Posts Tagged ‘Tolarno Galleries

27
Apr
14

Review: ‘The Paper’ by Rosemary Laing at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th April 2014 – 3rd May 2014

 

I always look forward to new work by the incomparable Rosemary Laing with great anticipation. I have never been disappointed. This magnificent group of five images is no exception, one of the photographic highlights so far this year in Melbourne.

These large, Type-C analogue landscape format photographs feature decomposing newspapers literally (being words) carpeting the forest floor. These site-specific interventions feature no digital manipulation and, as the erudite catalogue essay by George Alexander observes below, investigate the replacement of our daily newspaper by online information bytes, “the graphic graphic newsprint breaking down like typographic stew,”  the “transmigration of matter from one form to another,” “a meditation on time,” recycling, deforestation, information overload. These concepts build on earlier fragments from work by the artist (such as groundspeed2001) into something transformational, transnational and, even, otherworldly.

These entropic panoramas, which hang mysteriously between words and worlds, are indeed meditations on time and space. As Annette Hughes states,

“Laing’s pictorial space, like that of cinema, is generally art-directed, constructed, rehearsed, performed and shot in physical time and space, and though it could easily be Photoshopped these days, that’s not the point. The art object is only the end product of the making of these images. Being able to see the many human hours devoted to their execution is also a way of building duration back into the photograph.”1

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Here’s my tuppence worth on Laing’s new work.

This suite of photographs has a panoramic immersiveness. The viewer feels as though time has stood still when looking at these photographs, where the newspapers are analogous to snow upon the ground, imparting something of a dream-like existence to the images. There is a talismanic quality to the images, like a standing stone circle that is believed to have magic powers and cause good things to happen. And they are full of symbols, such as arrows, to mark the way (see The Paper, Wednesday, earlier, 2013, below).

These are not unquiet images, suspended midway between fantasy and reality, but (un)quiet images – a subtle but pivotal difference. They possess the quietness of the forest but also the isolation and loneliness. They are based on a harmonic instability, like a minor chord at the beginning of a Beethoven symphony, which is then eventually resolved in the major. These images are the journey of that resolution. The words, the flesh of the textural body, has been pulped: that immersive instability of the fecund body laying down in the soil of mother earth.

The viewer is disorientated. We have no idea where we are, the paper (the word and world) creating for the body this foggy, dream-like atmosphere. As in all of Laing’s work, there is an inquiring instability here, one that seeks the resolution of stability through the love of the human body and of our existence. I stand still before them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Hughes, Annette. “ABIGAIL SOLOMON-GODEAU Rosemary Laing,” Review on The Newtown Review of Books website 3th July 2012 [Online] Cited 27th April 2014

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

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Monday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Monday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 214 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Tuesday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Tuesday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 209 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Wednesday, earlier' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Wednesday, earlier
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 203 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

Rosemary Laing

The Paper

A forest is carpeted with truckloads of newspapers. A cacophony of printed voices layers the soil horizon of the ground. The former surface litter of loose and partly decayed organic matter is overlaid with pulped tree product. The 21st century cultural carpet of current events and mercenary babble is already time-lined by weathering, which is fast-tracking the decomposition of the worded pages. The graphic of newsprint is breaking down like typographic stew, falling apart like old lacework, dissolving like paint – it’s losing its imprint as fallen branches and leaves scatter over it. It seems to expect that over time it will disappear beneath what comes after, what fresh coats some future century will lay over it.

For this undertaking, Rosemary Laing located her activity among the woodlands of Bundanon, a casuarina forest peppered with eucalyptus and Burrawang. Located in the Shoalhaven of southern New South Wales, the site was originally the land of the Wodi Wodi people of the Yuin nation. Layered with subsequent occupations since the early 19th century, in 1993 the properties were gifted by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd and became the Bundanon Trust – a place for artists of all disciplines to work and a place for all people to draw inspiration.

Two unique opportunities here were made possible by the Trust to Rosemary Laing. The opportunity to develop and consider her actions unhindered by a time frame; together with access to the Bundanon collection of the influential gnarled ceramics that Arthur’s father Merric Boyd (1888-1959) made with their blue and green underglazes and swaying lines of treescapes on clay.

As it happened, while making this work, the place was inundated with floodwaters. Natural disaster has often enclosed her work, as in swanfires (2002-04), with its incinerated sheds and buildings, following bushfires in the Sussex Inlet area – also part of the Shoalhaven. Destruction sculpts and re-sculpts the world, and Laing joins the material cycle, the perpetual transmigration of matter from one form to another. A “terrible beauty”, as a friend remarked.

This series is called The Paper, for the daily newspaper – our long time companion and a primary fix for information of the world – that is swiftly being superseded by the new material technologies of our times. If the overwhelming flood of data and culture and spin is hitting us with some 500,000 discrete bits of information at any time, then we may be faced with inabilities to absorb that Total Noise. We probably missed the 25 bits that were important. The latest innovations of the Infosphere replay confections of overstimulation and boredom, sugar-hits of overload followed by emotional numbness.

Yet the covering of the ground that we saw in 2001 with groundspeed – not far geographically from this site – isn’t the same as here in the series The Paper. The point of loungeroom carpets in groundspeed was as an index of the latecomer’s sense of belonging. A kind of comfort zone for the non-indigenous, bridging old world and new. The carpeting this time – as she writes in her notes – “seems to be composting the present as a past about to happen; taking a once-upon- a-time not-that-long-ago standard as the ground-amendment-of- tomorrow already.” It is, among other things, a meditation on time.

Every new presentation of Laing’s work is also a running commentary on her previous corpus of work. The Paper explores themes touched upon in – Natural Disasters (1988), groundspeed (2001) with its patterned loungeroom carpets out in the ‘wild’ and in 2006, weather with its cyclone of newspaper shreds – while constantly replenishing what had remained surplus to that work. And this compost of earlier fragments, that are dismembered and scattered and gathered again, expands her material formation on this site.

From top to bottom the planet is being transfigured. Something essential is changing now and forever. The “global” has become everyone’s “local”. The human race is going through things it has never experienced before – as we are forced to join the caravan of this moment in time.

Hellish or heavenly? Promised Land or Wasteland? Take your pick. You do get the sense – with the dramatic shiny green of the ancient Burrrawang palms scattered about – of human impermanence against the bedrock temporal dimensions of the primitive Gondawan rainforest margins. As anyone who has spent time slogging through genuine bushland, and sensing the century’s long pulse of trees: we’ve fallen out of tune with the eternal present of the animal world, we’ve fallen into Time with its past and future, the chopped-up time of daily newspapers.

Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones … wrote Shakespeare (As You Like It, 2.1). The quote recalls the medieval idea of the Book of Nature that we are here to read, whose infinite pages unfold enormous landscapes: some see good, some evil, some both, some neither. Laing’s art takes root in a fissure, in that crack in the covenant between word and world, and the historical moment is right: we are in the age of the “trans-book” with the rise of the Kindle and iGoogle, and with it the end of newspapers, the demise of print and the retrenchment of journalists.

So as you enter the space, walk around the room with the suite of images – named for the days of the week – there’s an entropic feel with their grubby matte and muted beauty. Underfoot, things fall apart, the riggings of the page disintegrate into tissue, print naturalizes into leaf mould, and words on paper are composted back into wood pulp and waste slurry. Accordingly, to make the images this time around, she put her dalliances with digital cameras and print-output machines aside, in favour of analogue, for all the lovely limitations and imperfections of light on cellulose triacetate, and the physical shadings of Laing’s printer in the darkroom.

The curving earth is a body, and these lacework landscapes show off the marks of aging. The woods are a damp chamber, with a thick carpet of newspapers, and many doors open to the wind and faraway light. The images enclose you in brushwork of soft jade while the soggy colours of disintegration make time tangible.

There’s nothing said about the world here (recycling, deforestation, information overload) that you couldn’t find more reliably elsewhere. It’s rather Laing’s process of invention, through the hinterlands of her material imagination, that communicates her unexpected vision, tells her story of an imagined afterwards of along-the-way. There’s a stand of trees in these pictures still growing inside the shellacking and composting of our times.

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George Alexander
September 2013

Published with permission

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Wednesday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Wednesday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 197.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Thursday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Thursday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 207 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Friday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Friday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 196.3 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm
Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

Tolarno Galleries 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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23
Aug
11

Exhibition: ‘Patricia Piccinini: The Fitzroy Series’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th August – 4th September 2011

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A wonderful suite of photographs by Patricia Piccinini. When you see them “in the flesh” so to speak, five out of the six works (except for the last image below, Sitting Room, 2.30pm) are suffused with a beautiful, rich, dark honey-coloured light, even more so than the reproductions. This tonality adds to the romantic notion of the imaginary animals Piccinini creates – genetically modified, mutant child creatures and “Bottom Feeder” (for that is their name), rubbish scouring pets. The ordinariness of the environs that surround the mise-en-scènes supplements this feeling: books and bedrooms, workshops and sitting rooms allaying our fears, increasing our empathy. The humour is also delicious. Note the squirrel light in Bedroom, 10.30pm : inspired!

Of as much interest was Piccinini’s source material shown in the front gallery. I wrote most of the books, magazines and subjects of the photographs down because I was fascinated to see the inspiration for this artist:

  • Motorised chairs
  • Knots
  • Nests
  • American Native Indian hair (Edward S. Curtis)
  • Claws
  • Walruses
  • Skulls
  • Skeletons
  • Pupae
  • Scientific specimens
  • Birds covered in oil
  • Mammals of Australia
  • Darwin
  • Voyages of Discovery by Dr Tony Rice
  • Hiroshima Mon Amour by Marguerite Duras
  • Mag wheels
  • Big rigs (trucks)
  • Vespas
  • Custom cars and trucks
  • Morphed racing helmets
  • Photograph from Hitchcock’s The Birds
  • Braindead movie
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Newsweek: The Meaning of Michael (Jackson) July 13th, 2009
  • Rare breeds (sheep)
  • Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature by Donna Haraway
  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Macro/Hall by Erwin Wurm
  • Le Cere del Museo dell Instituto Fiorentino di Anatonia Patalogia deformatives

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Great work and a wonderful gesture by artist and galleries to support the Centre for Contemporary Photography.
NB. Please note the free artist floortalk at midday on August 27th at the CCP.

Many thankx to Karra Rees for her help and to the CCP for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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To mark Centre for Contemporary Photography’s 25th Anniversary Patricia Piccinini has made a new series of work, never seen before. Entitled The Fitzroy Series, the exhibition of Piccinini’s new body of work, accompanied by video work and a display of her source material, is the major event in the celebrations of CCP’s 25th Anniversary in 2011.

CCP is delighted to be offering this exciting new series for the CCP 25th Anniversary Limited Edition Print fundraiser, each image in the series is generously provided in a limited edition of 4 + 1AP.

Eighty percent of funds raised through Limited Edition Prints enable CCP to support the practice and presentation of contemporary photography through provision of exhibitions, publications, education and public programs, with the artist retaining twenty percent.

What: CCP 25th Anniversary Limited Edition Print
Price: $9,320 each framed by Neo Frames (inc. gst on frame)
The first 12 prints are available at the CCP fundraiser price of $9,320 each framed by Neo Frames (inc. GST on frame)
NB. Credit card purchases attract a 1.5% merchant fee.
Prints are accompanied by a signed, numbered certificate and are provided courtesy of the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.
Free Artist Floortalk: midday 27 August 2011

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Patricia Piccinini
Library, 8.45pm
2011
type C photograph
100 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.

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Patricia Piccinini
Alley, 11.15am
2011
type C photograph
100 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.

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Patricia Piccinini
Bedroom, 10.30pm
2011
type C photograph
100 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.

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Patricia Piccinini
Street, 3.10am
2011
type C photograph
100 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.

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Patricia Piccinini
Workshop, 7.00pm
2011
type C photograph
100 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.

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Patricia Piccinini
Sitting Room, 2.30pm
2011
type C photograph
100 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist; Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Haunch of Venison, New York.

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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20
Jul
11

Review: ‘Paradise’ by Brook Andrew at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th June – 30th July 2011

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Many thankx to Olivia Radonich for her help and to Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Images courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne. Photos by Christian Capurro.

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Brook Andrew ‘Paradise’ installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 1 (red)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28.5 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 2 (orange)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 34 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 3 (yellow)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28.5 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 4 (green)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
25 x 33.5 x 8 cm

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Brook Andrew
Paradise 5 (magenta)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
24.5 x 28 x 8

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This is a strong, refined photo-ethnographic exhibition by Brook Andrew at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne, one that holds the viewers attention, an exhibition that is witty and inventive if sometimes veering too closely to the simplistic and didactic in some works.

Rare postcards of Indigenous peoples and their colonising masters and surrounded by thick polished wood frames (the naturalness of the wood made smooth and perfect) and coloured neon lights that map out the captured identities, almost like a highlighting texta and forms of urban graffiti. This device is espcially effective in works such as ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ (both 2011, below) with their male and female neon forms, and ‘Flow Chart’ (2011, below) that references an anthropological map.

Other works such as ‘Monument 1’ (2011, below) lay the postcards into the rungs of a small step ladder covered in white paint that has echoes of the colonisers renovation of suburban homes and becomes a metaphor for the Indigenous peoples being stepped on, oppressed and downtrodden. In a particularly effective piece, ‘Monument 2’ (2011, below) the viewer stares down into a black box with multiple layers of neon that spell out the words ‘I see you’ in the Wiradjuri language: we can relate this work to Lacan’s story of the sardine can, where the point of view of the text makes us, the viewer, seem rather out of place in the picture, an alien in the landscape. The text has us in its sights making us uncomfortable in our position.

The work ‘Paradise’ (2011, six parts, above) can certainly be seen as paradise lost but the pairing of black/white/colour postcards is the most reductive of the whole exhibition vis a vis Indigenous peoples and the complex discourse involved in terms of oppression, exploitation, empowerment, identity, mining rights and land ownership. The two quotations below can be seen to be at opposite ends of the same axis in this discourse. My apologies for the long second quotation but it is important to understand the context of what Akiko Ono is talking about with regard to the production of Indigenous postcards.

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White… has the strange property of directing our attention to color while in the very same movement it exnominates itself as a color. For evidence of this we need look no further than to the expression “people of color,” for we know very well that this means “not White.” We know equally well that the color white is the higher power to which all colors of the spectrum are subsumed when equally combined: white is the sum totality of light, while black is the total absence of light. In this way elementary optical physics is recruited to the psychotic metaphysics of racism, in which White is “all” to Black’s “nothing”…”

Victor Burgin 1

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“In his study of Aboriginal photography, Peterson also looks at the dynamics of colonial power relations in which both European and Aboriginal subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other. Peterson in the main writes about two different contexts of the usage of photography of Aboriginal people

1. popular usage of photographs, especially in the form of postcards in the early twentieth century (Peterson 1985, 2005)

2. anthropologists’ ethnographic involvement with photography (Peterson 2003, 2006).

Regarding the first, Peterson depicts how the discourses of atypical (that is, disorganised) family structures and destitution among Aboriginal people were produced and interacted with the prevalent moral discourses of the time. He makes an important remark about the interactive dimensions that existed between the photographer and the Aboriginal subject. Hand-printed postcards in the same period showed much more positive images of Aboriginal people (Peterson 2005: 18–22). These were ‘real’ photographs taken by the photographers who had daily interactions with Aboriginal people…

Peterson gives greater attention to photographs taken by anthropologists for scientific purposes, and in this second context provides a more detailed treatment of his insight regarding the discrepancies between the colonisers’ discourse and the actual visual knowledge that photography offers…

These two contexts are not, of course, mutually exclusive. By dealing with image ethics and the changing photographic contract, Peterson (2003) shows the interlocking formations of popular image, anthropological knowledge and Aboriginal self-representation. In particular, it is important to remember that Aboriginal people have not always rejected collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the coloniser. Aboriginal people were not bothered by posing for photographers to produce images such as ‘naked’ Aboriginal men and women in formal pose, accompanied by an ‘unlikely combination’ of weapons (Peterson 2005); and at times complex negotiations occurred between the photographer and the photographed – resulting in both consent and refusal (Peterson 2003: 123–31).

These anecdotes suggest the necessity of unravelling the ‘lived’ dimensions of colonial and/or racial subjugation and resistance to that subjugation from the site of their occurrence …

Rather than scrutinising the authenticity of Aboriginality or taking it for granted that ethnographic photography is doomed to reproduce a colonial or anthropological power structure, it is more important to attend to the ‘instances in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms’, as Pratt (1992: 7, emphasis in the original) suggests. She proposes the term ‘autoethnography’ to refer to these instances: ‘If ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations’ (Pratt 1992).

Akiko Ono 2

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The work ‘Paradise’ buys into the first quotation in a big way, playing as it does with the idioms of black/white/colour. It can also be seen as a form of autoethnographic text that uses rare postcards to critique historical relations between peoples and cultures. What it does not do, I feel, is delve deeper to try to understand the “interlocking formations of popular image, anthropological knowledge and Aboriginal self-representation” and resistance to that subjugation from the site of their occurrence. As the quotation observes “Aboriginal people have not always rejected collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the coloniser” and it is important to understand how the disciplinary systems of the coloniser (the ethnographic documenting through photography) where turned on their head to empower Indigenous people who undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms. Nothing is ever just black and white. It is the interstitial spaces between that are always the most interesting.

In conclusion this an elegant exhibition of old and new, an autoethnographic text that seeks to address critical issues that look back at us and say – ‘I see you’.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Brook Andrew
Flow Chart
2011
Rare postcards, sapele and neon
283 x 449.5 x 8.5 cm

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Brook Andrew ‘Paradise’ installation at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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Brook Andrew
Men
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
82 x 264 x 12.5 cm

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Brook Andrew
Women
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
179 x 179 x 6 cm

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Brook Andrew
Women (detail)
2011
Rare postcards, sapele, and neon
179 x 179 x 6 cm

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“Tolarno Galleries is pleased to present Paradise, a major solo exhibition by Brook Andrew. Widely regarded as a multi-disciplinary artist, Brook Andrew’s Jumping Castle War Memorial was a highlight of the 17th Biennale of Sydney. Recently his major installation, Ancestral Worship 2010, was included in 21st Century: Art in the First Decade at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. His powerful new installation – Marks and Witness: A Lined crossing in Tribute to William Barak 2011 – was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria and is currently on display at Federation Square, Melbourne.

Paradise expands Brook Andrew’s interest in forgotten histories. His new works ask us to think about what has disappeared from our worlds, literally, and also from our consciousness. The exhibition features a number of assemblages made in neon and wood and incorporating rare postcards and photographs collected over many years. Men 2011 includes the original postcard that became the source for Sexy and Dangerous, Andrew’s iconic work of 1995.

Brook Andrew’s continuing search for curious portrait images from the 19th and early 20th century represents his fascination with the way the camera has documented a particular ‘colonial’ gaze and an interest in the exotic. Outlining or highlighting these images in glorious colored neon emphasizes this point.

However bright the neon, Brook Andrew’s works are characterized by a formal beauty and simplicity that explores conceptually complex ideas and themes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Monument 4, a ‘boomerang bar’ or Monument 2, a black lacquer box of neon containing the words ‘I see you’ in Wiradjuri. Gazing into this ‘well of words’ is like looking into infinity.

Brook Andrew’s work is held in every major collection in Australia. An important survey of his work: Brook Andrew Eye to Eye was presented by Monash University Museum of Art in 2007. In 2008 his work was showcased in Theme Park at AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in The Netherlands. Major publications accompanied both of these solo exhibitions.”

Press release from Tolarno Galleries

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Brook Andrew
Monument 2
2011
Black lacquer, wood, perspex, neon, mirror and wire
38 x 99 x 87 cm

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Brook Andrew
Monument 2 (detail)
2011
Black lacquer, wood, perspex, neon, mirror and wire
38 x 99 x 87 cm

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Brook Andrew
18 lives in Paradise
Single box detail
2011

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The basic unit used in 18 Lives in Paradise is a cardboard printed box 50 x 50 x 50 cm. The boxes are the building blocks for a sculpture, wall or any other structure. The box is also a parody of the courier box – those containers daily transported around the globe in the vast movement of lives and identities today. What was thought of as fixed may not be so.

The images are sourced from postcards. The postcards range from the early to mid-twentieth century and form part of a worldwide curiosity in indigenous people, circus acts and personalities, environment and resources … The images come together as an assemblage of ‘freaks’ and represent the collision paths of indigenous and non-indigenous cultures; those being documented out of curiosity and those belonging to dominant cultures who have used the land and its people for entertainment and wealth.

18 Lives in Paradise can form a column or wall. It can be a barrier, a beacon or epitaph. En masse, the boxes are a symbol of many lives whose identities are sometimes twisted for the gaze of the curious world.

Brook Andrew 2011

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Brook Andrew
Monument 1
2011
Black lacquer, are postcards, wood, mirror and metal
104.5 x 69.5 x 58 cm

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1. Burgin, Victor. In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, p.131.

2. Ono, Akiko. “Who Owns the ‘De-Aboriginalised’ Past? Ethnography meets photography: a case study of Bundjalung Pentecostalism,” in Musharbash, Yasmine and Barber, Marcus (eds.,). Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge: Essays in honour of Nicolas Peterson. The Australian National University E Press [Online] Cited 16/07/2011.

  • Peterson, N. 1998. “Welfare colonialism and citizenship: politics, economics and agency,” in N. Peterson and W. Sanders (eds), Citizenship and Indigenous Australians: Changing Conceptions and Possibilities, pp. 101-17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Peterson, N. 1999. “Hunter-gatherers in first world nation states: bringing anthropology home.” Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 23 (4): 847–61.
  • Peterson, N. 2003. “The changing photographic contract: Aborigines and image ethics,” in C. Pinney and N. Peterson (eds), Photography’s Other Histories, pp. 119–45. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Peterson, N. 2005. “Early 20th century photography of Australian Aboriginal families: illustration or evidence?” Visual Anthropology Review 21 (1–2): 11–26.
  • Peterson, N. 2006. “Visual knowledge: Spencer and Gillen’s use of photography in The Native Tribes of Central Australia.” Australian Aboriginal Studies (1): 12–22.
  • Pratt, M. L. 1992. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writings and Transculturation. London: Routledge.

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Footnote 1. Peterson has built up a collection of process-printed (that is, mass-produced) postcard images and hand-printed images dating from 1900 to 1920 (that is, real photographic postcards), over 20 years, during which time he obtained a copy every time he saw a new image. He feels confident that he has seen two-thirds of the process-printed picture postcards from the period although it is harder to estimate how many hand-printed images were circulating (Peterson 2005: 25n.3). He had a collection of 528 process-printed postcards (Peterson 2005: 25) and 272 hand-printed photographs (p. 18) by 2005.

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000
Website: www.tolarnogalleries.com

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm, Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

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17
Apr
11

Review: Bill Henson at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th March – 21st April 2011

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This is 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 features 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 takes you on!

Throughout his career Henson has carefully and thoughtfully mined the history of art to create personal mythologies that have wider universal implications. His work is a spiral feeding back into itself. As it ascends so it expands. His inquiry has been consistent and persuasive – themes and techniques that were evident in the very first photographs still appear many years later. For example, the very early photograph ‘Image No.9 from an Untitled sequence 1977’ (below) features a Mannerist-influenced elongated body, a form that appears in the latest exhibition in several of the works. Other influences have been, in early work, the Baroque (‘Untitled 1983/84′, below), Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro in the Paris Opera Project (‘Untitled 21/51’, below), the Pre-Raphaelite (used in most of his figurative work, especially in the faces, see below). In the current exhibition the influence of Caravaggio on the form of the body and the relationship between a work and Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Head of Christ’ (c. 1494-5, below) is evident as is the implementation of a flattened perspective that is opposed to the principles of linear perspective, used in Dutch still life of the 17th century (see ‘The Art of Describing’1) that Henson employed in early photographs of crowds (‘Untitled’ 1980/82, below) – now reappearing in the two photographs taken in front of the Rembrandt paintings.

Henson’s vulnerable bodies have always been marked, bruised and subject to distress, emerging into the light in fragments – unsure in their relationship to life, spirit and mortality. His naked adolescent subjects occupy interstitial spaces: the gap between spaces full of structure, between childhood and adulthood – fluid spaces of adventure, exploration and problematic transience. Using this metaphor the photographs invite the viewer to examine their own social identity for this is never fixed and stable, is always in a state of flux; we, the viewer, have an intimate relationship to this period in our life not as some distant memory but with a sense of wonder and appreciation.

The new photographs, with their languorous, limpid figures have a certain malaise to them – the distintegrating body, the surface of the skin all blotchy hues of blue, pink and purple as if diseased – are translucent like a chrysalis …. the inner light seeming to magically emerge from under the skin. As John McDonald in his excellent article (an essential read!) in The Age comments,

“The bodies of teenagers are transformed into living sculptures, infused with a slivery-blue sheen, every bruise and blemish captured in unsettling detail. Henson does not provide us with fantasy objects; he makes us feel how lonely it can be within our own skins. These are disturbing images but not because they feature naked adolescents. They are disturbing because they have the beauty of old master paintings or antique statuary but depict beings of flesh and blood. They are disturbing because they touch parts of the psyche we might prefer to avoid, stripping away the social self, leaving us as defenceless as a snail without its shell.”2

As McDonald notes, these bodies are more melancholy than erotic although they do possess, powerfully, that ability to image “the primeval deity who embodies not only the force of love but also the creative urge of ever-flowing nature, the firstborn Light for the coming into being and ordering of all things in the cosmos.”3 In this sense they emerge from darkness into the (dying of the) Light and possess a foreboding sense of death as well as elegiac sensuality: the placement of a hand, the hair of a person enveloped in darkness languidly resting on an exposed stomach, easily missed if not being attentive to the image.

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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Many thankx to Jan Minchin and Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the four photographs from the exhibition in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © the artist and Tolarno Galleries.

All photographs published other than the ones supplied by Tolarno Galleries are published under fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review (Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Acts: Copyright Act 1968 – Sect 41).

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Bill Henson
Image No.9 from an Untitled sequence 1977
1977

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Bill Henson
Untitled
1980/82
gelatin silver photograph
28 × 47cm

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David Bailly
Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols
c. 1651

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Bill Henson
Untitled 1983/84
1983 – 84 Triptych
Type C colour photograph
each 98.3 x 73.6 cm

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Bill Henson
Untitled 21/51
1990-91
Paris Opera Project
Type C photograph
127 × 127cm
Series of 50
Edition of 10 + 2 A/Ps

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Bill Henson
Untitled #125
2000/2003
LMO SH163 N15A
Type C photograph
127 × 180cm
Edition of 5 + 2 A/Ps

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Sir John Everett Millais
Ophelia
1851 – 52

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“Tolarno Galleries is pleased to present Bill Henson’s most recent body of work.

Comprising 13 photographs depicting glowing interiors, stunning landscapes and softly lit figures, this exhibition shows, as David Malouf declared in 1988, that ‘Bill Henson is a maker of magic.’

Henson’s spellbinding new works push photography into the realm of painting. His masterly compositions, captured at twilight, remind us of Caravaggio. Hauntingly beautiful, they express a palpable tenderness through subtle gestures and exquisite modulations of colour. Such photographs tell us why Bill Henson is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists.

Born in Melbourne, he had his first solo exhibition, at the age of 19, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1975. Since then he has exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally. In 1995 he represented Australia at the Venice Biennale with his celebrated series of cut-screen photographs.

In 2003 his work appeared in Strangers: The First ICP Triennial of Photography and Video at the International Center of Photography, New York.

A major survey of his work was held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria in 2005. This landmark exhibition attracted record visitor numbers for a contemporary art exhibition in Australia. The following year he exhibited a major body of work in Twilight: Photography in the magic Hour at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. ”

Press release from Tolarno Galleries

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Bill Henson
Untitled
2010/11
NH SH346 N10B
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
Edition of 5

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Bill Henson
Untitled
2009/10
CL SH733 N35B
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
Edition of 5

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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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Bill Henson
Untitled
2009/10
NH SH353 N33D
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
Edition of 5

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Leonardo da Vinci
Head of Christ
c. 1494 – 5

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1. See Alpers, Svetlana. The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century. University Of Chicago Press, 1984.

2. McDonald, John. “Bill Henson,” in The Age newspaper. April 9th 2011 [Online] Cited 17/04/2011.
www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/bill-henson

3. Anon. “Eros,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 17/04/2011. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eros

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000
Website: www.tolarnogalleries.com

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm, Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

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08
Mar
11

Review: ‘Rosemary Laing: leak’ at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 19th March 2011

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You have just got to love these!

A wonderful suite of five panoramic photographs, framed in white, inhabit the beautiful space of Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne. The photographs, different angles of the same bleached bone inverted skeleton of a house that was constructed by five builders in the Australian landscape around Cooma, New South Wales (no Photoshop tricks here!) have a subdued colour palette of misty greys and greens – all except one that has a vibrant blue sky with clouds, a man with his sheep dogs and a flock of sheep. Two of the photographs are framed upside down, one photograph a closer study from the same angle.

The house on the hill is surrounded by wondrous light gently highlighting the wooden bones of the building embedded into the landscape in a context that is soon to become another suburban housing estate. The skeleton rises up (and falls into the sky) like a foundering ship amongst mysterious gum trees, surrounded by broken stumps and littered branches. The best photograph (top, below) has the effect of the bones being lit up like a giant puzzle.

Examining ‘the encroachment of suburban development and the socio-economic and environmental pressures on the Australian landscape’ these photographs, named after the characters from Patrick White’s novel The Twyborn Affair, are ecologically aware and politically astute, as well as being fine photographs. The title of the exhibition, leak, perfectly sums up the osmotic nature of the encroachment of human habitation upon the ‘natural’ environment, which is already a mediated landscape due to European farming techniques and clearance of the landscape. But this is not a one way discourse; what do we call the ‘new’ Australian bush? What if the humpy invaded suburbia and pushed back the tide?

I would love to see different types of houses in different contexts. I want to see more these are so good!

Many thankx to Jan Minchin (Director) and Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Both images courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries © Rosemary Laing.

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Rosemary Laing
‘Jim’
2010
C Type photograph
Large image size 110 x 238 cm
Framed size 127 x 255 cm
Edition of 8

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Rosemary Laing
‘Prowse’
2010
C Type photograph
Large image size 110 x 247 cm
Framed size 127 x 264 cm
Edition of 8

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
Tel: 61 3 9654 6000
Website: www.tolarnogalleries.com

Opening hours:
Tue-Fri 10 am-5 pm, Sat 1 pm-5 pm

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10
Nov
09

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

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 21st November 2009

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

Patricia Piccinini quoted on the Kaldor Public Art Projects website

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

Patricia Piccinini quoted on the Artlink website

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

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

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Patricia Piccinini. 'The Bottom Feeder' 2009

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

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

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Patricia Piccinini
‘The Bottom Feeder’ (detail)
2009

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

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

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

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

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Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’ (detail)
2008

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' (detail) 2008

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Patricia Piccinini
‘Doubting Thomas’ (detail)
2008

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Doubting Thomas' 2008

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

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Balasana' 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tolarno Galleries website

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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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