Posts Tagged ‘Laurence Aberhart

03
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘The world is beautiful: photographs from the collection’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 4th December 2015 – 10th April 2016

 

Despite a focus on the camera’s relationship to the beauty and pure form of the modern world – “the attraction and charm of the surface” – these photographs are more than just being skin deep. In their very straightforwardness the photographs propose a “rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike.” But more than the portrayal of something we would not see if it were not for the eye of the photographer, the lens of the camera, the speed of the film, the sensitivity of the paper, the design of the architect, the genetics of nature … is the mystery of life itself.

Modernist structures and mass-produced objects in plants and animals can never beat a good mystery. Just look at Man Ray’s Woman with closed eyes (c. 1928, below) or the look in the eyes of Robert Frank’s son, Pablo. You can never pin that down. While form may be beauty, mystery will always be beautiful.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

 

 

“German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch was a pioneering figure in the New Objectivity movement, which sought to engage with the world as clearly and precisely as possible.

Rejecting the sentimentality and idealism of a previous generation, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) emerged as a tendency in German art, architecture and literature in the 1920s. Applying this attitude to the field of photography, Renger-Patzsch espoused the camera’s ability to produce a faithful recording of the world. ‘There must be an increase in the joy one takes in an object, and the photographer should be fully conscious of the splendid fidelity of reproduction made possible by his technique’, he wrote.

This selection reflects the range of subjects that Renger-Patzsch returned to throughout his career. It includes his early wildlife and botanical studies, images of traditional craftsmen, formal studies of mechanical equipment, commercial still lifes, and landscape and architectural studies. His images of the Ruhr region, where he moved in 1928, document the industrialisation of the area in almost encyclopaedic detail. All of his work demonstrates his sustained interest in the camera’s relationship to the beauty and complexity of the modern world.

In 1928 Renger-Patzsch published The World is Beautiful, a collection of one hundred photographs whose rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike. Embodying a new, distinctly modern way of looking at the world, the book established Renger-Patzsch as one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century.”

Text by Emma Lewis on the Tate website

 

The world is beautiful is an exhibition of photographs taken over the last 100 years from the National Gallery of Australia’s magnificent photography collection, including work by Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Max Dupain, Bill Henson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman and many more.

It draws its title from one of the twentieth-century’s great photographic moments, the publication of Albert Renger-Patzsch’s book The world is beautiful in 1928. Renger-Patzsch’s approach embodied his belief that ‘one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic means alone’.

Inspired by this confidence in the medium, the exhibition looks at the way the camera interacts with things in the world. One of photography’s fundamental attributes is its capacity to adopt a range of relationships with its subject, based on the camera’s physical proximity to it. Indeed, one of the most basic decisions that a photographer makes is simply where he or she places the camera. The pictures in this exhibition literally take you on a photographic trip, from interior worlds and microscopic detail to the cosmic: from near to far away.

Together, these photographs capture some of the delight photographers take in turning their cameras on the world and re-imaging it, making it beautiful through the power of their vision and their capacity to help us see the world in new ways.”

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Near

Close up, the world can be surprising. There is an undeniable intensity and focus that comes with getting up close to people and objects. It is rude to stare, but photography has no such scruples.

Pioneers of the medium attempted to photograph organic forms through a microscope, making once-hidden worlds accessible. The pleasure photographers take in getting up close to their subject has followed the medium’s progress. This was especially the case during the twentieth century, when advances in photographic technology and profound shifts in our relationship to space brought about by events such as war often turned our attention away from the outside world.

For many photographers, the camera’s capacity to subject people and objects to close scrutiny has provided a way of paring back vision to its essence, to view the world unencumbered by emotion and sentiment. For others, getting up close is not just about physical proximity; it is also about psychological and emotional states that are otherwise difficult to represent. Experiences such as intimacy, love and emotional connection, as well as disquiet, anxiety and hostility, can all be suggested through the use of the close-up. Photographers have also used it literally to turn inwards, escaping into the imagination to create dreamworlds. The camera-eye really can see what the human eye cannot. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]' c. 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]
c. 1925
Gelatin silver photograph
23.8 x 16.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“In photography one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic terms alone.” Albert Renger-Patzsch

Renger-Patzsch’s primary interest was in the object as a document, removed from its usual context and unencumbered with sentiment. Die Welt ist schön [The world is beautiful], published in Munich in 1928, is one of the great photographic books in the history of photography and its influence across the world was profound. It is an astounding study of the world, celebrating beauty wherever the photographer found it – in modernist structures and mass-produced objects or in plants and animals. The connection and continuity of industry to the natural world is conveyed by emphasising underlying structural and formal similarities. The Gallery has a major holding of works by Renger-Patzsch, including a copy of Die Welt ist schön and 121 vintage prints, most of which were reproduced in the book.

Renger-Patzsch was always firmly committed to the principle of the photograph as a document or record of an object. While the title for his most famous contribution to photography came from his publisher, he wanted his now-iconic 1928 book Die Welt ist schön (The world is beautiful) to be titled simply Die Dinge (Things). In 1937 he wrote that the images in his book, ‘consciously portray the attraction and charm of the surface’. Indeed, the power of these pictures resides in their straightforwardness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Edward Weston (USA 1886-1956) 'Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico' 1924

 

Edward Weston (United States of America 1886 – 1958)
No title (Guadalupe, Mexico, 1924): from “Edward Weston fiftieth anniversary portfolio 1902-1952”.
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
20.7 h x 17.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

In 1923 Weston travelled from San Francisco to Mexico City with his son, Chandler and his model and lover, Tina Modotti. The photographs he made there represented a startling, revolutionary breakthrough. Everything got stripped down to its essence, with objects isolated against neutral backgrounds. For these heroic head shots, he moved out of the studio, photographing in direct sunlight, from below and with a hand-held camera. They are monumental but still full of life: Weston was excited by the idea of capturing momentary expressions, in people he found ‘intense and dramatic’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 - France 1976) 'No title (Woman with closed eyes)' c. 1928

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 – France 1976)
No title (Woman with closed eyes)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Not signed, not dated. Stamp, verso, l.r., “Man Ray / 81 bis. Rue / Campagne Premiere / Paris / XIV”.
Image 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm sheet 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Robert Frank. 'Pablo' 1959

 

Robert Frank (Switzerland born 1924 – emigrated to United States 1947)
Pablo
1959
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.8 h x 31.0 w cm sheet 27.0 h x 35.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Frank set out on a two-year road trip across the States in 1955. The images he made of race and class divisions, poverty, alienated youth and loneliness expose America’s dark soul. Others, such as this haunting image of his son, Pablo, were more personal. A selection appeared in The Americans, published in Paris in 1958 and in the States the following year. Many saw it as a bitter indictment of the American Dream, others saw an evocative, melancholic vision of humanity that is deeply moving. As Jack Kerouac commented in his introduction to the American edition, Frank ‘sucked a sad, sweet, poem out of America’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949 – 1980)
Vale Street
1975
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.2 h x 30.3 w cm sheet 40.5 h x 50.4 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated, maybe it’s a way of bringing people together I don’t want to exploit people. I care about them.”

Carol Jerrems, 1977

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Carol Jerrems became prominent in the 1970s as part of a new wave of young photographers. Influenced by the counter-culture values of the 1960s, they used art to comment on social issues and engender social change. Jerrems photographed associates, actors and musicians, always collaborating with her subjects, thereby declaring her presence as the photographer. Vale Street raises interesting questions about what is artifice and what is real in photography. She deliberately set up this image, employing her aspiring actress friend and two young men from her art classes at Heidelberg Technical School. Vale Street has achieved an iconic status in Australian photography; the depiction of a confident young woman taking on the world is an unforgettable one. It is an intimate group portrait that is at once bold and vulnerable. In 1975 it was thought to be an affirmation of free love and sexual licence. The image also appears to be about liberation from society’s norms and taboos – ‘we are all three bare-chested, we have tattoos and so what?’

The implication that this scene is perfectly natural is reinforced by locating the figures in a landscape. The young woman is strong and unafraid of the judgement of the viewer. The necklace around her neck is an ankh – a symbol of the new spiritualty of the Age of Aquarius and a re-affirmation of the ancient powers of women.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

 

Paul Outerbridge. 'Nude lying on a love seat' c. 1936

 

Paul Outerbridge (United States of America 1896 – 1958; Paris 1925-28, Berlin and London 1928)
Nude lying on a love seat
c. 1936
Carbro colour photograph
30.2 h x 41.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Like the Australian-born Anton Bruehl, Paul Outerbridge studied at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York. White was keen to see photography establish itself as a practical art that could be used in the service of the rapidly expanding picture magazine industry. Within a year of enrolling in the school, Outerbridge’s work was appearing in Vogue and Vanity Fair. During his lifetime, Outerbridge was known for his commercial work, particularly his elegant, stylish still-life compositions which show the influence of earlier studies in painting. He was also admired for the excellence of his pioneering colour work, which was achieved by means of a complicated tri-colour carbro process.

Much of Outerbridge’s fame now rests on work that he made following more private obsessions. His fetishistic nude photographs of women are influenced primarily by eighteenth-century French painters such as Ingres. Although the depiction of nudes was a genre pursued from the inception of photography, Outerbridge’s interest in breaking down taboos resulted in this material, if known at all, being passed over or vilified in his lifetime. Outerbridge sought to express what he described as an ‘inner craving for perfection and beauty’ through these often mysterious, languid and richly toned images. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014)

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #92' 1981

 

Cindy Sherman (United States of America born 1954)
Untitled #92
1981
Type C colour photograph
61.5 h x 123.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

 

 

This is one of 12 Centerfolds made by Sherman in 1981. The Centerfolds present Sherman posing in a range of situations, each suggesting heightened emotional states and violent narratives; these associations are augmented by the uncomfortably tight framing and the panoramic format used by Sherman across the series. Initially commissioned for the art magazine Artforum, the Centerfolds were never published because they were deemed, with their apparently voyeuristic points of view, to reaffirm misogynist views of women. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) 'Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)' 1980

 

William Eggleston (United States of America born 1939)
Greenwood, Mississippi
(1973) prtd 1979
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 29.5 h x 45.4 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 50.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

With its intense red, Eggleston’s picture of the spare room in a friend’s home is one of the most iconic of all colour photographs. Often called The red room, this photograph was intended to be shocking: Eggleston described the effect of the colour as like ‘red blood that is wet on the wall’. But the radicalness of the picture is not just in its juicy (and impossible to reproduce) redness; it is also found in the strange view it provides of a domestic interior, one that Eggleston has described as a ‘fly’s eye view’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Magnolia Blossom' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (United States of America 1883 – 1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 17.1 h x 34.6 w cm mount 38.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

During the 1920s, raising three young sons, Cunningham began to focus on her immediate surroundings. This restricted environment encouraged Cunningham to develop a new way of working, as she began to place her camera closer to the subject: to zebras on a trip to the zoo, to snakes brought to her by her sons, and perhaps most famously to the magnolia blossoms and calla lilies she grew in her garden. Observing what she termed the ‘paradox of expansion via reduction’, the intensity and focus attendant to this way of seeing flooded her work with sensuality and reductive power. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911 – 2003)
Skeleton leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 50.4 h x 40.8 w cm sheet 57.8 h x 47.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1987

 

 

This leaf skeleton – a leaf that has had its pulp removed with heat and soda – was probably photographed in front of a window in Cotton’s home near Cowra, NSW. Since the 1930s Cotton had been drawn to the close study of nature, and many of her best photographs feature close-ups of flowers, tufts of grass and foliage. This photograph is notable because it was taken in the studio, and reflects the austerity and simplicity that pervaded Cotton’s work in the decades after the Second World War. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934) 'Nashville, 1963' 1963

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934)
Nashville, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 28.2 h x 18.7 w cm sheet 35.3 h x 27.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

Middle distance

The further away we move from a subject, the more it and its story open up to us. While the close-up or compressed view tends to be very frontal (the camera presses up against the subject), the defining characteristic of much mid-century photography was its highly mobile relationship to space: its extraordinary capacity to survey and to organise the world.

The space between the camera and its subject can suggest impartiality and detachment. Documentary photographers and photojournalists, for example, open their cameras up to their subjects, as if to ‘let them speak’. But the depiction of the space between the camera and its subject, and the way that it is rendered through the camera’s depth of field, can also reflect decision making on the part of the photographer. By adjusting the camera’s settings, and thus choosing to render part of the subject in focus, the photographer can direct our focus and attention to certain parts of an image. In this way, photographers put forward an argument based on their world view. Photography can change the way we think about the world. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (Germany 1899 – United States of America 1998; France 1930-1941 United States from 1941)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Signed and dated recto, l.r., pen and ink “Ilse Bing/ 1931”
Image 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm sheet 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm mount 35.0 h x 41.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1989

 

 

Bing took up photography in 1928 and quickly developed a reputation as a photojournalist and photographer of modernist architecture. Inspired by an exhibition of modern photography and the work of Paris-based photographer Florence Henri, Bing moved to Paris 1930 and quickly became associated with the city’s photographic avant-garde. Bing worked exclusively with the fledgling Leica 35mm-format camera; her interest in the pictorial possibilities of the hand-held Leica can clearly be seen in this striking view of the Eiffel Tower. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 - 1975) 'Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania' 1935

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 – 1975)
Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
19.1 h x 24.0 w cm sheet 20.2 h x 25.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

Gary Winogrand. 'World´s Fair', New York, 1964

 

Garry Winogrand (United States of America 1928 – Mexico 1984)
World’s Fair, New York
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 21.8 h x 32.7 w cm mount 37.4 h x 50.1 w cm
Image rights: © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

Winogrand had a tremendous capacity to photograph people in public spaces completely unawares. This image records a group of visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair; it focuses on three young women – Ann Amy Shea, whispering into the ear of Janet Stanley, while their friend Karen Marcato Kiaer naps on Stanley’s bosom. The figures fill the space between the picture’s fore- and middle-grounds, to the extent of allowing the viewer to examine people’s expressions and interactions in close detail. This in turn allows us to encroach on the personal space of people we don’t know. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (New York, United States of America 1923 – 1971)
Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City
1962
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.0 h x 17.2 w cm sheet 32.8 h x 27.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

During workshops with Lisette Model, Arbus was encouraged to develop a direct, uncompromising approach to her subjects. She did this using the square configuration of a medium-format camera which Arbus most usually printed full frame with no cropping. Model also convinced Arbus, who had been interested in myth and ritual, that the more specific her approach to her subjects, the more universal the message. In many ways this image of a boy caught hamming it up in Central Park, with his contorted body and grimacing face, captures and prefigures many of the anxieties of America during the sixties, a country caught in an unwinnable war in Vietnam and undergoing seismic social change. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 - 2004) 'Rue Mouffetard, Paris' 1954 prtd c. 1980

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 – 2004)
Rue Mouffetard, Paris
1954 prtd c. 1980
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 35.9 h x 24.2 w cm sheet 39.4 h x 29.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1982

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.9 h x 36.2 w cm sheet 35.6 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

 

“The streets of the poor quarters of the great cities are, above all, a theatre and a battleground.” Helen Levitt

Inspired by seeing work by Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1935, Levitt took to the streets. Children became her most enduring subject. Like Evans, Levitt was famously shy and self-effacing, seeking to shoot unobserved by fitting a prism finder on her Leica. Her approach eschews the sensational; instead she is interested in capturing small, idiosyncratic actions in the everyday. Her images were often shot through with a gentle, lyrical humour though a dark strangeness also surfaces at times. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.4 h x 35.6 w cm sheet 35.4 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Ernst Haas (1921-1986). 'Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA' 1969

 

Ernst Haas (Austria 1921 – United States of America 1986; United States from 1951)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1969
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 44.9 h x 67.8 w cm sheet 52.3 h x 75.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2000

 

 

For Haas, colour photography represented the end of the grey and bitter war years and he started seriously working in the medium after moving to America in 1951. Work on his photoessay, Land of Enchantment and film stills assignments for The Misfits, The Bible and Little Big Man took Haas to the Southwest. The desert landscape of Albuquerque, located on Route 66, had been totally transformed by progress since the 1920s. Photographing the street after rain, Haas has signified that evolution by way of his distinctive ability to translate the world into shimmering energy. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Faraway

Photography has a long-standing interest in faraway places. In 1840, right in photography’s infancy, astronomical photography was launched when the first photograph of the moon was made. As photographic imaging technology has improved, so has the medium’s capacity to make faraway places accessible to us.

Photography can bring foreign places and people closer to home, or collect together images of places and structures that are located in different places. It can also attempt to give a picture to experiences that are otherwise difficult to grasp or represent, such as complex weather events or transcendental phenomena.

Against the odds, there are photographers who make images that are about what cannot be seen. Faraway is often used as a metaphor for thinking about the ineffable and the inexplicable. Science and spirit go hand-in-hand. ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious’, Albert Einstein believed. Photographers can take us to new worlds. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ansel Adams. 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (San Francisco, California, United States of America 1902 – Carmel, California, United States of America 1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941
Ansel Adams Museum Set
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 38.6 h x 49.0 w cm mount 55.6 h x 71.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Adams became the most famous landscape photographer in the world on the back of his images of America’s West. While mass tourism was invading these wilderness areas, Adams’s photographs show only untouched natural splendour. His landscapes are remarkable for their deep, clear space, distinguishable by an uncanny stillness and clarity. The story of Moonrise is legendary: driving through the Chama River Valley toward Española, Adams just managed by a few seconds to catch this fleeting moment before the dying sunlight stopped illuminating the crosses in the graveyard. Through hours of darkroom manipulation and wizardry, Adams created an image of almost mystical unworldliness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960) 'Up in the sky' 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960)
Up in the sky [Up in the sky – a set of 25 photolithographs]
1997
No. 8 in a series of 25
Photolithograph
Image 61.0 h x 76.0 w cm sheet 72.0 h x 102.0 w cm
KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund 1997
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Up in the sky is unusual in Moffatt’s oeuvre for being shot out of doors on location. Her photomedia practice is informed by an upbringing watching television, fascinated by film and pop culture. This series takes many of its visual cues from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone of 1961 as well as the Mad Max series – the references, twisted and re-imagined, are like half-forgotten memories. She addresses race and violence, presenting a loose narrative set against the backdrop of an outback town. The sense of unease is palpable: Moffatt here is a masterful manipulator of mood. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949) 'Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999' 1999

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949)
Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999
1999
Gelatin silver photograph
19.4 h x 24.3 w cm
Gift of Peter Fay 2005
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

For four decades, Aberhart has photographed the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island, including its settled landscape and its most distinctive feature, the sacred TeMounga (Mount) Taranaki. Using an 8 x 10-inch view camera, Aberhart has over time built up an important archive documenting the social geography and landscape of the Taranaki. Aberhart describes the conical mountain as a ‘great physical and spiritual entity’ and sees his photographs of it as a counterbalance to the countless images of the mountain that circulate on tea towels and postcards. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

 

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29
Jun
14

Review: ‘Concrete’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 5th July 2014

Artists: Laurence Aberhart (NZ), Jananne al-Ani (IRQ/UK), Kader Attia (DEU/DZA), Saskia Doherty (AUS), Fabien Giraud & Raphaël Siboni (FRA), Igor Grubić (CRO), Carlos Irijalba (ESP), Nicholas Mangan (AUS), Rä di Martino (ITY), Ricky Maynard (AUS), Callum Morton (AUS), Tom Nicholson (AUS),  Jamie North (AUS), Justin Trendall (AUS) and James Tylor (AUS)

Curator: Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow

 

While not as strong as previous exhibitions such as NETWORKS (cells & silos) (2011) and Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century (2013), this exhilarating show at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) confirms that this is the premier public gallery in Melbourne staging intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and themes.

There are some really interesting works here and I easily spent an hour and a half on each visit pondering, looking, thinking and inquiring. Some of the work is a little overexposed, such as Tom Nicholson’s Comparative monument (Palestine) (2012) – seen in Melbourne Now; Nicholas Mangan’s Some kinds of duration (2011), Ricky Maynard’s photographs and even more Callum Morton after his appearance in the Reinventing the Wheel exhibition. It’s about time some other local artists were given a go.

Justin Trendall’s white Lego buildings are stunning; Laurence Aberhart’s war memorials are printed too dark and seemed to be neither a record nor a feeling (they looked so much better in the recently published book); James Tylor’s photographs are adaptive as they seek to place traditional Indigenous dwellings back into the landscape but the base photographs from which he is working are not up to much; Rä di Martino’s Star Wars ruins are just too cute; and Carlos Irijalba’s drilling/tides are fascinating, but only if you know the context from which the work emanates. Video art was the highlight of the exhibition, and I don’t get to make that statement too often. Igor Grubic’s film Monument (2014, below) was mesmerising, as was Jananne al-Ani’s Shadow sites II (2011, below) – two of the best pieces of video art I have seen in a long time.

Monument features a series of meditative ‘portraits’ of the massive concrete memorials called ‘Spomenik’ built by the former Yugoslav communist state. Grubic abstracts these huge, cathedral-like memorials to various battles (usually of the Second World War) and events,  instead focusing on textures, environments and seasons. He photographs the monuments in mist and accompanies the images with ambient soundscapes that are haunting and evocative. The film holds the viewer in the palm of its hand and you are unable to look away, as the artist’s camera scours the surface of concrete and steel, intercut with branches and leaves, angles and vistas, pulling back and pushing forward. Usually video art doesn’t hold my attention for all but a few minutes but this film you can’t take your eyes from. The screen flickers and crackles, fades to orange and back again – its almost like a failure of transmission, as though the signal is not strong enough to support these interstitial spaces.

In Jananne al-Ani’s immersive film Shadow sites II, the viewer sits in a darkened room and the screen is full width of the space. Here, we are constantly moving forward and the camera never pulls back from the image. The film offers a sequence of aerial views in sepia tones; second by second our perspective nears the ground – but we never arrive. Accompanied by a David Sylvian style ambient soundtrack, the images are absolutely beautiful and intriguing as they morph one to another. Are you looking at the earth, the ground or a closeup of the surface of concrete, such as the patterns in Man Ray’s Dust Breeding (1920), which documents Duchamp’s The Large Glass after it had collected a year’s worth of dust while he was in New York? You are never quite sure…

The other thing to note with this exhibition is that, like many contemporary exhibitions, there are no wall notes or even a hand-out at the beginning that would enable the casual visitor to gain insight into the nature and meaning of the works. If I had not read the press release and done my own research I would have had no idea about the origins of some of the concepts for the work. This really is not good enough for the casual visitor to the gallery, any gallery. Are visitors expected to spend hours before they arrive, researching what the work is about so that they might actually understand what is going on? I took a friend to the gallery and luckily I was on hand to explain to her the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the works concepts and origins. For example, if you read the wall label for Monuments you would have no idea that these were in Yugoslavia and that they had mostly been built to honour the dead from World War II; similarly, if you read the wall label to Carlos Irijalba’s High Tides (drilling) (2012) you would gain only the vaguest idea that the soil drilling sample was taken from under the tarmac of a former weapons factory in the Urdaibai or Guernica Estuary, Basque Country. Guernica – that place of horror bombed in the Spanish Civil War and most notably memorialised in the painting by Picasso of the same name. We, the viewer, need to know these things… not as an addendum after hours of reading, or on getting home and reading the catalogue essay – but while we are at the gallery!

While artists hint at the meaning of a work, leaving interpretation open ended and up to the viewer’s imagination and what life history they bring to the work, it may be useful and indeed I think desirable to provide the viewer with some tangible clues. Not much, just a paragraph that they can take with them to help with interpretation. It’s not much to ask, is it?

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

“Concrete is an interesting metaphor in the sense that it’s an aggregate that’s then bonded together. In some ways, that might represent this positive idea of pluralism, or it could be this completely hideous idea of homogeneity. Many of the works deal with samples of time and cycles violence and trauma and how we go about representing that history.”

.
Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow

 

 

Igor Grubic. 'Monument' 2014

 

Igor Grubic
Monument
2014
Video still
Courtesy of the artist

 

Igor Grubic. 'Monument' 2014

 

Igor Grubic
Monument
2014
Video still
Courtesy of the artist

 

14-5_MUMA-Concrete_13-WEB

 

Igor Grubic
Monunment (work in progress) installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
2014
Video projection, colour, sound
53 minutes
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

Born in Zagreb, Croatia, 1969. Lives and works in Zagreb

In the film Monument Zagreb-based artist Igor Grubic offers a series of meditative ‘portraits’ of the massive concrete memorials built by the former Yugoslav state. With the rise of neo-fascism these mysterious sentinel forms, originally intended to honour World War II victims of fascism, are increasingly subject to neglect, even attack.

Emphasising the unexpected fragility of these monumental structures, Grubic sets human attempts to fix meaning, memory and the experience of loss against a backdrop of seasonal change. In a landscape which has witnessed so many cycles of trauma and upheaval, this work mirrors the rise and fall of many monuments built to preserve the memory of events which might otherwise be forgotten. Can such forms ever communicate a stable message through time?

“The work is void of explanation or commentary, instead concentrating on the surfaces of the monuments, their surrounding environments and the shifting seasons. We are left with little but their looming presence. “When we were filming, I was trying to read them without ideological background or context, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel the fact that lots of people died and suffered at these sites – I could feel a real sense of spirituality. I began seeing them as new cathedrals in a way.”” (Text from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

 

Jananne al-Ani. 'Shadow sites II' 2011

 

Jananne al-Ani
Shadow sites II
2011
Video still
Courtesy of the artist

 

Born in Kirkuk, Iraq, 1966. Lives and works in London

Jananne al-Ani’s film Shadow sites II offers a sequence of aerial views in sepia tones; second by second our perspective nears the ground. Our appreciation of the formal beauty of these images co-exists with our unease as we try to determine what it is we are looking at. Are these archaeological sites, or housing compounds damaged by missile or drone strikes? Iraqi-born al-Ani notes as inspiration the ‘strange beauty’ of Edward Steichen’s 1918 photographs of the Western Front taken whilst he was a member of the US Aerial Expeditionary Force.

“UK-based Iraqi artist Jananne al-Ani’s striking video work saw her film archaeological sites in the Middle East from high up in a fixed-wing airplane, the shadows of the early morning and late evening revealing former buildings, structures and sites of significance in extraordinary resolution. While al-Ani’s work evokes the nightmarish recent histories of drone strikes and bombing campaigns, it also digs deep into the past.” (Text from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

 

Extracts from Jananne al-Ani’s film Shadow sites II 2011

 

James Tylor. '(Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #3' 2013

 

James Tylor
(Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #3
2013
Inkjet print on Hahemuhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, ed. 4/5
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

James Tylor. '(Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #1' 2013

 

James Tylor
(Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape #1
2013
Inkjet print on Hahemuhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, ed. 4/5
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

James Tylor. 'Un-resettling (stone footing for dome hut)' 2013

 

James Tylor
Un-resettling (stone footing for dome hut)
2013
Hand coloured archival inkjet prints
Courtesy of the artist

 

Born in Mildura, Victoria. Lives and works in Adelaide, South Australia

Australian cities and communities feature a wide array of memorials, however the long history of Indigenous Australia is almost entirely absent from such solid forms of public acknowledgement. In Un-resettling James Tylor presents the beginnings of a formal typology of Indigenous dwellings, a number of which relate to his own personal heritage. Tylor states, “Un-resettling seeks to place traditional Indigenous dwellings back into the landscape as a public reminder that they once appeared throughout the area.” Tylor’s photographs remind us of the invisible histories of this land, for instance the fertile volcanic plains west of Melbourne with remnants of stone dwellings and larger ceremonial sites of which there is little public knowledge.

 

Kader Attia. 'Rochers carrés' 2008

 

Kader Attia
Rochers carrés [Square rocks]
2008
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin and Cologne

 

14-5_MUMA-Concrete_20-WEB

 

Concrete installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Justin Trendall (at right), Tom Nicholson (on floor, see below), James Tylor (back wall middle, see above), Kader Attia (back wall left, see above)
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

'Concrete' installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014

 

Concrete installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Justin Trendall (back left), Tom Nicholson (on floor, see below), Rä di Martino (back wall right, see below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rä di Martino. 'No More Stars (Abandoned Movie Set, Star Wars)' 2010 (detail)

 

Rä di Martino
No More Stars (Abandoned Movie Set, Star Wars) 33°50’34 N 7°46’44 E Chot El-Gharsa, Tunisia 01 September 2010 (detail)
2010
Series of 9 photographs, unique edition, lambda prints, wooden frame
30cm x 30cm each

 

No More Stars (Abandoned Movie Set, Star Wars) 33°50’34 N 7°46’44 E Chot El-Gharsa, Tunisia 01 September 2010 is a series of photographs taken in the abandoned movie sets of the film saga Star Wars, filmed through the years in different locations in the south of Tunisia. Unexpectedly those sets have been left on the locations so after years have now mostly become ruins, almost as some sort strange archeological sites. The particular hot and dry climate has helped mantain intact many parts of the sets, or buried under the sand just sections of it. (Artist statement)

 

In September 2010, New York-based visual artist and filmmaker Rä di Martino set out on a quest to photograph and document old abandoned film sets in the North African deserts of Tunisia. The project had started when she discovered that it was common practice to abandon these sets without tearing them down, leaving them fully intact and crumbling over time, like archeological ruins. Martino spent that month traveling around Chott el Djerid in Tunisia, finding and photographing three Star Wars sets in all for her photo series No More Stars and Every World’s a Stage.

“I think is very interesting the amazing poetic potential of those ruins, being ruins of something that was the future in our imagination,” Martino explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “It’s bewildering to see the biological decay of those cheap materials, which once built perfect images of our past and future.”

 

Tom Nicholson. 'Comparative monument (Palestine)' 2012

 

Tom Nicholson. 'Comparative monument (Palestine)' 2012

 

Tom Nicholson
Comparative monument (Palestine)
2012
9 stacks of 1000 two-sided off-set printed posters
50 x 50cm each

 

Proposition for a monument, articulated as 9 stacks of 1000 two-sided off-set printed posters, each 50x50cm, for visitors to take away, and also pasted up around Ramallah.

Comparative monument (Palestine) is a proposition for a future monument, which takes the form of nine stacks of posters, from which the audience is free to take a poster. The project began with a search for war monuments bearing the name ‘Palestine’ erected in and around Melbourne in the early 1920s to commemorate the presence of Australian troops in Palestine during WW1. This project rethinks possibilities for the monument and suggests new forms of connection between different parts of the world and their histories.

Throughout Australia, war monuments bear the name “Palestine” to commemorate the presence of Australian troops in Palestine during World War I and, in particular, Australian involvement in the 1917 British capture of Beersheba (in turn a critical city in the events of 1948 and the Nakba). These monuments also reflect the realities of the 1920s (when they were erected) and the era of the British Mandate, when the name Palestine implicitly invoked the shared position of Australia and Palestine within British imperialism. Comparative monument (Palestine) begins with a complete photographic record of these monuments bearing the name “Palestine” in and around Melbourne. Figuring this material into a Palestinian context – both a kind of “homecoming” and exile for these Australian monumental forms – becomes a way to reanimate these linkages between Australia and Palestine. In these forms dedicated to 1917, Nicholson implicates the events and repercussions of 1948 with their echoes of Australian Aboriginal experiences of dispossession and colonial violence. Comparative monument (Palestine) is an attempt to rethink the possibilities of the monument in the face of these histories of dispossession and the acts of imagination and solidarity these histories demand.

 

Nicholas Mangan. 'Some kinds of duration' (detail) 2011

 

Nicholas Mangan
Some kinds of duration (detail)
2011
Installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Nicholas Mangan. 'Some kinds of duration' 2011

 

Nicholas Mangan
Some kinds of duration
2011
Installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

 

“MUMA’s second exhibition for 2014, Concrete brings together the work of twelve artists, both Australian and international. The exhibition explores the concrete, or the solid and its counter: change, the flow of time. As we prepare to mark the centenary of the First World War, the exhibition considers the impact of time upon built and monumental form, reading between materiality and emotion, form and memory.

Monuments reflect a desire for commemoration, truth, honour and justice. Equally, they may function to consolidate political power and national identity. Works in the exhibition locate the monumental in relation to longer cycles of construction, displacement and erasure; archaeology, geology and palaentology; the shifting politics of memory and ways to describe a history of place.
“Concrete explores the human desire to mark our presence as a complex drive for memory – as well as the need for a blank or negative, a placeholder for the unknowable, the unsayable, the missing.”

Exhibition curator, Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow
“Concrete introduces a number of artists to Australian audiences for the very first time. Continuing MUMA’s highly regarded series of thematic and discursive exhibitions, and presenting a broad range of significant projects, Concrete considers the function of monuments and ruins from poetic, material and political perspectives.”

Director, Charlotte Day

Text from the MUMA press release

 

Carlos Irijalba. 'High Tides (drilling)' 2012

 

Carlos Irijalba
High Tides (drilling)
2012
Installation view
Courtesy of the artist

 

Carlos Irijalba. 'High Tides (drilling)' 2012 (detail)

 

Carlos Irijalba
High Tides (drilling) (detail)
2012
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Born in Pamplona, Spain, 1979. Lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands

High Tides (drilling) by Carlos Irijalba presents a 17 metre drilling core from the site of a former weapons factory in the Urdaibai or Guernica Estuary, Basque Country. Beneath an asphalt ‘cap’, layers of soil, clay, limestone and the sedimentary rock Marga are evident. The bombing of Guernica is remembered for its devastating impact upon the civilian population and was the subject of an iconic painting by Pablo Picasso. Irijalba offers a window into the history of this place, as well as longer geological measures of time and materiality.

Tides I, II and III 2012 is a series of three photographs of converging layers of asphalt from which the sample has been taken. Together, these images detail a common surface so ubiquitous we cannot value it as rare or particular. And yet these images record a very specific piece of ‘ground’ or earth, just as they also suggest a vast aerial view, perhaps the meeting of two oceans.

 

'Concrete' installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014

 

Concrete installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Laurence Aberhart (left), Jamie North (doorway), Carlos Irijalba (right)
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

Laurence Aberhart. 'Auroa Taranaki' 1991

 

Laurence Aberhart
Auroa Taranaki
1991
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Laurence Aberhart. 'Matakana, North Auckland' 1994

 

Laurence Aberhart
Matakana, North Auckland
1994
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Born in New Zealand, 1949. Lives and works in Russell, Northland, New Zealand

Photographer Laurence Aberhart is drawn to the edge of dominant historical narratives, creating archives of built and monumental forms particular to certain places and periods of time. He returns to these chosen subjects repeatedly. His photographs of the ANZAC memorials of Australia and New Zealand have been taken over the past thirty years. Familiar across both countries, the memorials were built after the First World War to commemorate those who served with the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. Very few families were able to visit the graves of those who died, and so these monuments served the bereaved as well as larger national concerns. As we approach the centenary of the war, these memorials are the focus of greater attention, yet what they mean is difficult to lock down. In these images the single figure on each column is a fixed point against landscapes in states of constant change.

 

Saskia Doherty. 'Footfalls' 2013-14

 

Saskia Doherty
Footfalls
2013-14
Cast concrete and printed paper
Installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

Saskia Doherty poetically references the Samuel Beckett play Footfalls, expanding on an image of famed American palaeontologist Dr Barnum Brown discovering a dinosaur footprint with texts and concrete sculptural gestures, describing the footprint as “a vastly preserved index of a life”.

 

Jamie North. 'Tropic cascade #1 and #2' 2014

 

Jamie North
Tropic cascade #1 and #2
2014
Cement, blast furnace slag, coal ash, galvanised steel, Australian native plants
Installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

Jamie North. 'Tropic cascade #2' (detail) 2014

 

Jamie North
Tropic cascade #2 (detail)
2014
Cement, blast furnace slag, coal ash, galvanised steel, Australian native plants
Installation view, Monash University Museum of Art, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F.
Monash University Caulfield campus
900 Dandenong Road
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) 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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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