Posts Tagged ‘MUMA

01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

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Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

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

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

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website

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03
Jan
14

Melbourne’s magnificent nine 2013

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Here’s my pick of the nine best local exhibitions which featured on the Art Blart blog in 2013 (plus a favourite of the year from Hobart). Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Review: Terraria by Darron Davies at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

This is the first “magical” exhibition of photography that I have seen in Melbourne this year. Comprising just seven moderately large Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag images mounted in white frames, this exhibition swept me off my feet. The photographs are beautiful, subtle, nuanced evocations to the fragility and enduring nature of life…

A sense of day/dreaming is possible when looking at these images. Interior/exterior, size/scale, ego/self are not fixed but fluid, like the condensation that runs down the inside of these environments (much like blood circulates our body). This allows the viewer’s mind to roam at will, to ponder the mysteries of our short, improbable, joyous life. The poetic titles add to this introspective reflection. I came away from viewing these magical, self sustaining vessels with an incredibly happy glow, more aware of my own body and its relationship to the world than before I had entered Darron Davies enveloping, terrarium world.

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Darron Davies. 'Encased' 2012

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Darron Davies
Encased 
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'The Red Shard' 2012

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Darron Davies
The Red Shard 
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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2/ Review: Confounding: Contemporary Photography at NGV International, Melbourne

Presently, contemporary photography is able to reveal intangible, constructed vistas that live outside the realm of the scientific. A photograph becomes a perspective on the world, an orientation to the world based on human agency. An image-maker takes resources for meaning (a visual language, how the image is made and what it is about), undertakes a design process (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.

These ideas are what a fascinating exhibition titled Confounding: Contemporary Photography, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne investigates. In the confounding of contemporary photography we are no longer witnessing a lived reality but a break down of binaries such as sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments as artists present their subjective visions of imagined, created worlds. Each image presents the viewer with a conundrum that investigates the relationship between photographs and the “real” world they supposedly record. How do these photographs make you feel about this constructed, confounding world? These fields of existence?

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Thomas Demand German born 1964 'Public housing' 2003

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Thomas Demand German born 1964
Public housing
2003
type C photograph
100.1 x 157.0 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2010
© Thomas Demand/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

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Eliza Hutchison Australian born 1965 'The ancestors' 2004

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Eliza Hutchison Australian born 1965
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.4 x 72.9 cm (image), 105.4 x 82.9 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

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3/ Review: Louise Bourgeois: Late Works at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

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Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

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Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

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Louise Bourgeois 'Untitled' 2002

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Louise Bourgeois
Untitled
2002
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust

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This is a tough, stimulating exhibition of late works by Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. All the main themes of the artist’s work explored over many years are represented in these late works: memory, emotion, anxiety, family, relationships, childhood, pain, desire and eroticism are all present as are female subjectivity and sexuality, expressed through the body…

Bourgeois’ work gives me an overall feeling of immersion in a world view, one that transcends the pain and speaks truth to power. Bourgeois confronted the emotion, memory or barrier to communication that generated her mood and the work. She observed, “My art is an exorcism. My sculpture allows me to re-experience fear, to give it a physicality, so that I am able to hack away at it.” By weaving, stitching and sewing Bourgeois threaded the past through the present and enacted, through artistic performance, a process of repair and reconstruction, giving meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. I have not been so lucky. My mother refuses to discuss the past, will not even come close to the subject for the pain is so great for her. I am left with a heaviness of heart, dealing with the demons of the past that constantly lurk in the memory of childhood, that insistently impinge on the man I am today. Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures brought it all flooding back as the work of only a great artist can, forcing me to become an ethical witness to her past, my past. A must see exhibition this summer in Melbourne.

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4/ Exhibition: Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013 at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

A stunning, eloquent and conceptually complex exhibition buy Petrina Hicks at Helen Gory Galerie…

I am just going to add that the photograph Venus (2013, below) is one of the most beautiful photographs that I have seen “in the flesh” (so to speak) for a long while. Hicks control over the ‘presence’ of the image, her control over the presence within the image is immaculate. To observe how she modulates the colour shift from blush of pink within the conch shell, to colour of skin, to colour of background is an absolute joy to behold. The pastel colours of skin and background only serve to illuminate the richness of the pink within the shell as a form of immaculate conception (an openness of the mind and of the body). I don’t really care who is looking at this photograph (not another sexualised male gaze!) the form is just beauty itself. I totally fell in love with this work.

Forget the neo-feminist readings, one string of text came to mind: The high fidelity of a fetishistic fecundity.

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Petrina Hicks. 'Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'Enigma' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Enigma
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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5/ Exhibition: Density by Andrew Follows at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

I include this in my list of magnificent photographic exhibitions for the year not because I curated it, but because of the conceptualisation, the unique quality of the images and the tenacity of a visually impaired artist to produce such memorable work.

A wonderful exhibition by vision impaired photographer Andrew Follows at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond. It has been a real pleasure to mentor Andrew over the past year and to see the fruits of our labour is incredibly satisfying. The images are strong, elemental, atmospheric, immersive. Due to the nature of Andrew’s tunnel vision there are hardly any traditional vanishing points within the images, instead the ‘plane of existence’ envelops you and draws you in.

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Density n.

The degree of optical opacity of a medium or material, as of a photographic negative;

Thickness of consistency;

Complexity of structure or content.

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Andrew Follows. 'Number 31, Eltham' 2013

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Andrew Follows
Number 31, Eltham
2013
Digital photograph on archival cotton rag
130 cm x 86.5 cm

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Andrew Follows. 'Green, Montsalvat' 2013

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Andrew Follows
Green, Montsalvat
2013
Digital photograph on archival cotton rag
130 cm x 86.5 cm

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Carol Jerrems. 'Mark and Flappers' 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Mark and Flappers
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm' c. 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm
c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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6/ Review: Carol Jerrems: photographic artist at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

This is a fascinating National Gallery of Australia exhibition about the work of Australian photographer Carol Jerrems at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill – in part both memorable, intimate, informative, beautiful, uplifting and disappointing…

The pity is that she died so young for what this exhibition brought home to me was that here was an artist still defining, refining her subject matter. She never had to time to develop a mature style, a mature narrative as an artist (1975-1976 seems to be the high point as far as this exhibition goes). This is the great regret about the work of Carol Jerrems. Yes, there is some mediocre work in this exhibition, stuff that really doesn’t work at all (such as the brothel photographs), experimental work, individual and collective images that really don’t impinge on your consciousness. But there are also the miraculous photographs (and for a young photographer she had a lot of those), the ones that stay with you forever. The right up there, knock you out of the ball park photographs and those you cannot simply take away from the world. They live on in the world forever.

Does Jerrems deserve to be promoted as a legend, a ‘premier’ of Australian photography as some people are doing? Probably not on the evidence of this exhibition but my god, those top dozen or so images are something truly special to behold. Their ‘presence’ alone – their physicality in the world, their impact on you as you stand before them – guarantees that Jerrems will forever remain in the very top echelons of Australian photographers of all time not as a legend, but as a women of incredible strength, intelligence, passion, determination and vision.

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7/ Exhibition: Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV International, Melbourne

What a gorgeous exhibition. It’s about time Melbourne had a bit of style put back into the National Gallery of Victoria, and this exhibition hits it out of the park. Not only are the photographs absolutely fabulous but the frocks are absolutely frocking as well. Well done to the NGV for teaming the photographs with the fashion and for a great install (makes a change to see 2D and 3D done so well together). Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this is a sure fire winner….

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Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion' at NGV International

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Installation photograph of the exhibition Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV International

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marlene Dietrich' 1934

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Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Marlene Dietrich
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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8/ Exhibition: Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is generating an enviable reputation for holding vibrant, intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and topics. This exhibition is no exception. It is one of the best exhibitions I have seen in Melbourne this year. Accompanied by a strong catalogue with three excellent essays by Thierry de Duve, Dr Rex Butler and Patrice Sharkey, this is a must see exhibition for any Melbourne art aficionado before it closes.

“This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Made Ready: A Philosophy of Moments. December 2013

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Jeff Koons. 'Balloon dog (Red)' 1995 designed

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Jeff Koons
Balloon dog (Red)
1995 designed
Porcelain, ed. 1113/2300
11.3 x 26.3 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Andrew Liversidge. 'IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE' 2009

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney

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9/ Review: Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Zion Park (USA)' 1996

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Claudia Terstappen
Zion Park (USA)
1996
from the series Sacred land of the Navajo Indians 1990-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Without doubt this is the best pure photography exhibition I have seen this year in Melbourne. The exhibition is stimulating and enervating, the image making of the highest order in its aesthetic beauty and visual complexity. The artist explores intangible spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with the un/known world…

In Terstappen’s work there is no fixed image and no single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence that the images propose. They transcend claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world. As the artist visualises, records the feeling of the facts, such complex and balanced images let the mind of the viewer wander in the landscape. In their fecundity the viewer is enveloped in that situation of not knowing. There is the feeling of the landscape, a sensitivity to being “lost” in the landscape, in the shadow of ‘Other’, enhanced through the modality of the printing. Dreamworld vs analytical/descriptive, there is the enigma of the landscape and its spiritual places. Yes, the sublime, but more an invocation, a plea to the gods for understanding. This phenomenological prayer allows the artist to envelop herself and the viewer in the profundity – the great depth, intensity and emotion – of the landscape. To be ‘present’ in the the untrammelled places of the world as (divine) experience…

I say to you that this is the most sophisticated reading of the landscape that I have seen in a long time – not just in Australia but from around the world. This is such a joy of an exhibition to see that you leave feeling engaged and uplifted. Being in the gallery on your own is a privilege that is hard to describe: to see (and feel!) landscape photography of the highest order and by an Australian artist as well.

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10/ Exhibition: Joan Ross: Touching Other People’s Shopping at Bett Gallery, Hobart

The claiming of things
The touching of things
The digging of land
The tagging of place
The taking over of the world

Tag and capture.
Tag and capture.
Shop, dig, spray, destroy.

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An ironic critique of the pastoral, neo/colonial world, tagged and captured in the 21st century.
Excellent work. The construction, sensibility and humour of the videos is outstanding. I also responded to the two works Tag and capture and Shopping for butterfly (both 2013, below).

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Joan Ross. 'Tag and capture' 2013

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Joan Ross
Tag and capture
2013
hand painted pigment print on cotton rag paper
50 x 47 cm (image size)
edition of 3

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Joan Ross. 'Shopping for butterfly' 2013

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Joan Ross
Shopping for butterfly
2013
hand painted pigment print on cotton rag paper
51.5 x 50 cm (image size)
edition of 3

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03
Dec
13

Essay: ‘Made ready: A Philosophy of Moments’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 14th December 2013

Presented by Monash University Museum of Art in association with Melbourne Festival

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Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is generating an enviable reputation for holding vibrant, intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and topics. This exhibition is no exception. It is one of the best exhibitions I have seen in Melbourne this year. Accompanied by a strong catalogue with three excellent essays by Thierry de Duve, Dr Rex Butler and Patrice Sharkey, this is a must see exhibition for any Melbourne art aficionado before it closes. My favourite pieces were Jeff Koons’ tactile Balloon dog (Red) (1995, below) and the coupling, copulating lights of Lou Hubbard’s Stretch (2007, below).

I am not going to critique the exhibition pieces per se but offer some thoughts about the nature of the readymade below.

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs taken at the opening © Monash University Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan unless otherwise stated.

Download this essay as a pdf (9.8Mb pdf) Text © Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan. Made Ready: A Philosophy of Moments. December 2013

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Made ready: A Philosophy of Moments

Dr Marcus Bunyan

December 2013

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The readymade is everywhere in the world (for the readymade can be made of anything); the readymade is nowhere in the world. This is the paradox of the readymade: it does not exist in the world as art until after the artist has named it. In this sense it can be argued that there is no such thing as a readymade. It only comes into being through the will and intention of the artist. The readymade may live unnamed in the world for years but it does not exist in the world as art until the artist has intentionally named it (or made it). As Marcel Duchamp observes,

“It’s not the visual aspect of the readymade that matters, it’s simply that fact that it exists… Visuality is no longer the question: the readymade is no longer visible, so to speak. It is completely grey matter. It is no longer retinal.”1

The readymade is (initially) a concept of the brain and not of the eye. It is a commodity made by man living in the world made ready for identification as art ‘already made’ by the recognition of the artist of its exchange value – the object as transitory metonym which “stands in” for another place of being through a change of name or purpose. It is the intention of the artist to impose an (alternate) order on the object, an order in which the readymade questions aesthetic criteria and categories such as taste, authorship and intentionality. As Dr Rex Butler notes, “The work is not simply intended – which is an obvious fact about any work of art – but about an intention that has come to replace, while entirely reproducing, that which is the very embodiment of the contingent and unpredictable.”2

According to Thierry de Duve, the choosing of the object is accompanied by three other acts: naming the object, signing it and devising some original presentation for it.3 There are the so called unassisted readymades (such as Duchamp’s Bottle dryer, 1914 reconstructed 1964 below) and there are also plain, aided, sick, unhappy, reciprocal and semi-readymades.4 In reality no readymade is unassisted as all are called into being by the mind of the artist. But the concept of the readymade “heralds the realisation that art can be made from anything whatsoever.”5 If this is the case then the readymade “makes of all aesthetic judgements something unconvincing, derivative, second-hand,”6 perhaps even deliberately “invoking” criticism before the artwork is even constructed. If the inherent structural and aesthetic function of all things is predetermined, as though fulfilling some underlying design, it is the artists intentionality in naming the object as art – a model of explanation “that abducts from external products to internal processes, from what is visible to what must be inferred”7 – that deliberately places and fixes these objects in a new moment in space and time.

Through appropriation, readymades “make their claim to the dignity of an art object through some unexpected presentation that decontextualises them and pulls them away from their daily use.”8 Through appropriation, artists laud everyday objects as art for all to see.9 Through appropriation, art institutes emphasise the power of the art institution, the readymade made taxidermied, stuffed object, placed on a stand, an everyday object lauded as art for all to see. In this scenario, the desire of manufacturing that wants consumer objects to be seen as useful, valuable is inverted as readymades become institutional objects of desire just out of reach of the audience (10,000 dollar coins just lying around on the floor!). The death of the object as an object and its reanimation “to the dignity of an art object” is completed “simply by its presence in the museum.”10 As Elizabeth Wilson states, “The only defence against transgressive desire is to turn either oneself or the object of desire to stone.”11 In this case it is the museum officials that turn the object of desire into stone (by lionising them as readymades). In actuality, these objects that artists imagine explore the dichotomy between presence and absence and the nature of transgressive desire.

Essentially, the concept of the readymade is both elastic (like the band that holds together the brick and book cover in Claire Fontaine’s witty La société du spectacle brickbat 2006, below) and fixed (like the brick itself), the readymade being both a performative act (ritualised play) and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects it names.12 Further, a link can be made to Bachelard’s theory of space and imagination which describes literary space as reflexive, resonant and moulded by consciousness.13 In their playfulness the spatial dynamics of readymades challenge and illuminate the human, sensory possibility. They examine how the reality of contemporary life is disguised and concealed from view, and how human beings are alienated from the very objects that they produce. For the French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre, “(The) critique of everyday life is … at once a rejection of the inauthentic and the alienated, and an unearthing of the human which still lies buried therein.”14

“One avenue for this unearthing is what Lefebvre describes as moments of presence – fleeting, sensate instants in which the “totality of possibilities contained in daily existence” were revealed. While destined to pass in an instant, it is through such moments that we are able to catch glimpses of the relation between the everyday and the social totality.”15 This philosophy or theory of moments was developed in opposition to Bergson’s understanding of time as a linear duration (duree) of separate instances and for Lefebvre, these “moments are “experiences of detachment from the everyday flow of time” which puncture the banality of everyday life…”16

“All the activities that constitute everyday life must then be rethought in terms of a dialectic of presence and absence and each moment is simultaneously an opportunity for alienation and disalienation.”17 The readymade, then, explores the politically radical potential that lies within the everyday through play and the intentionality of the artist. Through representation, readymades mediate between absence and presence; through poësis they begin to inhabit another time and space.

“In the poetic act, presence is the given. Lefebvre intends ‘poetic’ to cover unalienated production – the Greek poësis – as he explained in The Production of Space (1974)… Presence and poësis stand outside social relations of production. Flashes of inspiration, moments when one feels ‘all together’ and ‘in touch’, are not determined by economic relations, and cannot be prevented, even in a prison camp.”18

Readymades are a reaction against the linear production of industry, which is both functional and hierarchical. They are a reaction against the banality and repetition of the everyday – of the hegemony of capitalist production and the social relations of everyday life. In a culture of use and use by, the readymade “inscribes the work of art within a network of signs and pre-existing material.”19 Theses assemblages enable us to ask the question, what makes aesthetic judgement possible. They offer an alternative form of resistance to the imposition of linear repetition, through a form of mental and visual play. The moment of the representation encloses a transition (something transitory, something which ‘traverses’)20 – through a plethora of creative, emotive and imaginative practices – from something stable to un/stable.

This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.

It is the same with the readymade. The inscriptions on the early readymades (such as the bottle dryer and urinal) detailing authorship, dates, times, places can be seen as an attempt to ‘fix’ an individual artwork in the flow of time, to distinguish it from its unacknowledged neighbour – like “fixing” a photograph. It is telling that when the bottle rack was lost and remade in the 1960s the text that was originally on the lower metal ring was lost with the object itself.21 The text sought to fix these transitory moments of absence : presence.

Søren Kierkegaard calls this transition a “leap,” where a human being chooses an ethical life-view, one that resides in the actual and not in an ironic-aesthetic attitude.

“It is important to see that choice, as the characteristic of the ethical lifeview, forms a radical break with the ironic spiral of the aesthetic attitude. Kierkegaard sometimes calls the ethical choice a “leap,” a term that expresses the fundamental uncertainty of each commitment to actuality: contrary to aesthetic fantasy, which is “safely” self-contained, the outcome of the individual’s ethical choice is dependent on actuality and therefore not fully under the individual’s control. This is a decisive difference between aesthetic irony (including meta-irony) and the ethical leap: instead of merely rejecting all actuality, the latter takes responsibility for a certain actuality and tries to reshape it.”22

And tries to reshape it. Thus we can say that readymades are human beings taking responsibility for their actuality by choosing to name an object as art, creating objects that challenge aesthetic value judgements and an ironic-aesthetic lifeview through their very presence, by their very selfness. Remembering (ah memory!), that it is always a past moment that we recognise. The familiar is not necessarily the known – it has to be named.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Endnotes

1. Duchamp, Marcel. “Talking about Readymades,” Interview by Phillipe Collin, June 21, 1967, quoted in Girst, Thomas. “Duchamp for Everyone,” in The Indefinite Duchamp. Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2013, p. 55 quoted in Day, Charlotte. “Introduction,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 85
2. Butler, Rex. “Two Snapshots of the Readymade Today,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 98
3. Duve, Thierry de. “Readymade,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 92
4. Ibid.,
5. Ibid.,
6. Butler, op. cit.,
7. Danto, Arthur C. “Criticism, advocacy, and the end-of-art condition: a working paper,” on Artnet website [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. www.artnet.com/magazine_pre2000/features/danto/danto97-3-6.asp
8. Duve, op. cit. p. 91
9. “Still, appropriationism, which defines the end-of-art condition, is pretty much the defining principle of our moment, putting, as it does, everything and every combination of things at the service of art, even including bad drawing and bad painting, since these, being designated, tell us only what kind of point the artist who appropriates them intends, not what kind of artist she or he is.”
Danto op. cit.,
10. Duchamp, Marcel. Definition of the readymade in the Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme quoted in Duve, op. cit. p. 92
11. Wilson, Elizabeth. “The Invisible Flaneur,” in Watson, Sophie and Gibson, Katherine (eds.,). Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1995, p. 75
12. Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 1-2
13. See Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958 (1994)
14. Trebitsch, M. “Preface,” in Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of everyday life Vol. I. London: Verso, 1991, pp.ix-xxviii quoted in Butler, Chris. Law and the Social Production of Space. August 2003, p.60 [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/file/6e262ab2-3509-3354-9079-f0a16c85949c/1/02Whole.pdf
15. Harvey, D. “Afterword,” in Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, see note 1, at p. 429 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 60
16. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, see note 4, at p. 61 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 61
17. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, see note 4, at p. 70 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 61
18. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, p. 99 [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. Google Books website.
19. Sharkey, Patrice. “When Everything is already a Readymade,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 107
20 Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, p. 213 quoted in Shields, Rob op. cit., p. 99
21. Duve, op. cit. p. 91
22. Dulk, Allard Den. “Beyond Endless “Aesthetic” Irony: A Comparison of the Irony Critique of Søren Kierkegaard and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” in Studies in the Novel Vol. 44, No. 3. University of North Texas: Fall 2012, pp. 325-345

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Man Ray. 'Cadeau (Gift)' 1921 reconstructed 1970

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Man Ray
Cadeau (Gift)
1921 reconstructed 1970
Iron with brass tacks and wooden base
19.0 x 14.9 x 14.9 cm (overall); iron & base: 17.9 x 14.9 x 14.9 cm; glass cover: 19.0 cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

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Marcel Duchamp. 'Bicycle wheel' (detail) 1913 reconstructed 1964

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Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle wheel (detail) (with Dr Marcus Bunyan)
1913 reconstructed 1964
Painted wooden stool and bicycle wheel
Stool: 50.4 cm (h.); wheel: 64.8 cm (diam.); overall: 126.5 cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: © Joyce Evans

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Marcel Duchamp. 'Bicycle wheel' 1913 and 'Bottle dryer' 1914

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Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle wheel (detail)
1913 reconstructed 1964
Painted wooden stool and bicycle wheel
Stool: 50.4 cm (h.); wheel: 64.8 cm (diam.); overall: 126.5 cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Marcel Duchamp
Bottle dryer
1914 reconstructed 1964
Galvanised iron bottle dryer
65.0 x 44.0 x 43.0 cm (overall); base: 37.5 cm (diam.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Martin Creed
Work no. 88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball
1995
A4 paper, ed. 625/Unlimited
Approx. 2 in / 5.1 cm diameter
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London

Aleks Danko
Art stuffing
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on paper-stuffed hessian bag
75.0 x 58.0 x 30.0 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales – John Kaldor Family Collection

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Barry Humphries. 'Battle of the plate' 1958

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Barry Humphries
Battle of the plate
1958
Welded steel forks
28.5 x 87.0 x 26.5 cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of Barrett Reid 2000
Photo: © Joyce Evans

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Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (detail)

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (detail)

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (detail)

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Haim Steinbach
Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks) (details)
1990
Aluminium laminated wood shelf with glass display case and objects
150.0 x 150.0 x 62.0 cm (overall installed)
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992

Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992

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Tony Cragg
Spyrogyra
1992
Glass and steel
220.0 x 210.0 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992 (detail)

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Tony Cragg
Spyrogyra (detail)
1992
Glass and steel
220.0 x 210.0 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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“Arguably the most influential artistic development of the twentieth century, the readymade was set in motion one hundred years ago when Marcel Duchamp mounted an upturned bicycle wheel on a stool. Duchamp’s conversion of unadorned, everyday objects into fine art completely inverted how artistic practice was considered. Suddenly, art was capable of being everywhere and in everything. It was a revolutionary moment in modern art and the ripples from this epochal shift still resonate today.

Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century pays tribute to Duchamp’s innovation, including two key examples of his work: Bicycle wheel 1913 and Bottle dryer 1914. Other important historical works that MUMA has borrowed for the exhibition reveal the readymade’s presence in Minimalism and Conceptual art as well as its echoes in Pop art. The exhibition traces some of the ways the readymade has been reinterpreted by subsequent artists in acts of homage to Duchamp or further expanding the possibilities the readymade has unfurled.

Among the various trajectories of the readymade, Reinventing the Wheel traces its elaborations in neo-dada practices, with a particular focus on everyday and vernacular contexts; the mysterious and libidinous potential of sculptural objects; institutional critique and nominal modes of artistic value. These discursive contexts also provide a foundation to explore more recent tendencies related to unmonumental and social sculpture, post-Fordism and other concerns, particularly among contemporary Australian artists. Bringing together works by over forty artists – from Duchamp and Man Ray to Andy Warhol and Martin Creed, along with some of Australia’s leading practitioners – this is a one-of-a-kind salute to an idea that continues to define the very nature of contemporary art.

“This is the most ambitious exhibition that MUMA has yet presented, including works that establish the historical moment of the readymade in Europe and its reception in the USA and in Australia. Most exciting is the opportunity for living artists to see their work as part of this ongoing history,” said Charlotte Day, Director of MUMA.”

Press release from the MUMA website

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Joseph Kosuth. 'One and three tables' 1965

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Joseph Kosuth
One and three tables
1965
Wooden table, gelatin silver photograph, and photostat mounted on foamcore
Installation dimensions variable
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Julian-Dashper-Untitled-(The-Warriors)-WEB

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Julian Dashper
Untitled (The Warriors)
1998
Vinyl on drumheads, drum kit
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the Julian Dashper Estate and Michael Lett Auckland

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Masato Takasaka. 'Smile! Bauhaus babushka sundae boogie woogie (model for a prog rock SCULPTURE PARK)' (detail) 1999-2007/2013

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Masato Takasaka
Smile! Bauhaus babushka sundae boogie woogie (model for a prog rock SCULPTURE PARK) (detail)
1999-2007/2013
MDF, vinyl, marker on foamcore, soft drink cans, acrylic, paper notepad from Bauhaus Museum giftshop, plastic wrapper, cardboard, polycarbonate sheeting, marker on paper, Metallica babushka dolls, toy guitar, sundae keyring
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Masatotectures, Melbourne

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Jeff Koons. 'Balloon dog (Red)' 1995 designed

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Jeff Koons
Balloon dog (Red)
1995 designed
Porcelain, ed. 1113/2300
11.3 x 26.3 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Lou Hubbard. 'Stretch' 2007

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Lou Hubbard
Stretch
2007
Two ‘Studio K’ Planet lamps, fluorescent lights, MDF, acrylic paint and Perspex
108.3 x 251.8 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout, Melbourne

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Andrew Liversidge. 'IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE' 2009

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney

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Andrew-Liversidge-IN-MY-MIND-I-KNOW-b-WEB

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE (installation photograph)
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Joyce Evans

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Callum Morton. 'Mayor' 2013

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Callum Morton
Mayor
2013
Polyurethane resin, wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
290.0 x 200.0 x 26.0 cm
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection

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Claire Fontaine. 'La société du spectacle brickbat' 2006

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Claire Fontaine
La société du spectacle brickbat
2006
Bricks and brick fragments, laser impression
178.0 x 108.0 x 58.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

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Word History: The earliest sense of brickbat, first recorded in 1563, was “a piece of brick.” Such pieces of brick have not infrequently been thrown at others in the hope of injuring them; hence, the figurative brickbats (first recorded in 1929) that critics hurl at performances they dislike. The appearance of bat as the second part of this compound is explained by the fact that the word bat, “war club, cudgel,” developed in Middle English the sense “chunk, clod, wad,” and in the 16th century came to be used specifically for a piece of brick that was unbroken on one end.

1. A piece of brick or similar material, esp one used as a weapon
2. Blunt criticism the critic threw several brickbats at the singer

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

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

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website

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21
Dec
11

melbourne’s magnificent nine 2011

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Here’s my pick of the nine best exhibitions in Melbourne (with excursions to Bendigo and Hobart thrown in) that appeared on the Art Blart blog in 2011. Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs at Australian Galleries, Melbourne, March 2011

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Sidney Nolan
Untitled (calf carcass in tree)
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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This was a superb exhibition of 61 black and white photographs by Sidney Nolan. The photographs were shot using a medium format camera and are printed in square format from the original 1952 negatives.

The work itself was a joy to behold. The photographs hung together like a symphony, rising and falling, with shape emphasising aspects of form. The images flowed from one to another. The formal composition of the mummified carcasses was exemplary, the resurrected animals (a horse, for example, propped up on a fifth leg) and emaciated corpses like contemporary sculpture. The handling of the tenuous aspects of human existence in this uniquely Australian landscape wass also a joy to behold. Through an intimate understanding of how to tension the space between objects within the frame Nolan’s seemingly simple but complex photographs of the landscape are previsualised by the artist in the mind’s eye before he even puts the camera to his face.

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2/ Bill Henson at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, March – April 2011

This was an exquisite exhibition by one of Australia’s preeminent artists. Like Glenn Gould playing a Bach fugue, Bill Henson is grand master in the performance of narrative, structure, composition, light and atmosphere. The exhibition featured thirteen large colour photographs printed on lustre paper (twelve horizontal and one vertical) – nine figurative of adolescent females, two of crowd scenes in front of Rembrandt paintings in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (including the stunning photograph that features ‘The return of the prodigal son’ c. 1662 in the background, see below) and two landscapes taken off the coast of Italy. What a journey this exhibition took you on!

Henson’s photographs have been said by many to be haunting but his images are more haunted than haunting. There is an indescribable element to them (be it the pain of personal suffering, the longing for release, the yearning for lost youth or an understanding of the deprecations of age), a mesmeric quality that is not easily forgotten. The photographs form a kind of afterimage that burns into your consciousness long after the exposure to the original image has ceased. Haunted or haunting they are unforgettable.

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Bill Henson
Untitled
2009/10
CL SH767 N17B
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
Edition of 5

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3/ Networks (cells & silos) at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield, February – April 2011

This was a vibrant and eclectic exhibition at MUMA, one of the best this year in Melbourne. The curator Geraldine Barlow gathered together some impressive, engaging works that were set off to good effect in the new gallery spaces. I spent a long and happy time wandering around the exhibition and came away visually satiated and intellectually stimulated. The exhibition explored “the connections between artistic representation of networks; patterns and structures found in nature; and the rapidly evolving field of network science, communications and human relations.”

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Installation photograph of one of the galleries in the exhibition NETWORKS (cells & silos) at the newly opened Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with Nick Mangan’s Colony (2005) in the foreground

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4/ Monika Tichacek, To all my relations at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Richmond, May 2011

This was a stupendous exhibition by Monika Tichacek, at Karen Woodbury Gallery. One of the highlights of the year, this was a definite must see!

The work was glorious in it’s detail, a sensual and visual delight (make sure you click on the photographs to see the close up of the work!). The riotous, bacchanalian density of the work was balanced by a lyrical intimacy, the work exploring the life cycle and our relationship to the world in gouache, pencil & watercolour. Tichacek’s vibrant pink birds, small bugs, flowers and leaves have absolutely delicious colours. The layered and overlaid compositions show complete control by the artist: mottled, blotted, bark-like wings of butterflies meld into trees in a delicate metamorphosis; insects are blurred becoming one with the structure of flowers in a controlled effusion of life.

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Monika Tichacek
To all my relations (detail)
2011

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5/ American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House at Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, April – July 2011

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6)
1971

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This was a fabulous survey exhibition of the great artists of 20th century American photography, a rare chance in Australia to see such a large selection of vintage prints from some of the masters of photography. If you had a real interest in the history of photography then you hopefully saw this exhibition, showing as it is just a short hour and a half drive (or train ride) from Melbourne at Bendigo Art Gallery.

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6/ Time Machine: Sue Ford at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Victoria, April – June 2011

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Sue Ford (1943–2009)
Self-portrait 1976
1976
from the series Self-portrait with camera (1960–2006)
selenium toned gelatin silver print, printed 2011
24 x 18 cm
courtesy Sue Ford Archive

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This beautifully hung exhibition flowed like music, interweaving up and down, the photographs framed in thin, black wood frames. It featured examples of Ford’s black and white fashion and street photography; a selection of work from the famous black and white Time series (being bought for their collection by the Art Gallery of New South Wales); a selection of Photographs of Women – modern prints from the Sue Ford archive that are wonderfully composed photographs with deep blacks that portray strong, independent, vulnerable, joyous women (see last four photographs below); and the most interesting work in the exhibition, the posthumous new series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) that evidence, through a 47 part investigation using colour prints from Polaroids, silver gelatin prints printed by the artist, prints made from original negatives and prints from scanned images where there was no negative available, a self-portrait of the artist in the process of ageing.

Whether looking down, looking toward or looking inward these fantastic photographs show a strong, independent women with a vital mind, an élan vital, a critical self-organisation and an understanding of the morphogenesis of things that will engage us for years to come. Essential looking.

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7/ The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, August 2011

My analogy: you are standing in the half-dark, your chest open, squeezing the beating heart with blood coursing between your fingers while the other hand is up your backside playing with your prostrate gland. I think ringmeister David Walsh would approve. My best friends analogy: a cross between a car park, night club, sex sauna and art gallery.

Weeks later I am still thinking about the wonderful immersive, sensory experience that is MONA. Peter Timms in an insightful article in Meanjin calls it a post-Google Wunderkammer, or wonder chest. It can be seen as a mirabilia – a non-historic installation designed primarily to delight, surprise and in this case shock. The body, sex, death and mortality are hot topics in the cultural arena and Walsh’s collection covers all bases. The collection and its display are variously hedonistic, voyeuristic, narcissistic, fetishistic pieces of theatre subsumed within the body of the spectacular museum architecture …

Spectatorship and their attendant erotics has MONA as a form of fetishistic cinema. It is as if what Barthes calls “the eroticism of place” were a modern equivalent of the eighteenth century genius loci, the “genius of the place.” The place is spectacular, the private collection writ large as public institution, the symbolic power of the institution masked through its edifice. The art become autonomous, cut free from its cultural associations, transnational, globalised, experienced through kinaesthetic means; the viewer meandering through the galleries, the anti-museum, as an international flaneur. Go. Experience!

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Corten Stairwell & Surrounding Artworks
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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8/ John Bodin: Rite of Passage at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond, August – September 2011

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John Bodin
I Was Far Away From Home
2009
Type C print on metallic paper
80 x 110cm

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The photographs become the surface of the body, stitched together with lines, markers pointing the way – they are encounters with the things that we see before us but also the things that we carry inside of us. It is the interchange between these two things, how one modulates and informs the other. It is this engagement that holds our attention: the dappled light, ambiguity, unevenness, the winding path that floats and bobs before our eyes looking back at us, as we observe and are observed by the body of these landscapes.

One of the fundamental qualities of the photographs is that they escape our attempts to rationalize them and make them part of our understanding of the world, to quantify our existence in terms of materiality. I have an intimate feeling with regard to these sites of engagement. They are both once familiar and unfamiliar to us; they possess a sense of nowhereness. A sense of groundlessness and groundedness. A collapsing of near and far, looking down, looking along, a collapsing of the constructed world.

Like the road in these photographs there is no self just an infinite time that has no beginning and no end. The time before my birth, the time after my death. We are just in the world, just being somewhere. Life is just a temporary structure on the road from order to disorder. “The road is life,” writes Jack Kerouac in On the Road.

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9/ Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield, August – October 2011

Simply put, this was one of the best exhibitions I saw in Melbourne this year.

I had a spiritual experience with this work for the paintings promote in the human a state of grace. The non-material, the unconceptualizable, things which are outside all possibility of time and space are made visible. This happens very rarely but when it does you remember, eternally, the time and space of occurrence. I hope you had the same experience.

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Juan Davila
Wilderness
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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10/ In camera and in public at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, September – October 2011

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Kohei Yoshiyuki
Untitled
1971
From the series The Park
Gelatin Silver Print
© Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

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Curated by Naomi Cass as part of the Melbourne Festival, this was a brilliant exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne. The exhibition explored, “the fraught relationship between the camera and the subject: where the image is stolen, candid or where the unspoken contract between photographer and subject is broken in some way – sometimes to make art, sometimes to do something malevolent.” It examined the promiscuity of gazes in public/private space specifically looking at surveillance, voyeurism, desire, scopophilia, secret photography and self-reflexivity. It investigated the camera and its moral and physical relationship to the unsuspecting subject.

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11/ The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37 at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, November 2011 – March 2012

This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

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Albert Renger-Patzsch
Harbour with crane
c.1927
gelatin silver photograph
printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983

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21
Sep
11

Exhibition: ‘Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield

Exhibition dates: 4th August – 1st October 2011

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“The ‘Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ exhibition is a tour of the various approaches to the landscape: ‘plein air’ painting, studio landscape work, sublime landscape, historical evocation of landscape, modernity and the landscape, natural disaster, childhood memory of a landscape, woman in the wilderness. The ‘After Image’ works seem to refer to fantasies, inner space, unnameable objects, microcosm and immense space. Within the representation of “the land” one easily forgets that we are dealing with complexity and a field of projections. The political, the sublime, the moral stance, corporate destruction and the future of our environment come to mind.”

Juan Davila 1

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“In a state of grace, one sometimes perceives the deep beauty, hitherto unattainable, of another person. And everything acquires a kind of halo which is not imaginary: it comes from the splendour of the almost mathematical light emanating from people and things. One starts to feel that everything in existence – whether people or things – breathes and exhales the subtle light of energy. The world’s truth is impalpable.”

Clarice Lispector 2

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Simply put, this is the best exhibition I have seen in Melbourne this year.

Feminine jouissance is critical to an understanding of the work of Juan Davila (see quotation below). It is the jouissance of the Other: ineffable, incapable of being expressed, indescribable, unutterable. Also critical is an understanding of the meaning of ‘wilderness’ and ‘after image’.

Wilderness “is a relative term suggesting the perspective of a visitor or interloper for whom the landscape is wild and Other – for the landscape was neither wild nor foreign to its original inhabitants, at least not until its transformation through colonising, farming and displacement.”“An after image … is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”4

The most powerful works are the Wilderness and After Image paintings. Grouped together in a room at the far end of the gallery, the effect of these paintings is to be physically surrounded by the nebula of the unconscious mind. The feeling is not dissimilar to being consumed by the abstract, elemental quality of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at the Orangerie in Paris. Pair to more earthly landscapes (see images 2 and 3 below) the paintings are the closest experience in approaching the divine that I have felt in a long time. Their visual and noumenal ‘energy’ is superlative.

Robert Nelson observes that, “The after-image is a momentary body-memory – not intellectual but bizarrely willed – perhaps a bit like the recollection of a dream or the instant slip that uncannily reveals the unconscious. In monumentalising this trace, Davila delivers us to another ethereal zone: the breath of libido, buffeted by clouds of repression and misty internalised myths. As portraits of evanescent memory, they are wantonly memorable.”5

Indeed, they are memorable. I had a spiritual experience with this work for the paintings promote in the human a state of grace. The non-material, the unconceptualizable, things which are outside all possibility of time and space are made visible. This happens very rarely but when it does you remember, eternally, the time and space of occurrence. I hope you have the same experience.

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

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“The term jouissance, in French, denotes “pleasure” or “enjoyment.” The term has a sexual connotation (i.e., orgasm) lacking in the English word “enjoyment”, and is therefore left untranslated in English editions of the works of Jacques Lacan. In his Seminar “The Ethics of Psychoanalysis” (1959–1960) Lacan develops his concept of the opposition of jouissance and pleasure. The pleasure principle, according to Lacan, functions as a limit to enjoyment: it is the law that commands the subject to ‘enjoy as little as possible’. At the same time the subject constantly attempts to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go beyond the pleasure principle. Yet the result of transgressing the pleasure principle, according to Lacan, is not more pleasure but pain, since there is only a certain amount of pleasure that the subject can bear. Beyond this limit, pleasure becomes pain, and this ‘painful principle’ is what Lacan calls jouissance.

In his Seminar “Encore” (1972–1973) Lacan states that jouissance is essentially phallic. That is, insofar as jouissance is sexual it is phallic, meaning that it does not relate to the Other as such. Lacan admits, however, that there is a specifically feminine jouissance, a supplementary jouissance, which is beyond the phallus, a jouissance of the Other. This feminine jouissance is ineffable, for both women and men may experience it but know nothing about it.”6

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Juan Davila
Wilderness
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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Juan Davila
A Man is Born Without Fear
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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Juan Davila
After Image. A Man is Born Without Fear
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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Juan Davila
Churchill National Park
2009
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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“The Moral Meaning of Wilderness features recent work by Juan Davila, one of Australia’s most distinguished artists. The exhibition sees Davila turn to the genres of landscape and history painting, at a time when the environment is as much a political as a cultural consideration. With technical virtuosity, Davila’s striking representations of nature achieve monumental significance, depicting beauty and emotion while addressing modern society’s ambivalence to nature and increasing consumerism.

The Moral Meaning of Wilderness represents a radical shift in Davila’s practice, whilst continuing to explore art’s relationship to nature, politics, identity and subjectivity in our post-industrial age. Davila pursues his exploration of the role of art as a means of social, cultural and political analysis.

While many contemporary artists turned away from representation of the landscape, due to its perceived allegiance to outmoded forms of national identity and representation, Davila has recently sought to revisit and reconsider our surroundings au natural.

His paintings are, at first view, striking representations of nature. The paintings, created since 2003, are undertaken en plain air, a pre-modern technique based on speed of execution in situ, and the use of large scale canvases characteristic of history painting. He has also employed other techniques such as studio painting and representations of the landscape with reference to the sublime, the historical, memory and modernity.”

Text from the MUMA website

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Juan Davila
The Painter’s Studio
2006
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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Juan Davila
761 Wattletree Road
2008
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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Juan Davila
What About my Desire?
2009
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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Juan Davila
Australia: Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground
2007
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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1. Davila, Juan quoted in “After Image: A conversation between Juan Davila and Kate Briggs,” in Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness catalogue. Canberra: ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2011, p.53.

2. Lispector, Clarice. Discovering the World. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992, p.122 quoted in Briggs, Kate. “Painting, an act of faith: Moments in the work of Juan Davila,” in Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness catalogue. Canberra: ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2011, p.8.

3. Delany, Max. Introductory speech for “Contemporary Visions & Critiques of the Landscape.” Video of session. The Festival of Ideas, The Pursuit of Identity: Landscape, History and Genetics. The University of Melbourne [Online] Cited 21/09/2011.
http://ideas.unimelb.edu.au/events/contemporary-visions-and-critiques-of-the-landscape

4. Anon. “Afterimage” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterimage

5. Nelson, Robert. “Exhibition does not take air lightly,” in The Age newspaper. Wednesday, September 21st, 2011, p.17.

6. Anon. “Jouissance” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jouissance

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

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

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website

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03
Apr
11

Review: ‘NETWORKS (cells & silos)’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield

Exhibition dates: 1st February – 16th April 2011

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This is a vibrant and eclectic exhibition at MUMA, one of the best this year in Melbourne. The curator Geraldine Barlow has gathered together some impressive, engaging works that are set off to good effect in the new gallery spaces. I spent a long and happy time wandering around the exhibition and came away visually satiated and intellectually stimulated.

The exhibition “explores the connections between artistic representation of networks; patterns and structures found in nature; and the rapidly evolving field of network science, communications and human relations.” (text from MUMA)

Networks connect – they describe (abstract) connections between people and things. Networks map simple or complex systems and can be real or an abstract representation of those systems. Networks form a nexus, “a sort of concentrated nodal point among a series of chains of markers” that reveals the centralising structure of networks (such as Facebook and Google). Robert Nelson in his review of this exhibition in The Age notes, “Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter [in their catalogue essay] describe the way networks paradoxically disorganise you, creating a disempowering messy grid of protocols that colonise your headspace … It’s commonplace to celebrate networks because they stimulate excitement about belonging, about extending your reach and joining in. These hopes are as pervasive as the networks themselves. But in structural terms, networks are also insidiously colonising and hierarchical, built on the principle of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming more dependent.”1

I believe that networks can also be altruistic and non-heirarchical, offering a horizontal consciousness rather than a vertical one: points of view and perspectives on the world that open up these (virtual) spaces to fluidity, mutation, transgression and subversion. Catherine Lumby observes that,

“The contradictory, constantly shifting nature of contemporary information and image flows tends to erode the moral authority of any social order, patriarchal or otherwise. It is this very collapse which has arguably fuelled social revolutions such as feminism and gay and lesbian rights, but which equally disrupts attempts by some to ground them in identity politics.“2

Critical to understanding the construction of these constantly shifting networks in contemporary society are the concepts of weaving and intertexuality. Intertextuality is the concept that texts do not live in isolation, “caught up as they are in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network… Its unity is variable and relative’ (Foucault, 1973)”3. In other words the network is decentred and multiple allowing the possibility of transgressive texts or the construction of a work of art through the techniques of assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari) – a form of fluid, associative networking that is now the general condition of art production.4

Infection of the network (by viruses for example) disrupts the pattern/randomness binary and may lead to mutations, ‘differance’ in Derrida’s terminology, spaces that are both fluid and fixed at one and the same time; neither here nor there.

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On to (some of) the work.

Masato Takasaka’s series of fibre-tipped pen and pencil on paper, ‘Information Superhighway’ (2006-07), are wonderful, kaleidoscopic works – inventive and fun, full of rhizomic, multi-layered dimensionality. Nick Mangan’s mixed media sculpture ‘Colony’ (2005, see photograph below) is a spiky, totemic, figurative creature made of axe, shovel and hammer handles and riddled with holes like driftwood that looks like a bizarre, Medieval torture instrument.

Bryan Spiers paintings ‘Shadowmath’ and ‘New descending’ (both 2010, see photograph below) are excellent, puzzle-like reinterpretations of delicate, Futuristic movements. As he describes them, “I think of my paintings as puzzles or visual toys. They are images to be manipulated by the viewer; reconfigured, recomposed, expanded upon. Trajectories of change are implied by repeated shapes and graded colour transitions. They describe a continuum to be followed to its logical conclusion outside of the picture plane. This leads to the dissolution of the image, proposing new images yet to be made.”

Heath Bunting’s 3 panel work from ‘The Status project’ (all 2010) features interrelated data sets that reach a “level of absurdity in attempting to relate radically different but inter-related information.” This mind mapping schematic of connections (coloured connections with labels, markers and legends) based around Bristol, England has some unbelievable entries if you look really closely:

  • A1072 Able to provide natural person date of birth 2010
  • A1073 Able to access the Internet
  • A1003 A terrorist
  • A1047 Providing instruction or training in the use of imaginary firearms such as sticks
  • A1088 Providing training in leopard crawling

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Aaron Koblin’s beautiful video ‘Flight patterns’ (2010) offers a mapping of thousands of plane journeys across the USA over time (based on East Coast time) so that the explosion of their frequency becomes like a fireworks display. Andrew McQulater’s fantastic acrylic paint wall drawings ‘Three propositions, one example’ (2010-11), painted directly onto the gallery wall show various people, isolated from each other and from the viewer, talking and listening to their iPhones. As Robert Nelson comments, “They’re isolated individuals, all on their own plane, presumably doing social networking or communicating. If you walked past them, they wouldn’t respond because, with heads bowed, they’re absorbed in another reality. Their hands and minds are busy with a reality elsewhere.”

Present but not present, (not) here and there at the same time. This is a critical debate in contemporary culture: do these type of networks lessen our ability to build friendships and connections in the real world or are they just another element in our rhizomic network of associations that help with our interconnectivity: utopian or dystopian or equal measure of both? Does it really matter?

From the UK Kit Wise’s large digital print on aluminium series (including ‘KTM SEA MOW RUH’ 2010, see below) are effective, offering soliarized, negative, brightly coloured collages of seemingly atomised cities (the titles refer to the cities airport abbreviation codes). ‘Mass Ornament’ (2009) by American artist Natalie Bookchin is one of my favourite works in the exhibition. In a horizontal panel of wall mounted screens play videos of people dancing in their bedroom. Bookchin has gleaned these gems from uploaded personal videos on YouTube – there are handstands, contortions, tap dancing, all manner of performances (some then deleted by the performer) – then collated by the artist and set to a Broadway-type music number. Mesmeric and amazing!

Koji Ryui’s spatial constructions ‘Extended network towards the happy end of the universe’ (2007-11, see photograph below) are made of bendy, plastic drinking straws of different colours, encased and moulded into cellular shapes (reminding me of the white of the Melbourne Recital Centre exterior). Trailing off these structures in different colours are airborne-like filaments similar to the plant Old Man’s Beard. “Ryui repeats and arranges these objects in space to create peculiar environments and accidental narratives. In his installations, relationships or spaces between objects are equally as important as the objects themselves.” Wonderful.

Last but not least my favourite work in the exhibition: ‘heart of the air you can hear’ by Sandra Selig (2011, see photographs below). The photographs do not do the work justice. Made simply from spun polyester, nails and paint this Spirograph-like construction is beautiful in its resonance and colour, captivating in its complexity. Built into a corner of the gallery the work floats at eye level, twists and turns and changes intensity of colour when viewed from different angles. From the front it looks like a spaceship out of Star Wars woven by light!

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There are many other excellent works in the exhibition that I have not mentioned. Some of the work disrupts the continual reiteration of norms by weaving a lack of fixity into the network’s existence. Other work visually makes comment on and reinforces the structure of such networks. Whichever it is this is a truly engaging exhibition that no single body, let alone a networked one, should miss.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Monash University Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Installation photograph of one of the galleries in the exhibition ‘NETWORKS (cells & silos)’ at the newly opened Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with Nick Mangan’s ‘Colony’ (2005) in the foreground

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Kerrie Poliness
‘Blue Wall Drawing #1’
2007-11

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Hilarie Mais
‘The waiting – anon’
1986

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An interview with the curator: Geraldine Barlow

Where did your interest in networks come from?

I’ve long been fascinated by network maps of human relationships – the graphical representation of something seemingly so complex and multi-layered. The structure of the brain and how this relates to theories of mind is also an area of personal interest. Our society, bodies and relationships are all made up of different kinds of networks, and artists have long been interested in mapping out these structures. I realised some time ago that the visual representation of networks might make for an interesting exhibition, from this point on I collected and ‘tested’ different ideas of what the exhibition might include.

How is this explored in the exhibition?

Human relationships feature in some of the works in the exhibition, but not all. I hope the exhibition offers a wide variety of links between people’s familiar world and daily experiences on the one hand, and more abstract ideas on the other.

There are a number of works from the Monash University Collection included in the exhibition. Can you tell us about these and why you selected them?

The Monash University Collection is a great source of inspiration, it is a wonderful collection, but also, I think any artwork considered closely and over time opens up in surprising ways and offers unexpected insights, working with the works in the collection over a period of years allows me to think about them in a long and slow way.

Dorothy Braund’s work Christ with the disciples listening 1966 was given to the University in 1974. It is a very beautiful formal painting of a series of shaded circles and ellipses. At first glance it is simple and seems to represent a ring of figures, their heads and bodies gathered together. On closer examination it is not so clear where one figure ends and another begins, as a whole the clustered forms seem to operate more like a cell. Historically this cell of men and the ideas attributed to them has had a profound impact, in their day they might have been seen as a kind of terrorist cell.

Through the sensitive composition and balance of abstract form, the artist has created a complex representation of the relationships between people: the ways in which we are both connected to each other, and yet might also circulate ideas in a tight ‘Chinese whispers’ type circle. This work was painted in 1966, long before our current awareness of social and telecommunications networks, but it can still offer us insights in our contemporary world and the way we relate to each other.

How did the new gallery space affect the installation of the exhibition?

The exhibition was slowly forming in my mind, even as Kerstin Thompson’s wonderful gallery space was being designed and built. The gallery has offered a wonderful armature and character for the exhibition to work with, hopefully in the manner of a conversation. Kerstin was been very interested in understand and reflecting the essential structure of the building, not building over what was pre-existing. The exhibition like-wise has an interest in structural models, geometries and patterns – in finding a balance between the regular and the slightly warped. In the central corridor which runs down the spine of the gallery, Thompson has chosen to leave the mechanical services exposed, to allow the essential structure of the building to be a form of ornament. Many of the artists in the exhibition also have an interest in the relationship between structure and ornament.

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Sandra Selig
‘heart of the air you can hear’
2011

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Sandra Selig
‘heart of the air you can hear’ (detail)
2011

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Koji Ryui
‘Extended network towards the happy end of the universe’
2007-11

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The connections between artistic representations of networks and the rapidly evolving field of network science are the subject of the latest exhibition at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA).

Presenting the work of Australian and international artists, NETWORKS (cells & silos) reflects the organising principles and dynamics of our increasingly networked society, and related patterns found in organic, social and engineered forms.

MUMA’s Senior Curator, Geraldine Barlow conceived and developed the exhibition as a way of continuing the dialogue about the role and effect of different networks in society.

Art and aesthetics are often treated as very separate enclaves from science, physics and mathematics,” Barlow says. “But art offers us a way to re- contextualise our associations and interactions with the networks around us and look at the effect they have on us. I hope the exhibition will prompt people to think about the networks in their lives and how they mould and shape us.”

A key inspiration for the exhibition was Annamaria Tallas’ documentary, How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer, which features the work of network scientist Albert-László Barabási.

“The documentary explores the thesis that all networks – both natural and man-made – conform to a similar mathematical formula, with the same patterns emerging over and again,” Barlow said.

The artworks featured in NETWORKS (cells & silos) explore networks as diverse as those found in urban planning and cities, biology, organisations, travel and of course social networks, as well as the dual qualities of hyper-connectedness and isolation that technology has heightened in modern life.

Extending the dialogue about the possibilities of networks is of great interest to MUMA Director, Max Delany, particularly in the university context.

“Within a university we have a vast array of specialist disciplines – science, technology, humanities – all having conversations about how the world is and where we want to be heading,” Delany says. “Often these conversations are held in isolation from each other, but considered together, and from the standpoint of artists, the possibilities of collaborative networks become very exciting.”

This collaboration can be seen in Kerrie Poliness’ work Blue Wall Drawing #1 (2007/2011). Students from Monash University have created the piece, following the formal and conceptual guidelines set out by the artist. Each version of Poliness’ work creates unique patterns and networks as the collaborative team choose how to implement the drawing rules which are structured to allow a different outcome in each space where they are applied.

The exhibition’s accompanying publication contains essays from curator Geraldine Barlow, network and social theorists Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, and science documentary filmmaker Annamaria Tallas, all exploring the exhibition’s theme. Digital and hard copies are available on request.”

Press release from the Monash University Museum of Art

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Bryan Spier
‘Shadowmath’ and ‘New descending’
both 2010

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Kit Wise
‘KTM SEA MOW RUH’
2010
Digital photograph

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1. Nelson, Robert. “Networks, Cells and Silos” review in The Age newspaper. Melbourne: Fairfax Media, 23/02/2011 [Online] Cited 23/03/2011. www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/networks-cells-and-silos-20110222-1b3zn.html

2. Lumby, Catharine. “Nothing Personal: Sex, Gender and Identity in The Media Age,” in Matthews, Jill (ed.,). Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997, pp. 14-15.

3. Foucault, Michel cited in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 01/04/2011 www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm

4. “To understand the production of art at the end of tradition, which in our lifetime means art at the end of modernism, requires, as the postmodern debate has shown, a careful consideration of the idea of history and the notion of ending. Rather than just thinking ending as the arrival of the finality of a fixed chronological moment, it can also be thought as a slow and indecisive process of internal decomposition that leaves in place numerous deposits of us, in us and with us – all with a considerable and complex afterlife. In this context all figuration is prefigured. This is to say that the design element of the production of a work of art, the compositional, now exists prior to the management of form of, and on, the picture plane. Techniques of assemblage, like montage and collage – which not only juxtaposed different aesthetics but also different historical moments, were the precursors of what is now the general condition of production.”

Fry, Tony. “Art Byting the Dust,” in Hayward, Phillip. Culture, Technology and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century. London: John Libbey and Company, 1990, pp.169-170.

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

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

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website

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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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