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ALL FOR ART AND ART FOR ALL ISSUE TWO DECEMBER 2012 SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA allforartandartforall.com allforartandartforall@gmail.com or find us on facebook

ART TRIBES OF SYDNEY Who are the art tribes of Sydney? In this issue we discover some of the artists, galleries, collectors and personalities of the Sydney art world. This project is entirely not for profit and everyone has donated their articles, time and energy. We hope that what we are doing contributes to the cultural energy of our city. We thank every contributor for their support of this new intitiative. Every author writes independently and the views expressed in their articles are their own. We thank the artists and galleries for the use of their images and we look forward to contributions from the other tribes in future issues. ALL FOR ART AND ART FOR ALL... it’s that simple. Yours Sincerely,


What’s in this issue?

A letter from Melbourne Ken Whisson’s Consistency

Kylie Stillman Joe Frost

Into the Garden of Earthly Delights

Isobel Parker Philip

ART and LIFE: interview

Christopher Hodges

Boomalli Celebrates 25 Years Introducing South Side Tribes Contemporary Jewellery is a Goldfield and a Landmine Welcome to the New Dark Ages: Cutting the Visual Arts in TAFE A Five-Minute Interview with Mylyn Nguyen Sign Man Sydneysiders Away

Boomalli Visual Essay Bridget Kennedy Damien Minton Olivia Welch Chloe Watson Visual Essay


A letter from Melbourne Kylie Stillman

Ken Whisson’s Consistency Joe Frost


The MCA’s Ken Whisson: As If, curated jointly with Heide Museum of Modern Art, was one of the major exhibitions in Sydney’s galleries this Spring. I had an association with the exhibition, contributing an interview to the catalogue, so this is not intended as an impartial critique but a reflection on a theme that has come up in a few conversations about the exhibition. Among those I talked to, the response to the work was overwhelmingly positive. The word ‘consistency’ came up quite a few times from different people. Whisson is a consistent artist, they said; the work is consistent. Funnily enough, the more dismissive responses I heard pointed to what might be the same feature, but saw it as a problem: they said the idiom is narrow, limited by a fixed attitude to medium and process. This led me to wonder what we are praising when we point to an artist’s consistency, what we are criticising when we speak of repetitiousness, and whether the distinction between the two lies largely in the eye of the beholder.

Taken at face value the word consistency, as it pertains to a retrospective exhibition, would seem to indicate a high level of achievement sustained by an artist over a lifetime. I think those who said Whisson’s work is consistent meant this, but there are finer distinctions to be made within that broad statement. Firstly, there is consistency of quality, consisting in each of the works being strong in its own right. Glenn Barkley, MCA curator, commented that in curating the show he did not come across a bad Whisson, a comment I expect would send a chill down many artists’ spines. Creative artists fail regularly and surely all artists have done a number of bad ones. But artists redeem themselves through their capacity to determine when they have failed and their willingness to remove those works from circulation. The consistent artist does not necessarily produce an excellent performance every time they enter the studio, but they do perform at that level fairly regularly and make sure the poor performances don’t see the light of day.



How many strong works then, over what length of time, secure the claim to consistent quality? Whisson’s early career is interesting in this regard. The years up to and including 1967, when he turned 40, were represented in As If by only twenty-six paintings and twenty works on paper, mostly the same paintings seen in the artist’s 1987 Broken Hill Art Gallery survey exhibition. This makes me wonder how large the pool of work from Whisson’s first twenty years is, and whether only the best survived. Taking into consideration his comments about gradually sharpening his critical faculty as a young artist, it may be that a certain amount of culling took place back then by his own hand. But however many were destroyed, forgotten or lost, nobody I talked to mentioned a scarcity of early work in As If. Roughly one and a half paintings a year during the first twenty years were enough of a sample to establish the worth of that period, which suggests that consistent quality does not require prolificacy. The second kind of consistency that people could be pointing to in Whisson’s work is stylistic consistency. Although the work changes over the course of his career, within each period he forges a singular, distinctive style. The ’60s paintings are characterised by expressionistic abandon, in the ’70s he simplified forms in a consolidated pictorial space, and the stratified ‘thought-space’ of the ’80s to re-

cent times has incorporated varied subject matter in a variety of moods, including the photographic images of the From the Newspapers series. Many people expressed a preference for one or two of these periods over another in As If. By my polling, the ’70s works are extremely popular, there are many admirers of the radical compositions from the ’60s, and there is respect for the more recent work although it might not be embraced as lovingly. People recognise though, that Whisson has continued to be original throughout his career and thoroughly explored the possibilities of each period style. But stylistic consistency, construed as repetition, is a common point of attack for those who don’t like Whisson’s work. I heard a painter who has produced one monochromatic canvas after another for many years criticise Whisson’s paintings as formulaic. I also know a celebrated critic who couldn’t see why Morandi would keep painting those bottles, and laypersons for whom one of Rothko’s cloudy canvases would have been enough. To notice the uniqueness of individual works of a similar style, and how particular paintings extend and deepen a general idea, some sympathy for the style does help. If the paintings don’t immediately meet the viewer’s taste, they might not stand and look for long enough to see how each one varies from the stereotype. This is my best explanation



All images are installtaion views of Ken Whisson: As If at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Courtesy of the artist, Watters Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.


of how a room of paintings will be a triumph of consistency to one person and pointlessly repetitive to another. When it comes to Whisson’s work of recent decades, though, the bright white canvas showing through in the unpainted sections makes the paintings seem more alike than perhaps they should, given that each contains unique passages of colour and brushwork. Although shown en masse in As If, these individual paintings require their own time and attention, and perhaps the viewer should be willing to take that time on the strength of Whisson’s consistency of vision, the final consistency he demonstrates.

Consistency of vision comes from a constant sense of purpose, maintained so that the moments of change and the periods of consolidation can be seen as part of one continuous creation. This is the artist’s oeuvre, the new and old work completing each other. Ideas have evolved through successive treatments and Whisson’s images now constitute an expansive field of realised possibilities. When an artist achieves consistency of quality, consistency of style and consistency of vision over a lifetime it’s something to see. That is exactly what many people saw in As If, and in praising Ken Whisson’s consistency that’s what they were talking about.

Into The Garden of Earthly Delights

Isobel Parker Philip

Polixeni Papetrou, The Visitor, 2012, pigment print, 70 x 105cm


Isobel Parker Philip’s thoughts on Stills Gallery’s group show ‘The Garden of Earhtly Delights’

Walking up the stairs and into the end of year group show at Stills Gallery, the viewer is welcomed by Polixeni Papapetrou’s The Visitor. In this photograph a figure stands in a small clearing, framed by bare tree branches. Fog lingers in the background, ready to consume this strange character – half human, half rabbit. With her hooped petticoat and parasol, she could have stepped out of surrealist gothic fable. Her poise is regal yet ghostly as she holds court over this eerie (and somewhat sinister) landscape.

Ben Cauchi, Ashes, 2008/2011, unique palladium print #2, 21 x 26cm

At once disquieting and strikingly beautiful, this image hints at what lies ahead. Casting her gaze towards the rest of the exhibition, Papapetrou’s rabbit leads us into The Garden of Earthly Delights.

by disengaged and vacant figures: Parke’s sleeping protagonists; the vague human forms in Gilbert Bel-Bachir’s snapshots taken through the windows of a moving bus; the disembodied shadow in Garry Trinh’s Untitled #6.

Featuring a diverse collection of artists working with a range of photomedia techniques from tableau composition to documentary photography, this group show offers an assortment of treasures. But with such variation among the work exhibited, how do we make sense of it all? How can we negotiate the space between Trent Parke’s wry narrative humour in The Christmas Tree Bucket series and Ian Dodd’s haunting (and achingly poetic) black and white landscapes? What kind of garden have we stumbled upon?

From Mark Kimber’s supernatural illuminated dioramas to Dodd’s phantom-filled world and Ben Cauchi’s stunning palladium prints – mysterious spectral scenes that stray into the territory of the transcendental (a deflated balloon, an empty chair on which a piece of cloth seems to be levitating) – these are images that play with the absence and erasure of the human form. Occupying a similar thematic terrain are Narelle Autio’s otherworldly underwater scenes, Danielle Thompson’s abstract images of leaves and Anne Noble’s comic portraits of trucks bearing female monikers.

One thing I noticed as I made my way around the exhibition was the distinct absence of human presence in a lot of the work. The spaces in most of these photographs are either empty or occupied

It is Papapetrou’s work, with its hybrid figures, that announces the disappearance (or rather disintegration) of the human form. In her photographs the body is quietly becoming other,


slowly absenting itself from its surrounds. Is this, then, what the figure in The Mourner laments? The slow dissolve of the body? Perhaps we witness a similar lament in the other photographs on show. Perhaps this is why so many of them feel haunted and riddled with

ghosts. So while the exhibition may be a garden of earthly delights, it is also a garden of unearthly delights – a landscape populated by spectres and shadows. But therein lies its allure. For this garden – a place from which the human body retreats – seduces as it unsettles.

Mark Kimber, Mother, she’s just a stranger, 2012, pigment print, 15 x 25cm. All images are courtesy of the artists and Stills Gallery.

ART and LIFE Armando Percuoco and Gemma Cunningham in conversation with Christopher Hodges at their restaurant BUON RICORDO

CHRISTOPHER HODGES: The reason I chose you to be interviewed is that I think you have got a very personal collection, that is on show. When I first came to Buon Ricordo I noticed that it was full of art, and it wasn’t just full of one sort of art, and it wasn’t decorator art. It was a change, it was different. So first of all, what began your interest in art in Sydney? ARMANDO PERCUOCO: I’ve been together with Gemma now for twenty-five years and I think it was really Gemma who pushed me, more than anybody else, to look at art. I remember the first time Gemma took me to Canberra – that was about 25 years ago – there was Fred Williams at the National Gallery, and Gemma was going, ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, look how beautiful it is.’ And I looked at it, and I didn’t want to disappoint her, you know when you are in love with somebody, and I said to her ‘oh yeah, it’s nice’, but really I didn’t understand all those dots on the canvas. Then, I think a year or a couple of years later, I really became interested in Australian art. One night on TV, there was a documentary about Fred Williams and the commentator was saying you have to put your eyes about 2000 m high, and look down to see the painting and then you have a look at the landscape… and then you say that’s the trees, that’s the bush, that’s the dam. And all of a sudden I saw the painting, and all of a sudden I said ‘yes, I can see the landscape!’


So from that involvement, I think, we started to buy art. You start to buy simple art, etchings, drawings… and then slowly, slowly, you start evolving and you start to go to galleries, start to talk to artists, start to talk to gallery owners. And you know, you really move. You move from simple things to a little bit more complex… and then sometimes you move from painting to sculpture. And I have to say, ‘Gemma always has had a very good eye!’ C: You also have a lot of sculpture in your restaurant and your home and in the country. A: My biggest pleasure for twenty years has been the group of sculptors, they meet here every month… they have a talk upstairs, and there is always a very interesting talk from them, or from a speaker. So I have learnt a lot from them as well. GEMMA CUNNINGHAM: But even when we’ve travelled I think the things that have interested me as well, like in Sardinia and the Etruscan art, it’s some of those very primitive, simple, sculptural figures, which I really, really love.

Angus McDonald on another side, John Davis… C: and there is a Mitsuo Shogi ceramic on that side, and your latest piece here from the Sculpture by the Sea winner, Peter Lundberg. In other words, with a little glance around the restaurant we are filled with a great variety of art, and one of the things that has always caught my eye is that you have a broad range of works from a broad range of artists and a broad range of galleries across Sydney. A: That is correct. Gemma and I, we buy what we like. We don’t buy something to decorate the restaurant because I know one day if I get out of the restaurant business, that is our art, it’s our collection. That is what’s important for us… You become obsessive and possessive about your art. C: But you are also very generous with it, in the restaurant there is art on display all the time and many times I have come here and seen sculpture sitting in the middle of the tables. Some of these sculptures are delicate and small and some of them are quite valuable, and they just make the table for me.

C: Well on the walls of your restaurant where we are sitting today, you have paintings by Dale Frank over there…

But now, let’s talk about the country, you have some olive trees, some acres on the river flats at Wollombi, and you have sculpture by any number of leading Australian artists there, and they are all placed well within the landscape.

A: …and John Olsen on one side, Tim Maguire on the other side, Jameison Magraw on another side,

A: I look at it in this way: it would be a little presumptuous of me to place the sculpture in


Jacek Wankowski sculpture in situ


some way, I think the artist has an eye for where he wants to place their own piece. Ok, so I bought the piece, but it always belongs to the artist – they created it. C: Well, when I look at your avenue of trees, and there is a sculpture at the end of that avenue of trees, it always seems to me that you have built the landscape to comple ment the sculpture, to show it off well in harmony with the plants and trees… A: You do, by all means. And for me it is absolutely beautiful: to invite the sculptor up, we sit out on the porch, have lunch, and this is what life is all about. It’s not just making money, it’s not just the material things. You have to have something in life. I like the philosophy of most of the artists... its like Ian Marr when he gave me the bench and brought it up and he said, ‘where do you want it?’ And I said, ‘no no Ian, you tell me where the bench should be,’ and he said, ‘where’s your sunset?’ I said, ‘over there,’ he said ‘alright, we will have the bench here so that you can look out over the sunset.’ And I mean, for me, I will never forget that. C: So the sculpture in that place, and the relationship between you and the sculpture and the place, become more than just one thing. A: Exactly. That is the way I look at it. And, again, I make a lot of mistakes. I mean, I have bought a lot of art that today is not worth anything. First of all, I have never sold one – even if I make a mistake,

even if I don’t like it. I still have my first etching at home. I don’t look at the sculpture or the painting, saying ‘one day it will cost this much money… I’ll make so much money.’ No… it’s not a profitable thing. You have got to make sure that you buy art because you love the piece. It’s a pleasure value. When I’m tired at night time, and I get home at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I sit in my lounge room and I see a lot of painting, a lot of sculpture around me, and it doesn’t matter for how long I have had the painting, I still look at the painting, and I still see something else. C: And if you went to the National Gallery now and saw Fred Williams… A: [Laughs] I could not believe it. But you see, I think it’s good that the art critic or commentator, people who really know art, explain to common people like me, what it’s really about – the painting or the sculpture. Because then you can understand exactly what you can see… I hate those people who say, ‘I can make that.’ You stupid bastard… that would be a copy, not something you created. C: One of the things that has always interested me is, just as you say, that the creative act of making things – and you have always made things in the kitchen, and you understand that – it’s more than just the sum of the parts of the little bits of food that you put in there, there has got to be a bit of magic.


A: … Ok, well we are not creating anything… we cook ok? But even with cooking I like to give a pleasure of the palette to people, like the artist giving me pleasure through his art.

G: Another piece we have at home that we really love, we went to the gallery because he was the nephew of one of our very favourite customers, Roddy Meagher, Linton. So there are these…

C: When I come to your restaurant, when I come to your house, this is the feeling I get from the way that you incorporate the art into your life. It’s just like the food – it’s part of the fabric of your life.

A: Connections.

A: You are right but you know, if you don’t have a beauty in your eyes, then it becomes a manual job. That is why a lot of people don’t succeed…

G: Yes, these webs. C: Ok, last question, do you ever have differences of opinion over art? A: No, very little actually, when it comes to art.

Gemma returns to the conversation:

G: No, not like the garden.

C: You and Armando have had a great life in art, obviously, because you are surrounded by art everyday…

A: The garden we have a fight, a massive fight. No, with art sometimes I give up and sometimes Gemma gives up, but more or less at the end we both like the piece that we bought.

G: I think a lot of chefs and restaurateurs – like I think of Lucio and Tetsuya and Tony Bilson – they have a passion for what they do, and a creativity, and I think they share that with a lot of artists and I think that’s why they develop great friendships as well. And I think that the collections arise out of that a lot of the time. There is a very personal element I guess, with art that we have collected. Most have been because we have had a relationship with people. C: Well I can see that the work you have in here is from a broad range of artists, and they are artists that you have known for a long time?

G: Yes, sometimes I will think, ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that’ and then afterwards I can say, no I really appreciate it and I’m very glad Armando insisted.

Armando and Gemma Percuoco have been collecting art for over twenty five years, it would be fair to say their lives are filled with art and their restaurant, Buon Ricordo, is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. buonricordo.com.au


Boomalli Celebrates 25 Years Ripple Effect: Founding Boomalli Members Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative until 20th January 2013

From left to right: Bronwyn Bancroft, Arone Raymond Meeks, Tracey Moffatt, Brenda L. Croft, Avril Quail, Fern Martins, Fiona Foley, Euphemia Bostock, Jeffrey Samuels and Michael Riley’s aunt.

In 1987 a group of young indigenous artists gathered together to form Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative. Pictured here are the founding members at their first exhibition and as they celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. Keith Munro has curated the exhibition, ‘Ripple Effect: Founding Boomalli Members’, which will be at the Boomalli art gallery until 20th January 2013. In his words: It is not every day that Aboriginal people get to celebrate such a milestone of achievement. As one of the longest running artist run initiatives in Sydney the twenty fifth anniversary of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative is also an opportunity for us all to perhaps reflect on those people that have made significant contributions to the organisation that are no longer with us.

Photograph by Jim Anderson

Boomalli has been a place of nurturing the development of contemporary art practice. It has also been a cultural and creative space for the sharing of ideas and the moulding of emerging and established artists. Over the last twenty-five years many have left a mark.


Introducing South Side Tribes

Brenda May Gallery


Darren Knight Gallery

Stella Downer Fine Art

Defiance Gallery

Studio 20/17

Aborigina & Pacific Art

Contemporary jewellery is a goldfield and a landmine Bridget Kennedy

For a person engaged in the field of contemporary jewellery, the word ‘jeweller’ causes all sorts of issues. Mention that you’re a jeweller at a party and anyone with a diamond that needs setting, or a necklace that needs restringing will come out of the woodwork, or you’ll hear about their latest beading party. Mention you’re a contemporary jeweller, and you nearly always find yourself needing to explain that you don’t make jewellery that most people think of as jewellery and then trying to explain what that means… sometimes this can end in awkward silences, particularly if you mention ideas like jewellery that decays during wearing, or insect parts. Meet someone who ‘gets it’, who knows of the few galleries in Australia representing Contemporary Jewellery, or CJ as our small community likes to call it, and it feels like you’ve found a new friend for life. My first awareness of contemporary jewellery really only came about as a result of inheriting three generations of beautiful, fascinating, and also sometimes ugly, jewellery just a few weeks after the birth of my first child. While rifling through my box of history, with all its associated memories – small charms collected by the previous owner as a child, heirlooms passed on to her from her parents, a Fijian coin, given to her by my father, (at least, that was the story I made up as to why it had stayed in her jewellery collection for over 50

years) – I began to understand the fundamental desire for humans to adorn themselves in one way or another. Two weeks later, the first day I left the house, I was burgled and it was all stolen. I had only previously known the typical high street, ‘traditional’ jewellery, which always seemed to be different versions of exactly the same thing, and I had never been particularly interested in adorning myself with these kinds of trinkets, so when the insurance company told me I had to replace the stolen items with newly bought replacements I was stumped. I decided to replace my lost jewels and memories with ones that I would make myself…….fast forward a few years, my love affair with CJ continues. Melanie Ihnen, a fellow jeweller, and myself, have opened Studio 20/17 and we’re about to celebrate our 5th birthday. We’re the only gallery in Sydney that is dedicated purely to exhibiting and representing jewellery artists and we’re proud of it! We both studied at The Design Centre in Enmore, and are always excited to see the fresh, new work being developed by students. Every year the students hold a fabulous exhibition at The Depot Gallery, (from 27/11/12 until the 1/12/12).


Once you’ve been exposed to the refreshing world of contemporary jewellery, there’s no turning back… you see the world of jewellery in a whole new light. Images of jewellery and body adornment have been found in the oldest of cave paintings and as someone once said, adornment is what links humanity to creativity….or at least it was something like that!

Want to find out more about CJ? I’m reading a great book at the moment by Liesbeth den Besten, titled ON jewellery, A Compendium of international contemporary art jewellery. You can get it at http:// www.bookdepository.co.uk/On-Jewellery-Liesbethden-Besten/9783897903494

Bridget Kennedy, The Long Hot Summer, Fragile Days Fragile Ways, pendant and two brooches, 2012, oxidised sterling silver, cicada shell legs

Welcome to the New Dark Ages: Cutting the Visual Arts in TAFE remarks by Damien Minton at the SAVE TAFE ART rally held at the Damien Minton Gallery, 19 November 2012

To witness a living, breathing 120-year-old institution like the Newcastle Art School being kneecapped by the O’Farrell government is a scandal.

image courtesy of SAVE TAFE NSW

This act of school yard bully boy violence is distressing as it has sent the dedicated art teachers, both full time and part time, into trauma as they


scramble to salvage a new structure to stay alive in 2013. The actions of this NSW government to stop funding the visual arts departments within the TAFE system from next year shows how we as a society have slipped back into a new cultural dark age. As one drives through or visits many regional towns in NSW there are still stately Victorian era buildings with the words ‘School of Arts’ sitting proudly on the façade. They symbolise our 19th century great great grandfathers and mothers developing and maturing an understanding and resolve in placing the visual arts and crafts shoulder to shoulder with their work ethic of employment and business. At the turn of the 19th into the 20th century there was real pride in using a visual language to inform, define and articulate community and society. The O’Farrell decision to stop funding the visual arts within TAFE illustrates how far we have regressed from that proud stance. We are back into the cultural dark ages, the neo age of despots. It is an act of Cromwellian proportions. Macquarie Street has no understanding or knowledge as to how the visual arts in TAFE is an essential component of an economic eco system that

circulates well beyond the art school walls. The vast majority of artists this art gallery represents teach in the TAFE system, passing on their knowledge and skills for 8 to 10 hours a week. Without it, their art practice becomes vulnerable and precarious. Also, the first solo exhibitions by emerging artists staged at this gallery have invariably been recent graduates from TAFE. The eagerness and enthusiasm of the artists’ families and friends is far more meaningful and infectious than the nickels and dimes that flow from the red dots on the white walls. It gives young artists the confidence and possibility of being productive, creative human beings. The TAFE system provides a ‘hands on’ environment for creative people to be nurtured and encouraged, a ‘pastoral’ care model of teaching. So to suddenly witness these ‘culture houses’ being destroyed is like watching a You Tube video of an Israeli missile slamming into its target. The complicity of the TAFE bureaucracy to step aside and point at the soft target is cowardly and deplorable. The art staff involved in this essential part of the broader visual arts industry now have to gasp for air in order to survive. They are scrambling and stitching together a new fee structure for students


in order to survive, all within four months. You may ask yourself, why? Cutting the funds of Fine Arts in TAFE compared to the enormity of NSW INC is hardly a cost saving measure. It is the mosquito, not the elephant, in the room. These gruesome and lethal cuts stem from the war the apparatchiks within TAFE have staged for decades. It is a war against creativity, because creativity will never fit neatly into an economic determinist excel spreadsheet. The visual arts is irritating and the word culture immediately makes the eyes roll. The bureaucracy’s obsession with quantitative data goes right up to the level of the Bacon and Kapoor shows currently on offer this summer. Money spent in the visual arts can be justified if it fits into an economic strategy. These people get turned on by balance sheets neatly adding up, they get orgasmic when red ink turns into a surplus. So they fear creativity, even within themselves. They don’t understand it, they don’t want this irritation… So get rid of it. Ironically this becomes the main weapon for artists and arts administrators. It is something O’Farrell and his dark age Macquarie Street cronies fear the most … the joy and potency of creativity. image courtesy of SAVE TAFE NSW

A Five-Minute Interview with Mylyn Nguyen Olivia Welch

What is your earliest memory of making art? When I was about 3, I collected matchboxes. I made little paper dolls and little beds and the matchboxes would be their little home. I remember keeping them in my pocket and every so often would slide the lid back to see how they were doing. Do you listen to music when you are creating works? If so, what is on high rotation? I rarely listen to music. I do, however, have movies playing in the background: Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away & Howl’s Moving Castle, Jim Henson’s The Story Teller series and Zoolander.

When preparing for your last exhibition, did you create works around a theme or did the links between the works reveal themselves later on? The last exhibition, An owl flew into my office and told me to look for Bear was based on a theme: moss. I love moss. They’re like miniature fields. I wanted to cover every little trinket in my house hoping miniature animals would start emerging from them. Describe the space in which you create your works. I work in my dining/lounge room in front of my wall

Mylyn Nguyen, ‘Ice cream didn’t help’ 2012, found ice cream scoop, pebbles, fibre, watercolour + ink on paper, 5.5 x 19.5 x 7cm


of dolls, knick-knacks, books and plants. Do you have a favourite piece or favourite pieces? If so, which piece/s and why?

My favourite piece is the ‘Car’ series 2012: toy cars with a little forest atop. They are simple and fun; especially when racing them down the gallery floor (‘Car 2’ won!). What has been, for you, a defining moment in your career as an artist? Working with Brenda and her team way back when I had just graduated from university was my defining moment: I wasn’t an art student anymore, I was an artist. What did you eat for breakfast? Unfortunately, nothing. What do you wish you had for breakfast? Bacon and eggs.

Mylyn Nguyen, ‘Car 2’ 2012, found car, fibre, twig, 9 x 3 x 7.5cm

SIGN MAN Chloe Watson


Chloe Watson investigates an anonymous sign writer

Driving along Alison Road at 9.45 on a Friday morning, my partner spotted something out of the window and immediately slowed the car to a halt. Propped on the seat at the bus shelter was a square cushion, beige with blue circles, across which a simple text was written in block-lettered white out. Without a second thought I tumbled out of the passenger seat and hurried across a single lane of traffic, thankfully empty, to the prized object. Returning with it to our beat-up Mazda I couldn’t suppress the victorious grin that was spreading across my face, and hugged this street thing to my chest like a long-lost teddy-bear. Now, many of you may be wondering why someone would go out of their way to pick up an object that might well have supported the head of a stranger without a home the night before. What’s more, this seemingly abandoned object was a sign, advertising another soon to be abandoned object. I didn’t need a leather sofa, or a sofa bed for that matter. I was after the thing in itself – the slightly dishevelled cushion covered in white writing. But, you may ask, how would the writer of the sign feel about a stranger coming along and picking up this public notice that they had carefully created, and appropriating it into their private collection?

The purpose of this piece of writing is, in part, to work out an answer to these questions and others like it: What is this object? Why is it so alluring to me? Was it acceptable for me to snatch it out of its context, to take it for my own? How could we understand it alongside such highfalutin terms as fetish and value, collectability and commerce, author and artist? In such a way, I want to look at my collecting fervour as an example of a kind of cult within a particular subsection, let us call it tribe, of Sydney’s art world.1 In Redfern, Alexandria and Waterloo I have come across many other such object-signs, deposited in different places around the neighbourhoods – folders, bags, chairs, stools, even a toilet seat - usually on footpaths or propped against the walls of unsuspecting buildings, themselves often scrawled with graffiti or adorned with graphic art. These objects could easily go unnoticed amidst the other discarded items commonly found on the streets in such urban environments; the refuse of an everexpanding consumer society. That said, there is something about them that catches the eye. Maybe it’s to do with the familiarity engendered by 1 You might also be wondering why I am writing about an artist who is not represented by a dealer, whose works can be found and not bought, in a publication that is explicitly concerned with the Sydney commercial gallery scene. I guess I am trying to tease out the kinds of relationships we have with objects (and objets d’art in particular), relationships that are also potentially formed with pieces found in commercial galleries across Sydney.




their recurrence – same same but different. Always the same phone number. Always the same nondescript item to be sold – a sofa, a fridge, a bed, a TV. It is not hard to find a commentary here on the state of the contemporary capitalist world of the disposable white good and other detritus of the middle-class home. Finally, there is always the same mystery: who is the finder, writer, placer of these objects and why does he/she do it? Over the years I have tried many times to call the number on the objects I have seen and collected, always to no avail. When I started writing this article I again tried to call, and again was directed straight to a phone company voice mail: ‘the person you have called is not available.’ In my mind this made it pretty clear that the advertisements written on the objects were not real, for there was no person at the end of the line with products to part with for a nominal fee. Of course, as luck would have it, my mother – a persistent investigator and self-described ‘hound’ – dialled the number one evening and was greeted by the voice of an older man with a thick Greek accent. It turned out that he did indeed have sofas to sell, at least that is what he told my mother. What was I to make of this? Having already begun writing this article with a particular conception of the sign writer – an unknown entity, no voice, no

gender, no clear functional purpose for his/her signs – I was now forced to take into consideration this man’s ostensible intention. Alas, when I tried to call him the following day I played the wrong card, telling him straight up that I was writing an article on his signs and then asking for an interview. As soon as the words had left my lips… dial tone. This man did not want the kind of attention I was giving him, for reasons we can only speculate upon. Perhaps he just wanted to get back to sales. My artist, author of the coveted signs, remained elusive and every time I tried to call him back I was put straight through to the same old voice mail. But, you know, that kind of suited me. Whatever this sign writer’s intentions might actually be, there is something about his creations that transcends their apparent function, dragging them into the realm of Art. However, I can’t help but believe that his intentions fit somehow with my interpretations. Of course, I am not alone in my aesthetic interest in the sign writer’s work. In a show in 2004 at SLOT space on Regent Street, Tony Twigg, a Redfern local and artist, amassed a collection of signs that he had found on the streets over the course of two months. Twigg also exhibited photos of the objects as they had originally been placed on the streets. In an essay to accompany the 2004 display, Twigg and his partner Gina Fairley emphasise the importance of the objects’ ‘strate-


gic placement’ within the urban environment – for instance, ‘a piece of carpet placed on the ground alongside tile, paving and bitumen becomes a witty conversation about the various floor surfaces that connect the home and the street.’2 Certainly, it could be argued that the cushion on the seat of a bus shelter functions in a similar way, investing this rather hard and inhospitable public space with the comfort of a lounge suite. I wonder who might have used this cushion and for what purposes. The self-reference is emphasised by the items the cushion offers – sofa and sofa bed. But what did the anonymous creator of these environmental interventions, these ‘strategic placements’, think of their exhibition as art in a window on Regent St? Here is an account from Twigg of his encounter with the sign writer: We sent a text inviting him to our exhibition of his works – got no reply. On the first of September – spring day 1 – I went across the road for something and noticed a pile of material stacked in front of the SLOT window. Very attractively stacked I might add. When I looked at it I realised that it was all art rubbish – art that in usual circumstances might have been on its way to the tip. There was a framed Renoir print faded 2

Tony Twigg and Gina Fairley, 2004

to blue, an empty chrome frame that had rusted, failed art student art, wall decorations usually found in Vinnies, an old pallet with bits of decoration attached – all awful stuff – but collectively it was an alert and marvellously attractive installation, and of course a wonderful send up of SLOT and a perfect complement to our Sign Man Show. I decided to leave the new installation in place. And then a truly marvellous thing happened – people started stealing bits of the installation! – We don’t have a problem with theft or vandalism at SLOT – but here was a genuine need to HAVE stuff that was already rubbish, a validation of my point that Sign Man is an artist with the alchemist’s touch.3 Perhaps most pertinent to the next part of this article is the fact that people walked off with parts of the pile. This is something that must happen often to our sign writer, for unlike the ephemeral eternities of Arthur Stace, chalked onto pavements across Sydney, his objects can be picked up off the street by people like myself, and incorporated into our own private spaces.4 In such a way, the cushion I so recklessly collected from the bus shelter now sits on our three seater sofa, which ironically was found in an alley not far from our terrace. I have found further examples of his work in 3 Tony Twigg, email to author, November 20, 2012 4 A nice piece of trivia: the only surviving eternity written by Stace’s own hand in Sydney was found inside the bell at the General Post Office when it was redeveloped in the 1960s.




a lovely house in Annandale alongside the paintings of Imants Tillers and Makinti Napanangka. A couple who first collected a sign perched on their foot-path, offering them a tenant for their home (pictured on previous page), have also picked up more signs, which now sit in a collection that includes Richard Larter and Rosalie Gascoigne.5 These everyday objects have been invested with the cult value of the ‘collectable’ object, albeit ones washed up on the shores of our inner city streets. Of course, this is hardly unheard of in the history of art, at least since the beginning of the 20th century with Duchamp’s ready-mades, whose basic premise seems to continuously be repeated in countless contemporary art works. The sign writer’s works also leads us into the realm of Outsider Art and the various problems it poses for a traditionalist mode of art history. What happens when someone is making art from a vantage point outside of any institutionalised or conventional (Western) practice; when they do not think of what they are making as art, but simply make? And yet, what sets these objects apart from R. Mutt on the side of a urinal, and even from the drawings of Adolf Wolfli or the Palais Ideal of Ferdinand Cheval, is that their ‘artiness’ is ambiguous to the point of sincere uncertainty. Everyday objects inscribed 5 I am sure that other collectors will eventually come out of the woodwork… in fact, I hope that those who read this article and have collected the sign writer’s works will get in contact with me.

with potentially legitimate sales advertisements are placed in everyday places by an anonymous entity who is understood to be an artist by a select bunch of fossickers – whatever that means anyway. There is some kind of compulsive symmetry at play here between the creativity of the sign writer as he places his objects in the streets and the scavenging of the collector who is always on the look out for a new offering. Another spoke to the wheel is the collecting habits of the sign writer himself, whose sofas and fridges may be amassed in some lock-up garage, or be spilling out of his backyard – sourced from who knows where. The idea that collecting is akin to a pathological condition is not a new one. In his book The Great Collectors, Pierre Cabanne writes of collecting as a ‘disease’ worthy of the study of psychoanalysts. For instance, he cites the story of Don Vincent, ‘a Barcelona bookseller who went as far as to murder the owner of a rare volume he coveted; when arrested, he confessed to having killed twelve other people in order to recover books he had sold them.’6 Certainly, there is something irrational and compulsive about the way people collect or covet objects, whether a rare book, a painting or an antique lounge. 6 My selected citations of Cabanne here are potentially misleading, as Cabanne doesn’t have a negative view of the collector… he rather points out the many intricacies, psychological and sociological, of the collector’s vocation. Pierre Cabanne, preface to The Great Collectors


With my fetish for the sign writer’s objects, the pathology can be found in many places: in my yearning for that thrill of discovery; in my desire to possess for the sheer sake of possession; in my uneasy relationship with the object’s creator. I say uneasy, for I suspect that I am probably disregarding the author’s intention when I remove an object from its place. Am I stealing? At the very least, I am disrupting an arrangement that has been made by that hand that I so admire.7 Yet I also feel that in collecting I am continuing something that the sign writer himself set in motion. I am re-loving objects that had momentarily fallen out of the value system of the day to day. I am looking again at the detritus, the flotsam and jetsam of our cityscape, and investing these with a renewed vitality – could we call it a purpose? Walter Benjamin writes that collecting involves ‘a relationship to objects which does not emphasise their functional, utilitarian value – that is, their usefulness – but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate.’8 As a thing in itself, the cushion at the bus shelter, and now on my couch, is an embodiment of all kinds of memories, imagined stories and tangential interactions with the un 7 Twigg says that ‘after I had collected that one show, I stopped collecting – out of reverence for the work as he placed it.’ Email to author, November 20, 2012. 8 Walter Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting’ in Illuminations

known author. Although it is a functional object in and of itself (and, unlike other collectors, I do not treat the cushion with the reverence of an artwork but as an object in my home.. this is in contrast to the Annandale collector I mentioned earlier, whose objects are hung on walls beside canvasses), the cushion’s value for me lies in its less tangible properties – for one, the story of its acquisition, which I related in the opening paragraph of this text. Of course, there is another, perhaps less honourable, reason for my continued coveting of these objects – the fact that people I respect for their artistic sensibility also collect them. This points to the role of the shaman or clever man in all of this – the person who can decide what is art and what is not, what is collectable and what is not, in other words, the arbiter of cultural taste. Finally, I argue, this is a tribal thing, as the everyday object is invested with talismanic properties by two powerful lawmakers: the artist and the collector. You are more than welcome to substitute other words here, not the least appropriate being creator and preacher… It’s only a matter of finding believers.


A collection of the sign writer’s work will be exhibited in a Darlington window space later this month:

Gift, the signs of South Sydney Darlington Installation project Cr Abercrombie St and Golden Grove, Darlington from December 25 2012

SYDNEYSIDERS AWAY The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane until 14th April 2013


Helen Eager and Lisa Havilah

John McDonald and Yashian S


Michael Brand, Gina Fariley and Tony Twigg

Penelope Seidler

Genevieve O’Callaghan

n and Jonathon Jones

Roger McIlroy

Brendan Wall

Ann Schwartz and Lily Lynn

Cathy Cameron

Bambi Blumberg

Diane Losche

Fiona Sinclair

Thanks for reading! Contributions to ALLFORART are welcome and we will publish them when we can. Articles should be relevant, informative, positive and about the Sydney art scene, its artists, personalities, galleries, issues... the list goes on. Whilst this magazine is about the artists of Sydney and their representatives, it is also a platform for writers and thinkers to get their ideas out there. Like the Three Musketeers, everyone pulls together to support the cause. And because it’s everyone in, all in, it’s not about egos, it’s not about individuals, it’s about a collective voice to support the visual arts... It is not for one person’s gain, but for everyone’s gain, and of course, for the gain of art.

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