Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne CBD

16
Feb
18

Review: ‘John Gollings: The history of the built world’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd December 2017 – 4th March 2018

 

John Gollings. 'Berman House (Harry Seidler), Joadja, New South Wales' 2007

 

John Gollings
Berman House (Harry Seidler), Joadja, New South Wales
2007

 

 

From ancient to modern; different but same

This is a solid exhibition of the work of architectural photographer John Gollings, which features highly colour saturated photographs of the built environment, from ancient to modern.

The formal, classical images are well seen and photographed, mainly for commercial clients who, at the end of the project, want to document their construction in the most flattering light. And that’s what you get with a Gollings architectural photograph – a known “style” used again and again to document an object devoid of human presence, usually photographed at the bewitching hour for photographers (dawn or dusk) or illuminated, to give the building that special glow. Sounds easy, but it isn’t!

For some people the intention of the photographer is primary… later on comes the  successful manifestation of that intention. And of course, there is the public intention stated in the brief directed to a photographer who has accepted that brief. As well, there are the photographer’s private intentions and for these we have to refer to the image(s). I then ask, what happens when the photographer’s private intentions becomes his commercial practice, when his style becomes his trademark?

In these photographs which are about multiplicity / difference (in the sense of a different set of objects) / series and the pursuit of spirit (as compared to the pursuit of ego), Gollings evidences something inherent in man that has shown itself from the start – inhabitation – that has now has become something else. He has put these series together to make sense / no sense / nonsense and through this juxtaposition, he hopes that something transcendent happens when these environments are seen together. The contemporary structures are made by extraordinary people who keep pushing to make an ultimate ideal of their belief, and so they are extraordinary, yet different from each other. Gollings captures this difference.

“What is it that asks a question that cannot be answered” is a question that I believe that Gollings is interested in, and it manifests itself in people and some of their works, e.g. poetry, cinema, photography, music… and this is the scope of that question in architecture. I think that Gollings has just tried to be clear about this question in his work, in the images straightforward yet dramatic way.

In their usually monolithic grounding, the building is always front and centre, even in his views of ancient structures or the landscape. “Gollings will use dramatic lighting and acute points of view to create a moody effect, and draw people into the ambience of the architect’s creation.” (Wall text) That is the key word, effect. While Gollings has stripped everything back to the bare minimum, removed ego, has it got him any closer to that place of magic and noumenality – that place that we can know but never experience (e.g. death). SOME of the images work towards an exploration of this subliminal state of being, the unconscious raised to the surface (images such as Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria, 2017 and The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China, 2013), yet others just sit there, the camera angles too regulated, the monolithic structure too central. How I longed for a more unusual positioning of the camera – something Atget might have done for example – to capture the personality of the building, for I never really “get” the personality of the building in Gollings representational photographs.

Personally, what I love about photography is the magical space of exploration in the image, and that is something that I don’t really get in these photographs, from one image to the next. The same feeling emanates from them time after time. They have little human warmth despite their high colour sheen. But I think that a lot of the absence of the magical that I regret is probably quite intentional. That is not Gollings’ project or his projection, his “effect” if you like, for he is a very intelligent artist, and a very well informed photographer. He has considered all of this, and his photographs come out exactly the way he wants them to come out. They might not be my cup of tea but I can appreciate and understand them on an intellectual and aesthetic, if not a spiritual, level. Gollings’ holistic vision over more than 40 years has stood the test of time, proving that he is, indeed, a damn good photographer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the media photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art.

 

Installation photographs

First gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Rear of opening wall featuring at right, Kay Street housing (Edmond &Corrigan), Carlton, Victoria 1983

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Left, Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria 2009; middle, Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria 2010; and right, Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria 2010

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria 2010

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Vineyard House (Denton Corker Marshall), Yarra Valley, Victoria 2013

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Somers House (Kai Chen), Somers, Victoria 1997

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Main gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Sabratha Theatre, Sabratha, Libya 2005

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Underground temple, Kep, Cambodia 2007

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Jiaohe Old City, Turfan, China 2005

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Right, Sidney Myer Music Bowl refurbishment (Yuncken Freeman/Greg Burgess), Melbourne, Victoria 2001

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Second left, The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China 2013; third left, Croft House (James Stockwell), Inverloch, Victoria 2013; second right, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Wood Marsh), Southbank, Victoria 2002; and right, Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Croft House (James Stockwell), Inverloch, Victoria 2013

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory 2015

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Third gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Left, El Dorado Motel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973; second left, Golden Sun Motel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973; second right, Biscayne Apartments, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973; and right, Cuba Flats, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Left, Mid-century house, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 2017; middle, Mid-century house, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 2017; and right, Mid-century house, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Every building on Surfers Paradise Boulevard west 1973 (detail)

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Every building on Surfers Paradise Boulevard west 1973 (detail)

 

 

John Gollings is Australia’s most pre-eminent and prolific photographer of the built environment. For the past 50 years he has been synthesising his parallel interests in photography and architecture to explore the cultural construction of social spaces. From sacred rock art sites and ancient temples to suburban dream homes and the monuments of corporate architecture, Gollings’s catalogue of images provides a remarkable visual history of human habitats. The history of the built world is the first major survey of Gollings photographic practice, and offers a much anticipated opportunity to appreciate the full breadth of his unique photographic vision.

 

John Gollings. 'Monash Gallery of Art (Harry Seidler), Wheelers Hill, Victoria' 1990

 

John Gollings
Monash Gallery of Art (Harry Seidler), Wheelers Hill, Victoria
1990

 

 

Waverley City Gallery

Gollings photographed Harry Seidler’s Waverley City Gallery before it was extended and renamed as Monash Gallery of Art. Gollings worked under Seidler’s direction to document the building, and the photographs clearly reflect Seidler’s architectural philosophy of organic geometric forms and interlocking planes.

Gollings’s interior view shows a Josef Albers tapestry hanging in the original foyer; an artwork that Seidler donated to the gallery with the intention of it remaining a permanent feature. Seidler once stated that he learnt more about design from Albers than any architectural school, and two of Albers’s design principles are clearly articulated in the architecture of MGA. The first of these is the notion that a high centre of gravity makes visual forms more dynamic, as evidenced in MGA’s top-heavy roofline. And the second – that irregular forms are more interesting to the eye than symmetrical grids – is apparent in the complex geometry of the building. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Webb Bridge (Robert Owen with Denton Corker Marshall), Docklands, Victoria' 2003

 

John Gollings
Webb Bridge (Robert Owen with Denton Corker Marshall), Docklands, Victoria
2003

 

 

Melbourne architecture

Gollings’s photographs of Melbourne offer a compelling portrait of the city he knows best. His aerial photographs draw out different features of Melbourne’s character, from the flatness of its suburban sprawl to the resplendent jewel box quality of its central business district. The sequence of images along this wall emphasises Gollings’s ability to metaphorically crawl inside the skin of his home town. Whether he’s photographing temporary architectural interventions or monumental entertainment stadiums, he finds ways to render them as skeletal structures or translucent surfaces. Gollings’s ability to embed the viewer in a scene is apparent across his work, but this is particularly evident in his images of Melbourne, where it seems he wears the built environment like a second skin. Even in his photograph of the Eureka Tower, Gollings uses the reflected light of a sunset to subdue this monolithic form and embed a reflected image of himself in the glass facade. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria' 2010

 

John Gollings
Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria
2010

 

John Gollings. 'Hotel Hotel foyer (March Studio), New Acton, Australian Capital Territory' 2013

 

John Gollings
Hotel Hotel foyer (March Studio), New Acton, Australian Capital Territory
2013

 

John Gollings. 'Karijini Visitor Centre (Woodhead International BDH), West Pilbara, Western Australia' 2001

 

John Gollings
Karijini Visitor Centre (Woodhead International BDH), West Pilbara, Western Australia
2001

 

 

Modern and contemporary architecture

Gollings’s professional practice has always included fashion and advertising projects, and one could argue that his treatment of architecture is invested with a certain dramatic fl air that owes something to these other genres of photography. Rather than using a sequence of photographs to systematically document different aspects of an architect’s design, Gollings often composes a single shot that captures the personality of a building. These are like portrait photographs, which use props and the surrounding backdrop to accentuate a sitter’s identity. A domestic house might be photographed through foliage in order to give it a bucolic character. Or a photograph might include more sky than building in order to evoke the vista that can be enjoyed by the inhabitants. In a similar vein, Gollings will use dramatic lighting and acute points of view to create a moody effect, and draw people into the ambience of the architect’s creation. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (McBride Charles Ryan), Essendon, Victoria' 2011

 

John Gollings
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (McBride Charles Ryan), Essendon, Victoria
2011

 

John Gollings. 'Featherston House (Robin Boyd), Ivanhoe, Victoria' 2011

 

John Gollings
Featherston House (Robin Boyd), Ivanhoe, Victoria
2011

 

 

“Gollings’s photographic practice is driven by a deep enthusiasm and interest in the built environment,” explains MGA Senior Curator, Stephen Zagala. “He loves architecture and he uses photography to share his passion, bringing constructed spaces to life and drawing viewers into sensual encounters with architectural form.”

John Gollings is Australia’s pre-eminent, and most prolific, photographer of the built environment. For the past 50 years he has been synthesising his parallel interests in photography and architecture to explore the cultural construction of social spaces. While Gollings is well known for his documentation of new buildings and cityscapes, this survey exhibition situates these images within the broader context of his photographic practice. Alongside his commercial work, Gollings has always engaged in projects concerned with architectural history and heritage. This includes photographs of iconic modernist buildings, ancient sites of spiritual significance and the ruins of abandoned cities. Gollings’s interest in architectural heritage is also apparent in his documentation of places such as Melbourne and Surfers Paradise, where he has recorded the evolution of the built environment over extended periods of time.

From sacred rock art sites and ancient temples, to suburban dream homes, iconic monuments and architectural interventions, Gollings’s catalogue of images provides a remarkable visual history of how humans have chosen to inhabit their world. Constantly innovating with photographic technologies, and investigating new architectural subjects with a restless enthusiasm, Gollings has developed a distinctive visual style. This style typically conveys a personal or physical connection with the structure being photographed. Rather than documenting buildings in a way that reproduces the impersonal elevation plans of an architectural diagram, Gollings embeds the viewer in face-to-face encounters with built environments. Using a range of compositional techniques and visual effects to invest architecture with personality, he portrays buildings as lively habitats rather than static monuments.

The history of the built world is the first major survey of Gollings’s photographic practice and offers a much anticipated opportunity to appreciate the full breadth of his unique vision. With academic training in the history of architecture, and a professional grounding in photographic practice, Gollings documents and dramatises architecture with an informed artistic flair. Constantly innovating with photographic technologies, and investigating new architectural subjects with a restless enthusiasm, Gollings’s connoisseurship of the built world is unparalleled.

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

John Gollings. 'Uluru Visitor Centre (Gregory Burgess), Uluru, Northern Territory' 1999

 

John Gollings
Uluru Visitor Centre (Gregory Burgess), Uluru, Northern Territory
1999

 

John Gollings. 'Kabaw Berber Granary, Kabaw, Libya' 2005

 

John Gollings
Kabaw Berber Granary, Kabaw, Libya
2005

 

John Gollings. 'Bayon, Angkor Thom, Cambodia' 2012

 

John Gollings
Bayon, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
2012

 

John Gollings. 'North face, south gate, Angkor Thom, Cambodia' 2007

 

John Gollings
North face, south gate, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
2007

 

John Gollings. 'Buddha detail, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia' 2011

 

John Gollings
Buddha detail, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia
2011

 

John Gollings. 'Mori Tim Stupa, Silk Road, China' 2005

 

John Gollings
Mori Tim Stupa, Silk Road, China
2005

 

John Gollings. 'Jiaohe Old City, Turfan, China' 2005

 

John Gollings
Jiaohe Old City, Turfan, China
2005

 

John Gollings. 'Pushkarani Kund (King’s Bath), Hampi, India' 1988

 

John Gollings
Pushkarani Kund (King’s Bath), Hampi, India
1988

 

John Gollings. 'Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, Cambodia' 2007

 

John Gollings
Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
2007

 

John Gollings 'Hanuman Temple, Hampi, India' 2006

 

John Gollings
Hanuman Temple, Hampi, India
2006

 

John Gollings. 'Small Ganesh, Hampi, India' 2006

 

John Gollings
Small Ganesh, Hampi, India
2006

 

John Gollings. 'Vittala Dance Mandapa interior, Hampi, India' 2005

 

John Gollings
Vittala Dance Mandapa interior, Hampi, India
2005

 

 

Ancient architecture

Gollings has embarked on a number of heritage projects that document the evolution of architectural history under various religious and political regimes across Asia. This includes the Chinese city of Jiaohe, which was carved out of the earth 2 000 years ago and then abandoned after Genghis Khan invaded the area in the 13th century; the Khmer temples of the Angkor Empire that once extended across much of mainland south-east Asia; and the architecture of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire that ruled over southern India for 200 years before being conquered by Muslim sultanates in the 16th century. Further a fi eld, Gollings has documented the grain stores of the nomadic Berbers in Lybia, and the marble theatres that supplanted them when the Roman Empire occupied northern Africa at the dawn of the Common Era. Gollings brings his characteristic style to bear on all these subjects, drawing the viewer into the built environment with embedded perspectives and dramatic lighting. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory' 2015

 

John Gollings
Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
2015

 

 

The Nawarla Gabarnmang rock shelter is the oldest human construction that Gollings has photographed. Located in southwestern Arnhem Land, on the traditional lands of the Jawoyn people, the architecture of this site was created by tunnelling into a naturally eroding cliff face. The roof is supported by 36 pillars, formed by the natural erosion of fissure lines in the bedrock. Archaeologists have shown that some pre-existing pillars were removed, some were reshaped and others were moved to new positions in order to modify the interior space. The ceiling, walls and pillars feature paintings of fi sh, wallabies, crocodiles, people and spiritual figures. Radiocarbon dating of floor deposits indicates that humans have used the shelter for over 45 000 years, and the rock art itself has been firmly dated back 28 000 years, making it some of the oldest surviving artwork in the world. Gollings’s photographs, with their accentuated perspectives and saturated colours, celebrate Nawarla Gabarnmang as a site of imagination and awe.

 

John Gollings. 'Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Wood Marsh), Southbank, Victoria' 2002

 

John Gollings
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Wood Marsh), Southbank, Victoria
2002

 

John Gollings. 'Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria' 2017

 

John Gollings
Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria
2017

 

John Gollings. 'Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre (Renzo Piano), Nouméa, New Caledonia.' 1997

 

John Gollings
Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre (Renzo Piano), Nouméa, New Caledonia
1997

 

John Gollings. 'The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China' 2013

 

John Gollings
The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China
2013

 

 

Illuminated architecture

Photographing an inanimate object in the half light of dusk or dawn tends to invest it with a sense of life. A house with its interior lights on as night falls can seem enlivened with nocturnal possibilities. A building emerging from the shadows at daybreak might appear to be stirring from sleep. Gollings often takes advantage of the half light to give architecture a quiet vitality. He sometimes describes these photographs as ‘efficient images’, when the balance of sunlight and internal lighting allows him to make the interior and exterior of a building simultaneously visible. In effect, these images draw attention to the skin of architecture, rendering buildings as shells or envelopes rather than solid volumes. This approach is a particularly effective way of giving a sense of spiritual lightness to ancient stone temples. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Surfers Paradise aerial, Surfers Paradise, Queensland' 2012

 

 

John Gollings
Surfers Paradise aerial, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
2012

 

 

Surfers Paradise

Gollings’s relationship with the Gold Coast stretches back to childhood road trips that he made to Queensland with his parents in the late 1950s and 1960s. While he was still a teenager, Gollings took photographs that testify to an early fascination with the fanciful architecture of roadside motels. And in recent years he has continued to record the quaint postwar architecture of Surfers Paradise, along with the high rise developments that now overshadow them.

During 1973 and 1974 Gollings embarked on a major survey of architecture in Surfers Paradise. This project was specifically inspired by a seminal book on postmodern architecture, Learning from Las Vegas, authored by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour in 1972. This book turned its back on the formal purism of modernist architecture and argued for an approach to urban design that embraced popular culture, personal narratives and humour. Gollings, along with Mal Horner (urban planner), Julie James (graphic designer) and Tony Styant-Browne (architect), set out to produce a complimentary publication, Learning from Surfers Paradise. The publication was abandoned in 1975, but Gollings’s photographs remain an important record of Surfers Paradise and the postmodern condition in Australian culture.

The ideas associated with postmodern architecture have had a lasting influence on Gollings’s approach to photography. Throughout his work, Gollings subverts pure formalism with humorous juxtapositions and personal affectations. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Every high rise on the Gold Coast' 2012

 

John Gollings
Every high rise on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
2012

 

John Gollings. 'Every high rise on the Gold Coast' 2012 (detail)

 

John Gollings
Every high rise on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Queensland (detail)
2012

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
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Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
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10
Nov
09

Review: ‘Unforced Intimacies’ by Patricia Piccinini at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 21st November 2009

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“Time and again my work returns to children, and their ambiguous relationships with the (only just) imaginary animals that I create. Children embody a number of the key issues in my work. Obviously they directly express the idea of genetics – both natural and artificial – but beyond that they also imply the responsibilities that a creator has to their creations. The innocence and vulnerability of children is powerfully emotive and evokes empathy – their presence softens the hardness of some of the more difficult ideas, but it can also elevate the anxiety level.”

Patricia Piccinini quoted on the Kaldor Public Art Projects website

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“I am interested in the way that contemporary biotechnology and even philosophy erode the traditional boundaries between the artificial and the natural, as well as between species and even the basic distinctions between animal and human.”

Patricia Piccinini quoted on the Artlink website

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Patricia Piccinini. 'The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)' 2009

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Patricia Piccinini
‘The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)’
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, Canadian Mountain Goat
2009

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Patricia Piccinini. 'The Bottom Feeder' 2009

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Patricia Piccinini
‘The Bottom Feeder’
Silicone, fibreglass, steel, fox fur
2009

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Patricia Piccinini. 'The Bottom Feeder' (detail) 2009il

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Patricia Piccinini
‘The Bottom Feeder’ (detail)
2009

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We are the clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! – yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest. – A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. – One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond foe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same! – For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

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Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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When human imagination takes flight, as it does in this exhibition, the results are superlative. Piccinini is at the height of her powers as an artist, in full control of the conceptual ideas, their presentation and the effect that they have on the viewer. Witty, funny, thought-provoking and at times a little scary Piccinini’s exhibition (paradoxically entitled ‘Unforced Intimacies’) is an act of revelatio: the pulling aside of the genetic curtain to see what lies beneath.

Featuring hyperrealist genetically modified creatures and human child figures Piccinini’s sculptures, drawings and video seem passionately alive in their verisimilitude (unlike Ricky Swallow’s resplendently dead relics at the NGV). In ‘The Strength of one Hand (With Canadian Mountain Goat)’, the title perhaps a play on the traditional Zen koan ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’, a meditation on the nature of inner compassion, a walrus-child balances on one hand on the back of a Canadian Mountain Goat. The walrus-child has extended eyes, a voluminous lower lip with whiskers under the nose; the hyperreality of the hand on the back of the goat makes it seem like the hand will come alive! A mane of hair flows down the walrus-child’s back to feet that are conjoined – like an articulated merman – ending not in flippers but in toes complete with dirty, cracked and broken nails. Here the natural athleticism of the mountain goat, now dead and stuffed, is surmounted by the mutated walrus-child’s natural athleticism, poignantly suspended like an exclamation mark above the in-animate pommel horse.

In ‘Balasana’ (‘The Child’s Pose’) a child reposes in the yoga position on a tribal rug. Balanced on top of the child is a stuffed Red-necked Wallaby that perfectly inverts the concave of the child’s back, it’s front feet curled over while it’s rear feet are splayed. The luminosity of the skin of the child is incredible – such a technical feat to achieve this realism – that you are drawn to intimately examine the child’s face and hands. The purpose of ‘The Child’s Pose’ in yoga is that it literally reminds us of our time as an infant and revives in us rather vivid memories of lying in this position. It also reminds us to cultivate our inner innocence so that we in turn may see the world without judgement or criticism. The paradoxes of the ‘unforced’ intimacy between the child and the wallaby can be read with this conceptualisation ‘in mind’.

With ‘The Bottom Feeder’ (2009) Piccinini’s imagination soars to new heights. With the shoulders of a human, the legs and forearms of what seems like a marsupial, the lowered head of a newt with intense staring blue eye (see photograph above), luminescent freckled skin covered in hair and a rear end that consists of both male and female genitalia that forms a ‘face’, the hermaphroditic bottom feeder is a frighteningly surreal visage. Inevitably the viewer is drawn to the exposed rump through a seemingly unforced interactivity, examining the folds and flaps of the labia and the hanging scrotum of this succulent feeder. Here Piccinini draws on psychoanalysis and Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage in a child’s development – where the child wants to merge with the mother to erase the self/other split by fulfilling the mother’s desire by having sex with her – thus erasing the mother’s lack, the idea of lack represented by the lack of a penis.1

As Jean Baudrillard notes of the mass of bodies on Brazil’s Copacabana beach, “Thousands of bodies everywhere. In fact, just one body, a single immense ramified mass of flesh, all sexes merged. A single, shameless expanded human polyp, a single organism, in which all collude like the sperm in seminal fluid … The sexual act is permanent, but not in the sense of Nordic eroticism: it is the epidermal promiscuity, the confusion of bodies, lips, buttocks, hips – a single fractal entity disseminated beneath the membrane of the sun.”2

An so it is here, all sexes merged within the anthropomorphised body of ‘The Bottom Feeder’, a body that challenges and subverts human perceptions of the form and sexuality of animals (including ourselves) that inhabit the world.

In ‘Doubting Thomas’ (2008), my favourite piece in the exhibition, a skeptical child with pale and luminous skin is about to put his hand inside the mouth of a genetically modified mole like creature that has reared it’s hairy snout to reveal a luscious, fluid-filled mouth replete with suckers and teeth. You want to shout ‘No, don’t go there!’ as the child’s absent mother has probably already warned him – to no avail. Children only learn through experience, I suspect in this case a nasty one.

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The terrains the Piccinini interrogates (nature and artifice, biogenetics, cloning, stem cell research, consumer culture) are a rematerialisation of the actual world through morphological ‘mapping’ onto the genomes of the future. Morphogenetic fields3 seem to surround the work with an intense aura; surrounded by this aura the animals and children become more spiritual in their silence. Experiencing this new world promotes an evolution in the way in which we conceive the future possibilities of life on this earth, this brave but mutably surreal new world.

This is truly one of the best exhibitions of the year in Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’ (detail)
2008

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’ (detail)
2008

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, chair
2008

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Balasana' 2009

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Balasana’
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, Red-necked Wallaby, rug
2009

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1Klages, M. Jacques Lacan. Boulder: University of Colorado, 2001
http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/lacan.html [Online] Cited 09/10/2009.

2. Baudrillard, Jean. Fragments: Cool Memories III, 1990 – 1995. London: Verso, 1997, p.74.

3. “A morphogenetic field is a group of cells able to respond to discrete, localized biochemical signals leading to the development of specific morphological structures or organs.”

Morphogenetic field definition on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 09/10/2009.

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street,
Melbourne, Vic, 3000

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 1 – 5pm

Tolarno Galleries website

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20
Oct
09

Review: ‘October 2009’ jewellery by Carlier Makigawa at Gallery Funaki, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: October 6th – October 31st 2009

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Jewellery as art; is art

Brooches, objects

Robust/delicate

Holistic body of work

Affirmation of line and form

Simplicity/complexity of shapes

Span ______  (meta)physical

[Interior] exterior!

elemental | articulation

Volume ((( ))) form

&

arch-itecture

SPACE

beauty

……………………….

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Brooch' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Brooch’
2009

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Brooch' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Brooch’
2009

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Brooch' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Brooch’
2009

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Brooch 1a' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Brooch’
2009

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“A spiritual and private space. Ritual object, jewellery. Linear structures appear fragile and monumental to cradle the internal spirit. They appear to float in space, hovering, penetrating, a temporary existence. Nature is the reference, and the geometry of nature and architecture inform this world.”

Carlier Makigawa

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Carlier Makigawa explores the parameters of small spaces in her new exhibition October 2009. Her spare, exacting constructions in silver wire have a monumentality that defies their scale and delicacy. Her new work consists of brooches and objects which move beyond the botanical inspiration of her earlier work to engage with more abstract notions of movement, compression and spatial manipulation.

Text from the Gallery Funaki website

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Object' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Object’
2009

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Object' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Object’
2009

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Brooch 1' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Brooch’
2009

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Carlier Makigawa. 'Geometric Neckpiece' 2009

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Carlier Makigawa
‘Neckpiece’
2009

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Gallery Funaki
4 Crossley St.,
Melbourne 3000
03 9662 9446

Opening hours: Tues – Friday, 11 – 5pm, Sat 11 – 4pm

Gallery Funaki website

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08
Oct
09

Review: ‘Between Lines’ by Kim Lawler at fortyfive downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 29th September – 10th October 2009

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Whew! I finally made it to Kim Lawler’s exhibition ‘Between Lines’ at fortyfive downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne and, in many ways, the trip was well worth it. Lawler presents 12 prints from her eponymous series, aerial photographs taken over Western Australia.

Eschewing the essentially topographic state promoted in the “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” of 1975 that have influenced so many photographers in recent decades (including the hyper-real photographs of the West Australian landscape by Edward Burtynsky where there is an emotional distance between the photograph and the viewer), Lawler mines instead the depths of abstraction in landscape photography.

These are visceral photographs – in #4 the river and surrounds almost become vascular and cellular; in #13 the synapses and electrons infiltrate the highway reminding me of bomb craters from a Second World War landscape. In #7 the shrubs, unlike the precision of the New Topographics, become feckless dots, the landing strip a scar on the body; in #12 the toxic unsutured wound bleeds across the surface of the skin, white scar tissue surrounding it.

In these atypical mappings Lawler employs a taxonomy of disorder. The photographs are very soft in focus, soft in printing, big in the grain of the film and there is very little depth of field employed – in other words there is really nothing in focus at all, nothing that the eye and the mind can fix on. These are interstitial spaces (i.e. gaps between spaces full of structure or matter) and the title ‘Between Lines’ is entirely appropriate for the work. The photographs contain beautiful textures, colours, surfaces.

This is there strength but also their weakness. The eye and the mind longs for something to hold onto, perhaps just a small fraction of the image to be in focus, so that the disorder plays off the order (for one cannot exist without the other!). Mutation only exists if their is something to mutate against. The other two small problems I had with the work were a matter of semantics and others may disagree – personally I found the size of the prints neither here nor there and they could have done with being about 2-3 inches larger and the white frames were too heavy. That is a funny thing to say about contemporary white frames, that they are too heavy for the work, but this is entirely possible: the moulding was too thick and the depth of the box frames to deep for my liking, detracting from the print itself and making the works darker than they needed to be.

Overall then an excellent exhibition that offers a positive variation on the cliched narrative of aerial photography of the Australian outback, one that questions the munificence of human habitation of the body and of the earth.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Kim Lawler 'Between Lines' #4 2009

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Kim Lawler
‘Between Lines’ #4
Aerial Photograph, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia
2009

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Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines' #7 (Landing Strip) 2009

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Kim Lawler
‘Between Lines’ #7 (Landing Strip)
Aerial Photograph, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia
2009

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Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines' #8 2009

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Kim Lawler
‘Between Lines’ #8 (Jones Soak, position approximate)
Aerial Photograph, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia
2009

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“Beyond romance or nostalgia, Lawler’s lucid visual studies reveal the aesthetic beauty of the stories being written and rewritten onto this responsive and at times fragile environment.”

Amy Barclay, curator

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‘Between Lines’ comprises a series of aerial photographs taken in the Kimberley, far north Western Australia. This remote area is embedded with stories of Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants, transitory visitors and scarred by multinational companies resource development. The artist, Kim Lawler, is concerned with markings, both natural and constructed, that tell stories of places, transitions and interruptions that occur within the landscape.

‘Between Lines’ is informed by Lawler’s experience of living in these regions and local perspectives on the displacement of people and their consequential relationship to the land that has taken place. It is also informed by the opposing qualities of abandon and connection that occur as the stories within these landscapes continue to unfold.

Competing demands for natural resources, and the resulting impact upon transitional landscapes, resonate with the stories of many generations of people that continue to flow through or inhabit each region. Attuned to the markings on these landscapes, it is these residual narratives ‘Between Lines’ seeks to record.

The imagery seen in ‘Between Lines’ extends from Lawler’s previous artwork that interrogated additional Kimberley locations including: the remote Buccaneer Archipelago; the isolated far northern reaches of the Kimberley Coastline; Cockatoo Island iron ore mine and resort and; inland regions such as Warmun Aboriginal Community on the periphery of the Great Sandy Desert.

“Lawler’s eye is arrested by markings, natural and constructed, that trace and recount places, transitions and interruptions; the signifiers of change in a landscape millions of years old.”

Amy Barclay, curator

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Text from the fortyfive downstairs website

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Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines' #12 2009

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Kim Lawler
‘Between Lines’ #12
Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, Northern Kimberley, Western Australia
2009

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Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines' #13 2009

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Kim Lawler
‘Between Lines’ #13
Great Northern Highway, Kimberley, Western Australia
2009

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Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines' #16 2009

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Kim Lawler
‘Between Lines’ #16
Cockatoo Island Cyanide Settling Pool, Yampi Sound, Western Australia
2009

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fortyfive downstairs
45, Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 11am to 5pm
Sat 12pm to 4pm

fortyfive downstairs website

Kim Lawler website

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23
Sep
09

Review: ‘Scenes’ by David Noonan at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15th August – 27th September 2009

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Installation view of 'Scenes' by David Noonan at ACCA

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Installation view of ‘Scenes’ by David Noonan at ACCA

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Thoughts

Limited colour palette of ochres, whites, browns and blacks.

Rough texture of floor covered in Jute under the feet.

Layered, collaged print media figures roughly printed on canvas – elements of abstraction, elements of figuration.

The ‘paintings’ are magnificent; stripped and striped collages. Faces missing, dark eyes. There is something almost Rembrandt-esque about the constructed images, their layering, like Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ (1642) – but then the performance element kicks in  – the makeup, the lipstick, the tragic/comedic faces.

Mannequin, doll-like cut-out figures, flat but with some volume inhabiting the tableaux vivant.

Twelve standing figures in different attitudes – a feeling of dancing figures frozen on stage, very Japanese Noh theater. Spatially the grouping and use of space within the gallery is excellent – like frozen mime.

The figures move in waves, rising and falling both in the standing figures and within the images on the wall.

Looking into the gallery is like looking through a picture window onto a stage set (see above image).

The fracturing of identity, the distortion of the binaries of light and dark, absence/presence in spatio-temporal environments.

The performance as ritual challenging a regularized and constrained repetition of norms (Judith Butler).

Excellent, thought provoking exhibition.

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noonan-a

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Installation view of ‘Scenes’ by David Noonan at ACCA

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“Noonan often works with found photographic imagery taken from performance manuals, textile patterns and archive photographs to make densely layered montages. These works at once suggest specific moments in time and invoke disorientating a-temporal spaces in which myriad possible narratives emerge. The large-scale canvases framing this exhibition depict scenes of role-playing, gesturing characters, and masked figures set within stage-like spaces. Printed on coarsely woven jute, collaged fabric elements applied to the surface of the canvases further signal the cutting and splicing of images.

Noonan’s new suite of figurative sculptures, comprise life size wooden silhouettes faced with printed images of characters performing choreographed movements. While the figurative image suggests a body in space, the works’ two dimensional cut-out supports insist on an overriding flatness which lends them an architectural quality – as stand-ins for actual performers and as a means by which to physically navigate the exhibition space.”

Press release from the Chisenhale Gallery website

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“For the Helen Macpherson Smith Commission, he will bring the characters depicted in his signature collage works off the wall and onto an imagined ‘stage’. Several life-size, wooden cut-out figures will inhabit the ACCA exhibition gallery, frozen in choreographed movements.

Noonan’s dancing figures will be framed by several large-scale canvas works, printed photographic and film imagery gleaned from performance manuals, textile patterns and interior books. Printed on coarse woven jute, he cuts, slices and montages images together constructing compositions that hover between two and three dimensionality, positive and negative space, past and present, stasis and action.

“‘Scenes’ recalls the experimental workshops and youth-focused exuberance of a more optimistic era, coinciding with the artists own childhood in the 1970s” says curator Charlotte Day. “With these new works, Noonan re-introduces the idea of ritual, of creating a temporal space beyond reason that is filled with both danger and hope.”

David Noonan is the fifth recipient of the Helen Macpherson Smith Commission, one of the most significant and generous commissions in Australia. The partnership between ACCA and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust offers Victorian artists the opportunity to create an ambitious new work of art, accompanied by an exhibition in ACCA’s exhibition hall.

Press release from the ACCA website

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Image from 'Scenes' by David Noonan at ACCA

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Australia Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

111 Sturt Street
Southbank 
Victoria 3006
Australia
03 9697 9999

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

ACCA website

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04
Aug
09

Review: ‘Intersections’ by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd July – 15th August, 2009

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Sarah Amos. 'Red Walk' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Red Walk’
Collagraph and Monoprint
2009

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Sarah Amos. 'Storm Loading' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Storm Loading’
Etching and hand drawing on Shiramine Japanese paper
2009

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Installation view of 'Intersections' by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

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Installation view of 'Intersections' by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

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Installation views of ‘Intersections’ by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

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An interesting exhibition of Collagraphs (a type of collage printmaking)1 and etchings is presented by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne, work that is full of delicate coloured layering, topographical mapping and nodal, rhizomic and Spirogyra-type structures.

The ‘flux’ of the work, it’s musical cadence if you like, is the fusion of palimpsestic markings as viewed from the air – the dotted contours, the ploughed fields, the beautiful spatial layering that has an almost Kandinsky-like effect – with the aesthetics of Japanese paper, matt black colour (that subtly glistens on close inspection) and the tactility of the surface of the work. These intersections produce images that have some outstanding resonances: vibrations of energy that ebb and flow around the gallery space. These works are captivating!

For me the simpler images were the more successful especially the series named ‘Intersections’ with their muted tonalities, shifting colours and topographical structure. They also reminded me of the black and white aerial landscape photography of Emmet Gowin (see below).

While I am unsure of the validity of the landscape/’urban lens’ ‘urban temperature’ references (which I found unnecessary and slightly irrelevant) these works and their synaptic interfaces must be experienced. For the viewer they hold a strange attraction as you stand before them drawn, inexporably, into their penumbral spaces. Recommended.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Emmet Gowin. 'Harvest traffic over agricultural pivot near Hermiston, Orgeon, 1991' 1991

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Emmet Gowin
‘Harvest traffic over agricultural pivot near Hermiston, Orgeon, 1991’
1991

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Sarah Amos. 'Intersections 8' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Intersections 8’
Collagraph with gouache
2009

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“(Flux) – where a total electric or magnetic field passes through a surface.

My work is a fusion of both land and cityscape. I am interested in interpreting spatially dynamic, real and half forgotten landscapes through an urban lens. New to this body of work is my interest in the visual graphics of scientific diagrams in which dynamic and informative landscapes are drafted into linear minimal lines. I have absorbed this distilled language, translating it into an architectural and organic landscape where the intersections of line, volume and space are constantly in flux. This obscure knowledge is pared down, simplified and ordered into a clean analysis ready for instant translation.

The Australian landscape is central to my work and influences my use of color, idiosyncratic marks and open space. These works are personalized maps of accumulated information, like printed histories, that record the dueling intersections where the weathers of the landscape and the urban temperature have begun to take on new and vital immediacy.”

Sarah Amos, 2009

Text from the Gallery 101 website

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Sarah Amos. 'Lute' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Lute’
Collagraph
2009

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1. “A Collagraph print is a collage printmaking technique and is a form of Intaglio printing. The collagraph plate is printed in the same way as etchings, but also include the basic principle of relief printing and can be printed either as intaglio or relief.

The term collagraph refer to a collage board where the materials are assembled on a flat base or plate (matrix) to form a relief block with different surface levels and textures.

Collagraph plates are created by sticking and gluing materials like textured paper or fabric onto the plate and then coat it with varnish or acrylic medium afterwards to protect the materials.”

Anonymous. Printmaking: Collagraphs/Collage Blocks,” on the ArtistTerms.com website [Online].
Cited 03/08/2009. www.artistterms.com/collagraph.htm

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GALLERY 101
Ground level, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne VICTORIA 3000
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 12 – 4pm
T 61 3 96546886 F 61 3 9663 0562

Gallery 101 website

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30
Jul
09

Review: ‘Jonh Brack’ retrospective at The National Gallery of Victoria, NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th April – 9th August, 2009

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John Brack. 'The chase' 1959

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John Brack
‘The chase’
1959

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John Brack. 'Two Typists' 1955

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John Brack
‘Two typists’
1955

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John Brack. 'Collins St, 5p.m.' 1955

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John Brack
‘Collins St, 5 p.m.’
1955

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John Brack. 'The Bar' 1954

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John Brack
‘The bar’
1954

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John Brack. 'The conference' 1956

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John Brack
‘The conference’
1956

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John Brack. 'The block' 1954

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John Brack
‘The block’
1954

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John Brack. 'The fish shop' 1955

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John Brack
‘The fish shop’
1955

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“One either has a subject, or one has not.”

John Brack

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This is a solid retrospective of the work of the Australian artist John Brack (1920 – 1999) presented by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. John Brack is, quintessentially, an Australian and more specifically a Melbourne artist. Melbournians have a love hate relationship with his work – loving the earlier paintings that view the working classes of 1950s Melbourne through a nostalgic, humorous, sardonic lens (when originally the popularity of the work in the 1950s/60s was, as Robert Nelson has observed, mistakenly identified with ridicule of the subject matter)1 while finding the later work of massed pencils, postcards, deities and wooden people mystifying, cold and elusive.

Brack saw his paintings of suburbia as honest portrayals of the new milieux. His sparse, graphic style evidenced the emotionally distanced relationships between space and people in the new cityscapes and best suited his cerebral approach to the subject matter. Men become mannequins with skeletal faces that hover menacingly behind the barmaid in ‘The bar’ (1954, above), an amorphous mass of brown-suited humanity. Two women are portrayed in all their high-collared stiffness in the painting ‘Two typists’ (1955, above), their stylized faces, black hat and hair surmounted by hanging, disembodied legs at the top of the painting. These two women then reappear at bottom right in one of Brack’s most famous paintings, ‘Collins St, 5p.m.’ (1955, above) subsumed into the two lines of people wearily trudging home from a day’s work at the office.

Brack’s early paintings are full of stylized metaphor – for example the clinical emptiness of space, the implied threat of hanging ‘instruments’ in ‘The block’ (1954, above) or the decapitated bird-like alienation of the fish head in ‘The fish shop’ (1955, above) – offer comment on the nature of suburban life: ordered, dead, soulless surfaces, facades behind which life seethes. Brack recognizes the slightly macabre beauty of these industrial spaces, their form and purpose, where no one had recognized them before. There are oversized teeth (‘The veil’, 1952), large hands, the fleshy pink of faces (‘The barbers shop’, 1952) and the tribal mask of a face in ‘Man in pub’ (1953) where man becomes fragment. Above all there is a simplicity and eloquence in line and form grounded in a limited palette of ochres, yellows, greys, blacks, whites and browns. These are the colours of the early cave painters and it’s poignant that Brack uses them so effectively to anchor his subject matter both in history, memory and the present of contemporary life, a life we still recognize intimately over fifty years later.

Here is the ‘Human Condition’ writ large (with capitals!), the humility of professions such as butchers, seamstresses, typists and barmaids (with their limited control of the environment) portraying the body of the worker, as in Satre’s ‘Nothingness’,2 living the tedium of suburban life whilst wanting to flee the anguish of this existence into the desirable light of the future toward which man projects himself. This a theme that Brack develops in the later paintings with their stilted, cerebral investigation of existentialism. These paintings offer a more general contribution to a view of the human condition – love and hate, we, us, them, pros and cons – a view originally grounded in the suburbs of Melbourne but elevated to the ethereal, paintings that seem to lack material substance but offer a hyper-refined conceptual aesthetic.

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Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones But Pencils Will Never Hurt Me

As early as ‘Knives and forks’ (1958) and ‘The playground’ (1959) we can observe the beginnings of the spaces of his later pencil paintings with their uniting of form, line and plane (think the planes of Cezanne). The later work is literally much colder, the palette now blues instead of the warmer ochres and yellows and this change is very obvious when you walk around the exhibition. There is an emotional distance here – from human contact and the warmth of company. As Ronald Miller observed in 1970 Brack’s work is about the rituals of life, about states of uneasy poise and vulnerability, about realities behind facades but in the later work the paintings become the facades: gone are the ambiguities and vulnerabilities to be replaced by an altogether different ‘order’ of existence.

We see in paintings such as ‘Souvenirs’ (1976), ‘We, Us, Them’ (1983), ‘The pros and cons’ (1985) and ‘Watching the flowers’ (1990-91 – see all below) how the canvas has become a stage set replete with turned up edges, spaces of ritual performance containing generalized metaphors for the nature of human existence, metaphors with universal themes. In his investigation of the universal Brack looses sight of the personal. His towers made of playing cards, his thrusting planes, the military precision of his opposing armies of goose-steeping pencils lack empathy for the thing that he was searching to be attuned with: the nature of existence, the human condition.

As Satre has observed,

“To apprehend myself as seen is, in fact, to apprehend myself as seen in the world and from the standpoint of the world. The look does not carve me out in the universe; it comes to search for me at the heart of my situation and grasps me only in irresolvable relations with instruments. If I am seen as seated, I must be seen as “seated-on-a-chair,” … But suddenly the alienation of myself, which is the act of being-looked-at, involves the alienation of the world which I organize. I am seated on this chair with the result that I do not see it at all, that it is impossible for me to see it …”3

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This is the point that John Brack reached: through his desire to paint universal themes he was unable to visualize and apprehend himself as seen in the world from the standpoint of the world. It feels (yes feeling!) that he was alienated from the very thing he sought to portray – how the personal and the universal are one and the same.

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Brack’s ‘failure’ as an artist (if indeed it be called that) is not, as Robert Nelson has suggested, “because he didn’t talk enough or wisely enough to negotiate his way out of a misunderstanding” (that his work was sardonic). On the contrary I believe his ‘success’ as an artist is that he painted exactly what he wanted to paint in the time and place that he wanted to paint it. His later work might strike some as cold and impenetrable but if one looks clearly, with a steady eye, there still beats a heart under that chill exterior, a heart grounded in the life of suburban Melbourne. In the end Brack returns to the beginning, still exploring, still searching.

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As T.S. Eliot wrote in one of The Four Quartets,4

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

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Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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John Brack. 'The new house' 1953

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John Brack
‘The new house’
1953

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John Brack. 'Self-portrait' 1955

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John Brack
‘Self-portrait’
1955

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John Brack. 'The unmade road' 1954

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John Brack
‘The unmade road’
1954

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John Brack. 'Nude in an armchair' 1957

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John Brack
‘Nude in an armchair’
1957

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“What I paint most is what interests me most, that is, people; the Human Condition, in particular the effect on appearance of environment and behaviour… A large part of the motive is the desire to understand, and if possible, to illuminate …”

John Reed, New Painting 1952-62, Longmans, Melbourne, 1963, p. 19.

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Opening 24 April, the National Gallery of Victoria will present a major retrospective of the work of John Brack, the first in more than twenty years. This exhibition will survey John Brack’s complete career, incorporating over 150 works from all of his major series. John Brack will bring together a significant body of the artist’s paintings and works on paper, including pictures that have developed ‘icon status’ and others that have rarely, if ever, been seen publicly since they were first exhibited.

Kirsty Grant, Senior Curator Australian Art, NGV said that more than any other artist of his generation, John Brack was a painter of modern Australian life.

“John Brack painted images which explored the social rituals and realities of everyday life. Long considered the quintessential Melbourne artist, Brack’s images of urban and suburban Melbourne painted during the 1950s drew attention for their novelty of subject and instantly recognisable references. His work is much broader however and in this exhibition we will see the continuity throughout his career of his fundamental interest in people, human nature and the human condition,” said Ms Grant.

Frances Lindsay, NGV Deputy Director said John Brack was widely considered one of Australia’s greatest twentieth century artists.

“The NGV has enjoyed a long association with John Brack: he worked as an assistant frame maker at the gallery in 1949, became head of the National Gallery School in 1962, and the NGV was also the first public institution to purchase one of his works. Brack’s iconic works are certainly the highlight for many visitors to the Gallery. We are thrilled to be continuing this special relationship by presenting this important and timely retrospective.”

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The exhibition will be displayed chronologically, beginning with some rare early student works. Each phase of Brack’s practice will be explored, from his well-known urban scenes of the 1950s to the highly symbolic paintings from the 1970s. Many of Brack’s most familiar paintings are included in the exhibition such as ‘Collins St, 5p.m’, ‘The bar’ and ‘The Old Time’.

Brack produced compelling pictures which captured the essential characteristics of his subjects involved in everyday activities and, in some of his most engaging series, he depicted the characters of the racecourse, children at school and professional ballroom dancers. Throughout his career Brack also painted the nude, still life subjects and portraits, both of family and friends – including artists Fred Williams and John Perceval – as well as commissioned subjects, such as Barry Humphries as his alter-ego Edna Everage. During the 1970s Brack replaced the human figure with an assortment of everyday implements including cutlery, pens and pencils which he used as metaphors for the complexities of human behaviour and relationships.”

Press release from the NGV website

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John Brack. 'Inside and outside (The shop window)' 1972

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John Brack
‘Inside and outside (The shop window)’
1972

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John Brack. 'Latin American Grand Final' 1969

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John Brack
‘Latin American Grand Final’
1969

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John Brack. 'Portrait of Fred Williams' 1979–80

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John Brack
‘Portrait of Fred Williams’
1979–80

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John Brack. 'The pros and cons' 1985

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John Brack
‘The pros and cons’
1985

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John Brack. 'We, Us, Them' 1983

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John Brack
‘We, Us, Them’
1983

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John Brack. 'Souvenirs' 1976

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John Brack
‘Souvenirs’
1976

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John Brack. 'Watching the flowers' 1990–91

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John Brack
‘Watching the flowers’
1990–91

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1. Nelson, Robert. The Age Newspaper. Melbourne, Friday 24th April, 2009.

2. “We learn that Nothingness is revealed to us most fully in anguish and that man generally tries to flee this anguish, this Nothingness which he is, by means of “bad faith.” The study of “bad faith” reveals to us that whereas Being-in-itself simply is, man is the being “who is what he is not and who is not what he is.” In other words man continually makes himself. Instead of being, he “has to be”; his present being has meaning only in the light of the future toward which he projects himself. Thus he is not what at any instant we might want to say he is, and he is that towards which he projects himself but which he is not yet.”

Barnes, Hazel. Introduction to Jean-Paul Satre’s Being and Nothingness. London: Methuen, 1966, pp.xvii-xix.

3. Satre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. (trans. Hazel Barnes). London: Methuen, 1966, p.263.

4. Eliot, T.S. “Little Gidding” from ‘The Four Quartets’ (1942)

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

John Brack is open daily 
10am–5pm and until 9pm Thursdays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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