CATALOGUE ESSAY - DEBORAH PAAUWEE
Published: Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide, May 2010.
Deborah Paauwe - The Yellow Line
There is a spectre in these scenes. There is an intimacy of memory, an unbreakable resilience between present and past.
Economy is of the essence here. Even the slightest of gestures become crucial. A touch or twist or link of hands; a head turned; an index finger, slightly raised. The actions are muted somehow; tender, far from overt. But they are significant.
The two figures at the centre of Deborah Paauwe’s new body of work are permanently connected, irrevocably entwined.
The Yellow Line Paauwe refers to in this collection of large-scale, staged, highly gestural colour photographs is one of the road. Born in Pennsylvania, her early life was spent in the back seat of the family station wagon, traversing the highways of 1980s America.
What we witness in Paauwe’s photographs, however, subverts romantic, cinematic connotations of travel. Here, the signifiers of freedom – endless highways, sky and empty expanse – are obscured and erased. The austere, symmetrical environs of an underground car park take their place. The yellow line creeping into frame leads not to a distant horizon, but to the arbitrary swirl and texture of a concrete wall.
As with the majority of Paauwe’s work, the pair of protagonists here are female, faces obscured from view. Their body shape, hair colour, signature of movement and gesture, are remarkably similar, almost familial. Yet, there is an ambiguousness to the figures. Age is indecipherable at first glance. Both are lean and long-limbed, in a youthful way. They cling together in their matching Sunday best, tightly framed and cropped against cold grey.
With time, more details come to light. Disparities between the pair become more evident. Bruises become decipherable, as do veins, the deep scarring on a leg. We come to realise that one subject to be a woman and the other a child. In a shift from Paauwe’s recent works like Kindle & Swag (2005) and The Crying Room (2006) – which resonated with a kind of lush sensuousness and sexuality – the figures in The Yellow Line espouse a different brand of intimacy. Their touch becomes one of nurture, one of connection via mutual experience. It is not necessarily one of choice.
The idea that the woman and child might be an allegory for Paauwe’s adult and childhood selves seems particularly compelling. Though separated by time, their shared memory ensnares and entraps them both.
The Yellow Line is a parable not of boundless freedoms, but perhaps of our inability to break from our past.
NEW POEM - WILL: A RETROSPECTIVE
Published: Next Wave Festival Guide, May 2010.
Will: A Retrospective
by Dan Rule
my little brother
had tested many
he was five.
the foot-long turd
in the public park,
he opened the car door
a sand dune
as big as a cliff,
like it was
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, May 15, 2010.
WHAT The Navigators
WHERE Karen Woodbury Gallery, 4 Albert Street, Richmond, 9421 2500, kwgallery.com
Notions of materiality are central to this adventurous new group show at Karen Woodbury. Indeed, the work that comprises The Navigators orientates itself around the recasting of found objects, refuse and originally unintended resources. There are several highlights. Derek O’Connor’s weighty, highly textural paintings re-imagine and extend the visual language of record covers and hardcover books via slathers, slabs and swirls of oils. Nicholas Folland’s upturned, backlit crystal bowls and objects, meanwhile, recontextualise otherwise familiar objects as ornate light transmitters. The standouts, however, belong to Rhys Lee and Lionel Bawden. Like an ode to the lost memory and seemingly indiscriminate life-stuffs, Lee’s striking pair of bronze, silver patina and mixed media sculptures recast found objects and refuse (such as dead birds and dolls’ heads) to render ominous, unnerving but somehow familiar trophy pieces. Bawden’s stunning wall-mounted sculptures (pictured, above) render sinuous, organic forms from solid, adhered blocks of hexagonal colour pencils. It’s a perfect, concise summation of The Navigators’ conceptual objectives. Bawden uses uniform, symmetrical source materials to fashion fluid, untethered landscapes that are anything but. Wed to Sat 11am–5pm, until May 29.
WHAT Tim Handfield: Plenty
WHERE Colour Factory Gallery, 409-429 Gore Street, Fitzroy, 9419 8756, colourfactory.com.au
Tim Handfield’s vast, sharp, colour-saturated suburban streetscapes, building sites and wastelands render a kind of alien Australiana. His photographs from the limits of Plenty Road and Melbourne’s new north capture both aesthetics of aspiration and the odd, slightly unnerving interface between urbanity and environment. Towering ‘McMansions’ perch amid symmetrically planted European trees and native vegetation; makeshift ladders and tree-house refuse litter a bulbous, alien gumtree; a smashed television lies in deep grass; pink children’s clothes splay out against a bed of dry, brown leaves; the exposed insulation lining of a half-built house glows a lurid, bright green against the soft brown of the soil. But there’s more at play within these photographs than the dichotomy of their setting. Indeed, there’s something of a formal tension to these works. Though Handfield positions his practice in the context of topographic photography, the sheer saturation of suburban colour seems reminiscent of photographers like Melbourne-based Brit Louis Porter. It leaves these works in something of an interesting, but awkward space. While Handfield’s referents and subject matter are in themselves quite potent, the clean, controlled nature of his compositions and treatments are lacking almost entirely in signature or texture. In many ways, that’s the point – these are meant to be observational, topographic photographs – though at times, it leaves them feeling a little flat. Fri 8:30am–5pm, Sat 1pm–4pm, until May 29.
WHAT Lisa Tomasetti: Burnt Memory
WHERE Gallerysmith, 170–174 Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne, 9329 1860, gallerysmith.com.au
A collaborative work with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, Lisa Tomasetti’s Burnt Memory subverts and deconstructs the gaze. Across a suite of 12 rich, large-scale prints, she skirts the formal qualities and devices of Old Master paintings, only to deny them of their inherent Anglo-centrism. Indeed, Tomasetti’s female subjects – or ‘sitters’ – are Australian’s of non-Anglo descent. The surety of white, middleclass subject against the sumptuous backdrop is altered via context. In these photographs, the subjects – dressed for the most part in traditional cultural garb – find themselves in an empty, darkened, arcane post-industrial scene. Light is scarce; meek shafts filter from tiny elevated windows, capturing only the surfaces directly in their path. There is a hue, a texture, a lush tonality to the darkness, as if memory and experience lurk. It is both beautiful and ominous. The allegory seems one of the multiplicity and complexities of contemporary Australian female experiences, experiences without linear, necessarily localised or white, middleclass roots. Thurs to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat 11am–4pm, until June 12.
WHAT Glenn Walls: Projects for Total Urbanisation
WHERE John Buckley Gallery, 8 Albert Street, Richmond, 9428 8554, johnbuckley.com.au
The sculptural works and photographs that comprise Glenn Walls’ Projects for Total Urbanisation echo with architectural and technological resonance. But Walls’ doesn’t exist in the realm of celebration. The photographic series features a collection of shabby, empty 1960s interiors, some scrawled with abject maxims like “MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE IS A LIE” and “A GRAND OLD FEELING OF EMTINESS”, others with a hooded figure crouched miserable on an old mattress, a block-like configuration reminiscent of classic Meis van der Rohe house rendered on the wall in masking tape. Walls’ sculptures offer similar propositions. In one, a balsawood rendering of a 1980s tape deck – now something of a techno fetish item – is overtaken by globs of expanding foam; in another, an intricate, web-like balsawood structure is mounted on four skateboard trucks, each positioned in such a way that the wheels are locked. While the potential for movement is there, it is rendered impossible by design. What Walls seem to be getting at here is the disconnect between inspiration and large-scale application. Despite grand plans and intentions, his scenarios, scenes and objects have been choked and nullified at every turn. These are the symptoms and effects of poorly laid plans. 11am–5pm Wed to Sat, until May 29.
VARIOUS ARTISTS - ‘RE-COGNITION: THE CLAN ANALOGUE LEGACY COLLECTION’
Published: The Age, A2, 48 Hours, May 15, 2010.
Re-Cognition: The Clan Analogue Legacy Collection
There’s no name more synonymous with Australian electronic music of the 1990s and early 2000s than Clan Analogue. Founded in Sydney in 1992, the Australia-wide collective and artist-run label have been responsible for creating and facilitating some of the most progressive and downright enthralling intersections between electronic music, distant leftfield pop and obscure noise-craft to come out of this country. Expansive new compilation, Re Cognition: The Clan Analogue Legacy Collection delivers on its title promise. Lavishly packaged, the collection comprises one disc of Clan Analogue classics including earlier material like Atone’s Dublife (1994) and B(if)tek’s iconic Bedrock (1997) and more contemporary work like Pretty Boy Crossover’s stunning The Translucent (2002) and the angular, abrasive beats of Ubin’s Willow. The second disc features a fascinating series of Clan remixes by a younger generation of artists. The DVD of music videos, live performances and a new documentary makes this package a must for fans and students of Australian electronic music alike.
CORY ARCANGEL: APPROPRIATION UNLIMITED
Published: Oyster #86, April/May 2010.
From hacking archaic video games to auto-tuning classic folk songs, the diffuse work of New York digital artist, composer and computer programmer Cory Arcangel offers a hilarious re-imagining of aging technology and culture, writes Dan Rule.
Cory Arcangel isn’t one for stretching or meditation. Pilates is, most definitely, not part of the routine. The New York artist achieves his inner peace via rather unconventional means.
“Oh man,” he sighs, almost wistfully, “I just love to computer program.”
For the 31-year-old, chatting over the phone from his studio in New York, the hard drive is his temple. “There’s nothing I love better than to sit down at night and write some code.”
“It’s kind of like yoga to me, like this strange way to activate your brain,” he pauses, mulling the thought. “It’s about everything and nothing, you know, all at once.”
Arcangel is an anomaly in a contemporary art world obsessed with the cult of the new. In a career that has stretched the best part of a decade, he has garnered one of art’s most singular reputations for a practice that ostensibly takes the form of a kind of recycling – the relics of digital culture his pixelated muse.
Working across video, music, animation and software manipulation, the classically trained composer and self-taught computer programmer has crafted original artworks out of some of the most iconic recent cultural ephemera. Pieces like his famed 2002 Nintendo cartridge hacks Mario Brothers Clouds and I Shot Andy Warhol, not to mention 2006 composition The Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Glockenspiel Addendum, have helped make Arcangel one of the most revered pop-cultural appropriators going around.
“I guess I like to experiment with the different ways that the work can disperse both inside and outside of general culture,” he offers. “Sometimes, people might not even know that something I’ve done is an art project. It’s essentially just some software that I’ve made that people use.”
Indeed, for Archangel, who grew up in the industrial city of Buffalo in western New York State, the joy is less about what he can create than its potential points of re-engagement with a variety of audiences.
“With my cat video (Arcangel’s 2009 video reinterpretation of late Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg’s legendary Drei Klavierstücke op. 11 made entirely from found video clips of cats walking across piano keys), I anticipated that it would circulate within an art context and be shown in museums and whatever. But also at the same time I knew that when I put it online it would circulate as a trashy, LOLcats kind of thing,” he laughs. “In that way it kind of also becomes a part of the culture it’s appropriating.”
“That video, for example, was put on cuteoverload.com, one of the top websites worldwide for cute animals,” he laughs again. “I just thought that it was funny that they’d even mentioned Schoenberg on that site.”
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Arcangel came to art via curious channels. Having grown up making “strange and wonderful” videos as a hobby after seeing experimental videos on cable access, he enrolled to study classical guitar at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio following high school, soon shifting focus to contemporary composition and electronic music. Computer programming, her recalls, was a way to ensure he could pay the bills. “I guess I was always a bit of a computer nerd,” he says. “But the reason I learned to program was that with my music, I knew I was never going to be able to get a job.”
“So while I was studying I also taught myself how to computer program solely in order that when I graduated I knew I would be employable. But at the same time I found out that I really, really liked to computer program.”
It wasn’t until he moved to New York City following college that he began to join the dots. “I mean, I didn’t realise that there were galleries that showed video art,” he says. “So when I moved to New York it was just like, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long while, I should get on this’. I didn’t realise that what I was doing as this hobby could be considered art.”
“In college I learned about modern composition and low and behold, modern composition was in dialogue with modern, contemporary art. There was minimalist art just as there were minimalist composers.”
His fascination for hacking arose after learning about the European ‘software cracking’ scene, in which crackers would deface particular screens and features of victim software. “I remember the one I was most impressed with had a picture of a snowman with a black bar over his eyes, and that was the logo of this one cracker,” he urges. “It was just like graffiti, you know? It was like a graffiti tag that was digitally dispersed around the world and whoever that snowman guy might have been is kind of famous.”
“I thought that was the coolest kind of thing in the world,” he laughs. “I was never quite rebellious enough to jump on trains and be graffiti guy, do this was kind of perfect.”
While recent works have included the performance of auto-tuned folk songs, massively scaled Photoshop colour gradient prints, video paintings and even a foray into kinetic sculpture, Arcangel’s latest project sees him make a hilarious return to the gaming console.
“I have this new series of works that are self-playing games, so I’ve modified the controller so they basically play the same game over and over again into the system,” explains, stifling a giggle. “So I have this bowling game that just bowls gutter-balls one after another, forever, as long as the system is on. It’s so hilarious and definitely a series that I’m pretty proud about.”
Indeed, when technology is your muse, art never gets old. “The fun thing is that doing my kind of art, as time goes on, I’m presented with more and more things that I could use,” he says. “So now, for these bowling games, I’m using all these Playstation 1 games, which are like early 3D graphics and it just looks so funny now. But 10 years ago it might not yet have looked funny.”
“People forget that even the early Nintendo stuff, which we kind of remember as cute, is pretty harsh,” he laughs. “Like those little clouds move really slowly and are kind jagged and it’s really not pleasant.”
Cory Archangel’s new show The Sharper Images runs at MOCA North Miami until May 9th.
STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY: WACKY STUFF EN MASSE
Published: The Age, Arts & Culture, May 14, 2010.
A new project brings together artist run initiatives from across the Asia-Pacific region to create international expo of the weird and wonderful, writes Dan Rule.
Remote control smash-up derbies may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of a contemporary art fair, but then again, Hobart’s Six_a Artist Run Initiative don’t purport to perpetuate the norm.
“It’s going to be kind of noisy, kind of irritating and definitely fun,” offers Six-a’s Trick Walsh, giggling as way of punctuation. “It’s competitive, but in a fun way.”
Dubbed Super Charger, the collective’s “pavilion” as part of the Next Wave Festival’s monumental Structural Integrity event at North Melbourne’s Arts House – which commissioned 11 artist run initiatives (ARIs) from across the Australia and Asia to build structures that somehow represent their space and practice – comprises a vast cardboard and plywood “stadium of destruction” replete with a littering of abstract obstacles and a cache of hilariously modified “remote control monster truck thingies” with which audience members will be encouraged to smash and bash.
There is, however, something of an allegory amid the madness. “We just hope that people engage, basically, and that’s what we do with our gallery,” says Amanda Shone, also of Six_a. “It’s architecturally diverse and people come and they interact and it’s not so passive.”
Conceived as a response to World’s Fairs, international art biennales and other official, nationally sanctioned representations of culture and art, Structural Integrity sees independent ARIs consider their own practice and place within the international geo-cultural landscape.
“We were thinking a lot about the grand, world expositions of the 19th Century and of the Venice Biennale,” says Next Wave Artistic Program Manager Ulanda Blair, who co—curated the event with Artistic Director Jeff Khan, “which are just these grand statements coming from a very official and mainstream perspective.”
“We thought it would be fascinating to hand the idea over to grassroots artists and give them the opportunity to envisage and speak about their cultural and geographic context.”
Stretching throughout Arts House’s historic Meat Market venue, the project features works from six Australian spaces (including Melbourne’s West Space and Y3K, Adelaide’s FELTspace and Brisbane’s Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space) and five Asian ARIs (including Manilla’s Tutok, Guangzhou, China’s Vitamin Creative Space and Singapore’s Post-Museum) and spana various unconventional mediums.
House of Natural Fibre, a fluid new media collective from Jogjarkarta in Indonesia, for example, will combine audiovisual and botanical works in their installation, using ultra-violet light to grow plants and sensors to measure and harness the energy created by their growth. Sydney’s Locksmith Project Space, meanwhile, are building a travelling carnival tent on the back of a trailer they towed down the Hume to Melbourne.
While symbolic of their trek down to Melbourne for Next Wave, the tent also works to evoke the duality between Locksmith’s public and domestic qualities. “Our space has also been home to three of the four directors,” says co-director Yasmin Smith. “So I suppose it’s a reflection the idea of the public and the private. It’s an enclosed carnival tent, so the audience wont be able to enter it but there will be a kind of warm light emanating from inside.”
In an adjoining space, Masahiro Wada of Tokyo ARI Art Centre Ongoing has built a mineshaft-like structure out of materials gathered on trips around the Victoria goldfields and coastline. The work references both tradition Japanese ceremonial practices and, as Wada puts it, “the hidden materialities of the Australian landscape”.
This interface between grassroots Australian and different Asian artistic practice is one of the event’s major focuses, both on an artistic and practical level.
“We really wanted to learn a bit more about the contexts in which emerging artists from Asia are practicing, and kind of appreciate how difficult it can be for artists from some of these places, like Manilla and Jogjakarta in particular.”
Indeed, a theme that resonates throughout the clutch of ARIs involved in the project is one of resourcefulness and flexibility in the face of struggles such as meagre funding, rent hikes and censorship.
Brisbane’s Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space, for example, have used timber, bricks, flooring and turf to create an “improvised building” that interlocks with an architecturally challenging back corner of the Meat Market
“It kind of reflects the nature of an ARI in many ways,” says Boxcopy co-director Raymonde Rajkowski, of the slightly wonky structure. “You can’t really escape your limitations. You have to be practical, you have to scale down ideas and just make things work.”
Phip Murray, who fronts Melbourne institution West Space – whose pavilion includes a giant smoke ring machine created by artist Scott Mitchell along with students from Brunswick Secondary College – puts it in slightly more triumphant terms.
“The project seems like a kind of great metaphor for an ARI,” she smiles. “Everyone’s getting together and kind of heroically doing all this stuff and it’s kind of dinky, kind of a bit crazy and very much against the odds.”
Structural Integrity runs at Arts House, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, until May 29. Entry is free.
CAUGHT UP IN A TANGLED WEB OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE
Published: The Age, Arts & Culture, May 12, 2010.
Outerspace Julie Rrap, Arc One Gallery, 45 Flinders Lane, city, until May 29.
First Born Doble & Strong, Block Projects, Level 4, 289 Flinders Lane, city, until May 29.
Light Hold Emily Ferretti, Sophie Gannon Gallery, 2 Albert Street, Richmond, until May 29.
Dan Rule Reviewer.
The increasingly dynamic relationship between art and the public is no secret in contemporary art. The notion of the gallery as a virtual space that the once inert viewer must now actively negotiate is one central to a great deal of current practice.
It’s a premise that resonates throughout the ever-prolific Julie Rrap’s new body of work at Arc One Gallery. Comprising a series of performative photographic and video works – plus a web-like installation of the same black fabric straps that feature in the images – Outerspace requires us not just to view the works, but to enter and in a sense become them.
As with the majority of Rrap’s work, Outerspace uses the body as its fundamental motif. The large-scale photographs and video reveal the artist, adorned in black, seemingly suspended amid the angular network of straps. She appears to hang upside down, horizontally, vertically; she twists and turns in various phases of contortion, apparently floating. In one image, a strap covers half her face whilst another coils tightly around her hand, rippling the skin.
We too are restricted, our own movements around the gallery checked. We have to hurdle a low-slung strap only to duck another at head-height. The video, which is projected through the strapping and onto a far wall, becomes a kind of interface between the virtual and tactile installations with the straps throwing shadows onto the screen, locking Rrap’s body deeper in the web.
But Rrap’s deeper entrapment is an illusion – mere shadows cast. We begin to question our own perceptive qualities; we search for breaches in Rrap’s virtual world. The representation of the suspended body shifts from documentation to assume a more illusory guise.
First Born, the inaugural collaboration between Melbourne-based artists Robert Doble and Simon Strong at Block Projects, utilises the image of the human body to dramatically different ends. Comprising eight massively scaled photographic and gloss enamel works mounted on aluminium composite – plus an extensive series of smaller scale “studies” – the show deconstructs and mutates the archetypically flawless human image.
Naked, perfectly proportioned male and female models assuming various sensuous poses are interrupted by intense, dominating swirls of enamel. Faces are obscured, bodies are flayed open with splotches and splatters of bloody paint. It’s corporeal, visceral, graphic to the point of near horror. Yellow and opaque blooms grow over a naked female form in Chromoplast, the lurid, seemingly fungal matter glowing obscenely against faultless black skin. Gore-like splatters cloak faces. Modular sponges of pink trace, spread and extend their way along bodily contours. Scars, tubes and medical receptacles link subjects like a chain.
There’s a fascinating polarity to the works. The paints acts as a like a violent gesture towards photographs; it turns the body inside out. On the one hand, the violence seems to allude to the unnatural sheen of fashion photograph. It illustrates that the flawless body is in fact a living, functioning, corporeal bag of blood and guts.
Another vantage, however, might see such an unearthing as a reflection on medical science – a paean to the mystique and poetry of human form and a reflection on the de-humanising horror of the surgical table.
Emily Ferretti’s light, economical use of line, tonality and texture couldn’t be further removed. Her new collection of oil-on-linen paintings at Sophie Gannon Gallery – aptly dubbed Light Hold – evidences a feather touch. Indeed, Ferretti’s plants, nests, ping-pong tables, baskets and ephemera almost resemble watercolours.
What makes Ferretti’s paintings so attractive is their spaciousness. The weightless, painstakingly subtle palette applied to works like Teen Oak and Fern Fountain is almost dreamlike, the delicately rendered domestic plants floating meekly against an empty, white backdrop.
By isolating her subjects from context, the young Melbourne artist bestows them a particular gravity. Her ability to turn a ping-pong table net or clothesbasket into a thing of quiet, delicate beauty is a rare art in itself.
In Light Hold Ferretti shows that the lightest touch can often be the most transcendent.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, May 8, 2010.
WHAT Emidio Puglielli: Photoworks
WHERE Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, Level 8, Room 16, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, city, 0407 317 323, stephenmclaughlangallery.com.au
For Emidio Puglielli, photographs represent raw materials and starting points rather than outcomes. The Melbourne artist and curator’s “disrupted” photographs work not in the realm capturing a referent, but in highlighting the process, physicality and socio-cultural role of the photograph itself. In his concise new series at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery – the aptly titled Photoworks – Puglielli manually alters and treats a various aging and vernacular photographs, sanding back the photographic surface and attaching rows of map pins. In Snow Disruption, a scattering of pins splay out across much of a vintage silver gelatin photograph, even covering half the subject’s face. In Shadow Disruption, two strategically placed pins give a photograph of a Jack Russel Terrier a whole new identity. The rough, sanded surfaces of Snapshot Disruption and Sand Dune Disruption, meanwhile, afford their source materials a ghostly, aged quality, as if time is being erased. Indeed, there’s an unnerving, almost violent quality to Puglielli’s works and one gets the feeling that that’s the point. By attacking, erasing and puncturing the surface of the photographic object, he both amplifies and deconstructs the photograph’s role as personal and cultural vestige. Wed to Fri 1pm–5pm, Sat 11am–5pm, until May 15.
WHAT Joshua Petherick
WHERE ACCA @ Mirka, Tolarno Hotel, 42 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9697 9999, accaonline.org.au
Joshua Petherick’s dabblings and noodlings into fictive obscura and mysterious graphic materials often aren’t as convincing as his legions of well-connected fans would have you believe. But being convincing isn’t really what Petherick’s unusual art is about. He’s about creating hints of potential narrative, strands of arcane meaning and whispers possibility. It’s what makes his work so seductive or, depending on your disposition, frustrating. His new show at the odd ACCA satellite space at Mirka assumes a typically speculative course, with Petherick constructing a seemingly precarious series of shelves via a series of wine display cases – a clutch of altered images, warped coins, open magazines and various bits and bobs housed within them. Illusions and allusions abound here and active viewing will be rewarded. Daily 10am–midnight, until July 18.
WHAT Jessie Boylan: The Sound of Jets
WHERE 69 Smith Street Gallery, 69 Smith Street, Fitzroy, 0424 625 336, 69smithstreet.com.au
There are hints of innocence amid the arid, austere landscapes, tangled razor wire, fortified walls and implied violence that dominates Jessie Boylan’s new collection of photographs from the Israel/Palestine border; there are practical attempts to live a normal life. A makeshift soccer pitch sits unused in a rundown alleyway; new playground equipment glows a bright blue against an otherwise severe town and desert scape; a tree blossoms at the foot of concrete-fortified borderline through Bethlehem. It’s both heartening and terribly unsettling. In one sense, Boylan’s photographs seem to imply the possibility of reprieve. Despite unending conflict and violence, there is hope in the innocence of childhood, the will to live and the core empathy of humanity. But there is also a sense of suffocation to these photographs, a kind of ambient violence. Even if it’s absent in these scenes, it’s somewhere close, somewhere within earshot. Like The Sound of Jets, it is a relentless psychological presence. Wed to Sat 11am–5pm, Sun noon–5pm, until May 16.
WHAT Benedict Ernst: Pebble Botanica/(It Will be a) New Garden
WHERE Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, 26 Acland Street, St Kilda, 9534 0099, lindenarts.org
Showing as part of Linden’s hit-and-miss Innovators program, Benedict Ernst’s respectively minute and gigantic sculptural installations each take an unconventional approach to notions of landscape. In the large-scale work, a colossal “garden” – built from expandable foam, polystyrene and plastic plants – surges from the garish artificial grass earth. White neon lights ring the base, bathing the structure in cold, sterile light. It is entirely inorganic; a tower of waste growing toward the sky. At the foot of the structure sits an upscaled garden bench, an invitation to relaxedly gaze at the monolith. The miniature-scale sculpture perches atop a shelf nearby, it’s tiny plants and foliage arranged in modular, almost architectural groupings. Ernst’s work seems a deconstruction of our perception of landscape. He draws us in by utilising familiar visual and spatial cues. The altered scales and materials, meanwhile, allow us a fresh vantage. Sat to Sun 11am–5pm, last day tomorrow.
THE COLOUR IS RIGHT ON THE MONEY
Published: The Age, Arts & Culture, May 5, 2010.
WorldWide Optimism Sarah Hughes, Sutton Gallery, 254 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, until May 15.
I Wander Charlie Sofo, Heide Museum of Modern Art, 7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen, until July 25.
Dan Rule Reviewer.
To many of the artistic inclination, the idea of world economics, consumer price indexes or international monetary data equates to little more than a blip of white noise. To others, it’s just plain,light coma-inducing, dry.
With this in mind, it’s something of a shock to realise just how deeply the work of New Zealand artist Sarah Hughes is entrenched in the global numbers game. Spanning both spaces at Sutton Gallery, the intensely vibrant, acrylic-on-linen works that comprise new collection WorldWide Optimism blush with sticky, hypnotising candy store colour. White, horizontal bands interrupt a rainbow of vertical stripes; repetitious geometrical patterns form stunning colour swatches; shards of colour wrangle for space.
But what might at first seem to deal in abstraction is in fact loaded with statistical data and detail. In the smaller space, the three-piece Bank Homepage Series (2009-2010) maps the proportion of specific colours used on the homepages of major bank websites, arranging each hue into a grid of repeating zero and comma motifs. The pair of vast paintings that bookend the main gallery, meanwhile, use a honeycomb-like arrangement of hexagons to represent vast numbers of statistics relating to global wellbeing and international average happiness studies, making aesthetic reference to Depression era quilting techniques in the process.
The sheer statistical depth is dumbfounding to say the least, but what grants these works their real vigour is their semiotic complexity and sense of aesthetic paradox. Indeed, while Hughes’s arrangements and compositions espouse a syntax of graphs, diagrams and other visual techniques for mapping economic data, her colour palette effectively hijacks and eschews our analysis at every turn.
The more time you spend with her work, the more it works to expound the tricks and tics of visual language. In the end, we’re left with a bouquet of arbitrary, artificial nonetheless attractive colour configurations. Indeed, the world of macroeconomics seems absurd when represented in dazzling, candy-hued technicolour.
Young Melbourne artist Charlie Sofo assumes a vastly different vantage in I Wander, his poetic collection of video and installation works at Heide’s Project Gallery. Running alongside a stunning survey of Malaysian-Australian photo artist Simyrn Gill and a study of Albert Tucker’s bushrangers, Sofo’s work exists in something of a local microcosm. Across three videos, a series of texts and kind of sculpture, he maps, documents and undertakes “experiments” around his home suburb of Northcote.
Though place and locale are hardly new avenues of enquiry in contemporary art, Sofo’s engagement is refreshingly original and, at times, happily mischievous.
A common strand is musicality. He chooses not to elaborate on contexts, histories or narratives, but instead on sound, surface and immediate setting. One video work sees a montage of Sofo dragging a drumstick over countless fences, gates and walls in his local area. Each scene is tightly framed and shot from the hip, with only Sofo’s hand, the drumstick and the immediate sonic surface in view. We’re afforded a rare kind of texture and lyrical resonance. It’s oddly, but genuinely intimate.
Another video features photographs of birds perched on electrical wires, which Sofo has then translated to notes on a musical stave. As each photograph appears onscreen, its corresponding note rings out; a song emerges; something out of nothing.
There are other experiments. The pages of a book splayed out on bench detail various public “interactions” – including standing in an aisle at Coles with his eyes closed for two minutes, lying down in car parks and standing in strangers’ front yards – which skirt, but never quite stoop so low as a genuine prank.
A fascinating work is the sculptural installation, which features countless balls of various sizes that Sofo either found, was given or made from materials gathered on his walks around Heide. While it may seem innocuous at first, what the piece manages to do is give us an entirely different insight into the grounds on which we stand.
It’s precisely this quality that gives I Wander its unusual charm. This isn’t so much about our social, historical and geographic place in the world, but our immediate, tangible interface with it.
PETER BROTZMANN - NO ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS
Published: The Age, A2, May 1, 2010.
In his playing as in his art, saxophonist and visual artist Peter Brotzmann is cutting through the claptrap, writes Dan Rule.
Peter Brötzmann has an uncomplicated, perhaps even uncompromising, way with words. He speaks unhurriedly, directly, openly. He frames the making of music and art as a means “survival”; he recounts his time employment as a graphic designer for German advertising firms in the 60s as “working for the enemy”; he emits a deep, slow, rumbling laugh.
“I was never a friend of anything nice and clean,” he says. “Not in music and not in my artwork.”
“Through all our life we have enough of this nice and clean bullshit surrounding us,” he continues, tonight chatting on the phone from the offices of Chicago gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey, which shows his paintings and sculptural objects in the US. “I always felt that I had to break away from that and do something different, something real.”
In a career that has spanned the best part of half a century and appearances on upwards of 100 records, the legendary saxophonist, composer, visual artist and graphic designer has generated an almost endless catalogue of work that does just that. Widely regarded as one of the key, innovatory protagonists of European free jazz and improvised music, 69-year-old’s raw, violently powerful timbre and deft melodic sensitivity have resulted in some of the idiom’s defining moments.
For Brötzmann, music has been a both life’s work and a life’s reflection. “Music isn’t just the expression of playing something nice,” he says. “It goes far beyond that, like a kind of social example you can prove. That is, in a way, the rules of jazz music. It doesn’t come from aesthetic feelings or theory; it comes out of the society.”
The brutal, tumultuous sonic attack that is Machine Gun – his 1968 recording with the Peter Brötzmann Octet – is still celebrated as a signpost release of European jazz. His list of collaborators, meanwhile, is one of the most diverse in music, having played alongside artists of the ilk of drummer Han Bennink, pianist Fred van Hove, trumpeter Don Cherry, iconic Japanese free noise guitarist Keiji Haino, and with Bill Laswell, Sony Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson in noise/metal/free jazz ensemble Last Exit among countless others.
But there’s more to Brötzmann’s artistic influence than music alone. His album and poster art for the iconic German independent label FMP (Free Music Production) – much of which will be on show as part of a retrospective exhibition of Brötzmann’s graphic work opening Wednesday night at The Narrows, in addition to a suite of performances and discussions as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival – fashioned a striking, typically gritty visual identity that came to characterise the movement.
Brötzmann, however, takes a pragmatic view of the design material’s relationship to his musical practice. “When we started all that we didn’t think so much about the work coalescing or connecting in some way,” he says.
“I’ve always tried to draw a line between my music and my painting and graphic work. But of course, for our FMP organization it was useful to have a guy like me who could do all these things and, of course, I was able to develop a certain style with the lettering and composing things and putting them together. So I guess I would say that it has my kind of handwriting on it; it’s definitely got my kind of stamp.”
Tellingly, Brötzmann’s early musical outings were largely informed by visual art. Born in the small city of Remscheid (near Düsseldorf) in the shadow of the Second World War, he went onto study painting and advertising art at the Werkkunstschule in nearby Wuppertal.
Though he had taught himself saxophone as a schoolboy and played in a handful of amateur ensembles as a hobbyist, art was his initial focus.
“My goal at the time was definitely to be a painter,” he says. “On the other hand, music was always on the side and I was playing in some amateur and some semi-professional bands, which was quite helpful.”
“I liked to be onstage and I liked the audience and all of that was quite fascinating for me.”
By the time he’d come to exhibit his own visual work, something about the art scene struck a raw nerve. “As much as I liked to see my work on some good walls, I didn’t like the people so much,” he laughs. “The art business just disturbed me a lot and I much rathered the people I saw in my music audience.”
Brötzmann’s exposure to the 1960s Fluxus movement, whilst working as an assistant to famed Korean artist Nam June Paik, had a decisive effect on his approach to music. Where the Fluxus artists incorporated artefacts, found objects, junk and expanded notions of material to their work, Brötzmann realised he too could augment his sound with such sonic “junk” as noise and dissonance.
“Looking back, it was a very important time for me, working with Paik,” he recalls. “This was a time where, one night, you could see John Coltrane or Miles Davis, then the next night you could go see John Cage or Stockhausen… There were the first ESP records with music of Albert Ayler and Byard Lancaster and all these guys came over and toured on the back of that.”
“I met some of the Fluxus guys and performed with them a couple of times. I was setting up Paik’s exhibitions in Amsterdam and meeting all these different people and it was a very informative time. You really got information from all sides and those guys really helped me open my mind to that.”
It’s this freedom of influence – this holistic approach to music – that has come to define the veteran artist’s body of work.
“A lot of the younger people I see coming out of the conservatories or the music schools, they see music as a kind of aesthetic game or as a way of making money,” he says. “Both might have a little place in the whole thing, but if that is the main reason then it’s not enough. Not in my eyes or ears.”
Indeed, for Brötzmann, music and art transcend the vestiges of form and aesthetic. They are irrevocably entwined in the stuff of life itself.
“People are always asking ‘Why are you still doing it?’ and ‘Why do you still play with such a force?’” he says. “The only very simple explanation is that in a world where we are surrounded in all this artificial shit, I need something else.”
“So I play my stuff,” he pauses. “The horn sounds and the music flows and, for me, it’s kind of a recipe for survival.”
Peter Brötzmann: Graphic Work (1968–2010) shows at The Narrows from May 5–29; thenarrows.org
Brötzman will play solo at BMW Edge, Federation Sqaure on Tuesday, May 4 and as part of the Overground concert at the Melbourne Town Hall tomorrow.
He will give a masterclass with Han Bennink at BMW edge on Tuesday, May 4 and take part in Conversations on the Underground at the Wheeler Centre on Monday, May 3.
Visit melbournejazz.com for all event and ticketing details.