Posts Tagged ‘memento mori



19
Nov
13

Three exhibitions: ‘Henri van Noordenburg / Efface’; ‘Amber McCaig / Imagined Histories’ and ‘Greg Elms / What Remains’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th – 23rd November 2013

.

Three solid exhibitions at Edmund Pearce Gallery. All three have interesting elements and strong images. All three have their positives and negatives.

.
Henri van Noordenburg presents us with a European, colonialist take on the Australian landscape in his new series Efface, similar in their vernacular to early Australian painters visions of their new homeland, with their longing for an “original” home many leagues away over the sea. Except Noordenburg’s interventions look nothing like any Australian landscape I know, heavily influenced as they are by the work of French artist and engraver Gustav Doré (1832-1883) and Japanese wood block prints. His dark, brooding, subterranean art works – in which the artist photographs himself naked and bruised, prints this image on a large sheet of black photographic paper, then hand carves the landscape with a scalpel back into the paper base, isolating but at the same time surrounding the vulnerable, exposed body – image a gothic, melancholy vision of man lost in the wilderness. Here the body (self) is helpless before various forces, but these forces must still be engaged before some progress (pilgrims progress?) can be made.

The technique is truly extraordinary and the artist sets up a “perceptible tension” between technique and form, etching and photograph, body and bulimic (as in excessive), landscape. These ‘synthetic landscapes’ whose form is produced by spatial reorganization and topographical interventions, man-made spaces, serve as background for what the artist wants us to see as our collective existence.1 Unfortunately, the conceptualisation of the work seems, well, a little confused. And perhaps that is the point. Noordenburg, with his Dutch heritage, is apparently still unsure of his place in a multicultural Australia, even after a few decades living here. But, I feel his point of departure for this work still remains uncertain. And this leads to uncertain outcomes for the viewer.

This uncertainty in the point of departure makes it difficult for the viewer to empathise with the stylistic inclinations of the landscape or the work as a whole. Somehow, it all seems so remote from too much. We can all sympathise with the “humanity” of the work, its anguish and sense of dislocation and wish it well, but I was left a little non-plussed by the visual evidence presented to me. If the exhibition was about wildness (not wilderness) and craziness (not a form of identity dislocation), then it would have been spot on:

“God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion!”

D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)

.

Amber McCaig’s series Imagined Histories image “contemporary people captured by a sharp technology… [as they] aspire to join the consciousness of another epoch” (Robert Nelson). Small, intense prints, hung in pairs, re-present figures dressed in renaissance costume acting out the fantasy of living in a romantic, historical era. The portraits are paired with still life of wooden boxes filled with allegorical objects full of symbolic representation. The portraits are strong (the incongruity of an Asian knight is particularly effective), and the relationship between portrait and still life is ambiguous and nuanced. However, the still life become repetitive with the constant placement of images at the back of the box coupled with objects situated towards the front of the box. A study of the magical boxes of the artist Joseph Cornell would have been beneficial in this regard.

I feel that there needs to be more layering in the construction of the individual photographs and between the works in the series as a whole, not just the pairs of images. While the work is a little one dimensional in this imagined time, this is a good beginning to an ongoing investigation.

.

While Sally Mann’s body of work What Remains is the rolled-gold standard for this kind of work, Greg Elms series What Remains offers an interesting forensic amplification of skeletal “nature”. These animalistic portraits of nature mort are eloquent, strong and forthright. Some work better than others. The Cheetah skull, the Vervet monkey skull (with Rayban Aviator sunglass eyes) and best of them all, the magnificent, constructivist Black cockatoo skull – are all haunting in their deathly presence. Some of the smaller skulls lack these works muscularity, especially when they are printed horizontally on a vertical piece of photographic paper, which simply does not work.

Whether the series needed the ironic commentary of the titles, or the trope of hanging the conceptualisation of the series on the back of global warming, is also debatable. I think the best images are strong enough, and the conviction of the artist obvious enough over numerous bodies of work, that the viewer does not need to be spoon fed this rationalisation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

.

.

Gustave Doré. llustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King' 1868

.

Gustave Doré
llustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King
1868

.

Henri van Noordenburg. 'Composition X' 2012

.

Henri van Noordenburg
Composition X
2012
Hand carved archival pigment print
106 x 106 cm

.

“Abstracted within the landscape, the artist features as the protagonist facing the threats of a seemingly hostile bush. Efface references The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden with a focus on the overlaying of a European aesthetic on the physical and intellectual landscape. Starting with self portraits set amid a featureless black background, the photographic surface is hand etched to reveal the landscape.

Van Noordenburg describes the process of self-nude photography as an “incredible mix between strength and weakness, frustration and containment a feeling of euphoria and adrenaline”. Feelings, which mirror van Noordenburg’s attempts to assimilate within a dominant culture.”

Text from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website

.

Henri van Noordenburg. 'Composition XXI' 2013

.

Henri van Noordenburg
Composition XXI
2013
Hand carved archival pigment print
30 x 30 cm

.

Henri van Noordenburg. 'Composition XXII' 2013

.

Henri van Noordenburg
Composition XXII
2013
Hand carved archival pigment print
30 x 30 cm

.

Henri van Noordenburg. 'Composition XXIII' 2013

.

Henri van Noordenburg
Composition XXIII
2013
Hand carved archival pigment print
30 x 30 cm

.

Between Here and There

The figure that haunts these images is far from a signifier of passivity and calm. Dwarfed and subjugated by that which surrounds, his naked form seems deep in the throes the landscape’s implicit bewilderment and assault. His pallid, naked flesh is scarred and reddened and soiled, the reproach of this eerie land leaving an acrid evidence.

The work of Henri van Noordenburg veers towards the anxieties of juncture, displacement and exodus – art history, religious mythology, the socio-cultural tropes of migration and dislocation and the tensions of the photographic medium underlie his visual and allegorical language.

Indeed, the sensibilities and narratives that punctuate the Dutch-born artist’s new series, Efface, are significant on several levels. The immediately perceptible tension is that of technique and form. Beginning their lives as nude photographic self-portraits (the body set against a vast, featureless, black backdrop), van Noordenburg’s renderings of the Australian landscape and wilderness are in fact painstakingly realised hand-etchings. The photographic surface is an amalgam, the physicality of the photographic object unmistakable. In an era of fluctuation and change for the now ubiquitous digital form, van Noordenburg attempts to reengage, reinterpret and gain further understanding of the photograph’s physical roots.

The formal and stylistic inclinations that the artist achieves via such a process offers another intriguing layer. Resting upon the myth of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, this loaded series operates in the shadows of art history, forging a Romantic European imagining of the landscape and broaching its loaded colonialist underpinnings. Just as van Noordenburg’s photographic visage wanders a landscape created via the hand and the imagination, the European man stalks the myth of the non-European landscape as a base, inhospitable threat. Allegories and references double back on one another; themes of movement, displacement, exile and expulsion break bread with the iconography of the colonialist gaze.

That it is van Noordenburg’s own image that haunts these works – his body writhing, crouched or prone amid the bush – proves telling. Though living in Australia for the best part of two decades, the artist is an outsider in a nation that remains in acute denial of the extent of its immigrant foundations. Whether white, black, yellow or brown, the great myth of a quintessential Australianness – one that exists on a plane distinct from the cultural melange that marks the Australian reality – threatens to dislocate all who fail to blindly buy in.

In the suite of works that populate Efface, van Noordenburg sets himself adrift, haunted by his own place in history, mythology and the wider Australian scheme. Though we live in an increasingly borderless and post-national world, some things tend not to change.

Dan Rule

.

.

Amber McCaig. 'Ute von Tangermunde' 2013

.

Amber McCaig
Ute von Tangermunde
2013
Archival pigment print
48 x 33 cm

.

Amber McCaig. 'Untitled VII' 2013

.

Amber McCaig
Untitled VII
2013
Archival pigment print
48 x 33 cm

.

“Using a combination of portraits and still life elements, Amber recreates an exploration into the idea of identity and imagination, providing an insight into what it is like to live out fantasies in everyday life. Laden with armour, treasure chests, maps and lore, these fantasies show the power of our imagination and what is possible if we dare to dream.”

Text from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website

.

Amber McCaig. 'The Knight Errant' 2013

.

Amber McCaig
The Knight Errant
2013
Archival pigment print
60 x 42 cm

.

Amber McCaig. 'Untitled IV' 2013

.

Amber McCaig
Untitled IV
2013
Archival pigment print
60 x 42 cm

.

Amber McCaig. 'The Knight' 2013

.

Amber McCaig
The Knight
2013
Archival pigment print
60 x 42 cm

.

Amber McCaig. 'Untitled III' 2013

.

Amber McCaig
Untitled III
2013
Archival pigment print
60 x 42 cm

.

Greg Elms. 'We knew it was serious, but we were kind of busy (Black cockatoo skull)' 2013

.

Greg Elms
We knew it was serious, but we were kind of busy (Black cockatoo skull)
2013
Archival pigment print
85 x 110 cm

.

.

“This taxonomy series of large-scale prints, which acts as an amplification of its forensic nature, is an examination of where our relationships with animals are headed. Whilst those with vested interests may deride climate change, it is beyond dispute that there is a decline in many species of fauna (and flora). In 21st century life, where the distractions are numerous and social media pervasive, 24-hour news counteracts important issues amidst a blur of information overload… Elms work investigates the natural world exploring themes of reality, mortality and the sublime.”

Text from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website

.

Greg Elms. 'It got overrun by other news (Wombat skull, aerial view)'  2013

.

Greg Elms
It got overrun by other news (Wombat skull, aerial view)
2013
Archival pigment print
70 X 55 cm

.

.

Respice post te!

There is something incredibly human about Greg Elms’ latest suite of works. Something uncannily and immediately recognizable in these gaping eyes and grimacing teeth. What links each of the ‘individuals’ here is very simple. It is not just death, it is the cause of death. These are forensic portraits of homicide victims, genocidal talismans for the perpetrator. Enjoy them, for it is we who must plead futile innocence.

Stripped of fur and flesh, they were beforehand stripped of the flora and fauna that sustained them, they were humiliated, out-numbered and out equipped and we? Well it’s simple. We needed more coffee plantations, more timber, more cultivation, more food for our yapping pets.

I’m not suggesting here that Elms is some kind of tree-hugging animal lover. But I am saying that, like the best forensic analysts, he has identified his victims well.

Elms himself gives away much of the story behind this cruelly grinning menagerie. Think of how many times in recent decades you have read the kinds of commentary that Elms utilizes here as titles; “We knew it was serious, but we were kind of busy,” “Lobbyists were employed to dispute the facts,” “It got overrun by other news,” “We felt like we were helpless,” “It would’ve been fine if Newscorp was onside.”

These are everyday, generic comments. All too much so. think: Global Warming, human genocide, animal extinctions. Just everyday comments accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders. One could add “too late now.” Elms himself adds: “Everything comes and goes…”

But if there is beauty in Apocalypse then Elms has found it. There is an elegance alongside a silence in these animalistic portraits of nature mort. These un-furred memento mori.

The Latin phrase, memento mori, translates essentially as “Remember that you must die.” Another translation of the term reads Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento – Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! But here in Elms’ portraits it is the Vervet Monkey, the Black Cockatoo, the Cheetah. Indeed, the only thing missing is the skull of the human.

But there is time enough for that…

Ashley Crawford

.

Greg Elms. 'We felt sort of helpless to stop the extinction (Cheetah skull)' 2012

.

Greg Elms
We felt sort of helpless to stop the extinction (Cheetah skull)
2012
Archival pigment print
110 x 85 cm

.

Greg Elms. 'You won’t get away with this for much longer (Vervet monkey skull)' 2011

.

Greg Elms
You won’t get away with this for much longer (Vervet monkey skull)
2011
Archival pigment print
110 x 85 cm

.

.

1. Jackson, J. B. Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 8 quoted in Goldswain, Phillip. “Surveying the Field, Picturing the Grid: John Joseph Dwyer’s Urban Industrial Landscapes,” in Goldswain, Phillip and Taylor, William (eds.,). An Everyday Transience: The Urban Imaginary of Goldfields Photographer John Joseph Dwyer. Crawley, WA: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2010, p.75.

.

.

Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

19
Nov
12

Review: ‘Preserved’ by Greg Elms at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th November – 24th November 2012

.

This is an excellent exhibition by Greg Elms at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne. The photographs, made using a film scanner re-purposed into a lens-less camera, have great fidelity. Fidelity refers to the degree to which a model or simulation reproduces the state of a real world object and is therefore a measure of the realism of a model or simulation. These photographs have great overall presence – as the artist himself puts it, “Focus of the subject is likewise abnormal, sharp only where features press against the glass platen screen, dissolving into darkness and blur as they recede, implying a sense of entrapment behind the image surface.” This limited depth of field means that the taxidermies loom out of the intimate darkness into the artificial light, the scanners passing recorded as a crescent moon in the eyes of the preserved, the deceased.

Ashely Crawford, in an excellent piece of writing, notes how Elms captures the notion of the animal as ‘other’ while observing that there is much to say about the permeable membrane between human and non-human in postmodern culture. The press release states that, “Preserved raises allusions to the history of zoological inquiry and highlights the sense of loss intrinsic to mortality. Indeed, the works can be read as a series of ecological memento mori.”

These ideas can be further interrogated. Personally, I think it is more than just a singular, momentary death. There is the original death of the animal, its re/animation through the art of preservation, taxidermy, and then a second little death due to the light of the scanner. These photographic animalia may be a reflection on our ecological relationship to the world, caught in a double time-freeze – a postmodern reflection on our memories, histories and interactions with the animal world that are becoming released from the historical contexts on which they are traditionally based, the referent silently split from its once powerful reality. Much as we humans objectify our death through ritual (the dressing of the body, the viewing of the body, the singing of songs, the saying of validations for a life; the coffin, the priest, the burial, the burning) these photographs objectify a simulation of death as though the death of these animals has been pre-served, like warming up a TV dinner in the microwave and then letting it go cold again. Our relationship to the animals of this world is now mainly about death (live sheep exports, eat your heart out!)

Gothic, nocturnal and now immortal, Elms photographs transcend the animal-human connection and evoke primal emotional responses in the viewer causing us to ask, yet again, what the hell we are doing to this planet.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to Edmund Pearce Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © and courtesy of the artist and Edmund Pearce Gallery. Text © Ashely Crawford and Edmund Pearce Gallery.

.

.

.

Gregory Elms
Spotted Hyaena, Crocuta Crocuta
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

.

.

Gregory Elms
Female Red Kangaroo, Macropus Rufus
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

.

.

“Gregory Elms pursues the rupture of photography’s implicit claim to realism. To this end his current series, Preserved, investigates the staged realism of taxidermy. Both zoological document and faux wildlife imagery, the work oscillates between life and death, veracity and fiction, the horrific and the sublime. It documents the lifelike lifelessness of taxidermy, presenting a zoological menagerie that is both hyper-real and otherworldly. The work was inspired by childhood memories of taxidermy hunting trophies on the walls of the Sportsmans Bar, at his father’s suburban hotel. But it’s also a gothic investigation of our relationship with animals, influenced by the Romantic movement, the Age of Enlightenment, and the tradition of vanitas painting with it’s metaphorical associations to mortality. According to curator Simon Gregg it “erects an invisible barrier between us and the animals; a physical barrier but in many ways and with more consequence to us, a psychological barrier.”

As the artist observes,

“I grew up in a suburban hotel with a public bar festooned in taxidermy hunting trophies. I’d spend ages gazing at them and have remained enthralled by their life-like lifelessness ever since. For me taxidermy is akin to photography: it too presents a frozen moment as a copy of the real thing. On one level, the work explores our primal emotional responses when in close proximity to animals and insects. But it also explores what truth means in photography – is a contrived photograph still real? And doesn’t photography always render the real as contrived?  I seek to highlight this conundrum with the further contrivance of taxidermy.

Inspired by gothic and nocturnal precursors in art, and the history of zoology, the fauna are recontextualised into a menagerie of lost lives – some of them, presumably, the celebration of a now forgotten hunting spree. Each one echoes the story of their demise and surrender to human intervention, their poses animated by a taxidermist’s skills of presentation and reality re-enactment. To document the series, I have employed the idiosyncratic image making qualities of a film scanner re-purposed into a lens-less camera, its simplicity reminiscent of a camera obscura. Set in an otherwise unlit studio, the resultant image reveals a constructed twilight that fuels a dark narrative. Focus of the subject is likewise abnormal, sharp only where features press against the glass platen screen, dissolving into darkness and blur as they recede, implying a sense of entrapment behind the image surface.”

Preserved raises allusions to the history of zoological inquiry and highlights the sense of loss intrinsic to mortality. Indeed, the works can be read as a series of ecological memento mori.”

Press release from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website.

.

.

Gregory Elms
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Cacatua Galerita
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

.

.

Gregory Elms
Red Fox, Vulpes Vulpes
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

.

.

The Art of Preservation

by Ashley Crawford

In the world of Ridley Scott’s 1982 Science fiction classic Blade Runner one of the most prized possessions is a perfectly replicated owl. The film is based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in which social status is most often based on the ‘model’ of animal one can afford – or even better, the ownership of a real animal in a world where most species have been killed by nuclear fallout. This is the background to a more complex story, but it is one that is infused with melancholy and a powerful sense of loss. What is humanity without the context of the animal?

But humanity and the animal and insect kingdoms have long maintained an imbalanced sense of symbiosis. On the one hand we ogle animals in zoos or more regularly via television documentaries. Only the most hardy of tourists today bother venturing into what remains of natural habitats – all too often zones of environmental Armageddon. Very few species are truly ‘domesticated’. Indeed almost all animals remain the ‘other’, psychologically impregnable – some are good for eating, some are pests but they all, in one way or another, remain objects of fascination.

Gregory Elms captures this sense of fascination with unnerving potency. His menagerie of misfits, malcontents and monsters are captured with alluring charm. Elms reveals no prejudice when it comes to selecting his portraits; the pestilent hyena alongside the strangely elegant and impelling Dead Leaf Mantis, the odious Cane Toad against the loyal Jack Russell. Via Elms’ aesthetic each and every one of them carries a peculiar charm, as though they had been groomed for their portraiture session. With his deliberately formalized composition, his animals become indisputably individualistic. They are not generic dogs, toads or birds. They are members of a bestiary noblesse.

Animals have, of course, long been the stuff of artistic inspiration, from Durer’s famous rabbit to Hirst’s infamous shark. In Australia, Elms fits alongside an enduring history of animal as subject, seen contemporaneously in the powerful 2004 exhibition Instinct at the Monash Faculty Gallery, which featured artists as diverse as Emily Floyd, Sharon Goodwin, Irene Hanenbergh, Louise Hearman, Ronnie van Hout, David Noonan and Lisa Roet.

And while Elms may capture the notion of the animal as ‘other’ he also taps into the strange connections we feel toward other species. The animal-human connection is obviously a fertile one. In light of the success of recent works in the firecracker-hot field of comparative ethology, delving into the minds and emotional lives of animals, there is much to say about the permeable membrane between human and non-human in postmodern culture. Animals have also played an intriguing, little-examined role in the emergence of technological modernity, from NASA’s space monkeys to experiments on animal behavior and intelligence.

But Elms work also hints at the pre-history of animal-human interaction. Throughout art history, animals have been utilised by artists to represent human character traits – a man is a ‘snake’ or a ‘dog’ or a ‘pig’ depending on their personality. Animals have also featured in mythology and the supernatural – the werewolf, the vampire. Elms also turns the gallery into the scientific laboratory, the taxidermists studio and, inevitably, the Hunting Lodge.

Yes, often sadly, (the Cane Toad aside), Elms’ subjects are dead. But they live on with a strange majesty via Elms’ lens.

© Ashley Crawford 2012

.

.

.

Gregory Elms
Thailand tarantula, Haplopelma Albostriatus
2011
Archival Inkjet Print

.

.

Gregory Elms
Cane Toad, Bufo Marinus
2011
Archival Inkjet Print

.

.

Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 – 5

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

15
Oct
09

Exhibition: ‘Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur’ at The Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2009 – 28th February 2010

 

Media crowd at the Ricky Swallow exhibition 'The Bricoleur' at NGV Australia

 

Media crowd at the Ricky Swallow exhibition The Bricoleur at NGV Australia with Alex Baker, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, NGV fourth from left with clasped hands.

 

 

Hot off the press straight to you here at Art Blart!

Photographs of the exhibition Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur at the National Gallery of Victoria Australia, Federation Square. The photographs are in the chronological order that I took them, walking through the three spaces of the exhibition. A spare, visually minimalist aesthetic to the show, where every vanitas, every mark (in)forms the work as transcendent momenti mori. Review to follow.

Many thankx to Sue, Alison, Jemma and the team for the usual excellent job and for allowing me to document the exhibition. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I’ve always been interested in how an object can be remembered and how that memory can be sustained and directed sculpturally, pulling things in and out of time, passing objects through the studio as a kind of filter returning them as new forms.”

.
Ricky Swallow

 

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974) 'The Bricoleur' 2006

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
The Bricoleur
2006
Jelutong
48 x 9.75 x 9.75 inches

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974) 'Unbroken Ways (for Derek Bailey)' 2006

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Unbroken Ways (for Derek Bailey)
2006
English Limewood
5 x 30 x 7 inches

 

Ricky Swallow. 'One Nation Underground' 2007

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
One Nation Underground
2007

 

Ricky Swallow. 'One Nation Underground' (detail) 2007

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
One Nation Underground (detail)
2007

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Tusk' 2007

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Tusk
2007
Bronze with white patina, brass fixtures
19.75 x 41.25 x 2.25 inches

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Tusk' (detail) 2007

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Tusk (detail)
2007
Bronze with white patina, brass fixtures
19.75 x 41.25 x 2.25 inches

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974) 'Rehearsal for Retirement' (detail) 2008

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Rehearsal for Retirement (detail)
2008
English Lime Wood, Poplar

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974) 'Rehearsal for Retirement' (detail) 2008

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Rehearsal for Retirement (detail)
2008
English Lime Wood, Poplar

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Bowman’s record' (detail) 2008

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Bowman’s record (detail)
2008
Bronze

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Bowman’s record' (detail) 2008

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Bowman’s record (detail)
2008
Bronze

 

 

Ricky Swallow’s sculptures address fundamental issues that lie at the core of who we are. Things have lives. We are our things. We are things. When all is said and done it is our things – our material possessions – that outlive us. Anyone who has lost a family member or close friend knows this: what we have before us once that person is gone are the possessions that formed a life. Just as we are defined and represented by the things that we collect over time, we are ultimately objects ourselves. When we are dead and decomposed what remains are our bones, another type of object. And then there is social science. Archaeology, a subfield of anthropology, is entirely based on piecing together narratives of human relations based on material culture, that is, objects both whole and fragmentary. It may seem obvious but it is worth stressing here that our understanding of cultures from the distant past, those that originated before the advent of writing, is entirely based on the study of objects and skeletal remains. Swallow’s art addresses these basic yet enduring notions and reminds us of our deep symbiotic relationship to the stuff of daily life.

Like the bricoleur put into popular usage by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in his seminal book The Savage Mind, Ricky Swallow creates works of art often based on objects from his immediate surroundings. His method, however, is more of a second order bricolage: his sculptures are not assemblages of found objects, but rather elegantly crafted things. Handcarved from wood or plaster or cast in bronze, these humble objects are transformed into memorials to both the quotidian and the passage of time.

 

Still life

The still life has been an important touchstone throughout Swallow’s recent practice as it is an inspired vehicle for the exploration of how meaning is generated by objects. Several sculptures in the exhibition reference the still-life tradition in which Swallow updates and personalises this time-honoured genre, in particular the vanitas paintings of 17th century Holland. Vanitas still lifes, through an assortment of objects that had recognisable symbolism to a 17th-century viewer, functioned as allegories on the futility of pleasure and the inevitably of death. Swallow’s embrace of still life convention, however, is non-didactic, secular and open-ended. Swallow is not obsessed by death. On the contrary, his focus on objects is about salvaging them from the dust bin of history and honouring their continued resonance in his life.

Killing time, 2003-04, and Salad days, 2005, depict animals that Swallow and his family either found or caught when he was young and best highlight how the artist reclaims the still life genre to explore personal narrative. Killing time, which depicts a bounty of fish and crustaceans spread across a table modelled after the Swallow family kitchen table of the artist’s youth, is rife with autobiographical association. It not only references an object from Swallow’s past, but also the profession of his father, a fisherman, and the fact that Swallow was raised by the sea. Salad days is another autobiographical work depicting a range of animals such as birds, a rabbit, mice and a fox skull. Like many boys growing up in rural environments, Swallow recalls shooting magpies, encountering nesting birds in his garage or discovering dead lizards or trapping live ones in an attempt to keep them as pets.

While not an overt still life, History of holding, 2007, suggests the genre in its fragmentary depiction of a musical instrument and the appearance of a lemon with falling rind. The hand holding/presenting a peeled lemon as the rind winds around the wrist in bracelet-like fashion is based on a cast of Swallow’s own hand, insinuating himself into this antiquated tradition. It is as if Swallow is announcing to us his deep interest in the temporality of objects through the presentation of the peeled lemon, which symbolises the passing of time and also appears in Killing time. The second component of History of holding is a sculptural interpretation of the Woodstock music festival icon designed by Arthur Skolnick in 1969, which still circulates today. History of holding, then, also references music, a leitmotif in Swallow’s art that appears both within the work itself, and also through Swallow’s use of titles.

 

Body fragments

Tusk, 2007 among several other works in the exhibition, explores the theme of body as fragment. Much has been discussed about Swallow’s use of the skeleton as a form rich in meaning within both the traditions of art history as well as popular culture (references range from the Medieval dance macabre and the memento mori of the still life tradition to the skeleton in rock music and skateboard art iconography). Tusk represents two skeletal arms with the hands clasped together in eternal union. A poignant work, Tusk is a meditation on permanence: the permanence of the human body even after death; the permanence of the union between two people, related in the fusion of the hands into that timeless symbol of love, the heart.

 

Watercolours: atmospheric presentations, mummies, music, homage

Swallow calls his watercolours “atmospheric presentations”, in contradistinction to his obviously more physical sculptures, and he sees them as respites from the intensity of labour and time invested in the sculptural work. They also permit experimentation in ways that sculpture simply does not allow. One nation underground, 2007, is a collection of images based on rock/folk musicians, several who had associations to 1960s Southern California, Swallow’s current home. Most of the subjects Swallow has illustrated in this work are now deceased; several experienced wide recognition only after their deaths. Like many of his sculptures, this group of watercolours tenderly painted with an air of nostalgia has the sensibility of a memorial – or as Swallow has called it “a modest monument”. The title of the work is based on a record album by another under-heralded rock band from the 1960s, Pearls Before Swine, and is a prime example of Swallow’s belief in the importance of titles to the viewing experience as clues or layers of meaning. In this case, the title hints at the quasi-cult status of the musicians and singers depicted. The featured musicians are Chris Bell (Big Star), Karen Dalton (a folk singer), Tim Buckley (legendary singer whose style spanned several genres and father to the late Jeff Buckley), Denny Doherty (The Mamas & the Papas ), Judee Sill (folk singer), Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Arthur Lee (Love), John Phillips (The Mamas & the Papas ), Skip Spence (Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape) and Phil Ochs (folk singer).

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 15/10/2010

 

Installation view of 'Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur' second room at NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur' second room at NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur second space at NGV Australia

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Caravan' (detail) 2008

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Caravan (detail)
2008
Bronze

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Salad days' c.2005

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Salad days
c. 2005

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Killing time' 2003 - 04

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Killing time
2003-04

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Killing time' (detail) 2003 - 04

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Killing time (detail)
2003-04

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974) 'Killing time' 2003-04

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Killing time
2003-04

 

Ricky Swallow. 'Killing time' (detail) 2003-04

 

Ricky Swallow (Australian, b. 1974)
Killing time (detail)
2003-04

 

 

“A new exhibition featuring the work of internationally renowned Australian artist Ricky Swallow will open at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia on 16 October 2009.

Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur is the artist’s first major exhibition in Australia since 2006. This exhibition will feature several of the artist’s well‐known intricately detailed, carved wooden sculptures as well as a range of new sculptural works in wood, bronze and plaster. The exhibition will also showcase two large groups of watercolours, an aspect of Swallow’s practice that is not as well known as his trademark works.

Salad days (2005) and Killing time (2003-04), which were featured in the 2005 Venice Biennale and are considered Swallow icons, will strike a familiar chord with Melbourne audiences.

Sculptures completed over the past year include bronze balloons on which bronze barnacles seamlessly cling (Caravan, 2008); a series of cast bronze archery targets (Bowman’s Record, 2008) that look like desecrated minimalist paintings; and carved wooden sculpture of a human skull inside what looks like a paper bag (Fig 1, 2008).

A highlight of the show will be Swallow’s watercolour, One Nation Underground (2007), recently acquired by the NGV. The work presents a collection of images based on 1960s musicians including Tim Buckley, Denny Doherty, Brian Jones and John Phillips.

Alex Baker, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, NGV said the works in this exhibition explore the themes of life and death, time and its passing, mortality and immortality.

“Swallow’s art investigates how memory is distilled within the objects of daily life. His work addresses the fundamental issues that lie at the core of who we are, reminding us of our deep symbiotic relationship to the stuff of everyday life.”

“The exhibition’s title The Bricoleur refers to the kind of activities performed by a handyman or tinkerer, someone who makes creative use of whatever might be at hand. The Bricoleur is also the title of one of the sculptures in the exhibition, which depicts a forlorn houseplant with a sneaker wedged between its branches,” said Mr Baker.

Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV, said this exhibition reinforces the NGV’s commitment to exhibiting and collecting world‐class contemporary art.

“The NGV has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with Ricky Swallow, exhibiting and acquiring a number of his works over the years. His detailed and exquisitely crafted replicas of commonplace objects never fail to inspire visitors to the Gallery.”

Ricky Swallow was born in Victoria in 1974 and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. His career has enjoyed a meteoric rise since winning the NGV’s prestigious Contempora5 art prize in 1999. Since then, Swallow has exhibited in the UK, Europe and the United States, and represented Australia at the 2005 Venice Biennale.”

Press release from the NGV website [Online] Cited 10/10/2009 no longer available online

 

Ricky Swallow facing the media behind his work 'Killing time' (2003 - 04)

Ricky Swallow facing the media behind his work 'Killing time' (2003 - 04)

 

Ricky Swallow facing the media behind his work Killing time (2003-04)

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Open daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

16
Aug
09

Review: ‘Cineraria’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th July  – 22nd August 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Ruby Heart Starling' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Ruby Heart Starling
2008
Starling, sterling silver, black rhodium & gold plate, rubies, antique frame
30 x 35 x 18 cm

 

 

This is an itsy-bitsy show by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond, Melbourne. Offering a menagerie of macabre stuffed animals and conceptual ideas the exhibition fails to coalesce into a satisfying vision. It features many ideas that are not fully investigated and incorporated into the corporeal body of the work.

We have, variously, The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium, The Ossuary, Skeletons, Black, Victorian Funerary Customs, Feathers, Taxidermy, Time, Eggs and Religion. We also have stuffed animals, cigar boxes, lace and silver, pelts and columns, jet necklaces and Victorian glass domes, glass eyes and ruby hearts to name but a few. The viewer is overwhelmed by ideas and materials.

When individual pieces excel the work is magical: the delicate and disturbing Stillborn Angel (2009, below) curled in a foetal position with appended sparrows wings is a knockout. The large suspended raven of Night’s Plutonian Shore (2009, above) effectively evinces the feeling of the shores of the underworld that the title, taken from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, reflects on.

Other pieces only half succeed. Piglet (2009, below) is a nice idea with its lace snout and beaded wings sitting on a bed of feathers awaiting judgement but somehow the elements don’t click into place. Further work are just one shot ideas that really lead nowhere. For example Cat Rug (2008, below) features black crystals in the mouth of a taxidermied cat that lies splayed on a plinth on the gallery floor. And, so … Silver Rook (2008, below) is a rook whose bones have been cast in silver, with another ruby heart, suspended in mid-air in the gallery space. Again an interesting idea that really doesn’t translate into any dialogue that is substantial or interesting.

Another problem with the work is the technical proficiency of some of the pieces. The cast silver front legs and ribs of The Anatomy of a Rabbit (2008, below) are of poor quality and detract from what should have been the delicacy of the skeletal bones of the work. The bronze lion cartouche on the egg shaped Lion Urn (2009) fails to fit the curved shape of the egg – it is just attached at the top most point and sits proud of the egg shape beneath. Surely someone with an eye for detail and a sense of context, perfection and pride in the work they make would know that the cartouche should have been made to fit the shape underneath.

Despite its fashionable position hovering between craft, jewellery and installation this is ‘art’ in need of a good reappraisal. My suggestion would be to take one idea, only one, and investigate it fully in a range of work that is thematically linked and beautifully made. Instead of multiplying the ideas and materials that are used, simplify the conceptual theme and at the same time layer the work so it has more complexity, so that it reveals itself over time. You only have to look at the work of Mari Funaki in the previous post or the simple but conceptually complex photographs of Matthias Koch in the German photography review to understand that LESS IS MORE!

There are positive signs here and I look forward to seeing the development of the artist over the next few years.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Night's Plutonian Shore' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Night’s Plutonian Shore
2009
Tasmanian Forest Raven, black garnets, cotton, sterling silver, amethyst

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'L'enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
L’enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)
2009
Ostrich egg, sterling silver, ostrich plumes and black garnet
35 x 12 x 12 cm

 

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia deVille Cineraria installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia de Ville. 'Piglet' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Piglet
2009
Piglet, antique lace, pins and feathers
25 x 23 x 13 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'Cat Rug' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Cat Rug
2008
Cat, glitter and fibreglass
100 x 60 x 8 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'Sympathy' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Sympathy
2008

 

Julia de Ville. 'Silver Rook' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Silver Rook
2008
Sterling silver, rubies
30 x 25 x 35 cm

 

 

Cinerarium

n. pl. Cineraria
A place for keeping the ashes of a cremated body.

Cineraria
n. any of several horticultural varieties of a composite plant, Senecio hybridus, of the Canary Islands, having clusters of flowers with
white, blue, purple, red, or variegated rays.

Origin: 1590-1600; < NL, fem. of cinerarius ashen, equiv. to L ciner- (s. of cinis ashes) + -rius -ary; so named from ash-coloured down on leaves.

CINERARIA is a study of the ritual and sentiment behind funerary customs from various cultures and eras.

 

Notes on inspirations

The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium: Funerary Urns have been used since the times of the ancient Greeks and are still used today. After death, the body is cremated and the ashes are collected in the urn.

The Ossuary: An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is. This was a common practice in post plague Europe in the 14th-16th Centuries.

Skeletons: Human skeletons and sometimes non-human animal skeletons and skulls are often used as blunt images of death. The skull and crossbones (Death’s Head) motif has been used among Europeans as a symbol of piracy, poison and most commonly, human mortality.

Black: In the West, the colour used for death and mourning is black. Black is associated with the underworld and evil. Kali, the Hindu god of destruction, is depicted as black.

Victorian Funerary Customs:

  • A wreath of laurel, yew or boxwood tied with crape or black ribbons would be hung on the front door to alert passers by that a death had occurred
  • The use of flowers and candles helped to mask unpleasant odours in the room before embalming became common
  • White was a popular colour for the funeral of a child. White gloves, ostrich plumes and a white coffin were the standard

Feathers: In Egyptian culture a recently deceased persons soul had to be as light as a feather to pass the judgment of Ma’at. Ma’at (Maet, Mayet) is the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and the underworld. She is often portrayed as wearing a feather, a symbol of truth, on her head. She passed judgment over the souls of the dead in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. She also weighted up the soul against a feather. The “Law of Ma’at” was the basis of civil laws in ancient Egypt. If it failed, the soul was sent into the underworld. Ma’at’s symbol, an ostrich feather, stands for order and truth.

Taxidermy: Taxidermy to me is a modern form of preservation, a way for life to continue on after death, in a symbolic visual form.

The Raven: In many cultures for thousands of years, the Raven has been seen symbol of death. This is largely due to the Raven feeding on carrion. Edgar Allan Poe has used this symbolism in his poem, “The Raven”.

Time: Less blunt symbols of death frequently allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces call to mind that time is passing. Similarly, a candle both marks the passage of time, and bears witness that it will eventually burn itself out. These sorts of symbols were often incorporated into vanitas paintings, a variety of early still life.

Eggs: The egg has been a symbol of the start of new life for over 2,500 years, dating back to the ancient Persians. I have chosen egg shapes and even one Ostrich egg to represent the cycle of life, the beginning and the end.

Religion: Religion has played a large part in many funerary customs and beliefs. I am particularly interested in the Memento Mori period of the 16th-18th centuries. In a Calvinistic Europe, when the plague was a not too distant memory, a constant preoccupation with death became a fashionable devotional trend.

Julia deVille

 

Julia de Ville. 'Stillborn Angel' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Stillborn Angel
2009
Stillborn puppy, sparrow wings and sterling silver
13 x 10 x 5 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'The Anatomy of a Rabbit' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
The Anatomy of a Rabbit
2008
Rabbit, sterling silver, rubies, glitter and mahogany
30 x 30 x 30 cm

 

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia deVille Cineraria installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

Join 2,523 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

August 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

Categories