INTERPOL - ‘INTERPOL’
Published: Music Australia Guide #80, September 2010.
Interpol’s self-titled fourth record is an elusive, accumulative beast. The final chapter in the dapper New Yorkers’ first decade – made all the more pointed by the fact that it will be the last album to feature cult bassist and keyboardist Carlos D., who quit the band at the close of the recording sessions – is a morass of reverb and harmonics, layered orchestration and driving rhythm. Indeed, Interpol doesn’t merely revisit the band’s earlier post-punk and proto-orchestral inquisitions, but meticulously re-imagines and re-integrates the various strands of their sound. The agile bass and drum lines of Summer Well could be straight from the Turn On the Bright Lights (2002) archive. But the devil is in the detail: the sophisticated implementation of keys, wraithlike vocal whispers and compositional nuances take it to entirely different plane. The guitar dialogue and driving rhythmic pulse of the brilliant Barricade, too, recalls Interpol’s early career gestures, only for vocalist Paul Banks to give one of the most heart-torn, vulnerable vocal performances of his career. Indeed, Banks – who has a tendency to sound disengaged – is a revelation on this record. Moments like the funereal, orchestrations of like Always Malaise and the tempestuous slow build of Lights have Banks singing for his life. It’s not always an easy listen, but it a complex and challenging statement of intent. Where Our Love to Admire (2007) witnessed a band struggling to find traction, Interpol seems a search for some sense of resolution. There are more questions than answers, but by its conclusion, Interpol leaves us begging to know just what the hell they’ll do next.
SPREADING THEIR WINGS
Published: Broadsheet, Spring Edition, 2010.
Jeremy Wortsman’s illustration agency, The Jacky Winter Group, and in-house gallery space, Lamington Drive, have defied their humble beginnings to become a hub for some of Australia’s finest creative talent. Now, with a clutch of likeminded businesses in tow, they’re converting their new Collingwood warehouse into one of Melbourne’s genuine creative epicentres. By Dan Rule.
Looking back on it, there was a distinctly aspirational bent to the placard that adorned the diminutive, turn-of-the-century Fitzroy building that, until recently, served as headquarters of The Jacky Winter Group illustration agency and its associated Lamington Drive gallery.
The Compound Interest: Centre for the Applied Arts – it was hard not to chuckle at the grandiosity of the title, especially in comparison to the rickety little space it heralded, jammed between the rear of a shop and a cramped, bluestone back lane on the corner of George and Gertrude Streets.
“It was really a bit of a joke back then,” smiles Jeremy Wortsman, the Melbourne-based New Yorker behind the project. “But now it’s kind of grown into something that’s a lot more real.”
He’s not kidding. Wandering about the vast Keele Street warehouse that now sports The Compound Interest insignia in the weeks before its September 2 launch, the raw multilevel building is a hive of creative spaces and activities.
The new Lamington Drive gallery – a wooden cube, which, like its predecessor, features corner-lit, cardboard-lined walls – and its adjoining, pegboard-walled retail space dominate the building’s eastern entrance, while a staircase at the rear of the warehouse leads to a bright, upstairs studio; a new home to award-winning graphic design company Chase & Galley (which Wortsman originally co-founded with Stuart Geddes) and web-design outfit The Golden Grouse.
“We’re really trying to cover as many aspects of applied art as possible,” explains Wortsman, leading the way to the western span of warehouse, where industrial designer Christian Condo’s Modern Motorcycle Company workshop and showroom adjoin The Jacky Winter Group offices, set in a wooden-walled pod, replete with batting range (“I like hitting things,” he laughs).
“I guess it’s really just an extension of what we were doing at George Street, but just with many more businesses.”
Indeed, The Compound Interest’s initial clutch of ventures is just the beginning. The coming months will see the staggered opening of countless other endeavours in the space, including architects Martyn Hook and Fleur Watson’s design and architecture-focussed Pin-Up Gallery, a full print and framing workshop including and a café with outdoor courtyard. The space will also see a couple of high-profile relocations, with Carolyn Fraser’s internationally renowned Idlewild Press relocating from the Nicholas Building and Ghita Loebenstein’s Speakeasy Cinema project shifting from 1000£ Bend.
It represents something of a first for Melbourne. While the Nicholas Building has long stood as the city’s premier example of a cross-pollinating creative space, the Keele Street warehouse brings with it a genuine curatorial focus. These aren’t just businesses working side-by-side, but businesses working together.
“When we were putting the whole idea together it was really important that all the businesses complimented each other,” says Wortsman, who, after moving to Melbourne in 2001, made a name as a co-founder of cult poster magazine Is Not along with Geddes and writers Penny Modra, Mel Campbell and Natasha Ludowyk.
“It’s the idea that someone might be coming in to meet John upstairs and see a print at Lamington Drive, or someone might be coming to a show at Lamington Drive and might see something else they like. It’s really about that cross-section and making sure we’re all doing really complimentary things.”
But there’s more to The Compound Interest than business opportunity.
“It’s kind just that thing of being able to hang out with your friends,” offers Wortsman. “We’re all likeminded people and we’re all doing stuff, you know. We all spend so much of our lives at work, so why not make work and pleasure the same thing.”
It’s the next phase in what has been a remarkable introduction for Wortsman’s agency. Since launching in October 2007 with an initial stable of 12 illustrators – which included the warped Australiana of Eamo, celebrated watercolour and collage of Kat Macleod, skewed comic humorist Oslo Davis, Dylan Martorell, Tin & Ed and Rik Lee – The Jacky Winter Group has risen to become one of the country’s premier illustration agencies.
In its first three years, the agency has grown to represent a roster of upwards of 40 artists (with the likes of Beci Orpin, Travis Price and Jeremy Dower joining the fray more recently), launched developmental incubator The Hatch, international booking agency Rock of Eye and storyboarding sub-agency The Bowery, taken on several staff, including general manager Matthew Shannon and agency and gallery manager Lara Murray, and procured commissions from a host of domestic and international clients of the ilk of The New York Times, Business Week, GQ, Playboy, Nike, Saatchi & Saatchi, Random House among countless others. Lamington Drive, meanwhile, has risen to become a staple on the Melbourne gallery circuit, hosting several sell-out exhibitions and occupying a gap in the market between fine and commercial art.
It’s a role that Wortsman hopes the gallery, which relaunches with a solo show from inaugural signing Eamo, can continue to develop in the new space. “The retail component is going to be really important because we’re going to be publishing a lot more of our own artist books, working with other independent publishers and stocking their kind of product,” he says. “It’s going to be more of a curated and self-published kind of thing.”
“Lamington Drive always existed to ask that question: what is commercial art? What is a fine art space? How can those two things co-exist? And we hope to keep asking that question.”
That’s not to suggest, however, that the move to the new Compound Interest site has been anything less than a monumental exercise. “Oh man,” he sighs. “We had these lofty ideas that we were going to take over this 10,000 square foot space and do it on the cheap, but you just can’t.”
“We’ve had to be frugal and we’ve had to do things in steps and we’ve had to call in favours.”
And they’re not done yet. “It’s important to tell people that we’re here and we’ve relocated, but that also, things are going to be constantly happening and changing in this space with things like the café and the cinema and other things,” urges Wortsman. “It’s going to be a really staggered thing.”
“I hope that when people come, they can see the potential and keep coming back to see it grow.”
The Compound Interest: Centre for the Applied Arts is located at 15–25 Keele Street, Collingwood.
BEATS with Dan Rule
Published: Music Australia Guide #80, September 2010.
There’s a loose, unhinged quality to Toppings…, the debut disc from Canadian beat kid Jules Chaz. Stretching across 21 instrumental hip hop cuts – with the addition of a guest vocal slot from Vancouver rapper Ishkan – the record is a loose weave of unlikely stylistic bedfellows. Strutting, wonky hip hop grooves and spacious breaks underlay crackling, Sub-Continental loops and reggae flavours; shadowy atmospheres drift among Twin Peaks samples other creepy musical obscura. It’s like Madlib rubbing shoulders with early career Flying Lotus, Oh No sharing tapes with Nosaj Thing. The sprawling post-hip hop diaspora continues to spread.
MC Hau and DJ Danialsan (aka Koolism) are the definition of Australian old-school. The Canberra duo have been kicking classic, first generation-styled hip hop jams for the best part of two decades. Kinetic fifth studio record The Umu suggests they’ve got plenty left in the tank. Hau is on fire here, dropping characteristically intricate, socially conscious rhyme schemes amid Danielsan’s upbeat funk and soul-flecked rhythms and 80s-styled breaks. Check the meticulous unpacking of Australian cultural attitudes on Can’t Stand It, lurking boom-bap of cop critique Hanz High and bass-lead funk hook of Cash Monet for proof. Koolism may be from way back when, but they’re still kicking it with best of them.
Quantic Presenta: Flowering Inferno
Dog With a Rope
Worldly DJ/producer Will Holland (aka Quantic), has made a great leap forward on Dog With a Rope, his second release as Flowering Inferno. Fusing organic Latin and Caribbean flavours into a collision of buoyant rhythms, humid dynamics and flourishing melodies, Holland – who has called Colombia home since 2007 – doesn’t just pay homage but actively re-plots the boundaries between both musical idioms. It’s a fascinating trip. Perhaps most telling is Holland’s respect for his source material. While he’s willing to test stylistic delineations, he does so with a rare lightness of touch. The results are at once authentically traditional and outwardly innovatory.
Melbourne duo A-Diction do a lot right on debut longplayer Walkin’ Alone. Following an EP and a couple of mixtapes, there’s barely a weak track on this rock-solid record. MCs Boltz and Breach are both competent (if not, at times, a little rugged) on the mic, and importantly, they’ve managed to acquire the services of a host of impressive producers. Man of the moment M-Phazes, Mules and Jase all drop stinging joints – none more so than the tripping boom-bap of M-Phazes’s One Fact – giving the record a more complex flavour than it might have otherwise achieved. It won’t blow too many minds, but this workmanlike effort will garner plenty of respect.
Roots Manuva meets Wrongtom
Though a revitalizing listen, Duppy Writer isn’t quite a new album from UK hip hop’s longstanding monarch Roots Manuva. Essentially a re-edit record, the project sees dub visionary Wrongtom go to town on a clutch of vintage Roots material, recontextualising some of his masterful verses in a bubbling dub/reggae milieu. There are some fine moments, including a perfectly plodding version of 1999 classic Juggle Tings Proper. But while pure dub is a great setting for admiring Roots’ pure charisma and faultless flow, Duppy Writer lacks the genre-crossing dynamism that has left Roots Manuva’s studio so revered. It is a companion work rather than a statement.
LIFE IN 32 BARS - CYPRESS HILL
Published: Music Australia Guide #80, September 2010.
Cypress Hill’s woozy, smoke-hazed sound and stoned charisma eschewed classic west coast hip hop to make them the first figureheads of Latino rap. Percussionist Eric Bobo tells Dan Rule new album Rise Up is a visceral new chapter.
Mid 1980s Cuban-born brothers Senen (aka Sen Dog) and Ulpiano Sergio Reyes (aka Mellow Man Ace) hook up with fellow South Gate, Los Angeles kids Louis Freese (aka B Real) and Lawrence Muggerud (aka Muggs) under the name DVX.
1988 Mellow Man Ace leaves the group to start a solo career and they rename themselves Cypress Hill, quickly garnering an underground reputation for their blend of Latino street slang and slow, undulating hip hop beats.
1991 Their following on the rise, thanks in part to B Real’s distinctive nasally delivery and the group’s predilection for marijuana, the trio sign a deal with Columbia Records offshoot Ruffhouse.
1992 Release their self-titled debut to massive underground acclaim with Muggs’ eerie, lurking beats and B Real and Sen Dog’s blasé street sketches offer a fresh perspective on Dr Dre’s rolling G Funk sound.
1993 Debuting at number one, second album Black Sunday takes the stoned Cypress sound worldwide and is proclaimed an instant hip hop classic. Iconic single Insane in the Membrane becomes an international smash.
1994 Percussionist Eric Bobo joins the group following a stint with Beastie Boys.
1995 Release sinister, gloom riddled third album III: Temples of Boom sending their sound back on a darker, more underground route.
1998 Cypress return with the decidedly lukewarm IV.
2000 Double-disc epic Skull & Bones sets the quartet back on course with the group adding a harder, rock-based sound to their repertoire.
2001 Release sixth album Stone Raiders.
2004–2009 After releasing the Caribbean-influenced Till Death Do Us Part, Cypress go on hiatus, with first Sen Dog and then B Real releasing solid solo records.
2010 Release pointedly political eighth record Rise Up, featuring collaborations with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.
On the state of hip hop: “I think a lot of the new hip hop today is really interchangeable. You don’t really know who’s who because the beats are kind of sounding the same, the flows are kind of sounding the same. But with us and other groups of the era who are coming back, it’s showing that, ‘Yo, this is where hip hop really is at. We’re still here.”
On Rise Up: “We’re known for having the darker, really gritty, kind of grimy beats and whatnot, but we really wanted to focus on making an aggressive record that could translate to the live environment. We really wanted to focus on the strengths of Cypress and I think that those main strengths are hip hop and rock.”
On politics: “With the state of the world at the moment, I think it’s really important that people like ourselves, who have the opportunity to express themselves in a public forum, actually do that. Cypress, aren’t really a political band, but if we feel that the government aren’t doing enough and state legislators aren’t doing enough, and the biggest voice we have is the music and the people, then we’ve just got to get it out there.”
On Tom Morello: “He produced the title track for the record and I think that really set the tone for Rise Up. We’ve been friends with Tom since the 90s, touring together with Rage and so on, but to actually have him producing not one but two slamming tracks on a Cypress Hill record was just great.”
Rise Up is available now via EMI.
Cypress Hill tour Australia from September 23 until October 1.
THE ICON - IAN DURY
Published: Music Australia Guide #80, September 2010.
In The Icon we profile those who change music. This month, Dan Rule hails the unhinged charisma and inimitable creative vision of UK iconoclast and chief ‘Blockhead’ Ian Dury.
To speak of the late Ian Dury in musical terms alone would discount his far-reaching creative and personal legacy. One of the most genuinely eccentric musical outsiders of a generation, Dury cut an inimitable figure in a rock world so often characterised by derivatives.
A polio survivor, his lurching stage presence, insatiably dry wit and smoke-scarred, cockney parlance at the lead of Ian Dury & The Blockheads fashioned an entirely new archetype for the front man. He may have limped and stumbled, but his dynamic poetry and infectious personality made him one of the most unlikely stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Born in London’s northwest outskirts during the Second World War, Dury spent his early childhood in neutral Switzerland. But it was on his return to the UK in the late 1940s that his world was to change forever when he contracted polio during the epidemic of 1949. He spent a torturous six months in a full plaster cast before enrolling in the Chailey Craft School (for disabled children), a harsh, unloving environment that many have suggested gave the young Dury his characteristic drive and ambition.
Music came late to Dury, who was 28 and had already studied and taught fine art before he founded burly, 1950s influenced pub rock act Kiburn & the High Roads. But it was when Dury went out on his own at the end of the 1970s, signing to struggling indie label Stiff that things changed. With the release of debut record New Boots and Panties!! (1977) and early non-album singles Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hit Me You’re your Rhythms Stick, he became an instant superstar at the ripe old age of 36.
At the height of their powers, Dury and his band were a force to be reckoned with. Their vibrant melange of disco funk, new wave and punk resonances made records like Do It Yourself (1979) and Laughter (1980) some of the most dynamic of their era, while Dury’s shrewd lyricism – part social commentary, part crazed humour, part cheeky, sexual provocation – and voracious presence made him an utterly magnetic performer.
But as he so often proved throughout his career, Dury was more than his music. As his star began to wane in the early and mid 80s – with comparatively lacklustre records like Lord Upminster (1981) and 4000 Weeks Holiday (1984) – he shifted his attention to craft of acting, his trademark determination and natural charm landing him various theatre, television and film roles.
Although there were more albums to come – Apples (1989) and The Busdriver’s Prayer… (1992) included – it wasn’t until 1998, in the midst of the battle with cancer that would eventually claim his life in 2000, that Dury reformed The Blockheads for one final tilt with charming record Mr. Love Pants. It served as a fitting farewell to a singular artist who could only be stopped by life’s inevitable end.
The Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is slated for cinema released later this year.
SAPNA CHANDU - A WINDOW TO ANOTHER WORLD
Published: The Age, Arts & Culture, September 29, 2010.
An audiovisual installation prompts us to re-evaluate representations of Australian identity, writes Dan Rule.
FROM our vantage, the trams and traffic and pedestrian flotsam and jetsam of Gertrude Street flash by as if on film. The late morning streetside is awash with commission flat corner kids, heavy-fringed fashion types, workers and wanderers; they shift in and out of frame.
Through headphones we listen to a soundscape of traffic and conversations and accents and languages; a din of intimate moments, giggles, debates, hollers and background noise.
Set inside the shopfront of Gertrude Street florist Mr Lincoln, artist and occasional practising dentist Sapna Chandu’s new audiovisual installation, Short Stories #1: Versions of Contemporary History, is a ”documentary in real time”.
With the front window of the retail space performing the function of a screen, the work merges the live streetscape with a detailed world of field recordings and multi-accented conversations about Australia. A screen mounted to the ceiling, meanwhile, provides a laconic dialogue of subtitles.
”It’s really about trying to highlight just how many different perspectives and different realities there are in contemporary Australia,” says Chandu of the show, which runs as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
”I’m interested in the various screens we view supposed reality through … and kind of challenging our projection of cultural identity through the media.”
As we watch people saunter by, Chandu’s soundscape - which consists of a handful of vignettes recorded on local and international travels - gives a distinct impression of eavesdropping. We hear Australian travellers arguing over the validity of their Lonely Planet against the backdrop of a Hindu prayer call and ensuing thunderstorm; we meet an Indian puppeteer recalling his time living on the Gold Coast, doing a mean impression of an archetypal ocker accent in the process; we stumble in on a loose conversation about Germaine Greer and John Howard’s contrasting public analysis of Steve Irwin’s legacy.
It’s a simple, but nonetheless eloquent, study of the vastly different cultural entity we, and others, understand Australia to be. ”Each of the pieces address different points of view, so often there is a lot of tension between them,” says the 34-year-old.
For Chandu, who exhibited as a photo-artist before moving into installation, working with sound provided the perfect medium for the project. ”I think we’re so over-stimulated visually these days that we forget to listen,” she says. ”Sound is just so immersive compared to a photograph. The experience becomes so fresh again; you can smell the atmosphere and the weight of the air.
”I was just travelling and recording and taking video, but when I got home and started compiling the material, I realised that the sound was just far more interesting and rich. It was able to capture such a different sense of perspective.”
In this sense, the work’s setting in culturally and socio-economically diverse Gertrude Street was no mistake. ”It’s a street that has such a deep history and has changed so much over time,” says Chandu. ”Even in its present context - with the housing commission towers and the arty, fashionable, more elitist stuff on the other side of the road - you just have a huge amount of very different people who move through the one area. There’s just such a huge disengagement from one side of the street to the other.”
She hopes that her work can at least offer a point of reconnection. ”Having the audience look back out onto the street is a way of trying to re-engage them with others,” she offers.
”It’s a way of trying to get people thinking about some of these different experiences and perspectives.”
Short Stories #1: Versions of Contemporary History runs at Mr Lincoln, 2/102 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, until October 9. Free. melbournefringe.com.au / sapnachandu.net
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, September 25, 2010.
WHAT Elvis Richardson & John Vella: Because I’m Lucky
WHERE Conical Inc., level 1, 3 Rochester Street, Fitzroy, 9415 6958, conical.org.au
This divergent new show at Conical functions as something of lateral engagement with notions of stigma. Drawing on the work of Tasmanian artist John Vella and Melbourne’s Elvis Richardson, Because I’m Lucky deals in the currency of assumption, expectation and ways of seeing. John Vella’s fascinating suite of photographic and video works is both outward and inward in its scope. His striking, louvre-like photographic installation wallflower (neighbourhood watch) offers glimpses and fragments of the surrounds of his suburban childhood home. Taken through windows and flyscreen doors, the photographs capture crops of adjoining properties, the street and various other sight lines and points of visual intersection. It is both a study of watching and being watched, of both an experienced and projected gaze. In the hilarious FIT (7_ _ _), meanwhile, Vella grooms he and his family in the popular shopping centre fashions of eight diverse suburbs, while his video work Status Free Vehicle charts an hour-long, “stigma free” drive in and around Hobart, the camera angled in such a direction that we witness only sky and the occasional fleeting glimpse of a branch or power line. Elvis Richardson’s two works shift the focus directly onto herself. Her wallpaper work redirects a gambling questionnaire to apply to she, who has chosen to be an artist. “Have you ever made art until your last dollar is gone?” it probes, “Have you ever felt that you would like to stop making art but found you were unable?” Though ripe for a laugh, the work appears to preface the stark dichotomy between the art world’s position within the privileged, middle class and the rather less glamorous socio-economic conditions under which most artists operate. Richardson’s Negative Space sculptures, meanwhile, reveal inverted cement mountains sunken into plinths. Again, they seem to invoke the great divide between aspirations and reality. Like stigmatise representations of gamblers, smokers and other “problem citizens”, Richardson goals as an artist dig her deeper into a hole. Wed to Sat noon–5pm, until October 2.
WHAT Seraphine Pick
WHERE Uplands Gallery, 247 High Street, Prahran, 9510 2374, uplandsgallery.com
New Zealand artist Seraphine Pick’s new show of oil-on-linen and gouache-on-paper works revels in a bizarre, colour-drenched, psychedelic haze. Colours bleed into one another; figuration melts into nebulousness. There are several highlights. In the show’s one untitled work, a naked woman (bar a pair of choice stilettos) writhes in ecstasy on the banks of a forest lake. In Bandit, another naked woman (this time, save a balaclava) reclines relaxedly against a tree trunk, presumably post-heist. It gets better. There’s the iconic, blurred figure of Patti Smith, hair draped over her face, sunk to her knees, guitar in hands; the bearded, longhaired man leading the ghostlike white horse and rider; the wraithlike figures gathered in the dark woods. A playful ode to 1970s acid trip aesthetics though it might be, this is convincing series from Pick. Where some of her earlier drawings and illustrations possessed something of a girlish flippancy, this body of work is grounded in its stunningly unfastened and gradual use of paint and full embrace of its totally-off-your-face vibe. It’s a trip worth taking. Tues to Fri 11am–5pm, Sat noon–4pm, until October 2.
WHAT Rosslynd Piggott: Measuring Night
WHERE Sutton Gallery, 254 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9416 0727, suttongallery.com.au
Though Rosslynd Piggott’s new collection of paintings and mirror works seem spare in their detail at first glance, spending time with Measuring Night reveals a stunning richness of texture and tonality and light. Both the large-scale, oil-on-linen Night series and the 10-component Cloud Window & Black Hole installation work via clear visual counterpoints. The former sees linear spectrums of hourly light counterpoise murky, nebulous darkness; the latter pierces the soft shapes and layers of 10 different types of clouds with a flat, circular, black void, as if a startling reminder of what lies beyond their gentle embrace. In the smaller space, a trio of molten mirror glass and oil and palladium leaf diptychs assumes a very different vantage to the fall of the light. Though we’re drawn to the works’ various surfaces, with proximity they shift and buckle. Indeed, as we move about the space, the works become fluid, flashing, blinding and refracting with every step. Beyond mere light and dark, Piggott’s works remind us of beautiful transience of luminosity. Tues to Sat 11am–5pm, until October 2.
WHAT Damiano Bertoli: Continuous Moment – Le Desir… 2010
WHERE Neon Parc, level 1, 53 Bourke Street, city, 9663 0911, neonparc.com.au
With Neon Parc painted entirely black, Damiano Bertoli continues his Continuous Moment series with this dark, dingy and playfully disorientating installation. Featuring looped video, found stills, an illusive “lottery wheel” and a giant, bitumen coated, robot-like figure with a reflective light bulb for a face, the show renders a kind of arcane nowhere place. Though difficult to find a footing among the pleasantly ghoulish rabble, there is certainly method to Bertoli’s apparent madness. His use of video and found imagery – fragmentary moments captured and bound to the endlessness of virtuality – says plenty about our current, distracted circumstance. Here, he has created a void outside the bounds of time. Images repeat and reflect; the present stretches and extends. Climbing the stairs at Neon Parc, we enter a creepy contemporary eternity. Wed to Sat noon–6pm, until October 9.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, September 18, 2010.
WHAT Ponch Hawkes: more seeing is not understanding
WHERE Monash Galley of Art, 860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill, 8544 0500, mga.org.au
A couple dance to their portable stereo under flat, fluorescent, shopping centre lighting. It is night, the roller shutters halfway down, the scene all but uninhabited. The pair’s posture is perfect, eyes locked, feet in tandem; they have surely danced this step before. But that is not for us to know. Veteran Melbourne photographer Ponch Hawkes’ new body of work is a study of the fleeting glimpse, the incongruity of the moment. Spanning the Focus Gallery at MGA, more seeing is not understanding sees Hawkes hone on the indeterminate, nonetheless familiar moments of the urban night. The things that capture one’s eye when flying past in a cab; the odd, striking moments that are often just as promptly forgotten. Three teenage girls slouch in the glow of a brightly lit train platform shelter, one staring determinedly at her mobile phone. Two young men hold hands, silhouetted against the cityscape. The taller of the two wears an animal suit. It is a flash, a starting point, void of cues and back-story. The fact that Hawkes recreates such encounters from memory seems to attest to their resonance. Though some lose their impact in over-stylisation, these morsels of the unexplained visual data offer captivating threads. One of life’s great thrills is its muddle of ambiguity and unknowing, and it is precisely in that space, Hawkes seems well aware, that the wonder and reverie of imagination lies. Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat to Sun noon–5pm, until October 24.
WHAT Emily Ferretti: Small Worlds
WHERE West Space, level 1, 15–19 Anthony Street, city, 9328 8712, westspace.org.au
Running alongside Sydney artist Emma Thomson’s suite of brilliant photographs capturing wannabe models carrying out their fantasies and the intriguing collaborative installation Morlocks, Mole People…, Emily Ferretti’s petite, delicately crafted oil, watercolour and pencil-on-paper works float quietly between worlds. Set against empty, white backdrops, she renders her humble organic and domestic treasures via a palette so incredibly light, soft and tonal, her subjects seem born of dreams. A coiled garden hose assumes the brown, textured scales of a snake, if only for a portion of its length; the rings of a tree-trunk mark its many years; a web-like net falls like a fragile patchwork. One of the joys of Ferretti’s Small Worlds – which follow her stunning Light Hold exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery in May – are their sheer economy. The young Melbourne artist omits as many details as she includes. In her beautiful painting of a pinecone, she renders only half the bract scales, the remainder subsumed in white space, as if half-formed in a dream. Indeed, it this blankness – this eschewal of context and setting – that affords these humble objects significance. In Ferretti’s world, there’s a life and a narrative to every object. Against the void of blank, white paper, her garden hoses, plants, baskets and ropes assume a kind of symbolic, trophy-like importance. Wed to Fri noon–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until October 2.
WHAT Kirrily Hammond: Songs of Solitude
WHERE Gallerysmith, 170–174 Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne, 9329 1860, gallerysmith.com.au
The intimate scale of Kirrily Hammond’s beautiful oils belies their sprawling, almost cinematic atmosphere. Though only small, the 20 plus paintings that comprise Songs of Solitude capture the kind of vastness – of sky, of highway and of half light on the landscape – that many artists fail to describe. Light is crucial here. Hammond’s works drift in the flaring headlights, blurred street lamps and soft, tinted hues of Gippsland on dusk. But there is more to these works than the lay of the land. Like the transition from day to night, Songs of Solitude inhabits an ephemeral state. These paintings are neither here nor there, suspended between points on a map. Indeed, this rendering of twilight conjures a far more introspective reading than its vistas might initially suggest. Flanked by light and dark – hurtling through town after town – Hammond’s works are less about place than the liberty of finding oneself untethered. Runs alongside Andrew Seward’s peculiarly elegant graphite renderings of seaweed. Tues to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat 11am–5pm, until October 9.
WHAT Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee
WHERE Block Projects, 79 Stephenson Street, Richmond, 9429 0664, blockprojects.com
Opening Block Projects’ handsome new space in Richmond, this mildly though happily deranged collaboration from co-director Jeremy Kibel and long time cohort Rhys Lee makes for a tumultuous sea of stylistic signatures and vociferous lashings of paint. With each of the pair’s four oil and acrylic-on-linen works spanning a vast 1.8m x 4m, this is not a show for the faint-hearted. A particularly impressive work sees one of Kibel’s Picasso pastiches – emblazoned with iridescent blue and fire engine red – flanked by one of Lee’s signature ghouls and the sassy slither of a snake; another sees Snoopy smiling wonkily among a hoard of devilish faces. Elsewhere, there’s a plenty of unhinged symbolism and spooky signifiers: blood drips, black tears fall, a crucifix burns on a mountaintop. Making sense of it all, one feels, is hardly the point. This is the electric to and fro of a pair of unique creative minds. Amid their ghostly blobs, splashes of colour and sharp, graphic incursions, we witness their wonderful clash, clamour and coalescence. Wed to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat 11am–4pm, until September 30.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, September 11, 2010.
WHAT Marco Fusinato: Noise & Capitalism
WHERE Anna Schwartz Gallery, 185 Flinders Lane, city, 9654 6131, annaschwartzgallery.com
Noise & Capitalism marks something of a continuation for Melbourne’s Marco Fusinato. Where the multi-disciplinary artist’s brilliant Double Infinitives, which showed at Anna Schwartz last year, saw him present massively up-scaled, newsprint photographs of activist riots, this new exhibition inverts the vantage. Gleaning their source material from underground, photocopied insurrectional pamphlets and zines, the five, large-scale works that comprise Noise & Capitalism go some way to offer a view from the inside of grassroots political actions. Presented in a uniform, window-like, quadripartite configuration, each work features the front cover, inside cover and various, in some instances, layered pages of images and text. While works lifted from shorter pamphlets like Why she doesn’t give a f—- about your insurrection are clearly readable, denser pamphlets such as Thesis on the Imaginary result in a squall of illegible, layered text, or as the artist might put it, “noise”. On the one level, what Fusinato seems to be getting at here is the nature of exchange; just how information shifts relative to the context of its presentation. What does it mean to stand in a commercial gallery with others and read The Capitalist System? What are the implications of turning Escapism has its price, the artist has his income into a huge, saleable art object, framed behind glass? That said, it is the crowded, layered works – which pile mountains of text atop heroic imagery of riots and actions – that pack an imposing graphic punch. They seem to espouse the great challenge of translating one’s message to the morass that is the mainstream. No matter its social and political merits or significance, among a snoozing populace, the message will seem little more than unruly noise. Tues to Fri noon–6pm, Sat 1pm–5pm, until October 2.
WHAT Kit Wise: Explosion
WHERE Sarah Scout, Level 1, 1A Crossley Street, city, 9654 4429, sarahscoutpresents.com
This stunning suite of video works and stills by Melbourne-based UK artist and academic Kit Wise offers a disturbingly beautiful meditation on man-made violence and its portrayal in popular culture. Utilising open-source footage and imagery of the infamous Nevada desert atomic test known as “Operation Cue” (1955) and later explosive tests of “Project Dugout” (1960), Wise accentuates the transformation of horrifying blasts into detached, purely aesthetic cultural moments. In the larger of the three video works, Explosion (Geranium), a layered time-lapse image of a geranium bursting to life echoes a spectacular bloom of detonated desert earth, while the smaller Explosion (Operation Cue, 1955) and Explosion (Project Dugout, 1960) works loop, manipulate and rewind brutal blast footage to forge a kind weightless visual poetry. The stills, meanwhile, offer a digitised filter to the events at hand. Indeed, with proximity the blast images reveal evidence their mediation, becoming blurred and abstracted amid a cloud of digital pixelation. It seems an allegory for our wider engagement with nature via pop-cultural representation. An excess of stylised, mediated imagery creates a spectacular, nonetheless hollow event of its own. It does little, however, to advance our understanding of its point of reference. Thurs to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until September 25.
WHAT Eamo Donnelly: Health Food of a Nation!
WHERE Lamington Drive, The Compound Interest Centre for the Applied Arts, 15–25 Keele Street, Collingwood, 8060 9745, lamingtondrive.com
Lamington Drive gallery relaunches in fittingly rambunctious style with cult illustrator Eamo Donelly’s lurid ode to Big M’s, bikini’d beach bums, milk bars and various other archetypes of 70s and 80s Australiana. Indeed, the defiantly titled Health Food of a Nation! is a guilt and irony-free celebration of the era that spawned Sir Les and Hoges (how fitting that the latter slipped the ATO’s travel ban the week of the show’s launch). Donnelly’s illustrations – pegged and pinned throughout that cardboard-walled gallery space – are maximal in the extreme. Garish fluorescents render gnarled, ciggie and beer-swilling characters; raw prawns intermingle with Mr Whippy’s and Gouldburn’s famed Big Merino. As wonderful as Donnelly’s work is the a scattering of his own collection of 80s Australiana, including posters, post cards, calendars and various milk bar and promotional paraphernalia. It’s a hoot. While Health Food may represent an Australia that many would rather forget, Donnelly’s rose-coloured recollection proves little less than irresistible. Wed to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until October 2.
WHAT Jo–Anne Duggan: Wondrous Possessions
WHERE Colour Factory Gallery, 409–429 Gore Street, Fitzroy, 9419 8756, colourfactory.com.au
This sumptuous collection of large-scale photographs from photo-media artist Jo-Anne Duggan injects a dose of everyday pragmatism into the realm of the extravagant historical monument. Each of her photographs of the interiors of historic palazzi built by the Gonzaga family in Mantua, Italy evidence not just the buildings’ elaborate architectural and artistic detailing, but elements of their practical modernisation. Duggan’s lens captures the power points, exit signs, wall heaters and non-descript office furniture amid the Renaissance murals and sculptures. She extends her gaze from a cropped mediation of the historic monument to include the realities and details of its preservation, administration and upkeep. Mon to Fri 10am–6pm, Sat 1pm–4pm, until October 1.
YAYOI KUSAMA - POLKA DOTS ETERNAL
Published: Oyster #88, August/September 2010.
Despite her lifelong battle with crippling mental illness, veteran Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has forged a reputation as one of the avant-garde’s most formidable and, quite literally, dotty protagonists. With a new video work showing as part of the 17th Biennale of Sydney, the 81-year-old is still very much at the top of her game, writes Dan Rule.
For Yayoi Kusama, art is neither a choice nor an affectation. It is not something she does on an occasional whim; it is not a means of study or investigation. The 81-year-old’s practice is ingrained in the stuff of life itself.
“I have lived my life both in mind and body, incorporating all my hopes into art,” she says. “I have found in it my spiritual salvation.”
Kusama, who is speaking via a translator in the lead-up to her exhibition as part of the 17th Biennale of Sydney, is a singular, seemingly indelible figure in a contemporary art world so often characterised by fluidity and flux.
Across a career that has spanned more than half a century – including 15 years in New York between 1958 and 1973 working alongside Donald Judd, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenberg as one of pivotal figures in the avant-garde movement – Kusama’s paintings, sculptures, installations, text, performance and video works have become some of the contemporary art’s most recognisable (and more recently, valuable) works. Her famed motif of the polka dot has appeared in so many contexts and breached so many aesthetic and philosophical signatures – be it feminism, pop art, fashion, minimalism or abstract expressionism – its near impossible to trace.
But while her dotty premise may give her work a kind of playful buoyancy, it’s grounded in a much deeper engagement with notions of repetition, accrual and the infinite. Indeed, for the woman who famously once said “if it were not for art, I would have killed myself long ago” and has lived by choice in a Tokyo mental facility since the mid 70s, artistic practice is an entirely holistic pursuit.
“Art is about everything that exists in my mind and body,” she muses. Put simply, it is a means for extension and, ultimately, survival.
“Everyday my heart is filled with a wish to commit suicide. When I was in New York, I was hospitalised for some time after an attempted suicide.”
“What saved me,” she continues, “has been the encouragement I got from my pursuit of the truth in art.”
Kusama’s creative lineage runs deep. Born in 1929 and raised in the alpine town of Matsumoto in the Nagano Prefecture of central Honshu, she took to art at the earliest of ages. She was an insatiable drawer, often rendering scenes that would come to her in “hallucinations”.
“I have seen a number of hallucinations since childhood,” she says. “The drawings I made of them and the ideas they inspired have been the foundations of my artworks.”
It was far from a joyous time for the young Kusama. Her father, who she has often referred to as a “gentle” and “kind-hearted” man, was largely absent from the family home. Her mother, on the other hand, was a shrewd businesswoman and a controlling, often violent matriarch. Kusama’s obsessive behaviour and continuous doodling and painting angered her to no end.
“My mother hated to see me always engaged in painting pictures and harassed me by tearing up the things I had painted and throwing them away,” she says
By the time she was teenager, Kusama fled to Kyoto and enrolled in art school, where she studied Nihonga painting, a traditional Japanese form of watercolour. It was a period of great prolificacy for the artist, obsessively producing gouache, pastel and ink-on-paper works by the thousands before eventually leaving for New York to follow a “longing for art and the world of mystery” in late 1957.
It was definitive time for the Kusama. After acquainting Judd, Cornell and others through Georgia O’Keeffe, she quickly became one of the key figures of city’s artistic coterie. Influential works from her time in the US included 1965 installation Infinity Mirror Room (Phalli’s Field), which saw stuffed, polka dotted, phallic fabric shapes fill a 3.6 x 3.6 metre mirrored cube, and 1966’s Narcissus Garden, a field of large stainless steel balls that Kusama showed at the Venice Biennale without invitation the same year. Her series of performative, nudist Happenings in Central Park and by the Brooklyn Bridge during 1968 and her performance work Self-Obliteration by Dots (also in 1968) also garnered much notoriety.
But after a string of paranoid episodes, which culminated in a suicide attempt in the early 70s, Kusama travelled back to Japan and admitted herself to a Tokyo mental facility, where she continues to live and work today. Suffice to say, she considers her obsessive art practice her one true therapy.
“Art has been my guidepost throughout my life,” she offers simply. “Obsession gives me strength to fight my difficulties.”
Her video work for the 17th Biennale of Sydney, Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict, is a remake of the original 1999 piece of the same name. Remade in collaboration with Biennale Artistic Director David Elliott, it sees the artist in garish get-up crooning a cheeky ode to life’s end.
“Tear down the gate of hallucinations,” she sings. “Amidst the agony of flowers, the present never ends”… “I become a stone.”
Kusama, as we might expect, is suitably excited with the work’s recasting. “It is the first time the piece has been shown in the present form,” she says. “I have heard that the work is causing a sensation, touching the hearts of many viewers.”
And it’s precisely this engagement with her audience that helps sustain the veteran artist’s incredibly prolific endeavours.
“Since I’ve got older, producing artworks has kept me fully occupied,” she says. “I have inspiration anytime – in the middle of the night, in the morning and in the afternoon – and anywhere, like in an airplane.”
“It is my earnest wish to create works that would live on even after I have died and contribute to the world culture,” she continues.
“I want viewers of my works to perceive in their own way my drive to create, my ideas and the originality of my art. My aim is to send a message of peace and love forever to as many people as possible.”