Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne CBD

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

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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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16
Jul
09

Review: Guo Jian paintings at Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th June – 25th July, 2009

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Guo Jian. 'No.c' 2009

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Guo Jian
‘No.c’
2009

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Guo Jian. 'No.d' 2009

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Guo Jian
‘No.d’
2009

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This exhibition of eight new paintings and one older work by Chinese artist Guo Jian presented at Arc One Gallery in Melbourne is, with the exception of one outstanding painting, a disappointment. The new work addresses, variously, themes of consumerism, stardom, sex appeal, the military and Chinese culture. Using old photographs as reference and inserting the body and face of the artist into the canvases, Jian examines the paradoxes that exist between Western/American and Chinese culture to limited effect.

Using a restricted colour palette in each painting Jian’s ‘mis en scene’ places American soldiers and babes wearing bikinis of distorted American flags with the artist as lone Chinese soldier – his face pulled into focus while the other figures almost become cut-outs with the overlay of a “blur filter” softening their features. In another set piece ‘Untitled 3’ (2009) a seductive woman with flaming red hair and half open jacket holds a bottle of Chloe perfume in her hand while behind Chinese female military dancers brandish swords and red flags. In ‘No.g’ (2009) two soldiers with guns propped behind them read contrasting books – one the ‘Little Red Book’ and the other ‘A Big Naughty Girly Magazine’. Marilyn and Madonna feature heavily, pastiches in a built environment – all pink and fleshy with a silver heart (perhaps it should have been a Purple Heart).

The iconography in these staged ‘tableaux vivants’ is a one shot idea repeated in all eight paintings. The themes seem hackneyed, their language a bricolage of ironic archetypes that don’t have anything new to say about the subject matter but repeat things we know already: vis a vis that Chinese society is struggling to cope with the burden of becoming a consumer culture. On reflection, the new paintings have not impinged on my consciousness – always a sign whether the work really has made a connection. However, the single work from 2003 is a different beast.

‘The Training’ from the series ‘The Day Before I Went Away’ (2003) is a hypnotic, mesmerising and powerful work, lurid even, with it’s hyper-real colours and maniacal faces, eyes rolling in the back of heads, barring of teeth, the hand over the mouth, the upraised hand, the glistening white of the blade – oh the lust for blood!

This painting is so evocative it shames the new work by comparison – you think about this work, you remember it!

Here is the passion and insightfulness of the artist. Danger and terror grab you and shake you and force you to think about the human condition. This is what I want art to do in whatever way it can – subtly, quietly, psychologically, forcefully. Great art challenges us to look, feel and think. Unfortunately the new work, while clever on a superficial level, fails to deliver.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog.

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Guo Jian. 'No.f' 2009

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Guo Jian
‘No.f’
2009

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Guo Jian. 'Untitled 3' 2009

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Guo Jian
‘Untitled 3’
2009

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Guo Jian. 'No.g' 2009

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Guo Jian
‘No.g’
2009

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“Born in China in 1963, Jian was raised in a controlled political environment. He served over three years in the Peoples Liberation Army and beared witness to the horrific Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where he assisted carrying the wounded to the hospital.

Jian’s personal atlas of history continues to feed his visual commentary. His voice is both satirical and erotic, challenging and confronting. He plays with irony and foreplay to exploit and raise potent questions surrounding propaganda and manipulation.

“As I have grown older, I have realized that all of the education I have received is rarely practical in real life. Reality and education are conflicting. The way in which you inherently view the world is influenced by education which is the perspectives of others. Our surrounding environment defines our perception of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘enemy’ and ‘friend’, ‘them’ and ‘us’. But, if you dare to open your eyes and liberate your mind, you will find that the world is not exactly the way you have been told. Put your feet into someone else’s shoes to think about the world and your own life differently. For me, if the surroundings change, are combined, are old or new, it doesn’t matter. My life is defined relative to my self-experience and the things I have heard or seen. From this perspective, I have discovered the freedom to reopen my eyes to a new world and to new possibilities.”

Guo Jian

Text from the press release on the Arc One Gallery website

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Guo Jian. 'The Training' from the series 'Te Day Before I Went Away' 2003

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Guo Jian
‘The Training’ from the series ‘The Day Before I Went Away’
2003

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Arc One Gallery
45 Flindes Lane
Melbourne, Victoria 3000

Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Arc One Gallery website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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