ALL FOR ART
ALL FOR ART AND ART FOR ALL ISSUE FIVE SEPTEMBER 2013 SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA allforartandartforall.com firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on facebook
The Critical Issue Art criticism seems to be very much alive and looking for a fight. We only have to look as far as the blood-letting reviews of the Australia exhibition at the Royal Academy in London to see this form of writing in action. The reviews featured in this issue of All For Art are certainly not vitriolic. The finalists of the 2 Danks Street Award for Art Criticsm present ways of critically writing and thinking about art as seen on the walls of Danks Street’s commerical art galleries. Then, we’ve mixed things up with a visual review of the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair. Finally, we present you with a critique of journalist Katrina Strickland’s book, Affairs of the Art - turning the table so to speak, by reviewing the writing of an art writer. ALL FOR ART AND ART FOR ALL... it’s that simple. Yours Sincerely,
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Whatâ€™s in this issue?
The 2 Danks St Award for Art Criticism The Calligraphy of Exile Departed and Gone to the Unseen Patterns from an Invisible World The Perversity of Purpose Sydney Interiors Sydney Interiors (2) Mighty Small Limbo Sydney Contemporary 2013: A Visual Review Affairs of the Art: A Book Review
ALLFORART Luise Guest Melissa Lane Meredith Birrell Maggie Hensel-Brown Christiane Keys-Statham Sarah Fitzgerald Hannah Greethead Celia Mortlock ALLFORART Christopher Hodges & Chloe Watson
The 2 Danks Street Award for Art Criticism
Who said criticism was dead? The inaugural 2 Danks Street Award for Art Criticism was met with great enthusiasm. Eight finalists were selected from a host of entries, after much deliberation by the expert panel of judges - art historian, writer and curator Candic Bruce, editor of Artist Profile Owen Craven, freelance artwriter, academic and author Prue Gibson, and art critic John McDonald. The winning entry was written by Luise Guest (pictured right), who received $1,000 and the opportunity to be published in a forthcoming edition of Artist Profile magazine. Her review can be read in this issue of All For Art. The finalistsâ€™ reviews are also published over the following pages, honouring All For Artâ€™s commitment to this award. These finalists expressed a diversity of opinions and have contributed to a lively discussion about the visual arts in Sydney. Hopefully, in future years, this will extend beyond the galleries of 2 Danks Street. The award will continue in 2014, with the support of all its dedicated sponsors. Already, an additional sponsor has pledged their support. All For Art would like to acknowledge the galleries of 2 Danks Street, Leo Christie and Artist Profile magazine, who all contributed to make this award possible.
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The Calligraphy of Exile And the winner is... Luise Guest, with her review of Saif Almurayati’s exhibition ‘Departed and Gone to the Unseen’ at Janet Clayton Gallery
When I was at school I was forced to learn a lot of poetry, most of it eminently forgettable. However, as I stood surrounded by the works in Saif Almurayati’s first solo Sydney show, ‘Departed and Gone to the Unseen’, at Janet Clayton Gallery, the words of one of those long-forgotten poems came back to me like an incantation: Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine The poem, by John Masefield, is called ‘Cargoes’ and is not as random as it might first appear. Almurayati’s work traverses themes of journey, migration, dispossession and reinvention; he references all the ‘cargo’ of culture, family, memory and the experience of loss carried by the immigrant. He reflects on his past life in Iraq and Syria, as well as his new life in Australia, through an idiom in which painterly gestural abstraction and Islamic calligraphy merge to form richly textured surfaces. It is another poet, Rumi, who inspired the title of the exhibition, with a poem that begins, “At last you have departed and gone to the Unseen. What marvellous route did you take from this world?” The metaphor of journeying, likening humans to particles of dust or sand, swept by “wind invisible” through the world, recurs through many Sufi texts. Standing in front of the swirling, undulating layers
of calligraphy in a painting such as ‘Flux’ or ‘Attaining Safe Haven’, it is almost possible to hear the rhythmic chanting of a call to prayer. At once secular and sacred, abstract and narrative, these works reveal the journey of the émigré crossing both physical and emotional border terrain. The artist fled his homeland of Iraq as a teenager in 1991 after the second Gulf War, cross ing the mountains on foot. Transit through refugee camps in Iran and Turkey followed before he settled in Damascus. Seven years later another momentous voyage brought Almurayati to Australia, where he graduated from the National Art School last year. In the same year he was awarded the MUA Blake Prize Award for Human Justice. Timely, now, in the increasingly shrill echo of voices calling for boats to be stopped and borders to be policed, his work reminds us that immigrant and refugee journeys, whether undertaken on leaky boats or by other means, are a profoundly human story of survival and hope. ‘Departed and Gone to the Unseen’ bears the hallmarks of a young artist who is finding his own visual syntax based in a rich personal and cultural history. Markers of memory find their way up through the subconscious and emerge onto painterly surfaces. ‘Attaining Safe Haven’ is a palimpset of layered, rhythmic calligraphic marks which create forms reminiscent of a map. The surface of the work, covered with unreadable text, is teeming with
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Saif Almuruyati, Attaining Safe Haven, 2013, acrylic & clay on canvas, 160 x 200cm
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voices layered one over the other. It evokes the overcrowding of transit zones, the liminal spaces of border territories, the millions of individual narratives of those who traverse the globe seeking a place of safety. The artist has said that this work relates to the memory of his original, desperate escape over the mountains into Iran. The agitated mark-making of the Arabic text is interspersed with milky washes and rubbed-back passages of less textural paint which soften the edges of forms, suggestive of a muffling fog descending over a landscape. This variation across the surface creates an almost auditory quality of anxiety, a visual crescendo and decrescendo.
Praxis, 2013, acrylic & shellac on wood
Almurayati experiments with materials and techniques, restlessly seeking new ways to communicate his ideas. In some paintings this experimentation is more successful than in others. But every work is interesting, even when at times the surfaces appear raw or unresolved in their application of materials such as plaster-soaked bandage.
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He is willing to throw painterly convention to the winds in an alchemical approach to the embedding of meaning into the physicality of his works. Paintings are layered with unexpected materials including nails, bolts, hessian, fabric and photographs (including images of Saddam Hussein and Julian Assange.) Perhaps the most unusual of these non-art materials is a spice associated with the Indian subcontinent as well as the Middle East. ‘Attaining Safe Haven’ is partly coloured with turmeric. The work is pervaded with a glowing yellow, uniting the disparate forms and energetic, wrist-flicking drawn marks. It suggests the strength of memory, persisting through all the exhausting – and exhilarating – changes inherent in the hidden geography of the émigré. One of the sculptures included in the show is also coloured with this surprising ingredient. ‘Praxis’ is a wooden form painted with abstracted Arabic in layered swirls of acrylic and shellac. Turmeric is often used in Middle Eastern cooking, and is perhaps applied here as a reminder of childhood; an almost talismanic ingredient. One thinks of the pollen, milk and wax used by an artist such as Wolfgang Laib; or the spices used by Ernesto Neto in his interactive installations. Something about the use of these materials penetrates straight to the deepest, pre-verbal part of the brain. They connect us deeply with the physicality of our earliest memories.
The 24 panels of ‘Ishtar’ are inspired by the Babylonian Goddess of love and war, the personification of the planet Venus. No Botticellistyle feminine ideal or winsome beauty, Ishtar descended into the underworld and demanded that the gatekeeper open to her command, saying: If thou openest not the gate to let me enter, I will break the door, I will wrench the lock, I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors. I will bring up the dead to eat the living. And the dead will outnumber the living. The individual panels in this work are each dedicated to a particular woman with whom Almurayati has shared part of his journey before or since leaving Iraq, including his grandmother. The panels incorporate found objects, text both English and Arabic, and layers of gesso, acrylic paint, clay, and found objects. They are almost sculptural, and in their gridded placement on the gallery wall they evoke the panels of the famed Ishtar Gate constructed for Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon. This work, perhaps, is a gateway of memory, and of regret. We don’t need to know the individual stories of the women he is remembering to know that, like the goddess, they are powerful figures indeed: keepers of truth and holderstogether of family, as well as seekers of their own individual destinies.
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Other works, such as ‘Flux’, play with the mid-20th century language of all-over abstract painting, revealing the versatility of an artist who knows what he is doing and is confident enough to reference genres and traditions. These works suggest the nervous energy of the Abstract Expressionist Mark Tobey in their gestural markmaking, monochrome palette and layering of washes. The agitated calligraphy floats over a darker ground; the application of areas of greater and lesser density suggesting land masses viewed from the air, through clouds. ‘Flux’ evokes the cartography of the millions of refugees who venture into uncharted territory, the mass migrations of people fleeing from unspeakable terrors, or fleeing towards the unknown; those ‘push’ and ‘pull’ forces that politicians speak of as if there were no actual human beings involved. While some of Almurayati’s paintings are more accomplished than others, it is his sculptures that are some of the most interesting pieces in this body of work. Like miniature Rosetta stones unearthed from an archaeological dig, they remind us of the primacy of language and written communication. Works such as ‘Ashark, Baal, Laat’, ‘Dark Star of Mesopotamia’ and ‘Melancholia’s Halo’ are beautiful objects, with their rich surfaces and strong forms. Their surfaces are seductive, polished, layered with sinuous calligraphy. Their hollowed voids, however,
represent the deep abiding uncertainty of the exile. Almurayati has said that he is interested in ‘Arte Povera’, and certainly the repeated use of hessian and bandaging underlying layers of painterly mark-making is reminiscent of Jannis Kournellis – the merging of painting and sculpture, the incorporation of stencilled and handwritten text, and most especially the use of unorthodox materials (Kournellis included materials such as coal, ground coffee, soil and even smoke in his installations.) I was also reminded of works from post-war Europe, by artists such as Tapies, Dubuffet and the Cobra artists. It is interesting to speculate that the unease and anxiety which pervaded a Europe torn apart by war and its consequences, appearing in the violent brushwork and distortion of so many different artists, finds its echo in the work of the young Almurayati, with his own history of dislocation and diaspora. His work speaks to us all, in a changing world where borders are frequently redrawn and people are indeed swept by “the wind invisible” of war and other global forces. Saif Almurayati’s exhibition ‘Departed and Gone to the Unseen’ was at Janet Clayton Gallery, 3 - 27 July 2013. Luise Guest is an art teacher, blogger and an emerging art writer, whose focus is contemporary
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art in China and, more broadly, the Asia Pacific region. She is a regular contributor to online publications such as The Art Life, Daily Serving and The Culture Trip, and has also had articles published in Randian, a journal based in China. She will spend the last few months of 2013 in Beijing on a Writerâ€™s Residency through Redgate Gallery, where she will be working on new projects. Find her blog at: www.anartteacherinchina.blogspot.com
Asharak, Baal, Laat, 2013, coffee & acrylic on wood, 60 x 50 x 20cm
Departed and Gone to the Unseen Melissa Lane presents another view on
Saif Almurayati’s exhibition ‘Departed and Gone to the Unseen’ at Janet Clayton Gallery
According to a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2012, an average of 23, 000 people per day were forced to flee their homes due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations. That’s a number similar to the population of Sydney’s Surry Hills and Newtown uprooting every day worldwide. Many seek protection within their own countries. Others cross borders in search of safe havens. Half are children. Iraqi born artist, Saif Almurayati’s works cover themes of displacement, culture and identity stemming from his experience of escaping Bagdad in 1991. Aged only 15, he and his family were forced to leave their home due to political persecution enforced under Saddam Hussein’s regime. In an interview with Jessica Holburn, Saif talks about the daily bombings and constant state of fear and oppression that he and his family endured - leading to a journey through refugee camps in Iran and Turkey and for a few years, a life in Syria. In 1998, some seven years later, Saif and his family were processed as political refugees and migrated to Australia. My interest in Almurayati’s work began when I stumbled upon an advertisement for his upcoming show Departed And Gone To The Unseen on the Janet Clayton Gallery website. Well, to use the Lusus Naturae, 2013, mixed media on canvas, 195 x 116cm
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term ‘stumbled upon’ is a bit of a lie. My boss, a rugby loving Welshman with a singsong accent and the gift of the gab had been banging on about this great cafe in Danks Street that he’d been to on the weekend. The perplexed look on my face made it clear I had no idea what he was on about. “You know the place? The one with the art gallery!” I shook my head. “It’s across from the Hillsong church.” I’m still none the wiser. “You know when you drive up South Dowling Street, the supercentre on your right, and you can turn left at …” “YEP!” I said quickly, feigning recognition before I got a full set of directions by every form of transport. “I know where you are.” Still none the wiser, I tilt the laptop screen forward and slyly Google art galleries in Danks Street as he moves out of eyeshot. My search results bring me to the website for 2 Danks Street. Like many buildings in the suburb of Waterloo, the old Kodak factory has undergone a bit of a facelift. Today the warehouse is an art precinct - home to ten contemporary art galleries, a Fine Arts dealer, a jewellery studio and café with a brilliant looking menu. More accustomed to looking to street art and graphic design for my cultural and artistic fix, I’m not expecting many things to grab my attention on a website for contemporary art. That was until
I came across photographs of Saif Almurayati’s sculptural works. The blocks of wood and hollowed out tree branches remind me of traditional Aboriginal artworks. But instead of dots, their exteriors are covered in the calligraphic swirls of a language I am unfamiliar with. This merging of cultural meaning sets me on my own journey into the world of contemporary art, care of the Janet Clayton Gallery. Having held solo exhibitions in Syria, Indonesia and France, Departed And Gone To The Unseen is Almurayati’s first solo show in Australia. Jessica Holburn, manger and curator of the Janet Clayton Gallery is excited to play host. “It’s a privilege,” she says. “It’s a large incentive for doing this job, to promote talented emerging artists… [Saif] has an important message that deserves to be seen and should be thought about on a deeper level.” Having interviewed Almurayati about his exhibition, Jessica writes that for Saif, practising art became a way to express himself and the sense of alienation, resulting from his time of transiting between, and living in different countries. Experiencing different cultures, and the effects of displacement and resettlement has greatly influenced his work. Andrew Williams, Communications Manager at the Refugee Council of Australia states there are
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many difficulties refugees face during resettlement. Learning a new language, finding affordable housing and gaining employment is tough. So too is the issue of trauma. “The first kind of issue is usually around torture or trauma. When people come from, or have suffered from some kind of persecution and fled a war zone, there’s a lot of torture and trauma. It’s a significant issue. While you may be very resilient and very eager to make a new life, it’s often very difficult to deal with the scale of the past.” Jessica states that Saif will be the first to say that his journey was not as traumatic as others. For that he feels quite fortunate. Yet, however humble Almurayati is about his experiences, his works, and the techniques used to create them, suggest there are many memories that are eager to be expressed and reconciled in the present. I caught a glimpse of Saifs technique online. In a YouTube video entitled saifincognito the artist, blindfolded, writes in script directly onto the surface of a large canvas The room is eerily quiet, and despite his vision being blocked by the green scarf tied around his head, Almurayati writes with purpose. It is as if by limiting his senses he is somehow able to tap into the subconscious and better clarify the thoughts and emotions within. I wish I could read the text. While the script is a visual representation of a culture different to that
of my own, I am deeply curious as to what the thoughts are that appear throughout his works. Text and language are an important part of Departed and Gone to the Unseen. Islamic script covers every available surface on most of the artworks exhibited. This exploration is reported to convey Saifs “affiliation with and yearning for the culture from his past that enriches an understanding of his present.” Yet as an outsider looking in, I found the use of materials to be equally as important. Shrapnel I expect is quite an ordinary thing to see in a war zone. That is until you remember that you’re looking at an artwork created by a civilian, not a soldier. Despite seeing daily news footage of army tanks, gunfights, and aerial bombings, I find that I have become somewhat desensitized to the images of war. Almurayati’s use of materials cut through that. The use of bullet casings, wire, metal screws and nails make me feel as if I’m looking down at a shrapnel littered ground when viewing ‘I am when I am not (Homage to Rumi)’. It’s a confronting moment, for no longer is the concept of war mediated through a two dimensional screen accompanied by the drone of a newsreaders voice condemning or commending the actions of those upon it. It is in a sense more real. Displayed before
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Outcast Temple, 2013, mixed media on canvas, 160 x 160cm
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I am when I am not (Homage to Rumi), 2013, mixed media on canvas (acrylic, metal, hessian and fiber paste), 200 x 200cm
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me are the physical remnants of a war. These remnants are patched together, overlapping the calligraphic text, and broken apart again by the very mesh that’s meant to hold them together. The scene is chaotic yet somehow balanced, violent yet calm, and all encased neatly within a single complex cell. In fact the majority of large-scale canvasses in the exhibition jolt an emotional response in me. ‘Lusus Naturae’ (a Latin term roughly translated “freak of nature”) does an excellent job of instilling a sense of fear due to the use of small window like boxes that reveal only part of the scene. The limited view brings with it a sense of restriction, as if one is hiding, while the earthy tones within the boxes suggest a sandstone building in the heat of the midday sun. Conversely the cold colour pallet of ‘Outcasts Tempest’ and use of brushstrokes suggest a nausea inducing sense of movement akin to that of the sea. However, there were some works within the exhibition that I found it difficult to connect with. While it was the photographs of Almurayati’s sculptural works on the website that originally lured me into see the exhibition, the works themselves did not have the same pull when I arrived. That’s the problem when viewing art online. It is hard to judge size and scale of a work in a photograph and even harder to make out the details such as
the materials used. Despite the sculptural works adding to the narrative of the exhibition, it was the large canvasses that stole the limelight that day. Departed And Gone To The Unseen was an emotional ride and a confronting experience. A stark reminder that terms like “persecution”, “conflict”, and “violence” are not just words in statistical reports or broadcast news bulletins. They represent people. Those who are unfortunate enough to live within warzones, those fortunate enough to survive them, and those brave enough to communicate their experiences to others. Almurayatis’ investigation into displacement, culture and identity may be a personal one, but the results speak volumes, even to those of us new to the world of contemporary art.
Melissa J Lane is a Sydney-sider and art lover who is currently completing a BA in Internet Communications. In her spare time she likes to explore Sydney’s art scene – from festivals to street art, graffiti to galleries, live art events and more. You can find her on twitter @The_Arty_Type
Patterns from an invisible world Meredith Birrell reviews Al Munroâ€™s exhibition at Brenda May Gallery
Installation view. Opposite page: Atomic Crochet 9, 2012-2013, fibre on foamcore, 32.5cm diameter and Atomic Crochet 14, 2012-2013, fibre on foamcore, 18.5cm diameter
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Al Munro’s fifth solo show with Brenda May Gallery continues her investigation into crystallography, a branch of science concerned with “the arrangement of atoms within a solid”.1 Munro attempts to render the unseen, charting her own path through the vast systems of codification, classification and mapping that we have created in order to understand our world. Technical detachment and expressive subjectivity are held in delicate balance as Munro weaves together a diversity of associations, meanings and histories. Paint-marker drawings on canvas and panel as well as an installation of brightly coloured crocheted circles comprise the exhibition, held in one of the smaller spaces within the gallery. These latter works, spread over a large corner section of wall, provide the biggest visual impact. All titled ‘Atomic Crochet’, these twenty-six individual pieces grab the eye with their hypnotic rings of colour, palpable presence and seductive form. It is like a view through a microscope writ 1 Artist statement: http://www.brendamaygallery.com.au/details.php?exhibitionID=189
large – dense layers of information amplified to an irrational degree. Visually, the works share historical affinities with minimalist abstraction (Frank Stella, Sol Le Witt), op-art (Josef Albers) and perhaps earlier to the spiritual expression of Kandinsky and the intellectual modernity of Delaunay. Yet they are crocheted, which immediately situates them within second-wave feminist thinking about the reclaiming of traditional women’s crafts. Their female-domestic association is undeniable and not merely an imposed reading – the craft of textiles has long been an interest of Munro’s, providing alternative ways of seeing and feeling the more detached modes of technical drawing and scientific formulae. She is a part-time lecturer within the textiles department and a PhD candidate at the ANU, where these crossovers form the foundation to her ongoing work. The unique way Munro brings together craft traditions and science, mediated through her artistic imagination, is striking. The intimacy of the handcrafted object brings the lofty mode of technical drawing into the space of the idiosyncratic and tactile. Previous work exploring these themes includes a drawing made with thread and dressmaker’s pins and a series of tapestry reworkings of crystal studies. Each
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stitch is like the cellular units that multiply to create life, an equivalence that Munro deliberately exploits. She has said of these works that, “the needlepoint stitches were perfect as they provided a regular coded unit which could be varied with colour,” with the grid of the cloth providing the “mathematical axis” on which to construct the image.2 Not only colour, but also light and texture in the form of sequins and beads further embed these re-interpretations within the space of the subjective and restore, according to Munro, some of their original appealing lustre. As much as I was engaged and my imagination stirred by the crochets, I was bothered by the decision to mount them on foamboard, whether this was a choice of the artist or gallery I don’t know. Mounting on circular wooden panels, or just attaching them directly to the wall would have served the works better. While I’m here, I’ll get the rest of the negative stuff out of the way. The three works on canvas were also problematic. This material, with its particular surface and presence, shouts painting and these works owe little, if anything to this history. They would have been more successful, more meditative, had they not been diluted by the weight of the painting tradition inscribed on their surface. 2 http://www.needleworkneedleplay.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/ artist-feature-al-munro.html
This trio of works (all 120 x 90cm) give the show its title, stressing the paradox at the core of Munro’s work. The very essence of her subject is its hiddenness and it is only through the contrivance of the artistic mind that it can be made manifest. Based on careful planning, Munro brings her hidden subject to light by assimilating hundreds of coloured dots into an organised pattern. The resulting terrain of marks becomes her subjective interpretation of the signs and codes we employ to visualise the natural world. In only one was the entire surface covered, the other two presenting expanses of white space between clusters of activity, suggesting perhaps a potentiality for growth, an incomplete life form. What is especially
Prototype Diffraction 4, 2013, paint marker on gesso panels, 30 x 30cm
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Prototype Diffraction 5, 2013, paint marker on gesso panels, 30 x 30cm
interesting about these works is how Munro has subtly pushed into the expanded field, just spreading the dots over the edge of the canvas and onto the wall, as if, like a rampant mold, they have continued to multiply and spread beyond her control. Munro has merely sowed the seeds and allowed potent life to take over. ‘Polotype Diffraction (1-5)’ and ‘Diffraction Map’, a series of 30 x 30cm drawings on gessoed panel, are more successful in the way they not only embody the notion of invisibility, but also gesture outwards to broader ideas. Technique, materials and concept are in beautiful symbiosis in these small works. Made with the same method as those on canvas, the forms have now become
symmetrical, all circular and centred within the square of the frame, generating a dynamic push and pull energy. Where Munro has made her underdrawing, it has left a lightly etched line, adding a subtle dimension to the work that plays against the flatness of the dots. The blank smoothness of the panel also allows for more focussed contemplation of the image. Like the crochets, they are reminiscent of a view through a microscope, but they also operate on the level of the cosmological, reminding me of maps of the stars and even medieval conceptions of the universe where concentric circles describe the hierarchy of earth and the heavens. This exhibition continues Munro’s research into the intersection of art, science and technology, a rich field that fires the imagination of many artists. It also furthers her exploration into materials and techniques, especially the incorporation of the quotidian into the rarefied space of art, still frequently perceived as a more elevated sphere. Munro’s democratic approach to media and processes, which has included screenprinting, glitter-cardboard sculptures, collaged laser prints and textile works, adds something to the conversation about the values we ascribe to art. Taking on the task of representing the unseen is no mean feat, but Munro succeeds in evoking the idea of the invisible, taking us into new realms of perception and illuminating the worlds of art and
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science in new ways. It is a perceiving that goes beyond the eye, however, requiring also a measure of imagination. With this body of work, just a segment of an ongoing project, Munro achieves the important, but often elusive, task of art; making us stop and consider what we normally take for granted. The task achieved, furthermore, with an elegant economy of means and a joyful touch.
Al Munro’s exhibition ‘Patterns from an invisible world’ was at Brenda May Gallery from 30 July - 17 August 2013.
Meredith Birrell has always had an interest in writing but it was only in late 2010 that she began to take it more seriously. She has written reviews for www.theartlife.com and in 2012 had a year’s contract as the in-house writer for SAMAG (Sydney Arts Management Advisory Group), a position offered to emerging writers. She is about to finish her Honours year in painting at the National Art School in Sydney. She also has a BA from the University of Sydney with majors in Art History and English. She hopes to combine her own art practice with writing, research and teaching into the future.
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The Perversity of Purpose Maggie Hensel-Brown reviews Kylie Stillman’s exhibition ‘The Perversity of Purpose’ at Utopia Art Sydney
Kylie Stillman is a contemporary Australian artist who uses predominately re-purposed materials in her practice. Specifically, books. Her exhibition The Perversity of Purpose at Utopia Art Sydney was a celebration of the second lives of objects. Process plays the key role in Stillman’s book stacks. While her subject matter is varied and her installation techniques engaging, it is the painstaking process of individually carved pages that form the backbone of her practice. With meticulous repetition, she creates three dimensions from two, and positive form from negative space. While she works with pre-existing items, her sculptures don’t quite fit the definition of “found objects”. Each object in the show has a sense of individual selection. Large blocks of fence palings and pages of slightly yellowed paper are all similar in colour and form. Each object works together with the others to make a cohesive show. Books are central to this exhibition. Why books? The concept of book-as-medium is not a new one. There is a long history of books in art. The artist’s book or journal has a history that spans back through generations. These books, though notoriously private and personal, are known to be the building blocks of any artist’s practice. An artist’s journal holds their ideas, inspirations and
thoughts. They are often exhibited as companion pieces in large exhibitions, showing where the artwork has come from. These journals however, are not generally seen as the finished artwork. Lately though, there has been an increasing number of contemporary artists using the book as a medium in their practice. One needs only to type “art from books” into Google to find countless examples. According to Brian Dettmer (another artist who uses books as his medium) in his introduction to Art Made From Books, the last five years have seen a rise in the common usage of books as artists’ media, and these works have been generally met with an approving audience. Dettmer speculates that the increased use of books and their increased acceptance in the art world stems from the rise of e-readers and of the internet as our main reading resource. This argument stems from a “kids these days” sortof attitude, generally encompassing a reaction against all modern technology. While Dettmer remains positive, there is a tendency, when using this argument, to wax lyrical about the lost world of books, the waning attention spans of the general public, the de-valuing of time spent on reading, and the loss of “real” books. This argument can get rather tired. It has been enduring for as long as technology has been developing:
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that is to say, forever. Nevertheless, in the art world we still place enormous value on the human effort and skill that has gone into an artwork, no matter whether a machine could have done it quicker or better. The artistâ€™s time and thought is still significant and the human touch still appreciated. Each stack of books by Kylie Stillman is valued essentially for the time it has spent undergoing a simple human process. In terms of the argument for books in particular, one aspect remains undeniably essential: the tactility of books. Again, it is the human action and time that gives books their life; the action of physically turning a page and the time it takes to read. The book as an object is pieced together in a way that lends itself to quiet repetition. With Stillmanâ€™s work, one might argue that the books act almost solely as a medium, setting the stage for the real star of the artwork - the meticulous process of carving. She steers clear of nostalgia and uses the books essentially as canvases on which to add her own imagery. Each stack of books has been turned The Purpose of Purposeful Repurposing, 2013, hand-cut hardcover books, timber chair and room structure, 240 x 120 x 120cm
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(cue)eucalypt(tpyl), 2013, hand-cut paperback books, 39 x 54 x 11cm
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away from its audience, spines to the wall. We have no sense of what their previous lives have been. Had they been stacked lengthwise, in the manner of a bookshelf, they would have been given more permanence and identity. As they are, piled vertically, they lose a part of their identity. They are reminiscent of a garage sale stack, or a personal collection that has not yet been put in its proper place. The impermanence of these piles is what makes the intricate carvings so striking. The hours that have gone into each seemingly temporary stack are immediately apparent. Stillman’s method of carving harks back to the book’s original purpose in one way. Each individual page has been turned and contemplated. Instead of reading each page, she carves a piece away. By recreating this movement, the turning of the page, Stillman subverts the purpose of the book. The name of the show, The Perversity of Purpose, reflects this movement away from the original purpose of any given object. In the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Chloe Watson outlines the early inspirations for Stillman’s work: “In those early classes she would use thread instead of oils or acrylics to map out a story, to make a mark.” Since then, her works have been a “celebration of the misuse of objects.” The subject matter in Stillman’s work is harder
to define. It seems that for most of her career so far, she has stayed within the boundaries of representational art, specifically within the natural world: trees, plants and birds. Her carvings of flora and fauna concentrate on extreme accuracy and delicacy. In works that are so reliant on technique, the subject matter takes a back seat. Why then stick to one genre and one strictly representational style? While these works are indeed beautiful and still imbued with the essential elements of time and human effort, the concentration on accuracy and skill can have a tendency to take away from the thought provoking human effort and time that goes into each work. We are left simply remarking on how real each object appears, with less thought as to why it is there. In this show however, Stillman has moved away from the literal. Not entirely, but enough to change perceptions of her work. The subject matter now fits into two categories: representational and abstract (although not abstract in the true sense of the word). In her words, the latest carvings express: “The basic structural elements and gestures that make things things – the stroke that makes a painting, the scribble that makes a pen work, the notation that makes writing, the intertwining of
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wool that makes a garment, the weave of fibres that make furnishings.” This distillation of subject allows us to see the purity of the process and the ingenuity of the concept. This makes the more abstracted stacks, in a way, more effective. A particular highlight from this series is ‘The Stroke’, in which a daub of ink seems to drip down the page. It is a careless gesture, perhaps an unwanted drip, perhaps just a way of removing excess ink from the brush, but here it has been worked on and cared for. Another stand-out is ‘The Swirl’, a circle made from two quick brush strokes, it could even be the stain from the bottom of a coffee mug. By spending hours of painstaking time to carve out such simple gestures, Stillman subverts not just the purpose of the book, but the way in which we value a work of art. The Perversity of Purpose is a beautiful show. “Beauty” of course, is a contentious issue in contemporary art, it has very little value in and of itself, and it is seen as completely subjective. Yet there is something undeniably beautiful in these works. It is a quiet, cohesive exhibition. The only colour comes from the yellowed pages of books and the raw timber of the fence-palings. Each piece presents a quiet moment captured through repetition, perseverance and human-ness:
attributes that remain important and essential in the world of fine art.
Kylie Stillman’s exhibition ‘The Perversity of Purpose’ was at Utopia Art Sydney from 3 - 31 August 2013. Maggie Hensel-Brown is an art student from Newcastle NSW, currently finishing up a Bachelor of Fine Arts course at Newcastle University. She is majoring in sculpture and specializing in installation.
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Installation view . The Stroke, 2013, hand-cut paperback books and timber base, 19 x 23 x 14cm
Sydney Interiors Christiane Keys-Statham reviews
Isidro Blanco’s exhibition ‘Sydney Interiors’ at Dominik Mersch Gallery
How do the dead see the living? This question has formed part of cultural discourse for countless years. A cursory mental scan of recent Western literary and cinematic history produces many examples of creative minds pondering this question. Take, for example: The Others, The Sixth Sense, Ghost, The Lovely Bones, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider, not to mention Beetlejuice. It seems that we have an
Opera, 2013, C-print on museum board, wood and hardware, 38 x 78 x 9cm
endless curiosity about life after death, the concept of haunting, how ghosts interact with us and why they always seem so cranky. The delicate photographic constructions of Isidro Blanco, on show at Dominik Mersch Gallery, had something ghostly and sweet about them. Soaked in a gentle sort of nostalgia – the longing for summers past, the colourful rooms of our childhoods – Blanco’s sculptures rebuilt the interior
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spaces of creative Sydneysiders on a small scale. The domestic spaces of writers, musicians, artists and surfers made up this particular collection, the result of a Sydney residency. Ghosts were not readily apparent in the sculptures themselves. This aspect of the work was subtly incorporated into a video component, projected onto a large replica of the smaller wall pieces, which was placed in the middle of the gallery. The short film featured interviews with the owners of the houses discussing the spirits of former inhabitants, and ghost stories from the domestic histories of those they have known. Without this video component, the works would not have had the conceptual depth and mysterious air that was this exhibition’s great strength. Blanco’s small wall sculptures seemed to cast the viewer in the part of the ghost, allowing us to imagine what our interiors might look like to the dead, to those who pass through our rooms in their restless traversing of the afterlife. The artist’s process involves being invited into a house and photographing the internal volumes and shapes of the rooms. Occasionally their (living) inhabitants show up on the periphery of the photographs. These two-dimensional images are then used to paper the walls of Blanco’s hybrid sculptural photographic installations, resulting in a fragmented, subjective depiction of the space.
This fragmented view appears to be the perception of one who is in motion, and the artist has said that he is attempting to “condense all those small moments of perception into a single image”1. The viewer’s natural nosy tendencies were thwarted by the image titles, which referred obliquely to the names of the houses or the first names of their owners. This allowed the images to become abstract representations of the inhabitant’s personalities, and for the viewer to focus on the detail of the interior spaces. The diminutive size of the resulting reconstructed rooms, made by pasting the two-dimensional C-print photographs onto structures built from wood and museum board, approximated the dimensions of the actual room photographed, scaled down to around the size of an open book. Blanco seemed to be inviting us into these spaces, to peer into them and seek out their detail. The intricacy of the construction appealed to the child within – they were reminiscent of the rooms of a twisted dollhouse – and their size provoked a sense of intimacy, as we moved our faces closer to inspect them. Despite the size of these sculptures, and their presence in a commercial gallery, there was something reminiscent of street art about them. Perhaps it was their wit, their playful 1
Art Almanac, 29 July 2013.
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reconfiguration of urban spaces and their affectionate humanism. Blanco has previously worked on outdoor projects, including Art and About in Sydney in 2012, for which he produced a work called ‘Deconstructing Ways’, which depicted a similar exploded architectural statement but on a much larger scale. The presence of visual art in an urban setting was in this exhibition subverted, with the artist bringing those urban spaces into the gallery. Street art is increasingly accepted as a bridge between the gallery and the street, another method of expanding art’s field of operations, and some claim that graffiti art has been gentrified and depoliticised in its more commercial manifestations.2 Blanco’s work here was certainly apolitical, gentrified in its depiction of upper middle class dwellings and its presentation here in the white cube of Dominik Mersch’s Danks Street gallery, but the DIY aesthetic of lowbrow street art had been retained to great effect. Inspecting Blanco’s work ‘Opera’, 2013, one felt a sense of an entire city’s pride, miraculously contained here in this miniature building. The artist’s sense of wonder at the internal structure is mirrored in our hearts, and the architectural form 2 Explored thoroughly in Luke Dickens’ “Finders Keepers: Performing the Street, the Gallery and the Spaces In-Between”, in Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, Vol 4, No 1, March 2008.
more closely examined and admired anew in the sculptural form. The subjects of the work ranged from the Opera House to Brett Whiteley’s studio, from the Queen Victoria Building and Hibernian House to the private homes of unnamed artists and creative minds. Blanco, a Spanish artist who lives and works in New York, has with this group of work produced evidence of the individual’s resistance to globalisation’s predicted homogenisation. In our own homes we embody cultural difference and diversity, which is reflected in the interior design of our living spaces. The airports, offices and franchise coffee shops of the globalised world may look the same from Sydney to Singapore, but within our domestic sanctums we are all intricately different. Occupying the threshold spaces between street and gallery, private and public, domestic and commercial, Blanco’s work in this exhibition was a touching reminder of our place in the world, the fragility of our homes and our lives. Looking at these sculptural, photographic maquettes was almost like peering into the third dimension from the fourth: how a ghost might see the rooms in which they once spent their days. Unlike most cultural depictions of this experience, however, Blanco’s work displayed affection and a sort of gentle nostalgia, rather than any sense of terror or
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commercial, Blanco’s work in this exhibition was a touching reminder of our place in the world, the fragility of our homes and our lives. Looking at these sculptural, photographic maquettes was almost like peering into the third dimension from the fourth: how a ghost might see the rooms in which they once spent their days. Unlike most cultural depictions of this experience, however, Blanco’s work displayed affection and a sort of gentle nostalgia, rather than any sense of terror or loss. Sydney Interiors was Blanco’s third exhibition at Dominik Mersch, and hopefully not his last. Isidro Blasco’s exhibition ‘Sydney Interiors’ was at Dominik Mersch Gallery from 10 August - 7 September 2013. Christiane Keys-Statham is a freelance curator, arts writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Germany, the Netherlands, Outer Mongolia, Thailand and the UK, in diverse areas of the arts and culture sectors. She completed her Bachelor of Art Theory at COFA and the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and is currently nearing completion of her Master of Art Administration at COFA. She is the co-curator of SafARI 2014, a fringe exhibition to the Biennale of Sydney, showcasing the work of 21 emerging and unrepresented Australian artists.
Sydney Interiors (2) Sarah Fitzgerald presents another view on Isidro Blanco’s exhibition ‘Sydney Interiors’ at Dominik Mersch Gallery
This recent exhibition of small sculptures, at Dominik Mersch Gallery is the new work of the Spanish artist Isidro Blasco. The work was made while he took up a two-month residency at the National Art School in Sydney, a place he has visited and worked in before. The interior spaces represented in the exhibition are homes, studios, places of work, public shopping places and commercial galleries, all inhabited by Sydneysiders that the artist has come to know. The show, aptly titled Sydney Interiors, provides a glimpse of what the artist saw, and he invites the viewer to look as he did, at the spaces around them. These small sculptures are a departure from larger structures Blasco has made in the past. The exhibition is primarily made up of wall-hung reliefs, and there are some tiny freestanding works on show as well. All are miniature reconstructions of existing places in Sydney. They are intimate sculptures, reminiscent of architectural models that have been deconstructed, taken apart and flattened out so that we can see inside. The photographic collage is also a conscious reference by the artist, to the photos architects take when surveying a site or building prior to commencing a project. In this case however it also reminds one of the photographs an architect takes to record defects, as a record to compare the state of adjacent buildings prior to and after the new
construction has taken place. In this sense time is part of the work, the work in this exhibition is a record of a space at a particular time. The architectural model and the photographic record are tools to design an imagined place, before it exists in real time. Blasco is now deconstructing a real space and capturing a moment in time that is fleeting. He is using the architectural language of the model and the photograph in reverse. Blasco has in this new work, continued to explore the shift between the physical three dimensional space of built form and the flat two dimensional photographic record, or representation of this real space. His structures sit somewhere between these two states of perception. The first layer is the space reconstructed from the photographs, as a three dimensional sculptural form. This is made from fine sections of timber and cardboard. The photographs he takes of a space cut the space up into frames, or fragments. In some cases one area of the photograph is overlaid with a colour to further distort and flatten the image. The rebuilt form holds the photographic collage that gives a clue to what is being represented in the sculptural assemblage. It suggests the fragmentation of space as we perceive it, in parts. Our awareness of the hallway we just walked down, the part of the room behind us that we cannot see but we know is there, as well as the view we have from the chair in which we sit, are captured by Blasco and shown
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Hibernian House, 2013, C-print on museum board, wood and hardware, 54 x 84 x 17cm
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to us all at once. Blasco says that the photographs allow the viewer to access his structures more readily, to be able to see themselves in the photographs is to imagine the space that has been remade. He wills the viewer to see what he sees, the everyday objects and details of parts of a room that you inhabit or walk past without seeing. The intricate and intimate look inside these spaces also recalls a dolls house, or a wunderkammer, filled with tiny copies of special things. The desire to collect, to record, to capture time is a human compulsion. As it is to display objects of curiosity, kept for posterities sake, to record our presence for the historical record and to prove it by sharing it with the world. The tiny free standing sculptures of objects like chairs and small corners of rooms, in this exhibition, look like they have broken free of the constraints of the wall relief, but they are very much a part of the room from which they came, like small objects that belong inside the dolls house. The small scale that Blasco has used, relates directly to the intimate view of the spaces he shows us. The fine delicacy of the work is echoed in the intimate delicacy of the subject. He is showing us inside people’s homes, people he knows personally. There is so much detail caught in the photographs; you can see into bookcases, family photographs on shelves, artwork hung on walls, a bag casually hung on a doorknob, a disheveled bed, a gleaming kitchen fridge. The
viewer has a privileged view, a voyeur’s view. In some cases a person is in the photograph, caught inhabiting their space. These images are not staged and set up for posterity. These works show us a glimpse into interior spaces in Sydney at a particular time. The types of spaces are seemingly random – a public building, a home, a studio – however the body of work presents a visitors view, and not a rigorous survey of Sydney. The approach is gentle and casual, which is the only way such a level of intimacy could be achieved. The short film that is shown sits somewhat awkwardly within the context of the rest of the exhibition, as it does not have the finesse of the smaller pieces. The larger scale of the structure on which the image is projected relates more to Blasco’s previous work. The film does, however, add to the somewhat random and casual manner in which he has chosen the spaces used for this body of work. He has asked people a rather strange question that caught them off guard; “Have you ever experienced paranormal activity in a building?” He has then recorded the answers while the participant is in their own home or work space. This can be seen as a development of Blasco’s work, the next stage if you like, after including the photographic collages that were not part of his early work, to including footage of people speaking in their own spaces about their experiences. It is a further attempt to connect the
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viewer to the work more directly. He says that he intended this question to take people by surprise, and it is true that a direct question about their home or place of work would solicit an answer veiled with self-consciousness that is not apparent in this film. In some cases the person talking and the space they occupy can be recognised in the small wall relief sculptures, and this does add a further dimension of connection to the whole exhibition. These tiny sculptures are so complex. At first glance the detail in the images and complexity of the structures is beguiling. However the complexity of the ideas Blasco reveals to us holds your attention even after you leave the exhibition. The shift in perception between three-dimensional form and two-dimensional representation highlights the way we perceive the space around us. The capturing of fleeting time in a photograph and the desire to hold onto time by recording and collecting is also suggested by the artist. It is no surprise that Blasco is a PhD candidate in the Architecture faculty in Madrid. His work in this exhibition makes us see the way architectural elements like walls, floors and ceilings enclose space, however there is more to built form than function. Blasco invites the viewer to a look at spaces where a ‘place’ has been created, and it is this heightened awareness of place that constitutes our ‘being in the world’.
Isidro Blasco’s exhibition ‘Sydney Interiors’ was at Dominik Mersch Gallery from 10 August - 7 September 2013.
Sarah Fitzgerald is currently a student at the National Art School. She is a 3rd year painting major in the BFA and due to graduate at the end of this year. Prior to this she worked as an architect for the best part of a decade, interrupted sporadically by the arrival of three children during this time. Although she sees architecture as very much a part of the arts, she is keen to pursue a career as a visual artist and an arts writer. She began studying fine arts at Sydney University before studying architecture and she feels she is returning to what has always been her first love.
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State Hotel II, 2013, C-print on museum board, wood and hardware, 25 x 54 x 12cm
Mighty Small Hannah Greethead reviews the exhibition ‘Mighty Small’ at Brenda May Gallery
They might be little, but they can pack a punch. Mighty Small reminds us of how deep-rooted and powerful the appeal and presence of small things can be. While the gallery walls are lined with contemporary artworks, with them remains something familiar and personal. There is an innate nostalgia and comfort that comes with small objects. Looking at Mighty Small, you can’t help but see the works as objects from your past, little things that are sentimental and precious. The wistfulness of little knick knacks, shells and sketches gives Mighty Small appeal on a grand scale. There is also a sense of awareness of space and proximity that comes with viewing small scale artworks. Works that can’t be properly appreciated when one stands back; instead you are forced in close, marvelling at the intricate detail that cannot be seen from a distance. Yet, there is still the lure of ‘big’ when dealing with the small. An ingrained need to put all these little things together to make something large and taking away the whimsy and magic implicit in them. The works displayed show us that although diminished in size, small scale art can have a great big impact. Mighty Small was like seeing all my childhood collections hung neatly across white walls. My rock and shell collection, a selection of carefully curated knick knacks and even my bug collection. The exhibition works as a reminder of why we collect little things. I built these collections
because there was something appealing about the intricate natural beauty of something so small. Lezlie Tilley’s arrangements of shell, coral and rock feel reminiscent of my childhood afternoons spent carefully ordering the contents of many cardboard boxes across the floor, examining and caressing each rock or shell. Works like ‘132 Coral Fragments on Red Ochre’ (2013) and ‘132 Coral and Shell Fragments’ (2013) feel like the embodiment of the human desire for natural beauty; combined with our seemingly inherent need to tame and organise it. Looking to the works of Will Coles, Irianna Kanellopoulou and Peter Tilley, characteristics of the little objects amassed and prized during one’s early years become apparent. I found myself thinking about the little figurines and statues that littered all surfaces of my childhood bedroom, they were remnants of trips, gifts and memories of friends and families, objects that were representative of my life at a specific moment. Cole’s ‘Combat Hero’ (2013) figurines are evocative of the plastic toys that find their way into our lives by way of Christmas crackers and chip packets, and while their monetary value may be fairly low, age and time gives them immense sentimental value. On the other end of the spectrum are Peter Tilley’s ‘Memories of Times Past #2 and #3’ (2013). Objects that are special, delicate and precious and in turn given their own special place, out of reach of grubby
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fingers; represent the special things that I so yearned to touch and paw during my younger years. It’s the familiarity and ease by which small things infiltrate our spaces and so easily represent special moments and achievements in our lives that gives them such importance, a sense that is powerfully mirrored in many of the works included in Mighty Small.
Will Coles, Combat Hero III, 2013, cast resin, 6 x 5.5 x 1cm each, edition of 10
The ways in which Mighty Small introduces viewers to high impact work on a small scale is rather subtle. Chosen works force viewers into moving closer to works. Tanmaya Bingham’s ‘Almost Animal’ (2013) series invites viewers to see intricate details in drawings that would otherwise go unnoticed if they were to keep to the traditional ‘three paces back’ stance that usually comes with the traditional display
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of works. Viewing small works is intimate, you have to go in close, peering in with your nose hovering millimetres from the work in front of you. It’s only when you’ve broken down the space barrier that you can really get a sense of the skill and detail required to make works of such a minuscule size. So often, art focuses on all that is BIG! Grand ideas, huge scale, it’s all about blinding viewers with sheer size and there comes a point where artworks are so big that we become detached from them. The works included in Mighty Small introduce us to detail that larger sized works often lack. While artworks of a large scale requires a mind of grand ambition and imagination to envision them, smaller scale works take us back to the everyday and make us appreciate the dexterity and attention to detail that some individuals have honed through their artistic practice.
Mylyn Nguyen, Bombus + House, 2013, watercolour + ink on paper, fibre on plastic film + acrylic, 10 x 4 x 4cm variable
Mighty Small demonstrates the subtle power of small scale artworks, yet, when looking at the exhibition, it would appear that there are very few works left to stand on their own. Artists might be exploring petite and detailed sculptures, drawings and paintings, there still seems to be a need to generate a big visual impact. So many of these works come as one of many, and are displayed as such. The
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swarm of bees of Mylyn Nguyen’s ‘Bombus’ (2013) installation or a series of miniature paintings ala Anne Penman Sweet’s ‘Macro/Micro’ (2013), spread across the wall to form the size of one monumental one. Both of these works include tiny and beautiful individual components, which can be forgotten when looking at them on mass. And while its true, there is strength in numbers; we don’t truly get a sense of how influential and intoxicating an individual small scale work has the potential to be. Mighty Small reveals the essential appeal and potency of little works. The nostalgia and familiar appeal of small objects filters through in many of the artworks included within the exhibition. Further,
the physical experience of viewing artworks is altered when it comes to small-scale works, to truly appreciate the detail and skill required to generate such a work requires intimate viewing. Peering up close, almost touching nose to paper, canvas or glass; the physical boundaries we surround ourselves with are destroyed. However, with all this influence and power, Mighty Small also reveals an unwillingness to let go of ‘big’. While artists are exploring small-scale works and seeing their obvious appeal and presence, there appears a distinct reluctance to let the small and singular stand on their own. So while Mighty Small does really show the might of small, the question remains, if small is left on its own, does the appeal and presence still remain? ‘Mighty Small’ was at Brenda May Gallery from 9 - 27 July 2013. Hannah Greethead has a strong interest in all things art, with a particular preference for electronic art and experimental design fostered by her studies in Industrial Design. She has a Bachelor of Design in Industrial Design from the University of Technology, Sydney (2012) and is currently completing a Master of Art Administration at the College of Fine Arts (Sydney). She is currently a contributing staff writer at Warhol’s Children Magazine.
Limbo Celia Mortlock reviews Lucas Davidson’s
exhibition ‘Limbo’ at Dominik Mersch Gallery
Lucas Davidson’s body has been splayed, sliced, and entwined across the walls of Dominik Mersch Gallery. Hands dangle limply, on the other side of the room eyes glint at the viewer and disappear into shadow, a chiselled jaw truncated from the rest of Davidson’s head show the etches of shadows that allude to the sitter’s age. Combining photo-media installations and pigment prints, Limbo, Lucas Davidson’s latest exhibition, is essentially an amalgamated self-portrait. Capturing the space between being and nonbeing, the series illustrates the illusive nature of exhibiting the essence of someone through their portrait, which can often be a representation of their physicality, but not always of their real self. The Sydney-based photographer and video artist, has included eight videos of black and white segments of Davidson’s body as well as a series of abstract pieces, and beautifully rendered black and white pigment prints of pockets of the artist’s body. The full portrait of Davidson is never completely captured, rather joined together like a jigsaw puzzle of clues. The video installations are Davidson’s computer generated drawings that appear like ink drifting in water: fragile, limitless, and continually on the verge of complete disappearance. Dotted throughout the room, the initial ‘Self-Portrait’ video Installation view
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at the gallery’s entrance depicts fragments of Davidson’s face seemingly floating on the surface of an invisible pool of water, drifting around the screen like dust in the air. Just as the inkwell of flesh appears to dance into nothingness, a sliver of humanity emerges again. Whether in the form of Davidson’s crown of hair, his bare chest folding in on itself, or that mysterious eye peering out at the viewer just for a mere blink, it is enough to satisfy our need for some semblance of self. The videos’ effect is transcendental; the mesmerising floating of Davidson’s unravelling form will make you forget that what you’re really looking at is fragmentary glimpses into a sense of Davidson’s character and not just his tangibible form. The incorporation of video for this element of the exhibition also alludes to the infinite possibilities that life seemingly holds, just like the seemingly endless possibilities technology is capable of. There is only silence in the room as Davidson slowly unfolds himself to the viewer, one elusive video after another. Intermingling amongst the formless segments are pieces such as the black and white pigment print ‘Mindfield II’ and the flesh toned video piece ‘Inland’, abstract representations of Davidson’s neurological makeup. Not only does Davidson wish to display his present state of being, but also his dematerialisation and memory of his own
mortality. Again and again in Limbo the body is broken down into its baser elements: limbs, flesh, cells. However, the question then remains: what is Davidson left with? ‘Mindfield II’ shows a jumble of delicate spider webs converging into smaller and smaller patterns up the print’s length, similar to a jumble of cells or an extreme close-up of flecks of skin. Somewhat reminiscent of a Fred Williams landscape, the literal mind-field is a static exploration of the fragility of humanity: delicate, multi-faceted and almost impossible to make sense of. Nicholas Tsoutas believes these neurological pieces represent Davidson’s imminent disappearance, as a human life destined one day to end.1 It is this sensation of ‘disappearance,’ which the audience leaves Dominik Mersch Gallery with, a feeling that they could not quite capture the intangibility of Lucas Davidson and the self-portrait he portrayed. This intangibility may be due to the simple fact that Davidson never reveals his true self in one, easily identifiable face. However, this is Davidson’s primary objective, for his audience to look beyond the flimsy layer of flesh and features that so often we are defined by, and onto a more exact depiction of self. Although, if one were to use Davidson’s exhibition title, Limbo, this definition of self has not yet been 1
Nicholas Tsoutas, “Limbo,” Gallery handout, 2013
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artistically beautiful and delicate, poignant and personal. However, just as Davidson only includes fragments of his body, this exhibition must be understood as its whole for the self-portrait to exist.
Mindfield ll, 2013, Pigment print, 177 x 125 cm, framed, edition of 5 + 1 a.p.
settled on by the artist himself. It was Aristotle who declared the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, each portion is not as strong as when it is combined with its counterparts. Each piece in Limbo is
Although Limbo will never be entered into the Archibald, Australia’s “favourite” art prize, it is still a self-portrait in its own definition of the term. Limbo also leads us to the question of whether a portrait captures a person or a moment frozen in time. Each could be seen as a greater artistic accomplishment in their own right, and for all intents and purposes neither is superior. However, Davidson’s intent is to delve into the notion of transformation and the universal human condition that is change. The constantly looped video installations remind us that each moment is exactly that – momentary. Davidson has neither captured his complete sense of person or a moment captured, rather he has drawn attention to the impossibility of self-portraiture or portraiture in general as forever a moment of another time and never of the present. The final figure of Davidson is never revealed to the audience because there is no final image of himself that Davidson wants to settle on. Rather, the artist has chosen to represent his body as a site of transformation. Although frustrating to consider, like a graph that approaches infinity
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yet never touches it, Limbo is like a room of abandoned souls floating separately, trying to fit back together, yet never finding each other across the walls. In my imagination, Davidson is a private man, who has cracked open a door into the secret image he has of himself. Wide eyes look out at the viewer from different pieces always slightly surprised to be the subject of attention and always a little curious about whom is looking in at him. Enter Limbo and step inside the quietly magnificent exhibition of Lucas Davidson that might just have revealed more about the artist than he would have originally thought to divulge.
Lucas Davidson’s exhibition ‘Limbo’ was at Dominik Mersch Gallery from 23 April - 22 June 2013 Celia Mortlock is currently living in New York City undergoing an internship with Art Forum Magazine. She has received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney, majoring in Art History, and is enrolled in a Masters of Commerce for 2014. Celia has worked as an Art Critic with FBi Radio in the past and as an Invigilator for Kaldor Public Art Projects. For Project 27, 13 Rooms, Celia was chosen as an Interpreter Tino Seghal. Celia has previously worked as a copywriter and writer for various websites.
SYDNEY CONTEMPORARY 2013 A Visual Review
One thingâ€™s for certain, everyone agrees that Carriageworks is a fantastic space for the visual arts in Sydney and the extended wing, once home to Happy Feet, is now a perfect home for Sydney Contemporary.
The Directors Lisa Havilah (Carriageworks) and Barry Keldoulis (Sydney Contemporary)
Stellar attendance 8,000 at opening night 28,800 over course of the fair art causes traffic jams and commuter chaos!
The classic hang Watters Gallery
Cooking with Gascoigne Rosylyn Oxley 9 Gallery
‘Sydney Vintage’ Sullivan & Strumpf featuring Sydney Ball
The next generation Alaska Projects and Firstdraft
Follow the blue carpet...?
Plenty of press Heather Rogers, Michael Fitzgerald and Sean Morris
Larraine Deer, Art Almanac
Smashing exhibit Damien Minton Gallery
Reflecting the times Gow Langsford Gallery
Affairs of the Art Katrina Strickland’s book is reviewed by
Christopher Hodges & Chloe Watson
Affairs of the Art charts the intricate framework of marketing, management and personal circumstance that has shaped the legacies of some of Australia’s most significant artists of the 20th century – Fred Williams, Albert Tucker, John Brack and Rosalie Gascoigne, to name but a few. Katrina Strickland, arts editor of The Australian Financial Review for six years and currently deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review Magazine, is well placed to deliver such an account. She does so with typical journalistic rigour and bucket-loads of excellent first-hand accounts from curators and collectors, dealers and auctioneers, and, most compellingly, the family members left behind. The book brings to light a whole range of interesting stories about the Australian art world and the way an artist’s career is managed after death. Strickland’s account is nuanced, maintaining a journalistic objectivity whilst at the same time developing a compelling cast of characters, making the people, the places and the history of the artists very tangible. In this way, she touched upon themes of grief and loss whilst developing a complex understanding of what happens when an artist dies – the fact that their paintings live on. The spouses and family members are left with both a burden and a blessing, and some are in a position to handle this better than others.
So, in the chapter ‘The Crimson Line’ Strickland compares the legacy of Sydney’s Brett Whitely with that of Melbourne’s Georges Baldessin. She examines the divergent markets for and reputations of these two contemporaries in light of the very personal, at times tragic, narratives that developed after their deaths. In another chapter, ‘F is for Fake’, Strickland’s account of the estate of Paddy Bedford is particularly interesting for it’s straightforward look at the market for indigenous art in Australia in light of a specific cross-cultural negotiation. Strickland has structured the book in such a way that the various estates are addressed thematically. The stories of each artist are returned to across chapters and are woven into a more cohesive overview of the Australian art world and its machinations. This structure did make the book more academic and less a piece of storytelling. Canvassing reactions from within the art world, there have been many people who found it to be a very revealing text, giving them a better insight into the artists, their families and the way estates are managed. It would also no doubt be an eyeopening read for the general public. Strickland clearly explains the processes and forces at play within the art market, which are so often either mystified, sensationalised or completely ignored. She goes into the minutiae, thus avoiding the hyperbole often found in the mainstream press
when it comes to matters of the market, at the same time steering clear of the highbrow academic tendency to either avoid or condemn the commercial side of the art world. Affairs of the Art is a terrific read and a great resource. There should be more writing like this about art â€“ clear, explanatory and engaging.
Katrina Stricklandâ€™s Affairs of the Art was published by Melbourne University Press. Released 1 May 2013 RRP $34.99
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ALL FOR ART AND ART FOR ALL ISSUE FIVE SEPTEMBER 2013 SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA allforartandartforall.com email@example.com or find us on facebook
ART FOR ALL
Published on Oct 2, 2013
The Critical Issue - features the finalists of the 2 Danks Street Award for Art Criticism, a visual review of Sydney Contemporary 2013 and a...