Cover: J. D. Ojeikere Onile Gogoro Or Akaba 1975 gelatin silver print 50 x 60cm (Image courtesy of Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney) Inside Cover: MadeIn Company Under Heaven 20121018 2012 oil on canvas and aluminium board 200 x 140 x 20cm (Image courtesy of White Rabbit Collection, Sydney)
Editorial This is Artwrite. The love-child of a university course and an uncontrollable need to smother art all over your eyeballs. Are you wondering why? Behind every good artwork is a story we want to find. As writers, we help keep the cogs of the artworld turning: making sure art is discovered, explored and celebrated. It emerges from a deep fascination with the visual language, and our translations form an entry point into understanding. Catty, cool, controversial, poetic, opinionated or theoretical; we exist in as many manifestations as the visual creations that we examine. Ironically, my favourite art to discuss is that which leaves me speechless. I am awestruck when I see something that makes me think, or feel, or see something in a new way. Sharing this spark of excitement is my first impulse. At Artwrite, we are the next generation of arts writers. Love it or hate it, art will never be safe from us.
Welcome to the 53rd issue of Artwrite. Established in 1992, the magazine began as a Microsoft Word document that was photocopied, stapled and distributed. Now, in 2013, the Artwrite dialogue continues as an abundance of pixels behind glossy digital screens. The graphics are fancier, the images are in colour, and it barely takes the click of a mouse to turn a page. Artwrite has come a long way in its 21 years, however the essence is still the same â€“ to explore, discuss and create a dialogue around art. Art writing can take many forms. For this issue we have gathered a selection of letters to editors, exhibition reviews, opinion pieces and artist profiles. Looking at topics both close to home and abroad, these articles present a variety of ways of interpreting and discussing art. From Nigerian hairstyles, to the culture of collecting, to 3D printing, we hope you enjoy reading Artwrite #53.
A sincere and heartfelt thank you to Claire Armstrong who has guided our writing throughout this semester and has made this publication possible.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
FROM NIGERIAN HAIRDOS TO HOLLYWOOD DON’TS
ZIBI BILYK & ERWIN REDL STRING THEORY acknowledged: sydney’s hOMELESS JOHNNY ROMEO JD OKHEI OJEIKERE BILL HENSON KASPAR KAGI REW HANKS
AUSTRALIAN GALLERIES ON REVIEW DAVID C. COLLINS THE FINANCIAL REPORT MADEIN CHINA HOSSEIN VALAMANESH JUZ KITZON MIKE HEWSON
LET’S GET CONTEMPORARY
THE ART OF PRINTING AI WEIWEI JASMINE POOLE SYDNEY CONTEMPORARY 13 HIROYASU TSURI
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Dear Mr. Goodsir, Your article in The Sydney Morning Herald (23/7/13) regarding Qatar’s self-pronounced status as an emerging art and culture hub was of some concern. Qatar’s incredible wealth is of no secret, but the country’s recent interest in buying the masterpieces of the modern art world is of news to me. Although I do admire Qatar’s push to expand their cultural collection, I feel that they are perpetuating the notion of art as a discipline dictated by money. How does purchasing Cezanne’s Card Players for a shocking $250 million somehow locate this gulf state as a new center for art? Culture should not be something that can simply be purchased. Therefore, rather than buying art from international collections, perhaps Qatar could aim to develop their own domestic collection to exhibit their distinct culture. Kyra Kim
To the editor of SMH, Peter Craven Could Coalition victory in the upcoming federal election really ‘usher in a new creative era’? (14/6/13) While the Shadow Arts Minister George Brandis’ speech regarding the intrinsic value of art has been warmly received by some, the coalition’s true approach to public arts funding is still speculative as their policy is yet to be revealed. Meanwhile, the ALP has been investing close to $800 million annually in the arts and have recently committed another $235 million through the Creative Australia Policy where visual arts will receive funds directly. Put simply, perhaps the coalition should put their money where their mouth is. Eyvette Tea
After months of anticipation I visited Van Gogh, Dali and Beyond: The World Reimagined, an exhibition of works from the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), Perth (22 June – 2 December 2013).
While impressed by many of the selections from MoMA’s collection, I was expecting more than the mere two works by Dali and one by Van Gogh. It was misleading of the AGWA to use these well-known artists’ names as a marketing device to attract visitors. The exhibition should have a more appropriate title so that visitors are not disappointed. Dani Ryder
It has been reported that NSW high schools are struggling to attract students to select visual art as one of their subjects for the Higher School Certificate. It seems that art is still treated with some suspicion and is taken less seriously than subjects like science or mathematics. Due to this stigma, most schools hardly use their allocated funds for their Visual Art departments, limiting the attractiveness of the subject to students as it is perceived as less resourced. It is essential that high school students studying visual arts have a proper environment in which to work and learn, such as an art studio, and a variety of materials. Verillyn Chiang
Call me a purist, but isn’t part of experiencing art appreciating the dexterity of the human hand? You can’t digitally reproduce textured oil paint on canvas, the sensuous drip of ink on paper, or the mouth watering gloss of a blown-up photograph. I cringe at the thought of art buyers sitting in their undies choosing their next purchase, hungry faces lit by the dull glow of a laptop screen. I understand that accessibility is an art market imperative, but I hope that encounters with art do not become entirely limited to pants-off convenience. Amy Rowe
From Nigerian hairdos to Hol Zibi Bilyk and Erwin Redl Sara Roney Gallery, Sydney 6 - 17 August 2013
Australian photographer, Zibi Bilyk, and Austrian-born artist, Erwin Redl, both work predominantly in monochrome, and when paired together at the Sara Roney Gallery, a calming harmony resonates. With soft, chilling music on constant rotation, the converted industrial space at the Danks Street Depot becomes a haven of philosophical thought and pacified splendour. Bilykâ€™s large-scale photography, inspired by the legendary Marcel Duchamp, transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary; he captures images of repaired asphalt roads, which have the effect of a giant sketch. His particular cropping alters our perception of these images and invites us to view our surroundings in a new light. Similarly, Redlâ€™s collection, Cracks, contemplates an almost sacred philosophy. A crackling white paint is laid over a darker surface; evocative of scales, forcing us to consider the transience of time in contemporary society. Both artists considered, aging and destruction has never been so exquisite. By Sophie Flecknoe
Zibi Bilyk, Pyrmont 5732, 78 x 111cm and Pyrmont Noon 072 (Image courtesy of Sara Roney Gallery, Sydney)
llywood don’ts String Theory Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 16 August – 27 October 2013 Walking into String Theory, I was barely even past the first room when I was confronted with the ceiling high, stacked cardboard box monolith known as the exhibition’s ‘gift shop’. Initially I thought it was an artwork; brightly coloured woven baskets and printed cloth adorn the cardboard. A closer inspection revealed 3-figure price tags and the woman who I’d mistook for a quirky MCA attendant was asking me if I needed assistance. I was under the impression I’d visited a museum, to feast on works from our rich indigenous culture, not an overly ambitious crafts fair where I’d be asked whether I wanted the dot painted print leggings in S or XS. The collection of works selected for String Theory were an eclectic and diverse mix of traditional crafts and media but walking around I couldn’t help wondering whether, if I didn’t eat for a week and sold my future first born on eBay, I could justify the XS. By Olivia Borgese
Dwellers in liminal space State Library of New South Wales, Sydney 29 July - 6 October 2013 Acknowledged: Sydney’s Homeless is not an easy exhibition to digest. On display in the foyer of the State Library until early October, it’s entirely possible to traverse the main staircase en route to amenities without giving the photographs a second glance. This location is poignant given its likeness to the peripheral territory of the photographs’ subjects, clearly in view and yet so easily ignored or unnoticed. Stylistically, the work draws from the traditions of formal portraiture and documentary photography. Volunteer photographers Angela Pelizzari and Jennifer Blau have captured the spirit of their sitters, with accompanying stories illuminating the unique histories of people who are often disregarded in public spaces. Pelizzari and Blau have revived and recontextualised depictions of the homeless, striking nerves and raising questions about society at large. By Michelle Montgomery
From Nigerian hairdos to Hollywood don’ts DEADWOOD: Johnny Romeo NG Art Gallery, Sydney 13 - 21 September 2013 DEADWOOD is Johnny Romeo’s highly anticipated new exhibition, hot on the heels of his solo show in New York and a recent collaboration with punk band Blink 182. It his first show back at NG Art following the success of his 2011 exhibition Romeo Must Die. Featuring icons of popular culture, Romeo explores the duality of a media saturated 21st century society both pathologically consumed with celebrity fetishism, yet totally bored by it. Evoking Warhol and his infamous screen prints of celebrity icons, Romeo’s DEADWOOD similarly laments and celebrates the death of old Hollywood, with an eerie almost-too-close-for-comfort inclusion of the late Heath Ledger as The Dark Knight. The artist’s signature neoexpressionist style recalls stencil art, graffiti, pop-art and a comic book aesthetic. The inclusion of carefully appointed text forms a dark undertone, inviting the viewer look beyond the glossy veneer of celebrity. Something is not well in Hollywood, and Romeo is intent on exposing it. By Hannah Wolff
Contemporary African: J.D. Okhai Ojeikere Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney 10 August - 5 September 2013 Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere has a fine eye for documenting one of the most ephemeral, transient and artistic aspects of fashion: hairstyles. Ojeikere’s background in advertising photography during Africa’s burgeoning mass media culture in the 1960s and 70s, points to his fascination with popular culture, fashion and the street style. His series Hairstyles comprises of countless elaborate and extraordinary hairstyle portraits of Nigerian women. Each are sourced from the everyday: the streets, parties and social gatherings. Twelve of these images are now on view at the Ray Hughes Gallery. They are classically composed in black and white, showcasing the intricate patterning and extravagant designs of these remarkable living sculptures. However, aesthetic value is not all that is emphasized. By also recording the names of each woman and the particular occasion for her hairdo, the series offers an invaluable insight into the social and cultural milieu of Nigeria. While visually stunning and historically significant, Ojeikere’s photographs ultimately stand as a celebration of Nigeria’s vibrant culture and people. By Emily Riches
JD-Okhai Ojeikere, Traditional Ceremonial Suku 1974, Gelatin silver print, 50 x 60cm (Courtesy of Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney)
From Nigerian hairdos to Hollywood don’ts Bill Henson: Cloud Landscapes Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 25 May - 22 September 2013 Cloud Landscapes is an exhibition of photographs by Bill Henson traversing his more than four-decade long career. The exhibition, held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, was dimly lit, lending itself to the opaque, impenetrable quality of Henson’s photographs, which are engulfed in a slightly disconcerting darkness. Figures and the landscape have been recurring motifs in Henson’s oeuvre. The fleeting presence of colour or light in his work serves to outline the contour of a naked body, or alert the viewer to a hint of nature in an otherwise pitch-black scene. The flesh, by contrast, is translucent; it is as though Henson has envisaged these figures as human light sources, illuminating an infinitely black universe. There was an overarching emphasis on abstraction: from the swarm of bodies, outstretched hands and soft focus of the Paris Opera Project series to the otherworldly play of light and shadow in the landscape. It is within these darkened spaces that Henson encourages you to imagine what lies beyond. By Chloé Hazelwood
Rew Hanks: Cook’s Conquest Watters Gallery, Sydney 21 August - 7 September 2013 Cook’s Conquest, an exhibition of works by the master printmaker Rew Hanks, reflects on Australia’s colonial past and its lingering presence today. Hanks’s highly refined linocut prints are full of symbolic meaning that reflects Australia’s sporting culture, environmental issues and art world. Hanks humorously taps into a pre-photographic aesthetic, depicting his protagonist, Captain James Cook, surfing into Botany Bay. Cook is also shown fighting cane toads and speaking with botanist Joseph Banks about Australian identity. Some works are bold and therefore easily read; others need historical or cultural knowledge to decipher meaning(s). There is also a fairytale element to the works, with heroes and forgotten creatures guiding us through past and present narratives. The exhibition is a critical examination of history that requires deconstruction, yet in doing so leaves the viewer contemplative. The craftsmanship, symbolism and wit in each print dazzles and intrigues, evoking reflection as well as ongoing conversation. By Kelly Truelsen Opposite: Kaspar Kägi Still life (bull skull surrounded by succulents), 2013. Mixed Media on paper
Kaspar Kägi: Static Collapses Contemporary Art Inc, Sydney 15 August - 1 September 2013 Echoing the image-scrambling lag of streamed video on a slow server, Kaspar Kägi renders disintegrated cutup and bitmapped visual spaces in hyper-vibrant Posca markers, Texta and paint. His works are a collage of club foots, hands, breasts, partially erased cityscapes, robots and game characters, hedged in by bands of saturated pen strokes. The smaller unframed works in Kägi’s exhibition are dense and satisfying. However, while the larger multi-panelled works display the artist’s evident skill at patternation and visual stitching, their presentation produces a pang of regret. The wide lengths of clear tape used to hold the pieces together are distracting, unsettling to one’s inner archivist, and most likely account for the lack of buyer interest in these very reasonably priced works on paper. This carelessness may well have been born of necessity – according to the gallery attendants it took Kägi just over a month to produce all of the works in the show – but, then again, maybe Kagi just isn’t interested in selling. The show crackles and hums with rapidity and experimentation – the rhythms of an artist in process. Static Collapses is an exciting first show heralding a distinct voice among Sydney’s rising wave of Texta artists. By Grace Mackey
Australian galleries on
Today I feel like Orpheus, tomorrow who knows? 2013. (Image courtesy of the artist)
Affluence and Youth: The Photography of David C. Collins Words by Christina Walkden-Brown These days we are all too familiar with young men and women instagramming, taking ‘selfies’, and posting these images to be ‘liked’ on facebook. Often these photos are sexualised, or depict scenes designed to arouse jealousy and boost affluence like partying with attractive friends, or having a macaroon for dessert at Adriano Zumbo. But what is lacking are a carefully composed set, a high quality lens, and the skills to bring these notions into play using beautiful models. Enter photographer David C. Collins. Collins describes his surroundings as a “pseudo-hedonistic society where no one goes hungry and decadence is our hobby. My generation surrounds itself with as many resources as possible in an attempt to feel affluent, and revels in the beauty of one another’s youthful bodies”. His photography depicts beautiful men and women often clad in nothing but jewellery or flowers; smoking, drinking, relaxing. He mixes a number of elements and cultural references into each individual piece and his repertoire of props include masks, lavish culinary still lifes, musical instruments, and a python. Since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Visual Art with Honours from Perth’s Curtin University of Technology, Collins has been part of multiple group shows, has been a finalist in the Perth Centre of Photography Iris Awards twice, and has had his work collected by the Art Gallery of Western Australia as well as the Lawrence Wilson Gallery, University of Western Australia. On top of this, Collins has been producing a solo show every year since 2009 – an impressive resume! His 2013 show Plastic Eden was exhibited earlier this year in his home city of Perth at Venn Gallery. Each work lures you in with its diverse characters and settings, inviting you to draw connections between the elements. If you are lost in interpretation then Collins’ titles may point the way by making references or highlighting aspects of the work. Today I feel like Orpheus, tomorrow who knows? depicts three women mourning an assumedly dead man. Although enjoyable without the title, the work is imbued with new meaning when linked to Orpheus, the legendary Greek musician and poet. The title also plays on the recurring theme of self-indulgence; these beautiful people have the luxury of embodying myths of music and sadness, but changing on a whim. Chwilio a darganfod gwirionedd natur (Far Away Places), is another work from Plastic Eden. In Welsh, the title translates to, ‘searching and discovering the nature of reality’, a theme which is present in the image. A nude man in a softly lit forest reaches out to brush the thigh of a nude woman, part-reclining against a fallen, moss-covered tree. In this image Collins hopes to bring forth a desire all people secretly possess - to be one with nature in a perfect state – while at the same time Collins’ creation is clearly a construction. Judging by his past photography, David C. Collins next exhibition will be a must see. Keep your eye out for new work!
The Financial Report Words by Georgia Tkachuk The relationship between art and finance is complex and ever-evolving. Artspace’s current exhibition The Financial Report examines this, all with a tinge of irony through self-reflection and absurdity. Mark Feary has curated a group show of Australian and international artists, presenting several dominating art markets. The challenge for Feary has obviously been the large space and the even larger paradigms. In finding linkages between not only art and economics, but also the contrasting contexts, some works are remediated but others are lost in the space. Many interesting curatorial choices have been made in this exhibition, most prominently the choice to have a newsreel loop playing alongside one of the works - however, that work isn’t completely on display. Currency (2011) by Denis Beaubois received enormous media backlash from Australian news outlets. Beaubois was the recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts $20,000 New Work grant, which he then displayed as two stacks of $100 notes and a sculptural piece. Auctioned off for $17,500, or $21,350 (including the buyer's premium), the work was given a cultural value of $1,350. An empty plinth is displayed alongside news clippings. The sight of David “Kochie” Koch in the art space offers a distinctive interpretation of cultural influence on art markets, and indeed, the evolving role of the art gallery space. The artist, much like many of the works in the show, subverts his own art market to offer unique commentary. This work reacts to Christian Jankowski’s Kunstmarkt TV (2008), a 45-minute video piece that is essentially a home shopping channel for contemporary art. Engaging the tropes of a shopping channel, Jankowski, possibly more explicitly than Beaubois, offers a satirical, absurd and highly self-referential work. The absurdity of ‘calling in’ to buy a Jeff Koons remarks on the nature of the art market, especially of a post-2008 Global Financial Crisis context. Similar to the aforementioned, it is a commentary on the accelerated art market of Europe, reacting against the more stilted economy in the adjacent work. Artspace is a challenging site in that it is divided, and would work well for two separate shows. Often meaning and interest is lost by the end of the exhibition, and for this particular show, the saturation of video work manipulates the lighting in a way that many of the sculptural pieces are overshadowed. Overall, this exhibition has more of a focus on standout pieces, as opposed to artworks that interact with each other. Due to the grand nature of the overall theme, perhaps Feary loses his intent. However, the humour located in the absurdity and self-reflexivity stimulates conversation, which is clearly Feary’s goal. A video overview of Denis Beaubois’s Currency project can be viewed at http://www.denisbeaubois.com/Currency/Currency.html. The Financial Report Artspace, Sydney 21 August - 29 September 2013
Christian Jankowski, Kunstmarkt TV, 2008, (image courtesy of the artist) and Meyer Kainer, Wien and Klosterfelde, Berlin. Installation view: Artspace, Sydney, 2013. Photo: silversalt photograph
Denis Beaubois, Currency, 2011, two sections of uncirculated $100 AUD banknotes (100 banknotes in each section), face value of AUD $20,000, (image courtesy of the artist)
This page and opposite: Denis Beaubois, Currency, 2011 (image courtesy of the artist) Installation view: Artspace, Sydney, 2013. Photo: silversalt photography.
MadeIn China Words by Dani Ryder A single artwork has captured my attention more than any other I have seen hanging on White Rabbit Gallery’s bleached walls. From afar, it looks like a field of rose-hued flowers, or perhaps a coral reef when viewed from above. The patches of colour work harmoniously to create a sense of overwhelming beauty; step-by-step you get closer and realise that you’re looking at … a cake. For all intents and purposes it could be a cake, or a thousand tiny cupcakes huddled together. The amassed volumes of paint on the canvas have been mixed in a piping bag and squeezed through the nib to create the textured dollops of oil paint that fill the large rectangular canvas. The paint itself weighs about 70kg and has been applied so thickly that it’s still in the process of drying. The artwork is called Under Heaven 20121018 (2012) and was produced by the MadeIn Company. Which brings me to the second aspect of my fascination with this work: how can an artwork be made by a company? The answer is both wry and amusing. The MadeIn Company is composed of a group of 24 Chinese artists working under this collective name, and was formed in 2006 by the company’s creator, Xu Zhen. The current members are listed as Xu Zhen, Vigy Jin, Alexia Dehaene, Yu Wei, Lu Pingyuan, Yu Tianzhu, Nathan Zhou, Louise Lam, Shen Weiwei, Wang Jialun, Shen Qing, Zhu Hui, Guo Li, Yu Feifei, Zhou Jing, Wang Qiang, Zhang Li, Xia Yunfei, Sun Wei, He Yue, He Xuefeng, Chou Yinmei, Li Qiang and Jiang Guoxiong. Obviously this one artwork could not have been created by 24 artists, so how do we attribute it to one person? The point is, we don’t. Xu Zhen created the group after deciding that he had taken his individual identity to its limits. On the gallery’s website he states that “Great works are something you discover, not something you create. I feel I would be limited in what I could discover if I were working on my own”. Based in Shanghai, the company operates similarly to an advertising agency, with the objective of undermining the assumptions of the art establishment in ways both theatrical and humorous. They describe themselves on their company website as “A contemporary art creation corporate, focused on the production of creativity, and devoted to the research of contemporary culture’s infinite possibilities.” Under Heaven 20121018 is pure theatrics; the work looks like an extravagantly overdecorated cake-canvas, smothered in thick blobs of rose-hued paint that is squeezed directly from an icing bag. The technique arose from playful experimentation, but the swirling pattern of the paint is suggestive of cityscapes and landscapes seen from the perspective of the gods, giving meaning to the artwork’s name. It is one in a series of different coloured works, all titled Under Heaven. Smash Palace White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney 1 March – 4 August 2013
Under Heaven 20121018, 2012 MadeIn Company Oil paint, canvas, aluminum board. 200 x 140 x 20cm Exhibited in ‘Smash Palace’, White Rabbit Gallery 2013.
Hossein Valamanesh Longing/Belonging 1997 Words by Brittany D’Chong To the Australian media, immigrant is a dirty word. Currently perpetuated in discussions surrounding asylum seekers and previously evident in the race riots of 2005 and 2009 in Cronulla and Melbourne respectively, degrading and callous name calling is commonplace and xenophobia croons. It appears many seem to have forgotten that much of the Australian culture we hold dear is in fact an amalgamation of exactly that; immigrant culture. Artist Hossein Valamanesh’s work Longing/Belonging radiates a piercing light of personal experience and spiritual repose onto this discussion. Accepted and championed by the Australian art world, Valamanesh has work in the collections of some of our most significant art institutions where, through the interweaving of Iranian, contemporary Australian and Indigenous Australian culture, Valamanesh’s minimal and deeply conceptual works, tell of his personal story and journey as an immigrant. Longing/Belonging in particular is found in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. On the gallery floor lies a Persian rug. Taking up its centre is a hole filled with darkness while above we see a photograph of a clearing in the Australian bush where a campfire burns atop the same intricately woven Persian rug. There is an absence in the work that sucks you in to look and to consider: No figure to control the fire. No light to pierce the dark heart of the rug. Soon after immigrating to Australia from Iran in 1973, Valamanesh spent time in the remote Aboriginal communities of central Australia. Here he found an affinity with the desert landscape and the story-telling culture of the Indigenous artists he worked with. Though alien, these parts of Australia seemed to echo a quiet voice of belonging to Valamanesh; sung from the heart of ancient Iran. In Longing/Belonging the Australian landscape and Persian rug intertwine as two symbols of these ancient cultures and highlight Valamanesh’s understanding of the fear and confusion that comes with converging cultures. While the campfire burns like a warm invitation it does so with the promise of an impending chaos. As the dry and desolate clearing could at any moment be set alight, the burgundy threads of the carpet blacken by dancing flames, we see the ephemerality of nature and are reminded of culture’s own fragility in moments of social unrest. Loss is also a part of Valamanesh’s story and takes up a heavy layer of this work. The haunting emptiness and harsh terrain of the landscape signify the absence of hospitality in a foreign land, while fire, an agent of destruction burns through the carpets central symbol of a garden of paradise. To adapt to a new life one must surrender parts of oneself to the flames. Once again seduced by an absence when the fire has stopped, where you would expect to find a pile of ash or scorched earth there is a panel of black velvet. Staring into its uninterrupted blackness you feel the nothingness take on a presence and materiality. The nothingness here is no longer about loss but potential. A clearing, a fresh start. Heavily influenced by Sufism, a Middle Eastern spirituality, Valamanesh’s work evokes the principle of Fanaa, a nothingness that contains eternity. This emptiness, the black at the heart of the rug, the clearing in the middle of the bush, is now a place of endless possibility. Out of the ashes rises a Phoenix. What will this nothingness bring?
Porcelain Anatomy Words by Lea Simpson Juz Kitson is a ceramicist featured in the upcoming Primavera exhibition, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA’s) annual showcase of emerging Australian artists under 35. Her installation, Changing Skin, is no fine china bowl. It commands the room with dimensions approximating 6 x 5m. It seems to pulsate, its cold glistening porcelain surfaces suffused with a visceral mutated life enhanced by the hair and hide from multiple earthly creatures including horse, fox, goat, alpaca, sheep, deer, and cow. Kitson’s works are not birthed from the potters wheel. She creates sculptural porcelain ieces that incorporate bone, hair, wax and latex. These organic elements are woven together seamlessly, though some of these marriages are technically difficult - the high firing temperatures required for ceramics processes renders bone extremely fragile. Latex (a favourite material) degrades faster than the body, with a lifespan of about 10 years. Due to these materials such works possess unique temporal and corporeal expectations. Juz Kitson is the youngest in this year’s national showcase of young artists at the MCA, but has forged an enviable career since graduating (with Honours in Ceramics) from the National Art School in 2009. In fact, David Walsh purchased her entire Honours project Formations of Silence: Freudian Flowers direct from her studio and threw it up next to Jean-Michel Basquiat in his Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart. She is represented by commercial galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and has had solo shows in London, Beijing, Melbourne and Sydney. Changing Skin grew directly out of a studio in rural NSW but most of the technical development: mould making, casting and glaze experimentation, happened in her studio in Jingdezhen, China the porcelain capital of the world for over 1700 years. Kitsons ceramic installations delicately marry the abject with the sublime. They are representational and yet distorted. They suggest ﬂesh, flowers, organs, gonads, but are not facsimiles of those forms. They are their own monsters, and are widely reviewed as being as seductive as they are unsettling. Kitson often evokes hidden anatomies: underwater creatures, underground structures, internal organs, and of course, the hidden sexual orifice. Occasionally these objects reach over to penetrate each other from their assigned position in their salon style hang upon the wall. Changing Skin is Kitson’s most ambitious work yet. Hundreds of meticulously positioned ceramic components form the 17 distinct works of the installation. Ceramic pigs trotters bound in chinese silk, cast porcelain antlers, and bundles of udders - hanging like mammorial bunches of grapes - lurk picturesquely amongst thousands of handmade beads and the follicles and fur of various beasts. These works hang on the wall and flow to the floor in a glistening sweep of hair and nodes. Utilising and recontextualizing altered organic forms, the intermingling, unusual marriages in Changing Skin create a tangible sense of playful abjection. They will repulse you while they delight. The overt orifice and viscera and dark, delicate hair add weight to the disconnect from a traditional aesthetic, while simultaneously entrancing you with a beauty that somehow seems classical. They are delicate but vaguely threatening. Carnal. Organic. Abject. Divine. They will be on the wall at the MCA from 12 September to 17 November.
Juz Kitson Primavera 2013 Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Mike Hewson’s Big Break: Earthquakes and Hold Ups Words By Zachariah Fenn New Zealand born artist Mike Hewson always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Mike Hewson’s status as an emerging artist has been elevated to unparalleled heights due to a series of events, some fortunate and others arguably so. This August, Hewson was at the forefront of one of Australia’s leading art galleries (quite literally so). Hewson experienced a dramatic shift in his art-making, which helped obtain his big break - the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 not only left Hewson’s studio in shatters, but also his art practice. He simply felt his small-scale Romantic paintings could not fully convey the very real and very personal effects of such devastation on his own landscape and thus, begun creating punchy, interactive, public installations that directly interrogated and engaged with the broken architecture of the city’s fragility and experiences of human adversity. Hewson employed the optical device of doubling to super-impose giant life-size digital prints directly onto the buildings exterior, often causing the images to warp across the undulating surfaces and recreate a sense of chaos and disorder akin to that of an earthquake-stricken zone. As part of the refurbishment of Circular Quay’s historic buildings, Hewson landed a lucrative commission with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. While masked in scaffolding, the facade of the Unwin’s Stores building became Hewson’s play equipment, which spans over 150 square metres and with the digital print of the building layered over the scaffolding.
UNWIN’S STAGE 2, 2012, 12.6 x 36 x 3.9 m, Digital print shrouding temporary scaffolding system, cnr George and Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney. (Image courtesy of the artist)
Hewson adopts the powerful, playful technique of dimensional perspective in order to absorb the audience into a kind of dance – dosey-doeing as they seek the point where the image vanishes into reality, the “sweet-spot” amongst the chaos. The role of the audience is critical – they must actively engage with the spatiality of the building. Considering the high calibre location of the piece, an area popular among tourists, visitors and museum goers, Hewson received excellent publicity. Hewson was to be further projected into the public eye when the Foreshore Authority asked him back, this time for a more ambitious project, with an even richer audience – enshrouding the Museum of Contemporary Art with one of his now iconic installations. “It Holds Up”, Hewson’s largest public installation to date covered the entire quayside fascia of the MCA, an area of 2000 square metres that was visible throughout the Circular Quay precinct including the Opera House. Hewson injected a typographic component and a poetic sensibility in this work through the collaborative assistance of Agatha Gothe-Snape, an emerging Sydney artist. The successfully ambiguous phrase “It Holds Up” is adhered to the scaffolding scrim in individual block letters, giving the illusion that the words reveal the refurbished building behind. “It Holds Up” refers to the installations own materiality – the scaffolding holds up the artwork. It is also an Australian colloquial expression – a contextual reference to the success of the new developments of the MCA’s building. Furthermore, it reflects the institution itself – holding up contemporary art to the Australian and international market. Enshrouding your artwork on one of the world’s most prestigious art museums? That’s one way to break into the Sydney art scene. Bravo Mike Hewson. Bravo!
DECONSTRUCTION (installation view and detail) 2013, 22 x 8.2 x 4.3 m, Digital print on adhesive vinyl on elevated walkway structure, cnr Colombo St & Cashel Mall, Christchurch, NZ. (Image Courtesy of the artist)
Let’s get contemporary tHE art of printing wORDS BY emma dalling The capabilities of 3D printing technologies have become increasingly apparent in the fields of art and design. Not only can we print scale models of buildings and products, but we are also able to print wearable clothing for the runways of Paris, functioning machinery and interior structures. There is a certain aesthetic beauty in the products of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which can only be achieved by this process. As with any other sculptural medium it possesses its own charms and intricacies. The question we must ask is whether 3D printing will remain a creative aid or come to develop further as an independent medium. The computerised nature of the process, whereby most of the actual creativity takes place on 3D modelling programs, has led many to question the ‘artistic integrity’ of works produced solely as three-dimensional prints. Object Gallery (Australian Design Centre) in Sydney, in cooperation with jewellery Sydney based design gallery Courtesy of the Artist (COTA), are currently holding an exhibition which explores the use of 3D printing technology in the art and design industries. The exhibition, titled [Ctrl][P] Objects in Demand, encourages audience participation, with nine 3D printers located throughout the gallery space and short courses teaching the ins and outs of this new technology to the printing novice. It endeavours to educate the ‘what, why and how’ of 3D printing. The audience is invited to make computerised scans of their heads and proceed to have them 3D printed. There exists an added element of commerce (as with any exhibition at Object) as 3D printed objects by artists and designers are sold in the gift-shop. The process itself is additive and machinery is used to successively layer materials in order to create different shapes. The use of 3D printers across the art, design and architecture fields are expanding rapidly with the technology, not only being used as an aid to these practices but as a final product in itself. You may have heard recently of the first entirely 3D printed, fully functional handgun, which caused much public animosity toward 3D printing and its capabilities. Though previously a very costly practice, 3D printing is becoming more and more affordable as technologies have advanced. For governments who seemingly have tight control over the production of weapons, this is an alarming prospect. On the other hand, displaying its more philanthropic capabilities, 3D printing has been used recently in the production of functional organs to be used in cases of medical transplants. Can a technology which is capable of saving lives be considered a challenge to nature and human creativity? Surely mankind has progressed beyond such medieval speculation surrounding advancements in technology. 3D printing is not restricted in the materials it may produce, with objects being printed in paper composites, plastics and even composite marble. Its ability to produce an accurate reproduction of computerised objects takes much of the hard work off the hands of the artist or designer. For an individual in the field of object or industrial design this can only be an aid, but in the hands of an artist does such a process contradict artistic integrity? Surely we could pose the same question when considering the use of artist’s aids, studio assistants who are hired to physically reproduce the ideas and thoughts of the ‘all-powerful’ artist. In the last decade we have seen a flurry of artists turn to this relatively new technology within their practices. Previously the tool of architects in the construction of scale-models and designers in the making of prototypes, 3D printing is now being used in fashion design, sculptural practices and in the construction of large-scale architectural pieces.
Recently architectural-programmers Benjamin Dillenburger and Michael Hansmeyer collaborated to construct an entire room through 3D printing processes based on spatial algorithms used by Swiss surrealist artist and Oscar award winning set designer H.R. Giger in sci-fi films such as Alien.
Cheng Dapeng, Wonderful City, 2011-12, resin 3-D prints (Image courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Collection, Sydney)
Titled Digital Grotesque, represents more of an altar to alien gods than a room in its entirety. Standing 3.2 metres tall and spanning 16 square metres in width the structure presents unfathomable detail, much of which is not visible to the human eye. Its structure is representational of extra-terrestrial skeletal systems and paints an intensely beautiful picture of the possibilities of 3D printing. Its foreign yet recognisable columns, their forms comparable to the work of architects such as Antonio Gaudi, reflect an organicism that would not usually be attributed to such mathematical processes of design. The capabilities of 3D printing to produce such accurate designs, which the human hand cannot, have also been taken advantage of by artists, particularly sculptures. Sydney based artist, and COFA lecturer, Louis Pratt has been working for some time in the medium of 3D printing. His sculptural works are built from 3D scans of human forms which are then translated through 3D printing methods and later cast in bronze and other media. He is interested also in mathematical algorithms, such as in the work of H.R Giger, which might allow a traversal of new sculptural grounds. Much of Pratt’s work makes comment on new relationships with technology and the closing divide between human interaction on an immediate level and that which is bridged by the digital world. As many see it, work such as Pratt’s is proof of the legitimacy of 3D printing as an art form and method. His Wynn Prize nominated work Whatever (2012) not only reflects the impact of 3D printing as process but also wholly embraces it in its aesthetic representation. A bended figure hovers on the edge of a traditional plinth, its appearance shifting markedly as the viewer circles it. Though it has been further altered ‘post-print’, it has not been coloured or textured in any way that denies the processes used to create it. Its meaning lies deep in the process of printing itself and, in the absence of such a process, would have little to say of human interaction with and within the digital world. 3D printing it would seem is the way of the future for all pathways of design. Used in conjunction with computer programs specifically tailored to suit the needs of the artist or designer, it presents a means of designing, prototyping and producing a final product. Many artists are now utilising this technology as a form of media in their practice. Recently, a large-scale work by Chinese artist Cheng Dapeng was exhibited at the White Rabbit Gallery’s exhibition Smash Palace. The work, entitled Wonderful City, fully embraced 3D printing as a means of producing art, accepting its limits and flaws, usually the product of mechanical malfunctions. The supposed accuracy of computerised design seems as vulnerable to imperfection as any work produced by hand. Can a work as visually enticing, and in many cases embracing of imperfection, be considered a desertion of traditional artistic process and integrity? Surely there is less to be said of integrity when discussing Duchamp’s urinal than works such as these. There can be no question of the efforts put into a work such as Dapeng’s, every detail pre-determined and painstakingly produced as a computer generated image. It is beautiful in consideration of its flaws and there is much to be said in the artist’s embrace of them. Technology in all its forms is flawed just as is the work of the human hand. It is not a question of whether there is a place for 3D printing in the art and design world but rather a question of how far we may push its capabilities. Will 3D printing become the predominant means of production in fields of design or will it always be considered as secondary to manufacturing by hand? In a climate where art has already shifted so far from traditional notions of the ‘labouring artisan’, does the means of production still compete with the importance of original vision? These are questions which can only be answered with time though we cannot ignore the growing presence of 3D printers in the creative industries, the impact of which has further to travel before it reaches its summit. [Ctrl][P] Objects in Demand Object Gallery, 417 Bourke Street, Surry Hills 29 October 2013 - 29 January 2014
Cheng Dapeng, Wonderful City, 2011-12, resin 3-D prints (Image courtesy of the artist and White Rabbit Collection, Sydney)
Ai Weiwei, 2009 Gao Yuan Photo © Gao Yuan
SUNFLOWERS AND CENSORSHIP: THE ART OF AI WEIWEI wORDS BY LUCINDA DAVISON Enigmatic, political, iconic and utterly subversive: Ai Weiwei is one of the most familiar and unforgettable contemporary Chinese artists practicing today. Amongst his loud, confrontational works against the authoritarian government in China is the most recent, Laoma Tihua, which explicitly states, “Who’s knocking on the door? We’re all police… Why are you breaking in? To teach you a lesson, kid”. However, is it possible that his most rebellious, subversive and inflammatory work actually lays on the floor of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London, in the form of sunflower seeds? It is well documented that freedom of expression for artists in China is severely limited and that dissident content is often met with force. Ai Weiwei is a personal testimony to this, suffering from an inflammation on the brain after a midnight encounter with government officials in 2009. This was in response to his 2009 work Sichuan Earthquake Names Project which directly exposed the extent of the Chinese Governments censorship of the devastating death toll. Ai collected 5,385 names of children who died as a result of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake and displayed them publicly. In 2011, after filming a documentary about his work for the BBC Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour presented by Alan Yentob and directed by Matthew Springford, Ai Weiwei was taken into custody by the Chinese government. He spent a total of 81 days imprisoned for what the Chinese government called “economic crimes”. He had no access to natural light, to his family, legal representation or the outside world. The conditions of censorship and repression which lay cause to this imprisonment are aptly captured in the documentary as it explores how censorship was and is affecting the practice of Ai Weiwei. The documentary purposefully positions Ai with the air of an underground non-conformist making a brave stand against all of China. This personal narrative that is driven by the drama of Ai’s activism and art had some art writers like Josh Spero questioning if such drama is warranted. He states that, “If you found yourself thinking that you were watching Mission: Impossible rather than [Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour], you could have been forgiven” as the mood lighting, skyped interviews and music builds the tension and heightens the political thriller the documentary intended on capturing. Spero accurately notes that Ai becomes the ideal cultural “ambassador” for Chinese contemporary art in the ‘West’ as he is eloquent, English speaking and critical of both Chinese Communism and Western Capitalism. It is argued that artists such as Yue Minjun with works like Execution (1995), using depictions of Tiananmen Square, are far more sensational, bombastic and inflammatory in their unmistakable mockery of the State endorsed art style of Socialist Realism. But, as Spero also asks, why is it then that we are drawn to the works of Ai Weiwei rather than the more sensational images of other contemporary Chinese artists like Yue Minjun? Can a sunflower seed be more sensational than an execution? Ai Weiwei’s 2010 installation Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London is comprised of 100 million sunflower seed husks that are individually hand crafted and painted pieces of porcelain, made in the city of Jingdezhen in China. Intended to be identical, each husk is in fact unique, a touching reminder of the hundreds of artisans who made each one of the 100 million seeds. Part of the mesmerising nature of Ai’s works is the resonance it has with ancient Chinese artistic practices and how poignantly it comments on the “geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today” as Juliet Bingham, curator of the Tate Modern’s exhibition stated.
Ai’s politics shine through as each of these seeds were ‘Made in China’ and make a crisp comment on the nature and scale of capitalist consumer manufacturing that the ardently Communist China relies upon for economic stability. As with many of Ai’s works the political content is saturated in allegory and iconography of which his subtle messages make strong comments on the economic hypocrisy of the Chinese government. This message about production and the placement of the work adds another layer to Ai’s critical social commentary. Due to the level of censorship of artistic content within China, the artisans who made the sunflower seeds will never see or enjoy the final work. Similarly, Ai rejects the Maoist revolutionary zeal for destruction of the Four Olds: old culture, old customs, old habits and old ideas. He embraces the ‘Olds’ through the use of porcelain, a reference to China’s long history of art production, commercial consumption as well as the Dynastic rule of China. This rebellious content evokes a sense of political unity and collective history from a Chinese perspective. Ai’s work brings a unique tension to the viewer’s attention. The millions of sunflower seeds were intended to be uniform when in reality each is individual. This tension between the ideal collective and the celebration of the individual conveys an additional political perspective that undermines the norm presented by the Chinese Government. This tension directly questions the suppression of expression in China, as Ai celebrates the notion of power in acting as a collective comprised of individuals. This notion is made even more apparent when considering the symbolic weight of the sunflower seed. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) Mao was depicted in the position of the sun in state sanctioned art; making him a guiding, focal point for the people, a paternal benevolent figure watching over them. Mao’s salient representation manufactures him as a source of growth and prosperity during the Cultural Revolution in Socialist Realist art. Ai harnesses this symbol, subverting the idea of Chinese Communism being a source of growth and leadership and in the space leaves an eerie landscape of sunflower seeds, filled with individual potential, it’s growth stunted by the devastating effects that the Cultural Revolution had on the majority of Chinese people. Sunflower seeds were available during times of famine and became synonymous with acts of compassion and kindness. When China was experiencing extreme poverty and people were subjected to severe acts of repression and censorship of personal freedoms, the sunflower seed was a means of communication and sharing. The natural sunflower seeds, much like the production of the porcelain seeds, became a token for unity in the face of authoritarian rule and an emblem of strength in solidarity. It is through these allegories that Ai Weiwei is critical of China’s censorship of personal expression. This adds to the attraction of his works. For all of his thrilling personal narrative, filled with political drama, there is an effortless and definitive political stance within his work. Sunflower Seeds is unlike many of his other works. It is not loud, it does not demand your attention and yet it is most likely one of his most subversive. Although displaying the work in the West ensures that the hundreds of porcelain artisans in China will not see it, Ai Weiwei’s objective of planting the seed of political rebellion within his intended audience of the Chinese people occurred during the two and a half year production of the work. The real political subversion of China’s censorship was never displayed somewhere in the Far West. It occurred right in the face of the authorities. These artisans were able to assemble in order to create a piece of art that was not for The Party or for the state. They created a work referencing ancient Chinese traditions that were individualist. It became a small piece of their individual artistic expression, a piece of political defiance. Ai Weiwei with Sunflower Seeds states quite clearly to the Chinese Government and global audiences: the seed is far more subversive than the sensational.
Jasmine Poole Murdered, 2011 Creeping, Seeking series Digital Print (Image Courtesy of the Artist)
Never As It Seems: an interview with Jasmine Poole in three parts wORDS BY VANESSA LOW PART I: DISCOVERY “I’ve never run so fast out of somewhere before!” is Jasmine Poole’s reaction when telling me about coming across a pool of fresh blood in the subbasement of an abandoned children’s hospital. Urban exploration and discovery play key roles in the artistic practice of Sydney-based Poole, however looking at her carefully considered, reverent photographs of abandoned spaces in Antarctica, Berlin, China and Australia, you would perhaps not guess the arduous process required in documenting them. Discovering her first abandoned location around thirteen years ago whilst on a photography excursion, Jasmine’s oeuvre consistently addresses notions of space, memory and history. Vanessa Low: What draws you to these deserted locations across the globe? Jasmine Poole: There is a certain thrill of discovery I get when entering these desolate places and they are so visually rich that I can spend hours walking around them. Often you are met with visual nuances left by forces of nature, such as cascading wallpaper creating new forms, peeling and cracking paint that breathes an ethereal quality of its very own. These inevitable changes inherent to abandoned buildings already begin to allude to new realities and disrupt our belief in the solidity and permanence of man-made space. VL: Your series ‘Creeping Seeking’ (2010-) is an ongoing collection of photographs of abandoned spaces from across the world. Do you specifically look for these sites when travelling? JP: I do. If I go to a place, I’ll do googling and geomaps and try and find out where places are. But a lot of the time I just stumble upon them just by coincidence. When I was in Germany, we stayed in a bed and breakfast and the first thing the owner asked us was ‘do you like abandoned places?’ – and we were like, “Yes! We love them” – and he took us to a massive, old Russian military airbase. VL: Have you had many unintended instances or unfortunate mishaps when you’ve gone to these abandoned places? JP: I have had quite a few misadventures in my explorations, including almost falling through roofs and floors, talking my way out of fines, encountering unsavoury characters who tell me I will be shot and finding a pool of fresh blood in a basement. And also your nerves can play tricks on your mind when you’re in those places. But I guess that is part of the adventure and process.
Jasmine Poole I Waited As Long As I Could, 2012 Creeping, Seeking series Digital Print (Image courtesy of the artist)
Jasmine Poole Goodbye Gon Gon, 2010 A Story Still Exists Here series Digital Print (Image courtesy of the artist)
VL: A lot of your urban exploration is actually illegal trespassing. How do you feel about this? JP: I guess it actually makes it a little bit more fun. But because I never damage property, I don’t tamper with the places as such, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong - there is a motto of ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints.’ And if I fall through a roof, it’s my fault – I’m not going to sue anyone. My intentions are good, I’m not there to steal or damage anything.
PART II: STORYTELLING Poole’s practice of discovery extends not only into the investigation of abandoned spaces. In 2010 she travelled to China to look into her family history, in particular her grandfather’s life story. Once discovering new spaces and narratives, Poole’s work focused on representation and storytelling. VL: What motivated you to travel and make work in China? JP: I translated my grandfather’s [life] story from Cantonese to English and started to make work about it but there were so many missing pieces and I felt the only way I could really piece it together was to go back and be where he was from to get a better idea of what I was trying to illustrate. So for me it was to meet the people his stories were about and fill in the blanks. And also because I work with a lot of abandoned houses, and I knew his old house was abandoned back in the village in China. VL: How did these experiences pique your interest in storytelling? JP: When I was there, we sat and I just listened to stories. They all had stories to tell me, they had old photographs and I think, on a universal level, that’s how you get to know people. For me that further enforced the importance of storytelling. VL: Your work ‘Goodbye Gon Gon (Grandfather)’ (2004-2011) is particularly poignant. What is the significance of narratives in your practice, particularly in relation to representing your own personal history? JP: I have always felt that being an artist allows you the amazing opportunity to share stories with an audience. I am a firm believer in the importance of stories in conveying truths, and in educating and inspiring. That whole series resonates for me on a very personal level but I felt at it’s very core were universal elements of birth, death, loss and life which others could relate to. I believe everybody has a story worth telling, but they don’t always get told. So after hearing my family’s stories I guess I almost felt an obligation to share it.
JASMINE POOLE FROM BREEDING GROUND SERIES, 2012
Jasmine Poole From Breeding Ground series, 2012 Digital Print (Image courtesy of the artist)
PART III: UP NEXT Symptomatic of her interests in discovery and storytelling, Poole’s current series ‘Breeding Ground’ features images of abandoned locations occupied by ambiguous luminescent forms. As well as documenting these desolate locations, Poole interacts with them to suggest alternate realities that exist in these forgotten places. Like with her work in China Poole reacts to the locations she works with, attempting to reinterpret the nature of the spaces. VL: Can you describe how you go about executing the photographs in ‘Breeding Ground’? What kind of planning is involved when shooting in an abandoned location? JP: For ‘Breeding Ground’ it’s quite a lengthy process. First I need to find the location, which can often be quite tricky as once places are discovered they can end up quite trashed and the walls strewn with graffiti. I feel this means it is already quite a charged image by itself so I prefer to find sites that act as more of a blank canvas to work against. I always go beforehand to scope out a place – accessibility, security presence, dangers, et cetera are all things that need to be taken into consideration. Once I have an idea of the space, then I can go away and start to formulate ideas for the installation. Depending on the space, I then either build it onsite or build and take it along. VL: Why have you chosen to feature objects such as balloons, lights, and cardboard structures in your installations? JP: When I first started, I wanted to use materials that had a sense of impermanence to them, like paper and lights that will eventually die. These tie in with the impermanence of the manmade structures, whether it be nature taking over or it getting demolished. I started using these materials that would be easily dismantled and could eventually decay. In terms of the actual structures I build, they’re influenced by the space itself and what ideas I get whilst I’m there. VL: In what direction do you hope to take your art in the future? JP: Currently, I am finishing off the series ‘Breeding Ground,’ so I have a couple of installations I am working on at the moment. There is also another piece I have spent the last 6 months trying to get my head around, it will be an interactive installation and photo work called ‘Breathing Room.’ For this piece I will be tackling the very serious issue of anxiety and mental illness. I will be doing interviews and portraits of 101 people that have suffered or currently still suffer from anxiety. The installation component will consist of a room that literally breathes, but the logistics of this project are still in the works. http://www.jasminepoole.com/ If you would be interested in participating in ‘Breathing Room,’ please contact email@example.com
THE CULTURE OF COLLECTING: SYDNEY CONTEMPORARY 13 Words by Ilana heller
This September, the Sydney art scene embarked on a new commercial venture, one that had the capacity to put local traffic into gridlock like an arts event has never done before. Sydney Contemporary 13, Sydney’s first international art fair, was held at Carriageworks in Eveleigh, and featured some 80 commercial galleries from across Australia and abroad. With the concept of the art fair being all too foreign for the average Sydney-sider, I overheard Natalia Bradshaw, Art Consultant and Chair of Art Month, so eloquently instruct her driver: “think trade show, but for art.” There is no doubt that Sydney is ready – nay, overdue – for an event that its international, and even local, rivals adopted years ago. Sydney Contemporary 13 saw our city step its foot over the proverbial threshold, entering into the global art market. And to be quite frank, we are a little late, albeit fashionably, to the party. If there is one thing a new event seeks to attract, it is attention. The edgy, the risky and the outlandish were sure to distinguish Sydney Contemporary 13 from its international relatives. The recent Sydney fair is an emblem of newborn success, conceived vastly differently from any other art fair. The venue was standout and distinctively atypical in comparison with the traditional rectilinear exhibition hall space. From within this dense nebula of burgeoning creative activity emerged the relatively unstructured ‘catalogue’. A critical component to the experience of an art event is the catalogue – a comprehensive summary of what is where and what it means, a claim to culturing oneself by its very ownership. Sydney Contemporary 13 employed a vastly different approach to the bound paperback catalogue, distinguishing itself from the big players in the business. Visitors were handed a carabiner clip as they entered Carriageworks, and at each gallery stall there was an opportunity to clip on a customized postcard to create a handmade assemblage. The 6x4 handouts were intended as pocket-sized bites of information, whereby you are referred on to the online interface for more in-depth reading. The minimalist approach to the material catalogue was justified with the vast database of Sydney Contemporary 13’s online catalogue. The fair partnered up with the reputable online art portal ‘Ocula’ to collate a comprehensive overview of the exhibitors and artists at Sydney Contemporary 13. Samantha Watson-Wood, Marketing Manager of Sydney Contemporary 13, emphasised the push towards a personalised memento of the fair; “The idea is that a visitor could walk around and collect which works they were interested in.” This is the first of its kind. It is smart. Everyone wished they had thought of it themselves. The art viewing public was presented with a bold gesture that invited as much praise as it did criticism. The catalogue was a representation of the contemporaneity of this four-day long art whirlwind.
Information Stall Sydney Contemporary 2013 (Image courtesy of jacandheathdotcom)
Hanger Shot 1 Sydney Contemporary 2013 (Image courtesy of jacandheathdotcom)
Hanger Shot 2 Sydney Contemporary 2013 (Image courtesy of jacandheathdotcom)
The art fair, by definition, is a commercial event primarily for collectors of art, be they individuals or public institutions. Though, the interested general public is invited to attend, and the event tries to be as much about them as the high rollers. The catalogue for Sydney Contemporary 13 put the power of selection in the average person’s hands. Each visitor who began the journey of collating his or her own catalogue took part in the process of collecting. This choice of publication promoted selectiveness, opinion and a sense of ownership; that this is my experience, geared towards my tastes. For those who may not have given a second glance to many of the represented artists or galleries, many became driven, perhaps unexpectedly, to participate in making a judgment and reaching out for a postcard-sized record for their assemblage of the most current, up and coming art that Sydney has seen. Watson-Wood commented a downfall was that this type of publication was a new concept and there was thus a lack of understanding from the public, but strategies were implemented on the latter days of the fair to provide information at critical points about how it worked and the process of collating one’s own catalogue. The more recognisable art fair catalogue can create a divide due to the price that is charged upon its purchase. Whilst guides for Frieze and Art Basel give greater overviews in real time, or even in the lead up to the event, they are geared towards buying art and testing the art market’s waters. Amongst the leaders in the field is the Swiss art fair known as Art Basel, whose catalogue is claimed to have become a highly sought after collector’s item, “an indispensible reference, filled with beautiful images and detailed information about the world’s leading galleries and the artists they represent”. According to their website, the Art Basel inaugural catalogue includes some 300 colour images and gives a comprehensive overview to the fair before one has even set foot in the venue. Organisers make a point that the catalogue is produced and distributed well in advance, and exhibitors and artists are arranged alphabetically for ease of perusal. Frieze Art Fairs of both London and New York similarly pride themselves on their accompanying publication, as a necessary compendium of current art. The Frieze catalogue features interviews with Frieze Project’s artists, and essays on commissioned works on display. According to their website, the catalogue “serves as a valuable introduction to the critical debates in contemporary art”. Sydney Contemporary 13 found a way to create an immersive experience for the child, the adult, the collector and the curious passer-by through the act of cataloguing by focusing all of their energy on what was happening within the walls of the fair.
In catering for a diverse audience, the catalogue did not necessarily answer to all parties. Aside from complaints from international collectors who were on tight schedules, with a plane to catch back to Shanghai in an hour and no time to round up 80 postcards, the most critical pitfall was accessibility. We are the digital age and our fingers are best acquainted with touch sensitive screens, but many a Gen-Y would confess to the pleasure of turning the pages on a catalogue in print. Whilst the flipping motion and the visual/textual elements remain in tact, the online ‘Ocula’ database (that we are referred to if we want more than a couple of lines on a gallery) seemed belated. With no free Wi-Fi for guests at Carriageworks, ‘Ocula’ was inaccessible even on a portable tablet. People want to be told what to look at and when to look at it, or like to preempt what’s not necessary to see. Descriptions in the hand-held catalogue about each gallery are brief – economical, even – but they can be disengaging and limiting to further exploration of meanings and contexts at the fair itself. Admittedly, the ‘Ocula’ site holds more information than a printed catalogue ever could, and as an at-home leisurely reference it is both sophisticatedly interactive and highly informative. Sydney Contemporary 13 was executed with the in-depth knowledge of Art Fairs Australia founder Tim Etchells, and the expertise of CEO Barry Keldoulis. With such a specialised team it is no wonder the fair attracted the positive hype and numbers that it did. Opening night entertained an obscene number of guests – almost certainly more than the converted railway workshop’s capacity – with the fair’s four-day total amounting to 28,810. Considering the number of complimentary tickets and VIP passes distributed in the weeks leading up to the fair, it is no wonder so many thousands graced the venue for a sticky-beak. Whilst the ratio of collectors to general admissions was perhaps imbalanced in comparison with more established art fairs, the atmosphere was one of astonishment and enjoyment. Albeit positive, the public reception of Sydney Contemporary 13 only speaks so much to the fair’s image. It was clear from opening night that Carriageworks was transformed into a hub of business, and that there were some big spenders in our midst. The Financial Review indicated that Etchells estimated a mammoth $10 million in sales. Galleries, such as Olsen Irwin of Sydney, noted that most of their transactions were with new faces, outside of their regular client base. Works by big names such as Anish Kapoor, Barbara Kruger, Damien Hirst and Grayson Perry gathered a lot of attention, but it was the art of young emerging artists that held the show together and forged Sydney Contemporary 13’s successful debut.
SKATING TO THE GALLERY wORDS BY AMY ROWE
Hiroyasu Tsuri’s paintings are about balance. The balance of human and animal, of light and dark, of lived experience and the transcendent. He knows innately when paint should drip as it pleases and when an edge should be crisp and controlled. Most importantly, his works are dizzyingly cool. After moving to Melbourne from Japan when he was 18, Tsuri took to the streets to skate and meet people, inevitably taking the public walls of Melbourne as a personal canvas. As he began exhibiting in more traditional art institutions, Tsuri dropped his street art pseudonym TwoOne. But this romantic journey from the streets to the gallery is not a particularly unique one. The proliferation of artists who have dropped their tag names as they move into the realm of fine arts signals a shift in the way we perceive and distinguish between the two domains. Initially, street art provided Tsuri with a medium that transcended language barriers: “I felt very welcome. I couldn’t speak that much but I guess painting and also my skateboarding don’t require language to understand. You can communicate without language.’’ Just as traditional artists may spend years honing their skills at art schools, Tsuri’s credibility seems to emerge from the authority of this outsider experience. The focus on the roguish mythology of a street art background is commonplace in a discussion of transitions into more traditional avenues; take Australian artists Ian Strange (Kid Zoom) and Anthony Lister as examples. Tsuri’s most recent show Define Nothing at Backwoods Gallery in Melbourne is symbolic of these new categorical tensions. His self-proclaimed ‘psychological portraits’ feature the unassuming grace of an artist who understands the importance of fugitive movements; you never know when you could get caught. Yet in the white cube gallery they are now framed, and often accompanied by significant price tags.You can also purchase his limited edition lithography print book Psychological Portrait. You can probably even buy stickers. Is Tsuri selling out? Or does this move to the commercial mainstream point to a new artistic maturity? These questions become more significant when we consider street art’s countercultural roots. Emerging as a movement that used public places as an egalitarian mode of expression, street art, and especially illegal street art, is often considered subversive and non-profit driven. The question of Tsuri’s authenticity as a street artist is brought into question as this countercultural background merges with institutional recognition. Perhaps a street artist’s rebellious identity is imbued with new cultural capital when validated through the authority of a gallery. The two domains, usually placed in opposition to one another, now exist in a symbiotic relationship. The changing role of street art is augmented by the public commissioning of artists who became known through their illegal works. Historically, street art is not alone in its shifting institutional reception. Turn back the clock to the 19th century and it was the Impressionist movement that was under fire for rebelling against the art world. Accessibility is another important consideration here, as Impressionism opened up the door of opportunity to female artists, even if their content was confined to domestic experience. Street art pushes this accessibility to a new extreme: anyone with a permanent marker can go out and draw a picture on a wall.
Left: Hiroyasu Tsuri in front of a painting executed live for Define Nothing at Melbourne’s Backwoods Gallery, 2013 (Image courtesy of the artist)
For Tsuri, it was a means of communication that did not necessitate knowledge of the English language. As more people are enabled to enter into the realm of visual expression, institutions lose authority in constructing and maintaining that art’s history. Perhaps integrating countercultural practice is an enactment of power on behalf of art institutions, as they are reassigned the ability to control who and what is considered important. Originally rejected from traditional art institutions, today Impressionism is considered one of the most important movements in art history. Do initial backlashes against ‘rebellious’ movements facilitate longevity by enriching their histories? Shifting reception aside, there are visual differences between Tsuri’s work displayed in galleries and his work that is completed in open public spaces. In his show Define Nothing, anthropomorphic figures dreamily inhabit their free-flowing surroundings. This is exemplified in his work Tension, consisting of a wolf-like character in earthy tones, pierced by a flash of his signature neon green. Another work, Higher Mountain, is imbued with a lyrical, contemplative resonance, this time featuring an ape hybrid with beautiful human hands. The poetic quality of Tsuri’s work is unexpected given the critical emphasis on his gritty street art roots. His eye for composition and symbolism lends his paintings a surprising legibility when displayed in a gallery setting. The live painting completed for an audience as part of Define Nothing is testament to Tsuri’s ability to work freely and quickly, yet it carries a performative quality. Although street art techniques certainly inform his gallery work, through the use of spray paint and elements of design, there is a sense that he is intentionally acting out his role as a street artist. Tsuri is afforded the ability to swiftly traverse between a gallery setting and the streets of the city. In collaboration with artist Shida, together they painted two public walls in Melbourne, although it is unclear whether these were commissioned. Their scale is much larger, with compositions forming around the features of the entire wall, flowing around windows, indentations and air vents. Interestingly, Tsuri’s work consistently seems more controlled within a street art context. The lines are crisper and the paint drips less, perhaps with an awareness that these works must compete for attention with their surroundings. In the gallery these background distractions are minimised, with the restrained space allowing him the freedom to experiment with layers and textures. The visual clarity of his street works could also be linked to ensuring the work can be viewed from multiple distances; through the window of a passing bus, or up-close on the footpath. Clearly, different contexts present opportunities to explore alternative techniques, although all remain true to Tsuri’s distinctive style. Conceivably, the recognition and collectability Tsuri’s art has received is an acknowledgement of street art and its techniques as a valid medium of expression. However, there’s probably a little way to go before the National Gallery of Victoria picks up one of Tsuri’s large-scale skulls for their permanent collection. But the most pertinent question still remains: why does all of this matter? Contemporary critique is underpinned by the implication that street art should preserve its authority by remaining in a countercultural vacuum. People are suspicious of street arts entry into the institutional and capitalist power structures it was originally intent on subverting. We should get over it. Art movements will always need to grow and change to find their place in society, otherwise they will fade away. If a Monet can sell for tens of millions, why shouldn’t a Banksy? The works of artists like Hiroyasu Tsuri are too precious not to be embraced with open arms, regardless of where they are composed or viewed. Now is the time for the art itself to make the conversation.
Hiroyasu Tsuriâ€™s collaboration with Shida in May, 2013 (Image courtesy of the artist)
Tension Hiroyasu Tsuri, 2013. Acrylic and aerosol on paper fixed on board. 130 x 150cm (Image courtesy of the artist)
Higher Mountain Hiroyasu Tsuri, 2013. Acrylic and aersosol on paper fixed on board. 170 x 150cm (Image courtesy of the artist)
Back cover: J.D Ojeikere Round About 1974 gelatin silver print, 50 x 60cm (Image courtesy of Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney)
Inside back cover: Opening night crowd Sydney Contemporary 2013 (Image courtesy of jacandheathdotcom)