Orr exhibition 'Faith in a Faithless Land' at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Jill Orr exhibition Faith in a Faithless Land at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

First cab off the rank on a busy night of openings in Melbourne were the self-conscious photographs of Jill Orr presented at Jenny Port Gallery in Richmond, Melbourne (the gallery now in Collingwood). Beautifully hung in the gallery space in white frames the photographs were the least engaging artworks on the night. Their message seemed over determined, the use of reflection to add layering to the human-landscape mis en scene trite. Perhaps the performance itself would have evinced a more authentic, nuanced connection with the viewer vis a vis a response to the overwhelming expanse of nature and the place humans occupy on the thin crust of the earth. These photographs did not make that telluric connection and left me emotionally uninvolved in their pictorial representation.

Unfortunately I cannot show you any of the photographs because of copyright reasons but thank you to Jenny for allowing me to photograph the installation itself. Small photographs that give you some idea of the work can be found on the Jenny Port Gallery website.

Marcus

 

orr-b

Installation view of Jill Orr exhibition 'Faith in a Faithless Land' at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Jill Orr exhibition Faith in a Faithless Land at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Jenny Port Gallery
69 Victoria Parade
Collingwood, Victoria
3066, Australia

Mobile: 0409 332 799

By Appointment only

Jenny Port Gallery website

Jill Orr 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, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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